We’re huge fans of this beautiful country. Japan has so much to offer, from gorgeous scenery to historical places to stunning centuries-old temples. You could spend decades here and not see everything (as we can attest to).
Unfortunately, like many places around the world, Japan suffers from a new phenomenon, overtourism.
Overtourism describes destinations where hosts or guests, locals or visitors, feel that there are too many visitors and that the quality of life in the area or the quality of the experience has deteriorated unacceptably.
If you’re like us then you probably don’t love crowded places and you definitely don’t want to experience first-hand the devastation caused by overtourism (litter, graffiti and a general disrespect for the place).
But at the same time you have a bucket list with things on it. We get it, you want to see Kinkaku-ji and the Great Buddha or Todai-ji.
A photo at Fushimi-Inari-Taisha … would be epic but did you know there is an even better place to see these iconic red tori gates? Motonosumi Inari Jinja is “an impressive sight” in a beautiful location, in Yamaguchi prefecture.
Bartok design fans tell us they love Japanese architecture. While you are in Yamaguchi you must visit the Kintaikyo Bridge it is “quintessentially Japanese”.
And we all know that one of the BEST things to do while in Japan is visit an onsen hotspring. Check out these off-the-beaten-track places: JNTO onsen recommendations. Our friends in Beppu speak highly of the new Intercontinental hotel there. Oita is full of more budget-friendly places too. We wrote about that.
The Japanese Tourism promotion board is serious about welcoming wonderful people of the world to this fine country but also wants you to enjoy your trip and not have to deal with the negatives of overtourism. They’ve created this whole website for just that. We love their categories: Onsen & spa, Meditation & mindfulness … our suitcases are packed if JNTO wants us to visit 🙂
The team here at Bartok design love off the beaten path destinations in Japan. This past year we visited the Kumano Kodo sacred pilgrimage trails and the historical Nakasendo Trail. Check out our blog posts about these trips.
Tell us where you are planning to visit and why you chose that location? We’d love to hear more. If you post to Instagram tag us so we can share snippets of your trip to Japan!
In a world where it is as easy as a click of a button to start the process of a bathroom renovation, it’s equally easy to overlook where the products you’re using were sourced from and where the products you will dispose of actually end up.
It’s important to us that you know your Bartok design, wooden Japanese bathtub comes from sustainable resources and is ultimately a biodegradable item at the end of its lifecycle.
Japan is only a small country, roughly the size of the state of California. With its huge population of 120 million people, would it surprise you to learn that Japan is almost 70% covered in trees?
With such massive forests and few other natural resources, it is no surprise that trees and the wood they provide have an important place in history. Wood is the main building material used in the construction of houses, buildings and religious buildings such as temples.
Historically the five trees of Kiso were most prized. Hinoki, the king of trees, was reserved for use by nobility. Whole mountains were claimed as the property of feudal leaders and of temples in order that the wood needed for new construction and repairs would always be available.
Starting in 1600s Japan began to view theses natural resources as worth caring for and conserving, mainly at the behest of a conservation-minded feudal lord. Huge swathes of forest were designated as national parks and native species came under the protection of the lord (with severe penalties for illegal felling or even gathering wood from the forests).
We note that this is way ahead of other civilisations!
Wood remains an important material in Japan and is also viewed globally as being a sustainable material.
Of course, there is an economic motivation behind this as well as a conservation perspective. In any country, forests provide a source of income for rural areas. Our operation at Bartok design is made up of several smaller companies each taking a role in bringing your bath to you. Your purchase enables us to continue supporting our local artisans and craftsmen.
The hinoki (and other native wood) we use in the construction of our Japanese soaking tubs is generally from ancient forests. The trees are between 250 to 300 years old. Understandably we need to be careful not to overuse these ancient woods so we trust our lumberyard partners to abide by the regulations that govern the use of this wood. In most cases, as part of a healthy forest management program trees of this age either fall naturally or are part of the cull to ensure the maximum health of the surrounding trees and healthy undergrowth, which contributes to overall biodiversity in the forest.
Trees prevent soil erosion and landslides. Trees help maintain a clean supply of water, sequester carbon and produce oxygen. It’s been said that an initiative to plant just 10 million trees on earth would offset global warming in a major way.
We recognise the role wood manufacturers that play. Governing bodies accept the responsibility they have in offsetting climate change and global warming but at the same time, without a market for the wood that is grown, it’s hard to convince the private sector to take part.
When you buy a genuine Japanese wooden ofuro you can rest assured that the wood has been sustainably managed over its growing period, right through to how it was harvested and processed.
You are adding a thing of beauty to your home and are adding one less chemically derived product to the world. Bartok design ofuro are not varnished or lacquered so we do not use any unnecessary chemicals in the manufacturing process. Your ofuro will continue to breathe in your home, absorbing moisture and toxins from the air. Read more about our wood here.
Properly cared for your bath will last ten, twenty or even thirty years. When you’re finished with it you can safely recycle it into firewood or feed the pieces into a wood chipper to create mulch for your garden. The whole bath could become a planter for herbs in your garden. It’s a full circle environmentally safe product.
If sustainability is important to you then get in touch today to start designing your wooden ofuro soaking tub.
When asked to smell a piece of hinoki wood many Japanese people appear to be transported back to childhood or to a happy memory in their lives of being with family at an onsen resort or visiting grandparents.
In this video, Iacopo hit the streets to ask people for their impressions of our Hinoki Essential Oil.
A new study has shown that people feel more energized when smelling citrusy scents. Productivity increases by up to 54% according to a Japanese study.
Our interviewees overwhelmingly said they felt relaxed and they all smiled when they smelt the oil = Happiness!
There is research underway in many areas of neurology including studies into Alzheimer’s and dementia treatment, mental health, workplace happiness, the list goes on.
We’ve provided hinoki bathtubs for eldercare homes. The combination of the scent, the buoyant quality of the water and the improved circulation from being in hot water all contribute to overall health in the elderly, especially on brain function and memory.
From our own personal informal research, we have heard from our clients that the presence of a hinoki bathtub in the home emits a sense of calm and happiness. Guests will note the fresh smell when they enter the home — these are benefits without even soaking in the tub which has endless positive effects.
At Bartok design, we can build baths of all shapes and sizes, from a variety of native wood. In order to elicit maximum benefit for your olfactory system, we recommend hinoki. Sawara and asnaro are closely related scent and appearance-wise. We also supply our own 100% pure hinoki essential oil.
None of our wood is varnished or coated which means it continues to absorb moisture and give off its scent, it contracts and expands depending on the air around it. Wood in this natural state contributes to healthy air in the home. It actually absorbs and filters toxins, according to some studies.
We’ve compiled this article from a number of sources. Check the Global Wellness Summit page for more references.
Get in touch with us directly if you would like more information about Japanese soaking tubs and health benefits.
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.
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.
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.
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)
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.
Bypassing Osaka, you will head directly to your next destination (again by train):
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.
Your journey continues to take you west, this time to:
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.
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:
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.
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.
This is the third time I am going to talk about the project of starting a program to teach traditional construction techniques to japanese and foreign nationals: a “Craftsmen Academy”.
There are some organizational, legal, financial and study curricula issues to be sorted but we are finally planning to get started! We are going to start with an experimental phase, here are the main conditions:
term: September 1 – September 30 (extension is possible)
content of the course: mainly wood carpentry techniques
fee: free of charge
lodging and food: at your own expense
transportation costs: at your own expense
tourist insurance: at your own expense (compulsory)
VISA: not provided by the Academy, at your own expense
We will receive applications up to August 25 so if you are interested please hurry. If you have questions or other requests regarding the schedule etc. please contact me. We have some flexibility and I will try to accommodate your needs.
About the lodging, there are few Airbnb in Kameoka and they are quite expensive. The low-cost alternative would be to stay at a guest house in Kyoto downtown and commute by train (about 30 minutes one way)
It would be great if students find shared accommodations. I will try to connect those interested but cannot take any responsibility for the organization/jury in case of problems etc.
About the legal issues: we are not yet established to be able to sponsor students to obtain working or study VISA. Please come with a 3-month tourist VISA or a working holiday VISA if your Country has an agreement with the Japanese Government. You must make this application yourself and we are unable to assist you with this.
The experience we intend to make available at the Academy is officially an “experience tourism” program so it is not in conflict with your VISA status.
About legal issues, liability issues etc. we are preparing a simple contract of agreement that will regulate our relationship with the students.
This post is not about the bio-ryokan “WABI SABI” in the Marche Region (which by the way features a large bartokdesign knotty hinoki bathtub and other japanese architectural details such as tatami/shoji etc. – and which of course(!) I strongly recommend).
I have an American friend living in Switzerland and she is really my secret muse (well, no more secret now…) I never met her in person but her prose is so experimental, so strong and inspiring that every mail I receive is like being struck by a 10,000 Volts lighting bolt. I am not saying it is painful. Of course it is pleasant, but every other perception is obfuscated by the absolute power of the message. I do not know exactly her age but I would say he is not in her twenties. When I thanked her for her insight in the last email she signed herself:
Your co-conspirator (in radical creativity)
Maybe her magic only works on me, I do not know. But I would like to share some information she gave me about a wonderful reality in Italy that I did not know.
Japanese kimono style bottle cover (fit the vast majority of bottles from wine to champagne to sake! – a part for magnum bottles) smart idea for an unforgettable present. Witty and original! 100% reusable. To amuse the guests at your home party or to surprise your friends, you will find your favorite color and style within the 30 items collection. Easy to apply, fun to play with, can be stored to be used again in its exclusive pauwlonia wood box!
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.
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.
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.