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Kifu no Sato featured in Financial Times article

05,Aug 2015 Media

At the end of July, one of our guests, Caroline Daniel, had her article about her visit to Japan published in the Financial Times.

Caroline took a nine-day trip around various locations in rural Japan to indulge in traditional Japanese hospitality, and to savour the different experiences offered by the area’s recent artisan-led cultural tourism revival.

In the article, Caroline speaks of Kifu no Sato with fondness, acknowledging the ryokan’s hospitality and the draw of its onsen and kaiseki cuisine for local Japanese tourists. The ryokan was her stop for travelling to other areas to touch base with what the local establishments have to offer.

Returning from the day’s travels to reinvigorate herself in Kifu no Sato, the incorporation of furniture by Masayuki Oshima, a woodcraft artisan from neighbouring Nishiawakura, into Kifu no Sato’s interior decor does not go unnoticed by Caroline. She was also able to observe and attempt ikebana with Kifu no Sato’s ikebana master, Koyo Kuroda.

The full article can be found here, and below the cut is the segment concerning Kifu no Sato and the surrounding area. If any of the experiences (tours, locations, restaurants, etc.) mentioned are of interest, please do not hesitate to contact Kifu no Sato to inquire. We will do our best to arrange and accommodate your requests.

[…] I am met with equal warmth at my destination — Kifu no Sato, a luxurious ryokan in Yunogo Onsen, 45 minutes’ drive west of Himeji. An established hotel for Japanese tourists drawn by itskaiseki multi-course cuisine and onsen, it is also now trying to attract western tourists. With no celebrated monuments, the focus here is on the local artisans.

Within reach is Osafune, a town known for its sword making, and Bizen, where there are hundreds of potters. Other artisans include a lacquer maker and a third generation tea-maker (there used to be 16 tea-making families; now there are two). In Nishiawakura, a forest village close to Yunogo Onsen, I meet Masayuki Oshima, a hip, young carpenter who has founded Youbi, a new woodcraft atelier.

His studio has an uplifting vibe and smells of fresh Japanese hinoki, or cypress. A table displays stones seamlessly spliced with wood. His face is animated with enthusiasm for his craft; he grins when recalling being told off for smiling during his apprenticeship. Frustrated that no furniture was being made with local wood, he took 18 months to create a traditional Windsor chair in hinoki. It is beautiful and remarkably light. “When I arrived, the community was genkai shuraku[with limited life expectancy]. It was forecast to disappear in 15 years. Now we’ve come”, he says, indicating his team of smocked apprentices.

I leave the workshop to have lunch halfway along the winding road that leads to Chizu, a settlement whose thatched buildings have been preserved by the mayor. We are heading for a restaurant, Mitaki-en, a romantic forest haven of rustic buildings with moss-covered roofs. Feathery maple trees ripple with light; small streams turn wooden wheels. There, I meet the mayor’s wife, Setsuko Teratani, who is wearing pink lipstick, her hair freshly pomped. “We aim to offer only the best local traditional meals and service,” she says, as grilled fish on sticks are carried by. “There was no tourism here at all before my husband did this.”

Only about 200 non-Japanese tourists visit a year — too few. We order the “mountain-vegetable” meal to eat by the river, overlooking a slender thread of waterfall and a cliff. On one plate is a perfect leaf encased in crisp tempura. Behind me, a similar one is growing. Other plates contain local hemp, bow-tied kelp and simmered vegetables (cooked separately to preserve distinct flavours).

The food is steeped in custom — and time. The miso is prepared in winter, using rice mould and left for three years. “Everything is done by hand, so you need to put your heart into it. You can taste the people’s gentleness in it,” Teratani tells me. “People are too used to convenience. I’d like to continue the style of living of ancient days. I want everyone to have a yearning to be here.”

Back at the Kifu no Sato, I enjoy seeing Oshima’s furniture in its elegant lobby. I wake on my futon to see shadows of the trees reflected on the pale blind. I have been away just four nights, yet feel a sense of peace. My morning’s task involves Ikebana, or flower arranging, with a 71-year old master, Koyo Kuroda. He tells me he feels “grateful to the plants” as he selects three flowers, and a leaf. Each precise insertion is accompanied by a nod of satisfaction. Competitive even at this, I watch him with a concentrated gaze before copying him. He says nothing, before calmly removing each item. (I even botched my leaf.) I leave carrying an immaculate iris. […]

Caroline Daniel is editor of FT Weekend

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