The Front of the Satoyama Hotel
Everyday gets a little harder to differentiate between what you want and what you need. Everyone from faceless corporations, to your co-worker from your first summer job, to Aunt Sally has opinions about how YOU should pursue your happiness. Even on vacation in the big cities of Japan you can’t escape the blaring commercials on TVs, trucks rolling through carrying large billboards, and people on the streets throwing a flyer in your face. Hidden away in the hills of Ibaraki the Satoyama Hotel provides a real escape from the societal smoke and mirrors, and guests can re-center themselves. If international travel can broaden your horizons about the world, the Satoyama Hotel can broaden your horizons about yourself.
Satoyama means many things, but traditionally satoyama refers to the cultivation of lands between foothills and mountains. You’ll find this place suspended in the trees of the surrounding park and backed by a nearby mountainside. The closest corporation is the fruit vineyard a mile away, and the hotel’s people only encourage you to pare down on things for happiness, not build up. The Satoyama Hotel follows the practices of socio-ecological production unique to the landscapes of rural Japan to give their guests insight into the authentic lifestyles, joys, and hardships of local industries in Ibaraki. The people enjoy lives of simple sophistication and don’t want or need too much. According to Satoyama Hotel’s marketing director, Ryuichi Fujino, the hotel’s main purpose is to offer a chance for their guests to learn how to live minimally. “You don’t have to be a Buddhist monk,” says Fujino “But once you know what you need minimally you can simplify your life.”
Satoyama Hotel's Resident Goats Mocha (Left) and Lucky (Right)
Satoyama Hotel built their courses and activities based on the lives and interests of their staff members, who come from areas near the hotel. Not only do you get an authentic experience of rural Japan, but you can dive into the local culture with real, living people from the area. From the mountains, to the flat lands, to the food, there’s something to learn in each class provided.
Satoyama Hotel’s skyline, uninterrupted by the city lights, provides the perfect place for a bit of star-gazing either out with your family on a private walk, or with a certified star-guide. The hotel provides a complimentary star-wheel kit to follow along with the Japanese names for the constellations. You can look up with your naked eye or use a telescope. In the daytime, you can schedule any number of activities and classes to enrich yourself and learn about the local life.
Naturally, a hotel so tucked away in the countryside offers plenty of trails for a quick stroll, or full-on hikes. Satoyama Hotel offers several guided tours to fit your preferences. During early-morning forest walks you can listen to the birds sing the sun into the sky, and watch as the first rays of light hit each branch and rock. Guided tours held later in the day change seasonally as you learn about the surrounding flora and fauna of rural Ibaraki. There are also herb hunting tours where you can learn to identify and harvest some of the wild edible plants and herbs of the forest. For families, one tour includes teaching children and adults games to play while out in the woods. These tours aren’t about passively strolling through luscious forests, but how to interact and take proper care of the wild. Some guests might prefer to explore on their own, but should you get lost you’ll be glad that you took the….
Borrowing the Australian word for outdoor survival, Satoyama Hotel and Japan Bushcraft School jointly offer courses to teach guests how to live through getting lost in the woods. The teacher, Mr. Taku Kawaguchi, studied ancient Native American wilderness philosophy and skills for years, and took these skills back to Japan. Upon returning, he realized that ancient people of Japan used some of these very same skills. Now, Kawaguchi and his team of instructors offer guests introductory classes as well as comprehensive courses to train future Bushcraft instructors. Even if you never use these learned abilities, the Bushcraft school does show how Japanese people conserve nature. In other countries, nature is preserved by buying a plot of land and leaving it alone. Japan follows a different school of thought wherein nature needs a bit of careful human interaction to flourish. You can learn how nature can benefit from humans in these courses. If you complete these classes, you might have the opportunity to take a few natural souvenirs back to the hotel with you. If you do, you can use them in your next activity.
In the lobby of Satoyama Hotel you’ll notice a simple table littered with plucked plants and dirt stains from workshops of the past. With your natural souvenirs you can learn how to make small ornaments or fill picture frames with your local leaves and flowers. The Craft Workshops’ teacher is a local expert on plants from Ibaraki and can tell you where and how they grow and even old myths about the plants and the land surrounding the hotel. Didn’t bring your own foliage? Don’t worry. The teacher goes out every morning to harvest the most beautiful seasonal specimens of flowers, grasses, leaves, acorns, and moss.
Moss? Moss. Moss is hot in Japan! One of the current trends for young Japanese women is to collect and study about different growing mosses from all over the country. A traditional art of Japan is to make Koke-Dama, moss-ball. The crafts teacher is a local moss-ball artist and can quickly teach you from three different styles. First, pick a plant of your liking. You’ll notice that plants she’s plucked still have their roots. Then get ready to get your hands dirty by reaching into a bucket and making a ball from soft dirt. You’ll place your plant in the dirtball, wrap the whole thing in moss, and voila! Your very own naturally formed potted plant that will continue to grow when you take it home. Moss-ball making is one of the simple joys of Japan, but if these activities are a little too simple for you, let’s get into the extreme.
Near Satoyama Hotel lies the only permanent mountain biking course in eastern Japan. Cycle enthusiasts can rejoice as the challenges of the course are enough to entertain professionals, and yet are accessible enough for novice riders. Families and experts can enjoy cycling through the lush forests year-round and enjoy the scenery at their pace. Mountain bikes are available for rent at the hotel. If the summer air is getting a little too hot or muggy to enjoy a ride in the mountains there are water sports available too.
Rowing down the lazy streams you can enjoy the many views of the outlying countryside and mountains of Northern Ibaraki. The guides, certified for canoe, rescue, and mountain exploration, passionately teach guests about the sights along the river. You can see salmon migrating upstream, take a break with a barbecue lunch, and watch bungee jumpers leaping from the Ryu-jin Gorge suspension bridge from 100 meters (330 feet) up! After spending a long day on the water, you might feel a little homesick for the land. Get back on your feet at the hotel, and get ready to really get in touch with the land in the…
Farming is one of the biggest industries in Ibaraki. Its naturally fertile, rich soil has made Ibaraki’s fruits and vegetables some of the most sought-after in all of Japan. One in particular is the rare Ground Cherry. These cherries actually grow all over Japan, but only Ibaraki's Ground Cherries are edible. Satoyama Hotel offers you the chance to experience farming and gardening techniques in the Japanese style without help of chemical fertilizers or pesticides. You can interact with nature and eat it too!
The vegetables and herbs grown in the garden are used in the restaurant. That’s Satoyama’s style. Low-impact, environmentally conscious techniques to live by and teach others. What you see growing in the garden out back of the hotel will probably end up at your table!
In the morning you can eat like a real Japanese person for this breakfast. Fish, rice, and a small buffet-like tray are laid out before you. Ingredients are either from the garden or the local producers. The breakfasts are made by local elderly women whose hands are well-practiced from years of cooking for their families. You can taste the love it’s made with.
Satoyama Hotel’s restaurant offers course meals for their dinner. Generally, there is a Japanese course and an Italian course available. Vegetables and herbs come from the garden, and meat and fish are locally caught or raised in Ibaraki. Each dish offers a bit of local flair. The resident chef decides the dinner courses based on the availability of vegetables by season and what was sold in the morning markets. The exact dishes change a bit each day, so you’ll never have the same meal twice!
On good weather days, what’s better than a barbecue? You can enjoy a barbecue paradise in the garden restaurant as the staff grills up the freshest meat, fish, and of course vegetables. If you’re still hungry after eating, or if you didn’t get your favorite vegetables, just head out to the garden and pick what you like! A quick rinse later, and you can grill up your choices. After all that eating you’ll be ready to retire to your rooms. There are several different types of rooms to chose to your liking.
The Front of the Satoyama Hotel at Night
The Satoyama Hotel is technically a Ryokan, traditional style Japanese inn, but I’m sure you’ve noticed by now this isn’t your typical hotel. Generally speaking, Ryokans only have Japanese-style rooms, and the staff come in at night to set up futons for guests or even cook dinner. The Satoyama Hotel does have some of these amenities available, but there’s so much more to explore!
Satoyama Hotel, being focused on nature, offers glamourous camping, or glamping, near the garden on-site. You can stay in their “Mushroom Camp” beneath a tent. The tent perches on top of a tall platform where you can enjoy a wonderful sight of the nature out below and get a front seat to the cosmos at night. If sleeping outside in any conditions doesn’t sit well with you, there are plenty of inside rooms available of varying styles.
Most of the rooms are Japanese-style tatami rooms where you can experience the typical room of a local Japanese person. In the morning, a table and small chairs are set out for seating families. Unlike other Ryokans where the staff come to your room to serve you, the Satoyama Hotel’s style is to let you decide when you want to make up your bed. Since the Satoyama Hotel focuses getting back to nature and living minimally, there aren’t any TVs in the hotel. The staff will provide games or cards for entertainment, but otherwise the members of the hotel want you and your family to spend real, quality time together. Interestingly, there aren’t any clocks either! No distractions from the outside world, and nothing to control your schedule except for your own desires.
The Family Suite
If you want a more luxurious stay, there are two suites available. One features a large, carpeted room with a small sofa and a futon bed on a tatami platform. The bed is so soft, you have to be careful not to oversleep! From this third-floor suite you can get a sweeping view of the forested park below, and on clear days you can see all the way to the next town over’s Ferris Wheel. This suite can fit 2-3 people, but for larger families one additional suite with Japanese-style table and chairs is also available. There are private baths available in these rooms, unlike the Japanese-style rooms.
For glampers and people who are staying in the Japanese-style rooms, a communal bath is available for refreshing your heart and body. You can wash away the dirt of the forest, and soak in the warmth of the water. After your bath, there are yukata, traditional Japanese leisure wear, provided by the hotel that you can relax or sleep in.
The Satoyama Hotel isn’t just any hotel in rural Japan. It’s a tour of living in rural Japan all on its own! Ibaraki is definitely one of the best rural areas of Japan you must visit to experience the lives, jobs, and people here.