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Experience the Inaka: Two Delightful Farmstays in Kyoto’s Countryside

2022.03.14

The Japanese word inaka is not one that many foreign visitors learn while on vacation. It means countryside, but there’s a deeper rural nostalgia inherent in the term as well. While the cities offer their own attractive experiences, a whole world of adventure awaits among the farms and villages of the countryside. In rural Kyoto Prefecture, two families have opened their homes to guests who want to embrace the slow life of Japan’s inaka. It’s the perfect way to experience a lesser-explored side of the country, and nowhere is better for this than in Kyoto.

(Main Image courtesy of Hikaru Toyoda)

Farmhouse Nana: Welcome Home to the Kameoka Countryside

In mid-August, Japanese observe the ancient Obon holiday. This celebration of remembrance for past ancestors almost always involves a return to one’s hometown and a gathering of family members. Foreign travelers may not have a chance to experience this key part of Japanese life, but a stay at Farmhouse Nana in Kameoka perfectly captures the nostalgic feeling of returning home to the countryside. Kameoka valley is located just over the mountain from Kyoto, and the area takes pride in its rich history as a former castle town. At only a 25-minute train ride from Kyoto Station, this destination is perfect for a one-night plunge into the rural landscape of Japan.

In 2017, Sachiko Toyota and her husband began restoration of a traditional farmhouse in the foothills of this farming community. Once the home of a well-off farmer, the Toyotas turned it into a cozy guesthouse where they could offer an authentic inaka experience to travelers. From the moment Sachiko’s motherly voice rings out in welcome from the entryway of the farmhouse, it feels as if you’ve come back to a place of warm memories and the idyllic days of youth.

Guests have access to the downstairs portion of the Toyota family home. This includes a suite of tatami mat rooms enhanced with traditional craftsmanship and antique decorations, as well as a private bathroom with a comfortable modern bath looking out on a small garden. The sliding paper panels of the bedroom windows open to provide an enchanting view of a rustic landscape garden. While not an inn or hotel in the traditional sense, Farmhouse Nana provides a level of comfort and privacy that feels just right for this kind of guesthouse experience.

One of the first elements of countryside living that Sachiko introduces to her guests is the nearby garden. After all, a vegetable plot is a vital part of the inaka life. Strawberries, lettuce, and rhubarb grow among clumps of herbs, and an organic rice field lies off the property as well. The garden’s bounty is used in the meals that she cooks for visitors, and guests are invited to get involved with the seasonal gardening if the mood so takes them.

The village surrounding Farmhouse Nana is sleepy and quiet in a charming way, but there’s plenty to see and do in the Kameoka region. Part of the experience is a personal tour of Kameoka (schedule permitting). For no additional cost, Sachiko and her husband drive guests around the area in the family van, making a few stops along the way at interesting cultural sights and attractive viewpoints. This is a region known for its agriculture, and areas of the Kameoka valley are still fiercely traditional. Rustic farmhouses and charming rural scenery roll by as Sachiko narrates the tour in simple English.

Left: Picture courtesy of Hikaru Toyoda

A nearby bridge over a gentle river leads to a sweeping field of autumnal pampas grass, evoking the calm feeling of being among nature. Elsewhere, a lone temple stands watch atop a hill terraced with 1,300-year-old rice fields, providing a magnificent panoramic view of the valley. For guests who want to get up early for a once-in-a-lifetime sight, a short drive up into the mountains allows for amazing views of Kameoka’s famous “sea of clouds” that blanket the valley on cool mornings late in the year.

The highlight of the tour is the impressive Izumo Dai-jingu Shrine. This place of worship is an ideal spot to get an understanding of the reverence for nature that the Shinto faith embodies. A trail behind the main hall disappears into the leafy twilight of the forest, inviting visitors to walk among an entrancing Ghibli-like scene of vibrant moss and holy boulders. Unlike anything found in the city, special locations like this shrine are best discovered with an expert local guide like Sachiko at your side.

As dinnertime approaches, a special experience is prepared for guests to give them a taste of authentic inaka cooking. A workshop attached to the farmhouse sports an okudo-san, a traditional wood-fired oven with a huge iron kettle for cooking rice. Guests feed cedar branches and sticks into the hearth as the rice begins to bubble under a heavy wooden lid. This is how it was done for millennia before modern convenience, and it’s a fun way to understand traditional cooking techniques. Best of all, it produces rice that is rich and fluffy in a way that electric rice cookers simply cannot reproduce.

The delicious rice from the okudo-san is served with the evening’s meal, and Sachiko certainly knows how to prepare an enticing spread. The menu changes with the season, but the chicken sukiyaki is a popular year-round dish. Slices of local chicken simmer to perfection in a hotpot alongside tofu, mushrooms, and green onions, all drenched in Kyoto’s famously sweet sukiyaki sauce. This is the kind of fresh, home cooked Japanese meal that most tourists never get a chance to try. When the weather is nice, dinner can even be enjoyed under the stars.

An evening of restful sleep is sure to follow after a rewarding day of exploring the countryside. Sachiko greets guests in the morning with another homemade meal using ingredients from her garden. When it’s time to leave, Sachiko is quick to remind guests that they are welcome back any time, her smile beaming as she waves goodbye.

Overnight packages are available at Farmhouse Nana starting from two guests. A one-night stay with breakfast and dinner starts at 11,000 yen per person. Elementary school children and younger are half price. Infants under 1 are free. There is an additional 3,000 yen fee on Saturdays and on the day before a public holiday.
Dinner with okudo-san rice cooking experience is an additional 1,000 yen per person.

Booking information available here: https://farmhousenana.wixsite.com/hozu

Seventh Home: Embracing the Slow Life in Ayabe

In the northern reaches of Kyoto Prefecture, just before you hit the Sea of Japan coastline, the small agricultural village of Shigasato in northwest Ayabe City lies almost hidden in a valley between sloping forested mountains. This is deep in the inaka, meaning that the villagers have learned to be as self-sufficient as possible. It’s a tough lifestyle of farming and making the most of the land that attracts few outsiders.

None of this kept away Yoshiyuki Ishizaki, a former Tokyo-based businessman who uprooted his family and settled in Shigasato precisely because of the charms and challenges that it offers. Together with his wife Yoko, they decided that a move to the countryside would give their eight-year-old son a healthier and more fulfilling childhood. After spending the past few years developing their home into a charmingly authentic guesthouse called Seventh Home, the Ishizakis are ready to share the pleasures of backwoods life in northern Kyoto with foreign visitors.

Though still a new establishment, the edifice of Seventh Home guesthouse has a long history as an important building in the village. Just off the town’s old main street, the hundred-year-old structure was once the home and shop of an umbrella merchant. Traces of the splendor of the old residence remain, with a former shop area in the home’s entryway and an inner courtyard garden—now home to a pair of friendly chickens. The building has a reassuringly lived-in feel to it, offering an intimate glimpse into the past of the village.

For guests who want a hands-on look at farm life, the Ishizakis offer seasonal activities of their own. There’s always something that needs tending in the organic garden behind the house, where vegetables are grown naturally without pesticides and chemical fertilizers. Yoko knows how to make something as simple as pulling weeds a delightfully rewarding experience. In the kitchen, guests can learn to make simple onigiri rice ball snacks and assist as Yoko prepares healthy meals from local ingredients. She even offers a beginner’s yoga lesson in the morning to start the day refreshed and limber.

During the planting and harvesting seasons, Yoshiyuki demonstrates how to work the rice field by hand, allowing guests to see the traditional ways of growing rice that are now often replaced by mechanization.

Dinner and breakfast are included in a stay at Seventh Home, but travelers have something to look forward to for lunch as well. The village is famous for a pair of noodle shops known throughout the region. Ajikidou serves handmade soba (buckwheat) noodles, while Takematsu Udon prepares chewy udon noodles over a wood-fired kiln. A visit to these appetizing eateries offers a chance to eat like a local.

Yoshiyuki suggests that visitors spend a few nights at Seventh Home to simply absorb the feel of inaka life. His fluent command of English allows him to share his story with guests, and he loves answering questions about country life. Opportunities to explore the region are numerous, and local shrines and hiking trails are within reach on bikes borrowed from the guesthouse. In summer, guests can play in the clear river behind the farm, and Yoshiyuki knows where to find fireflies when they appear on June evenings. It’s an excellent opportunity to dive deep into the Kyoto countryside with a friendly host family as a guide to the slow life of northern Kyoto.

A one-night stay at Seventh Home with breakfast and dinner is 7,000 yen per adult, 3,000 yen for elementary children (including tax). Free for children pre-school and under.
Some optional activities require additional fees.
Booking information available here: https://seventhhome.amebaownd.com/