A lot of tourists visit Samurai Town in Kakunodate, Akita, and enjoy the scenery of the Edo period. The beautiful combination of thatch-roofed houses and cherry blossoms is highly popular among the tourists. But did you know that you can stay at a thatch-roofed house in Kakunodate? It is the farm stay called “Nishinoie” of the Nomi family. Nishinoie is the only farm stay that uses a thatch-roofed in Semboku city.
Samurai Street and Rickshaw running
Nishinoie is accessible on foot (15 minutes’ walk) from Samurai Town. If you are seeking to stay in traditional and orthodox Japanese style houses and experience the rural culture and history in-depth, this farm stay will fit you best!
Hallway of Nishinoie
When we first visited Nishinoie, we were astonished by the size of the thatch-roofed house. Although Nishinoie is a farm stay of an ordinary family, it is no worse than the nation-wide famous Samurai Houses of Kakunodate. The thatch-roofed house was erected in the Meiji period, which makes the house more than 135 years old! It was built without using any nails, but binding wood together which makes it stable and undamaged for centuries. It is strong enough to endure snow and even to the earthquakes which we frequently experience in Japan. Thanks to the thatched roof, it absorbs all the noise outside that you do not notice when rain hits hard on the roof.
Nishinoie during winter season
In the garden, a huge pine tree and a fir tree were standing, and carps are swimming in the pond. Just by hearing the stories of the building, I couldn’t but stop admiring our ancestors’ wisdom and skill to keep the building endure for long.
Not only the outside but also the inside is full of wonder. In the entrance, there was a model of festival float used in the Kakunodate Festival (A traditional festival held every year in September selected for UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage in 2016).
Model of festival float
There are two guest rooms divided by a Japanese style room partition (what we call a 襖 -Fusuma-). Beautiful cherry blossoms in Kakunodate were painted on the Fusuma between the two guest rooms. There is also a fusuma painting of the thatch-roofed house inside Nishinoie that you can enjoy. The host mother, Noriko-san explained that her husband’s father painted the fusuma.
Painting of Cherry Blossoms of Kakunodate
The bathtub of Nishinoie is also extraordinary. The bathtub in Nishinoie is made of Japanese cypress so that you can enjoy a delightful scent of wood in the bath.
The scent of wood will make an relaxed bathing time. It’s the best during cold season!
During your stay, we recommend you try cooking Akita local rice-based dish (what we call a きりたんぽ –kiritampo-) using the sunken fireplace or the open hearth (what we call a 囲炉裏 -irori-). Kiritampo is said to taste better with irori since it cooks the rice stick evenly.
Irori which is hard to find in an ordinary house these days
For your tip, you can also make dinner by yourself using the kitchen but, we would like you to avoid it if possible because there are many delicious dinner restaurants available nearby! Your host mother in Nishinoie loves to meet and chat with foreign people. Eating dinner in Nishinoie and spending time with your host family would also be your option. It would be a memorable one.
Ms. Noriko Nomi and her best welcoming smile!
The Nomi family’s passion to maintain the thatch-roofed house is something I thought young Japanese should learn from. Noriko san repeated herself that she wants visitors and children to see her precious house that had been protected for a long time from her ancestors. But it is not easy to maintain the thatch-roofed house. It is necessary to rethatch the roof on regular bases. In the past, people in the same village helped each other to rethatch a roof. But due to the aging and decrease in population, Nishinoie depends on craftspeople today. The cost of rethatching is highly expensive because the number of skilled laborers is also decreasing. That is why Noriko san is happy to see her house used and enjoyed by people from overseas.
Time past in an instant! We’d love to visit again!
You will be able to feel the Nomi family’s love for the thatch-roofed farm stay. Outstanding culture and lifestyle of Japan that even many Japanese have forgotten exist in Akita today. Nishinoie is the best place for those who want to experience the life of “good old days” in Japan. It would be an experience that you will never forget.
Column written by Shinichi Okada and Takumi Inakawa (Akita International University)
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