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Authentic traditional Japanese family accommodation at a Minshuku
Among the types of traditional accommodation that Japan offers, I believe that two of them are a must try, ryokan (a luxury Japanese style inn) and minshuku.
Minshuku is the equivalent of bed and breakfast in France. They are usually farms located in the countryside or the mountains, sometimes in very remote places. Sleeping in this type of family accommodation is ideal for experiencing life in a typical Japanese house and to meet Japanese people.
While visiting Takachiho in Miyazaki Prefecture, I had the pleasure of staying at Minshuku Maroudo (民宿 まろうど). “Maroudo”, written in kanji is “客人” or “賓” and means “guest of honor”. The owner of the establishment has traveled extensively himself and wishes to reproduce the hospitality with which he has always received abroad, especially in France.
An ideal location to relax and disconnect
Nestled in the heights of Akimoto village, Minshuku Maroudo is less than 30 minutes south of the region’s main point of interest, Takachiho Gorge, and offers an idyllic environment to recharge in the heart of nature, away from the hustle and bustle of tourism.
To reach this small village of about a hundred inhabitants, you will need to navigate narrow roads passing through the forest. Ideally, I would advise driving there during the daytime and in good weather conditions.
The traditional farm is located by a river, and the moment I got out of my car I was charmed by the sounds of the running water, the chirps of insects. As the Director of Minshuku informed me, the call of birds would wake me early in the morning! Far from the urban sprawl and nearly outside the cellular data network, this accommodation is ideal for cutting off from everyday life distractions for a night.
At Minshuku Maroudo you will be welcomed in a large, though typical Japanese house with three comfortable guest rooms for 2 or 3 people. Two of them are Western-style and are located in an annex; the third in the main building is a Japanese style one (with futon mattresses on a tatami-covered floor). To my satisfaction, my room was on the riverside, and I was able to fall asleep listening to the soothing sound of the flowing water.
A common lounge decorated with soft sofas is also available for guests to relax in complete tranquility upon your arrival.
In minshuku type accommodations, the bathroom and sanitary facilities are shared. But at Minshuku Marudo, you share these spaces only with one other room. Towels and bathing necessities are provided; on request, the hostess will prepare a scented hot bath for you!
Family meals made with local products
Meals (dinner and breakfast) are taken with the other travelers at a fixed time, in a large traditional Japanese lounge. Dinner is served on low tables, and you eat seated on cushions placed on the tatami floor.
Prepared with care and served in a friendly atmosphere by the minshuku family members, I enjoyed a delicious and generous family cuisine made of local products. Minshuku Maroudo is an expert in the production of artisanal rice products, and you will have the opportunity to taste the house’s specialties, 2 types of sake (at 8% and 15% alcohol) and several varieties of amazake (amazake is also a rice drink but without alcohol, with a slightly sweet taste).
Among the long list of delicacies that are served, I especially enjoyed the pork marinated in amazake, miso soup with rice flakes, and wakame seaweed from the river ( it’s very rare to harvest seaweed from rivers, but in the region, the river and the sea mix in some places).
On a personal note: if you try the 15% sake, you will be surprised by the taste which is quite sweet!
At each meal, the family members take the time to converse with the guests to inform them about their cuisine, and more generally about the village’s points of interest. The host only speaks a few words of English, but I had the chance to stay at the same time as two Japanese women who spoke fluent English and they were kind enough to act as interpreters! Before I retired to my room, I was charmed by the owner’s grandchildren, who would sneak up behind the sliding doors and greet us in English.
A farm specializing in the production of Sake and Amazake
In Akimoto, whose slogan is “village where it is good to live for bees”, the villagers work together to preserve and pass down their traditional and rural way of life, while integrating new modern agricultural methods. The Minshuku Maroudo family happily shares this way of life with their guests.
After a first introduction to the house’s specialties at mealtime, I wanted to learn more about the process of making sake and amazaké.
The host kindly took me on an informal tour of his production workshop where the rice is first peeled, then steamed, before being placed in tanks for brewing and fermentation. While discovering every stage of production, we were able to see the splendid rice fields located above the farm.
After learning about the process, you will probably buy some of the specialties on the spot to take home to enjoy later!
The spiritual side of Akimoto
Before leaving this charming village, do not miss out on discovering its many sanctuaries and sacred places, to which the host will provide you a map to guide you.
Apart from the villagers, few people know the highly spiritual dimension of Akimoto. Only a 5 minute drive from the minshuku is Akimoto Jinja, a sanctuary where the god of wood is said to arduous. The road to get there is quite tortuous, but the interesting rag dolls along the route will entertain you!
Official website: http://takachiho-muratabi.com/stay/
English site: http://forestpia.heteml.net/maroudo/
Other good places to stay in Takachiho
■Solest Takachiho Hotel ソレスト高千穂ホテル
■Hotel Shikimi ホテル四季見
■Hotel Grateful Takachiho グレイトフル高千穂