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the True Heart of Japan

via VMG hotel management group, Nipponia Hotels Japan

Sometimes a name keeps popping up that intrigues you but doesn’t register on a deeper level. Such is the case for the word or name Nipponia. I first came across the Nipponia Hotel in Kushimoto, Wakayama. One of the newest hotels in the chain, it’s not quite on the radar yet – watch this space!

We’re huge fans of Wakayama with a couple of our own projects in the area.

With the name Nipponia coming up more and more often I started to do some research. I immediately fell in love with the concept of this hotel group and I think you will love it too.

You may not know that Japan is in the grips of a crisis that shows no signs of abating. The problem is that of the ageing population, with 30% or more people over the age of 60. Another problem that exacerbates this is rural-urban migration. Japan is littered with small rural towns barely eeking out an existence after jobs dried up and young people moved to seek work in cities like Tokyo or Osaka.

via http://www.nipponia-takehara.com/

Enter companies like Nipponia

(parent company VMG)

“… creates tourism demand through the use of old houses in Kushimoto-Cho, Higashinada-gun promotes exchanges utilizing the rich nature and food of Kushimoto-Cho and makes use of local resources for income or employment. The purpose is to make efforts to increase the number of people and to revitalize the region”

Nipponia Hotels are being developed right across Japan with a keen eye towards nostalgic stays and memory-creating experiences. Traditional homes and buildings are lovingly converted into hotels and restaurants, preserving as much of the history as possible to retain the unique charm of the era and the area.

We think a couple of months stay in Japan should be enough time to experience each of these rich historical areas. We’ve created an itinerary for you. This is an unbiased, non-sponsored post. We just love the concept and want to share it with you. With most of their resources in Japanese, it’s hard to discover these gems by yourself.


First stay near Tokyo

Start your adventure in Tokyo, flying into Narita or Haneda.

Your first hotel is:

佐原商家町ホテル NIPPONIA / Nipponia Sawara (link)

Nipponia Sawara

The merchant town Edo Experience, staying amid the 600-year history of Sawara.

Merchant town Sawara, which flourished by taking advantage of water transportation on the Tone River in the Edo period, has been designated as one of the Important Preservation Districts for Groups of Historic Buildings, and the Sawara Festival, which has been held since the Edo period, has been registered as UNESCO World Intangible Cultural Heritage.
Sawara Merchant Town Hotel NIPPONIA portrays Sawara town as a single hotel with buildings, including at least one merchant home built more than 200 years ago, in various parts of the city.
The atmosphere of Edo, which has been lost in Tokyo through the changing times, remains fresh and alive here in Sawara, with nostalgic but fresh spectacles appearing before your eyes. As you stroll through town with a fresh breeze blowing, imagine the history of Sawara and experience the culture of this living merchant town.

VMG group

Next stop, Nara

You’ll make your way west to Nara (by train) where you will stay at the:

NIPPONIA HOTEL 奈良 ならまち / Nipponia Naramachi (link)

Nipponia Naramachi

Experience the charm of sake and the ancient capital in Nara, the birthplace of sake.

Nara is said to be the first place in Japan where sake was brewed using rice. Realizing the concept of a “sake hotel,” NIPPONIA HOTEL Naramachi stands in the Naramachi area in the former grounds of Gangoji Temple, in a precinct that retains distinct townscapes from the Edo to Taisho periods.
In line with this concept, the hotel was renovated from a grand traditional residence and the former brewery of the Toyosawa Shuzou company, which was founded in the Meiji period. Dine at a counter in the hotel’s Restaurant Le Un in a space renovated from the former doma earthen floor part of the residence. The restaurant has an extensive cellar, including rare sakes exclusive to Restaurant Le Un and raw sakes delivered directly from Nara Toyosawa Shuzou. Enjoy to your heart’s content the pleasure of pairing sakes with dishes highlighting the local produce of Nara.

Saseyama Area

Bypassing Osaka, you will head directly to your next destination (again by train):

福住宿場町ホテル NIPPONIA / Nipponia Fukusumi
(link)
OR
篠山城下町ホテル NIPPONIA/ Nipponia Saseyama
(link)


Nipponia Saseyama

Northern Hyogo

Heading further into northern Hyogo prefecture, towards the sea you’ll stay in a slightly different place:

オーベルジュ豊岡1925 / Auberge Toyooka 1925
(link)

Auberge Toyooka

A town-center auberge located in the center of Toyooka.

Auberge Toyooka 1925 was renovated from the building used as the Toyooka Branch of the Hyogo Prefectural Agricultural and Industrial Bank (formerly Toyooka City Hall Southern Building). It is now modernization heritage designated a National Registered Tangible Cultural Property.
Offers rooms designed to preserve the modern architecture of the early Showa period, and French cuisine prepared from local produce. The hotel also has a sweets shop and a bar.
Get in touch with the history of Toyooka at Nakajima Jinja Shrine, which enshrines the sweets deity Tajimamorinomikoto and is not far away. Tsuiyama fishing port is close, so guests can enjoy the delights of seafood from the Sea of Japan, while the fertile soil has also made famous such brand produce as Tajima Beef, Kasumi Crabs, and Kounotori Rice. One of the best parts of your stay will be to stretch your wings and do a tour of the hot springs at Kinosaki Onsen. We hope you enjoy a relaxing time.

Western Japan

Your journey continues to take you west, this time to:

NIPPONIA HOTEL 竹原塩田町 / Nipponia Takehara
(link)

Hotel Takehara

Relive the days of the “Hama-danna” in Takehara, made prosperous by the bounty of Setouchi, salt, and sake.

Takehara is a salt town that retains the beautiful townscapes of olden times when the salt industry flourished. The splendid residence of the wealthy salt farm owners, known as the “Hama-danna” (“salt magnates”), sits at the heart of the townscape today. Their scholarly attainments were extensive, they had very discerning tastes in food, and now Takehara’s food culture thrives. Thanks to the Hama-danna, the town has an extensive historical legacy of development.
NIPPONIA HOTEL Takehara Salt Farm Town lets you experience the life and culture of the Hama-danna. Superior local sake made by 3 long-established sake breweries established more than 150 years ago. Produce such as seafood, citrus, and olives nurtured in the mild climate of Setouchi. Expand your gourmet horizons by combining a variety of sakes and produce with the different tastes of salts from different areas made using different methods.
Experience a journey of new discoveries through the cultivated lifestyles of the Hama-danna in a city that retains this culture.

Kyushu?!

If you think you will make it as far as Kyushu (why not?!!) then the last in the chain is:

HOTEL CULTIA 太宰府 / Nipponia Dazaifu / Hotel Cultia
(link)

What do you think?

What an incredible tour of the pockets of Japan. Let us know which ones you plan to visit. You could take advantage of a Japan Rail Pass for this trip!

See the entire list here on Google Maps and you’ll see how much of Japan’s magnificent landscape and history you can experience:

https://goo.gl/maps/42VW9iuDSzh5x7Nk7

Post by Bartok design team member Jacqui

Give the Gift of Pure Nature

Hinoki Esential Oil is both calming and uplifting. Like the scent of a forest on a warm summer day, the scent of Hinoki is earthy, lemony, fresh.

Our original Bartok design Hinoki Essential Oil is the purest you will find. We extract the oil ourselves from off-cuts, shavings and wood chips – all real wood. There are no twigs, leaves or bark in our product resulting in a pure clean scent that is unparalleled. The complexity of our oils is exceptionally deep.

Hinoki Essential Oil
Hinoki Essential Oil made by Bartok design
The Bartok design Pocket Onsen set is a gift box ready for holiday giving

The Bartok design Pocket Onsen Set contains a choice of two oils:

  • Hinoki Cypress is extracted from trees roughly 40 years old. A ‘young tree’ used in construction, for decorative items, religious artefacts and furniture. Our bath accessories are made from this wood which gives us a good supply of offcuts from which to extract the gorgeous essential oil.
  • Special Reserve Hinoki 250 is extracted from mature growth trees, usually at least 250 years old. The wood from older trees is compacted tightly which makes it ideal for use in wet zones such as the bathroom. Therefore we use this wood to make our Japanese ‘ofuro’ soaking tubs. Like a fine wine, cheese or whiskey, the aged product has a complexity and depth not seen in younger wood.

    *It is also possible to order a ‘compare set’ with one of each oil.
Instant onsen
Instant Onsen
special reserve hinoki 250 years oil made in japan
Hinoki Japanese Cypress extracted and bottled by Bartok design
Each Pocket Onsen set comes with three orbs made from hinoki.

The Kumano Kodo Pilgrimage

Introduction

In the Wakayama area of Kii Peninsula, there are a number of ancient walking trails which are collectively known as the Kumano Kodo. Traversing mountains, passing through lushly forested gulleys and crossing racing rivers, you’ll see some of the most spectacular nature Japan has to offer. But enjoying nature is just a side benefit. This area is deeply spiritual and is steeped in history. For more than a thousand years pilgrims have used these trails to reach the three Grand Shrines of Kumano: Kumano Hongū Taisha, Kumano Nachi Taisha and Kumano Hayatama Taisha (source wikipedia).

We love being close to nature so took a couple of days off work during rainy season (July 2019) to visit the Kumano Kodo. Here is our account of the trip.

View of mountains in Nakahechi

Day One

My travel companion joined me from Tokyo so my first stop was Kansai Airport to pick her up. From there we got directly onto the ‘Hanwa Highway’ which is the direct route to Wakayama and the Kii Peninsula. It’s an easy drive of about an hour and a half to Nanki Tanabe Interchange which is where we left the highway.

Are you planning to drive in Japan? Here are a few things to remember:

  • the speed limit on the highways is a maximum of 80km per hour but on rainy or windy days it can be reduced to 60km per hour, this is indicated by round electronic signs reading 60 or 80. You might not see many police cars or speed cameras but this highway is patrolled by unmarked vehicles and hidden cameras so for your safety and to avoid a ticket, stick to the limit.
  • along the highway, you will encounter toll booths. If your car is fitted with an ETC machine you can drive through the electronic reader lane, usually purple signage. If you don’t have the machine you’ll need to go through the manual payment lane, indicated by a green light. You can pay using cash or credit card. The amount due will be displayed on a sign next to the toll booth after you hand over your ticket.
  • toilet breaks and snack pitstops are possible at the many ‘rest areas’ which you can enter freely without having to exit the highway. Use these because you’ll save money by staying on the highway until your final destination.

Nakahechicho Area

Nakahechi Trail Kumano Kodo
Tondagawa River

We were booked to stay at a mountainside cottage which we had booked through AirBnB. It was raining heavily on and off all day so after a quick lunch at a local noodle place, we grabbed a few groceries and headed to our accommodation.

The purpose of our trip was not hiking given that it is rainy season. Landslides and flooded rivers are a real possibility at this time of year so rather than hike we simply planned some R&R. Our cottage was just perfect for that and I highly recommend it.

It has a hinoki clad bathroom with a view over the mountains! Gorgeous.

If you are planning to hike the Nakahechi Trail and are starting at Takijiri-oji then this cottage is a great location for that. Link to more info.

(more…)

Refined Elegance: Contrast and Texture

Our friends at Nora Studios sent us a few of the preliminary photos of a recent bathroom installation. It’s stunningly beautiful. The contrast of warm wood and cool stone is magnificent.

Ofuro specs: japanese Knotless hinoki wood bathtub (quarter-sawn)
dim L1060 x W660 x H629mm (ext. dim.) 570mm(deep)
nat. oil @ apron, wood dowels. Iron brand at front side top-right
(Accessories are available from our shop)

It is difficult to understand it from the pictures as the sizes are so laser-perfect… but the tub feet are recessed in a ditch which collects the drain water as well as the overflow. Amazing detailing!

(more…)

The Nara Garden

As you know, there is nothing more soul-destroying for us here at Bartok design than to see old Japanese homes and gardens destroyed in the name of blind speculation. From time to time we hear about the impending doom before it happens, as in the case of this spectacular garden in Nara prefecture (east of Osaka).

A person I know that empties old houses has to throw away this garden in Nara…

We’ve been given the opportunity to share these pictures and we hope that with will be able to re-home some of the ornaments or even some of the plants.

We cannot say for sure how old these items are but we hope to bring more information to you soon. If you are interested in being kept in the loop please contact me via email (urgently) japan(at)bartokdesign.com

(more…)

MEMOIRS OF A GEISHA

We are deepening our relation and collaboration with the kimono designer Yoshio Jogan.
Jogan sensei is based in Kyoto and went through the long and steep path of mastering traditional kimono patterns since his youth.
But he believes that Art must always be in movement and the worship of a mummified tradition is not going to keep the Art alive.

Jogan sensei is a master in bridging the subtle traditional knowhow of kimono patterning into interior design, contemporary products and computer art. We will talk more about Jogan sensei in the next few weeks, but here I would like to anticipate a news that is also going to impact our Wakayama pre-war mansion re-branding project.

(more…)

Nestled in the Swiss Alps

With the email subject line from our client “At last the bathtub is in place” we could appreciate the hard work and effort that goes into redesigning a bathroom. Importing an ofuro from Japan takes no small effort and a huge amount of trust that we are going to get it right.

But get it right we did. Look at this stunning bathroom with it’s outlook on a mini version of the Swiss Alps (or so we like to think, since the bathtub is in its new home in Switzerland). Hats off to the designers of the bathroom who have managed to create a calm and relaxing space that I am sure the owners will love for years to come.

Can you imagine slipping into the delicious hot water after a day on the slopes?

Thank you F.H in Switzerland.


a house for the arts – idea competition

Finally, my prayers seem to have reached some sensible ears up in Heaven…!

An enlightened owner inherited a high grade and extremely well preserved house in Wakayama. The house is a 1,400㎡ (mostly 1 story, 2 rooms on the upper floor) timber frame house on a 3,100㎡ lot.

K-house is relatively new (1940) but being pre-war, it belongs to a sensibility, culture of material and aesthetic sense that unfortunately is now lost and unknown to post war architecture.

I am not being nostalgic: it is an evaluation based on the virtue of the design elements: knowledgeable but with a scent of fantasy.
If you look at the photos below (↓) you will agree that the sukiya-zukuri style in the Taisho and early Showa period is probably the highest point reached by Japanese architecture. The materials are selected with respect for their features. There is wit and irony. Nature mingles with architecture and even penetrates it as branches become railings and full moons become windows.

(more…)

The Cat’s Pajamas

Our customer James sent us a fun video of his cat contemplating diving in for a soak in the ofuro. Thanks for the giggle James! Ofuro fun for the whole family. You can see it over on our Facebook page. It’s a beautiful bath, so tranquil.

Send us your pics! We love them!! japan(at)bartokdesign.com is our email address.


https://www.facebook.com/japanese.ofuro/videos/2273150919622731/

Photo credit: Photos generously provided by James Reinke

Wandering the Nakasendo

According to the newspaper it’s popular among tourists to hike the Nakasendo trail between Magome and Tsumago post towns. We opted for the easy way – rented a car. But still, the views were stunning and having a car afforded us the opportunity to see more than just the trail towns.

The Nakasendo is an ancient foot highway that connected Tokyo (or Edo as it was known then) with the rest of Japan to the west. Follow the whole road and you will eventually arrive in Kyoto. It dates back to the 1700s.

Our interest in this area stems from two things: we enjoy learning about and appreciating Japanese history; and we are enamoured with the forests of Japan. The portion of the Nakasendo which is best preserved is in a geographic area called the Kiso Valley. In this area you will see the massive forests of conifer trees, Japanese hinoki (Chamaecyparis obtusa), sawara (Chamaecyparis pisifera ). These are just two of the Five Sacred Trees of Kiso which are favoured by bathmakers.

We started our trip in Nagoya, which is centrally located between Osaka and Tokyo. It made a convenient meeting point for our party of three. Getting an early start towards Gifu prefecture was made easier for being only an hour or so away.

Day One

We took an express train from Nagoya station to Ena station. We had arranged to pick up our car from Ena. The map showed where the rental place was but we were not sure if it was walkable or a taxi was a better idea. Calling into the Ena Tourist Information centre gave us our answer (taxi) and a whole host of other information.

Following the advice of the Tourist Info Centre, we spent the morning walking along a part of the Nakasendo that isn’t as well preserved as what we would later see, but still a nice stroll with enough interesting facts to get us excited about the rest of the trip.

After lunch, we took in the view from the Shinonomeo Bridge, which overlooks the Kiso River. With free parking nearby and quite an elevation, this was a great tidbit to learn.

You can see how high we were because look at the tiny car on the right! And this was our first glimpse at the forests!

Shinonomeo Bridge
Overlooking the Kiso River

Our next stop was the ruins of the Naegi Castle. This time we were immersed in the forests and got to experience the feeling of shinrin yoku briefly (forest bathing), although being a public holiday it was busier than usual.

The short hike from the carpark was worth it. Look at the views over the Kiso Valley! Look at the trees!

Day Two

The first post town of significance we visited was the beautifully preserved Magome Juku.

Magome Juku – these homes are between 100 and 300 years old
Magome Juku on the Nakasendo in Gifu Prefecture
A souvenir shop on the Nakasendo
It’s not a long hike between the post towns – this was about halfway, near the Odaki Waterfalls

Our next stop was Tsumago Juku. One of our favourite places was the old school – built from wood of course! It closed in the late nineties.

Kyu Nagisocho Tachitsumagosho School
Kyu Nagisocho Tachitsumagosho School
Each building and shop is decorated with flowers

A lot of effort has gone into preserving this area and piece of Japanese history. According to Wikipedia the area prospered until a major vehicle highway in the area bypassed the towns. Facing demise and economic ruin a few of the towns’ forefathers elected to renovate the old houses and buildings. In 1987 the central government granted them historic status.

This whole area is fascinating especially if you’ve come to Japan and are hoping to see some history but are feeling overwhelmed by the number of temples and shrines. The Nakasendo / Kiso Valley area is very much a piece of history with roots in commercialism – the trade routes of Japan. It makes for a nice change of pace because it’s more recent history than the temples which date back thousands of years. It’s actually possible to imagine walking along these routes, stopping for a night in a ryokan inn, grabbing a plate of local soba. I highly recommend you visit!

Sacred Trees of Kiso Valley

In my next post I will talk more about the trees, forests and how important they are both now and then, to the ofuro makers, such as Bartok design.

If you are interested in tracing our route please take a look at the custom map I created on Google maps of our stops. I am more than happy to give more information on anything. -Jacqui (Bartok design team member)

https://goo.gl/maps/wv9v81eWKyu5bu9x8

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