Where to find a real Japanese experience?
Somewhere in Japanese Alps
When I think of Japan, I probably think of two things (that are actually opposites): crazy, vibrant big cities like Tokyo; and small villages with old houses, smelling of tatami mats, zen garden outside and matcha tea. No? 🙂 So, when in fact the big cities are quite easy to find (and all the fun things you can do – like video games, karaoke rooms and shopping), the small villages are in fact somehow … hidden 🙂
We visited some villages in Japan but the best experience we got was in a small village in Japanese Alps – Gokayama. Maybe you’ve heard of Shirakawa-Go, the famous ‘gassho’ village with multi-storied houses with big straw rooftops. It’s very popular, especially in winter time when the houses are covered in snow and the lights make them very magical. We were in Kanazawa and planning our way ahead to someplace in Japanese Alps where we could relax a bit and get the feel of Japanese country. Shirakawa-Go has very expensive accommodation and is very busy in general – it’s difficult to relax if you have hundreds of tourists strolling around the village. And then we found Gokayama …
The hidden village
Gokayama is a small village about 40 minutes from Shirakawa-Go and because it’s less famous than Shirakawa it doesn’t get so many tourists. In our opinion it is as beautiful as its more famous sister 🙂 There are two ‘gassho’ villages and several museums to visit. There are also many rivers, hills for nice walks and lakes. The villages are way less crowded and sometimes you can have the whole village for yourself.
The hidden guesthouse
We booked the cheapest option in Gokayama, Yamashita-Ya Guesthouse and came to one of the most beautiful memories of our life. The guesthouse is a small former Japanese B&B or minshuku. It has the complexity of the traditional Japanese house where all rooms can be separated with sliding doors or all can be opened and it becomes almost one space. Sometimes it feels like a labyrint 🙂 Most of the rooms have tatami floors so the whole place smells like pine and wood. Of course, there are the amazing hi-tech Japanese toilets! Some of the rooms and open hallways have big windows facing the rice fields and if you’re lucky they will be just the right bright green color.
The hidden Japanese lady
Satoe is a lady who owns this guesthouse. She has the kindest heart and looks way younger than her age. Probably because she giggles so much. She loves reggae music, playing drums and is a great cook. This is our second time that we visited Satoe and it feels like we almost belong here 🙂
The real Japanese experience
Because of the remoteness, in Gokayama you don’t need to see everything, you don’t need to go out every day in search of new impulses. You can stop, relax and enjoy. It’s the life of Japanese. For us it means sitting on tatami mats, drink good coffee and talk to Satoe. Learn a new Japanese dish every evening and try different types of sake. Eat tofu which Satoe helps to make her mother every morning. Make a picture from local rice paper. Go for a road trip to the seaside. This is the real japanese experience.
How to go to Gokayama?
Read more in this article.
When is the best time to go?
For the most relaxing Japanese experience I would suggest June or July. Usually, this is the low season which means almost no people here (most of them want to see the houses in snow), maybe some on weekends. It’s quite hot but there is AC in the house and an ice maker, haha. You will have the house (and Satoe) all by yourselves.