I like old houses.
Give me wood that has been bleached from the sun and stonework that has weathered several decades of season. New homes are nice, don’t get me wrong, but nothing calls to heart more than an old, well-loved home.
And right now, Japan has an “old house” problem.
Basically, youth are flocking out of the countryside and into the big cities (especially Tokyo). My husband was one of those youth. He grew up in Ibaraki and went to college in Akita, before landing a job in Tokyo and relocating us there (although, we’ve since moved out of Tokyo and into the countryside).
I first started thinking about the rural housing problem last year, when this article by Japan Times came out. It got me thinking. And since then, Ryosuke and I have visited a handful of smaller towns with a large number of empty houses. Each town is different… and it’s been quite an experience.
This post is about the most recent place we visited, a Japanese inn in the traditional Saen (tea culture) architecture style that has been renovated into a guest house. It’s called Miharashi-tei Guest House and it is located on a hilltop overlooking the Onomichi channel (in Onomichi city, Hiroshima prefecture, Japan).
Miharashi-tei was originally built as a holiday villa in 1921 and between 1969 and 1989 it operated as a traditional inn. After that, the building sat empty for 30 years.
In 2009, the building was registered by the owner with the Onomichi Akia Saisei Project, a program that matched the owners of unused (or abandoned) houses and people who wanted to restore the houses to use or live in. However, because of the size (200 square meters / 2150 square feet) it was difficult to find a buyer who wanted it for a private dwelling.
Instead, they decided to turn it into a guest house.
Reconstruction started in January of 2015. Some of the building was done by professionals; other areas were done by a Spring and Summer renovation camp at Miharashi-tei.
The guest house officially opened in April of 2016.
We stayed on a weekday in early July of 2016 and were pleasantly surprised to see that the guest house was doing well. Especially considering it had only been open a couple of months and was located well outside of normal “footpath” (a nice hike up 360 steps, to be exact). Still, both of the private rooms were booked (one was us) and there were several people staying in the three “dorm style” rooms (two co-ed rooms and one female-only).
We checked in around dusk and hiked back down to the center of the city for dinner. Along the way, we passed this gorgeous temple:
Ryosuke and I stayed in one of the private rooms, on (freakishly comfortable) futons on the tatami mat floor.
The futons were nice and thick and I fell asleep right away. And woke up at around 6:30am to this amazing view.
Breakfast started at 7:00am at the cafe on the first floor.
They had a couple options for breakfast.
I went with a freshly baked pastry with a maple butter dipping sauce and ice coffee and Ryosuke got the mixed toast set with ice coffee.
I would have loved to stay longer but we had another full day of travel ahead of us.
Before we checked out, we were able to chat with one of the people who worked there – a Japanese man from San Francisco who “commuted” to Miharashi-tei for two years to help with the renovations until eventually relocating to Onomichi and working there. It was a fun window into the life of someone living in the city – and I confess, both Ryosuke and I serious thought about finding one of the 52 remaining abandoned houses in Onomichi and relocating here.
Some of the other formerly abandoned houses have been turned into bakeries, cafes, and shops. I’m sure we would think of something?
Anyway, more on that later. Here are some other photos of the guest house.
2,800yen per person (mixed dorm OR female-only dorm).
If you’re staying 2-7 nights, it is 2,700yen per night.
If you’re staying more than 7 days, it is 2,200yen per night.
Private Room “Cherry Blossoms:” 3 tatami mat room that accommodates 2 people. 7,000yen per night.
Private room “Fuji:” 4 tatami mat room that accommodates 2-3 people. 10,000yen per night.
To reserve by phone:
(in Japan) 0848-23-3864
Address: 15-7 Higashi Tsuchido-cho Onomichi-shi Hiroshime-ken, 722-0033 Japan
Access: It’s a 15 min walk from JR Onomichi station… up 360 steps. Make sure your suitcase is small!