Escape to paradise with 14 of your closest friends

by | Sep 11, 2021

I’m currently on day 10 of my 14 day “self isolation” 自己隔離 (the gentle name for quarantine when you return to Japan from anywhere overseas) and I have to admit, I’m getting a little stir crazy. Yes, it is wonderful to be able to live out your quarantine in the comfort of your own home, but at the same time, I haven’t seen the inside of a grocery store in almost two weeks and I’m beginning to look like I have permanent bed head from waking up and just not caring.

My company is also nearing the end of the slow season, which for me is great news because it means new travel opportunities and more writing are on the horizon. But while I wait, and as long as I’m trapped inside my own home for at least a few more days, I might as well offer up some of the more interesting destinations and experiences I had in the past year. One of the most intriguing places, especially when thinking of a quick getaway from Tokyo, would be Atagoya in the mountains of Hamamatsu, Shizuoka.

Soaking It In (A Cypress Tub)

Atagoya is yet another of the projects of innovative young Japanese entrepreneurs who are snapping up 100-year-old plus kominka (folk houses) across Japan and renovating them with modern amenities to be rented out. While we were staying at Atagoya, owner Michio Hayashi and his crew were across the street, working on yet another kominka overlooking the Atago River. They were constructing a sauna under the house so visitors could come straight out of the cool clear river and warm themselves in the sauna during the cold months of the year. During warmer months, the sauna isn’t needed as the river provides the refreshment from the humid Japanese summers.

At Atagoya, however, the relaxation is centered around the huge cypress tub in the ofuro, easily large enough for two people. Fill the tub and let the aroma of the moist cypress and the chirping of crickets lull you into complete bliss.

The huge cypress bath in the ofuro of Atagoya, a refurbished folk house in Hamamatsu city, Shizuoka Japan.

Atagoya: Party of 15

Atagoya isn’t just a folk house. Over its 100 year lifetime, it had seen action as an inn and a restaurant as well, and Hayashi took advantage of its spaciousness to create a retreat large enough to comfortably host 15 guests. There’s a large sunroom with inviting sofas and soft chairs perfect for fall asleep while reading a good book. There’s a viewing room with an LCD projector for watching Netflix and Hulu, both of which are provided free of charge during your stay. And upstairs, two large tatami rooms hold enough futon beds for your whole party to sleep, though earplugs might be recommended.

Given the size of layout of the house, it would be wasteful if you didn’t pack the house with your favorite people. Picture this: after a day of exploring the natural and cultural history of the nearby Hamamatsu mountains, cool off with a dip in the clean cool Atago River (access to the river is directly across the street). While everyone is cooling off, throw some local meat (wild boar, anyone?) and produce on the barbecue grill behind the house, put on some chill tunes, and pop open some cold brews. Spend the evening chatting, laughing, and eating until late into the night, when you can view the Milky Way above you in the clear mountain sky.

When you roll out of bed (or off your futon) in the morning, there’s plenty of room for a full crew to work in the kitchen preparing a full breakfast, and a huge refrigerator (by Japanese standards) to hold all your food and beverages for the weekend. When everyone is up and well-fed, start the process all over again.

Get Away from Tokyo

Best of all, Atagoya is within easy range of Tokyo, either by car or Shinkansen bullet train. Hamamatsu city is a mere four-hour drive or 90 minutes by bullet train, so Atagoya is a great candidate for a long weekend escape. Although Hamamatsu is not typically considered a tourist destination, there are plenty of activities to fill a weekend if you enjoy outdoor activities like cycling or hiking, exploring historic temples and shrines, or enjoying local delicacies like gyoza dumplings or grilled unagi (freshwater eel).

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