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Suburban Hospitality: Immersive homestyle stays in Kyoto

2022.01.28

Planning a trip to Kyoto Prefecture presents travelers with a huge selection of hotels in the city center. While these locations may offer convenience, they may lack the personal touch and local charm that can only be found in smaller lodgings. Consider alternatives like the lovely Kyoto Guest Inn Nagaokakyo in the city’s lesser-explored suburbs, or stay among the tea fields of Wazuka at cozy Blodge Lodge. At these family-run establishments, guests can gain a new perspective on the Kyoto region and enjoy communicating with their hosts in fluent English.

Blodge Lodge: Overnight in the Tea Fields of Wazuka

The tea city of Uji just south of Kyoto is the main center of tea culture in the region and is an essential part of any Kyoto visit. The heart of Kyoto’s tea production, however, lies over the mountains to the south in the delightful farming town of Wazuka. Long hedgerows of tea bushes blanket the steep mountainsides, creating highly captivating scenery that is sure to enthrall photographers, nature lovers, and tea aficionados.

There is a small but growing market for tea tourism, but recently all sorts of foreign visitors are starting to discover the Wazuka valley simply for its natural beauty and unique scenery. Very few lodging opportunities are present in the valley, but Blodge Lodge has been welcoming guests into their family home since 2016. Run by American expat Michael and his Japanese wife Ikuko, Blodge Lodge is a comfortable guesthouse situated right alongside the Wazuka tea fields. This is a rare opportunity to stay overnight in the heart of a historic and important tea producing region.

Blodge Lodge accommodates only one group of guests at a time, ensuring that visitors can enjoy privacy and personalized service. The guest area is a pair of cozy rooms in a traditional design. Soft sunlight streams in through ricepaper window panels and warms the tatami mat flooring. Minimalist but inviting decorations adorn the walls. A wooden deck and backyard garden are also available for guests who want some fresh air. Guests have access to a private bathroom, bath, and laundry area. Unlike most hotels, it truly feels like returning to your own home.

Hostess Ikuko works to ensure that Blodge Lodges is much more than just your average guesthouse. She understands that a big part of why guests choose her lodging is to gain personal insight into Wazuka. Several activities are offered in the family’s dining room and kitchen that bring visitors closer to Japanese home life. Best of all, Ikuko speaks fluent English and is skillful at explaining Japanese culture to her guests.

A stay at Blodge Lodge includes breakfast (with dinner as an optional option) but guests can also cook their own meal as an add-on activity. With Ikuko as an instructor, guests prepare a homestyle Japanese meal of a main course and several side dishes. The menu is seasonal but often includes Japanese standards like grilled fish, sesame-topped vegetables, or fresh pickles. As is standard on all Japanese tables, the meal is rounded out with hot miso soup and a bowl of fluffy white rice.

If visitors have a special request, Ikuko is happy to try to arrange unique meals. This can even include wild boar meat and other countryside dishes that can’t be found so easily in the city. Vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free options are available as well. Cost is 5,500 yen per adult for 3-hour class, kids 1,650 yen. No charge for children under elementary school age.

Blodge Lodge also offers a tea tasting activity where guests sample local teas and learn what makes each cup special. Ikuko introduces five different seasonal teas ranging from a delicate green sencha to a richly roasted hojicha, and a bowl of matcha is also served. Many of these teas are organic, a growing farming trend in Wazuka. Free from pesticides and chemical fertilizers, these organic teas have a freshness to them that feels as if you’re drinking the tea field itself.

Ikuko tells the background of each tea and discusses the flavors and textures, enlightening guests to a deeper vocabulary of tea tasting that helps them better appreciate what they are sipping. This tasting is a wonderful activity made even more special by the personal nature of the experience; it’s just you and Ikuko enjoying some delicious tea in a quiet moment at the family dining table. Cost is 2,200 yen per adult for 1 hour.

Located right in the heart of Wazuka town, Blodge lodge is the perfect location from which to explore the valley. Rental bicycles are available at several spots in town, and Michael and Ikuko are happy to mark up a map with compelling sightseeing spots. From historic temples to magnificent hiking trails – and of course plenty of tea-related activities—there is plenty to discover in Wazuka using Blodge Lodge as a home base.

A one-night stay with breakfast and dinner is 14,300 yen per adult, 7,600 yen per child (including tax). Booking information can be found here:

Blodge Lodge

Blodge Lodge

Blodge Lodge is recommended for you if you: – Want to experience the quiet atmosphere in the midst of a tea field – Are interested in hearing about immigration experiences (the host is a migrant) …

Kyoto Guest Inn Nagaokakyo: Traditional hospitality in a cozy modern inn

Travelers looking to remain closer to Kyoto itself but still seeking an engaging experience should consider staying in the city’s outskirts. The community of Nagaokakyo can be found just a short 15-minute train ride from JR Kyoto Station. Briefly the imperial capital in the 8th century, nowadays Nagaokayo is known for its bamboo-covered hills that supply the region with building materials and seasonal culinary ingredients.

The Kyoto Guest Inn Nagaokakyo is an ideal choice for an overnight stay in this suburb free of tourist crowds and congestion. More than a guesthouse and not quite a hotel, this inn highlights the closeness between host and guest that can make a stay all the more memorable.

The property is run by Sonoe Koizumi, a gentle spirit of a woman who welcomes you as though a family member. She and her husband—both fluent in English—had a long history of tourism and hotel work before opening their inn in 2016. Sonoe acts as the okami, a Japanese word used for the proprietress of a traditional hostelry or inn. While her establishment is modern, it maintains the feel of the inns of olden days through Sonoe’s commitment to hospitality and charm.

The four guest rooms at the inn are simple yet inviting. The overall design motif focuses on bamboo, one of Nagaokakyo’s most famous products. Each room uses a different species of bamboo wood to accent the light and airy interior spaces. The three upstairs rooms feature a sitting area with traditional tatami mats where guests can stretch out and relax. One single-use room is available on the first floor for solo travelers. A simple breakfast is included in all stays, with a choice between a traditional Japanese rice dish or a selection of fresh bread.

All rooms feature private bathrooms and showers, but a traditional bath is also available for guests to fully relax and enjoy a mini-onsen experience. The stone-lined tub uses charcoal to give the water additional detoxifying power, and it’s said to help the body retain heat for longer. Due to current COVID safety guidelines, this bath is available only by reservation for private use (500 yen).

The building that houses the inn is modern, but it incorporates some classic touches that give it a countryside feel. A cozy corner with comfy chairs gathered around a low wooden table housing an irori, a traditional charcoal hearth over which a kettle or pot is hung. When relaxing here and looking out the large windows at the garden landscape beyond, it doesn’t feel like the inn is at the center of a city suburb at all!

This downstairs lounge also serves as a dining area for the inn’s newly-opened Wagyu beef restaurant. Traditional Nagaokakyo favorites prepared using high quality Kyotamba beef are served for lunch and dinner. Advance reservations are required for dinner, so guests are encouraged to let the inn know at the time of booking if they would like to enjoy a meal.

Kyoto Guest Inn Nagaokakyo holds one more secret in its downstairs area. A hundred-year-old earthen-walled kura storehouse is incorporated into the modern building. These storage facilities are often found on old estates, and were designed to hold rice, artworks, and other valuables. There’s a real treasure inside this inn’s kura: a fully stocked bar.

After the beef restaurant closes at 8:00pm, Sonoe’s husband serves as bartender for the locals who visit for a drink and lively conversation. Guests interested in Japanese whisky and beer will find a variety of sought-after brands here, and can enjoy their drinks in an intimate private lounge upstairs. A homecooked dinner of Kyoto-beef followed by a tumbler of twelve-year Yamazaki whisky before retiring to your room is a wonderful alternative to a crowded restaurant and long night out.

Nagaokakyo holds some enticing secret sightseeing opportunities, making this inn a good base for exploring the area. Lesser-known spots like the peaceful nature of Nagaoka Tenmangu Shrine and Komyo-ji Temple with its fantastic autumn foliage are within reach on bicycles borrowed from the inn. A short train ride north brings visitors to the Take-no-michi Bamboo Path, a perfect alternative to the crowded Arashiyama bamboo forest.

Kyoto Guest Inn Nagaokakyo is the perfect choice for travelers looking for a uniquely Japanese spin on the bed and breakfast concept out of the city center. Sonoe and her welcoming sense of hospitality are sure to delight.

A one night stay in a single room with breakfast starts at 5,500 yen per adult on weekdays, 8,000 yen on holidays. Reservation info is available here:

Kyoto Guest Inn Nagaokakyo

Kyoto Guest Inn Nagaokakyo

Kyoto Guest Inn Nagaokakyo is conviently located outside of Kyoto with easy access to Osaka and Kobe, making it ideal for sightseeing in Kansai. The attached bar is renovated from a 100 year-old wareh …