Take the train from Kintetsu Kyoto station bound for Kashihara Jingu-mae. The train will pass through the plains of the Nara basin. Change trains at Kashihara Jingu-Mae station for the Kintetsu Yoshino Line and ride to the Yamato Kamiichi station which is two stops before the end of the line. There is the Ise road that runs along the Yoshino River to Wakayama and our bus drove upstream into the depths of the mountains on the Higashi Kumano road. From the window the breeze brings in a faint scent of refreshing air from the land of the Yoshino cedar, washing away the gloominess of the autumn rains. After about a 20 minute ride from the station, I enter Kawakami-mura, Nara prefecture. Then 20 more minutes from the center of the village where the town office is located, from the Shirakawato bus stop, the bus crosses over Yoshino River to the tributary Nakaoku River and climbs upstream until it reaches Nakaoku hamlet.
Quarters to learn the way of life in the hamlet
I stayed at Yado HANARE which recently opened on July 1, 2016. They only lodge one group per day. The concept of this inn that is registered with our organization as a farm stay inn, is for the guests to reserve a whole old farm house and connect with “active” rural lifestyle while becoming intimate with Kawakami’s nature. Four years ago, the Yokobori’s, Hirohito and his wife Miho, who are involved in local economic revitalization activities made this inn from the planning stage with the architect and the carpenters. And, after repeated adjustments and the assistance of many people from and out of the village, they completed the inn. This inn boasts of the facilities designed to provide a comfortable mountain village experience such as Wi-Fi, fully equipped bathing area with hot water and a functional kitchen.
Having a great time helping cook dinner.
The Yokobori’s good taste can be seen in the functionality of their kitchen. A neat and clean cooking countertop and a sink with cooking utensils in a drawer under the countertop for easy access. Guests help with the cooking. For dinner, we peeled vegetables and starting the fire for the stove. I was able to have the rare luxury of rice cooked at a kamado (a traditional Japanese stove). First we kindle the seed fire with thin slivers of wood then using a bamboo blowpipe we increase the heat and gradually add more firewood. It’s strange that for some reason just staring silently at the flames flickering behind the iron lid gave me a sense of calmness.
Today’s dinner was chicken and vegetables stewed in a Dutch oven and rice seasoned with soy sauce and vegetables made in a cooking pot over the kamado. There is nothing like the taste of rice cooked over a kamado!
Making a living with Tarumaru woodcraft
Hirohito’s working space is a workshop right below the inn. He is now in training to inherit the Important Intangible Folk Cultural Properties designated Tarumaru woodcraft making skills. Tarumaru, of Tarumaru woodcrafting is the name taken from the ingredients used to make sakadaru (sake barrels). From long ago, Yoshino cedar has been used as sake barrels and here in Kawakami Tarumaru is important industry. Therefore they are endeavoring to not break the line of inheritance of these skills. Hirohito explains the stages of Tarumaru. The barrel must be watertight so he selects wood that is straight and with a special double handled knife he shapes the staves. After the ends are evened out, the pieces are left to dry for about 1 month. Even the stacked cedar staves are like a collector’s piece.
Bringing a breath of fresh air into the Hamlet
After finishing his term as a Community-Reactivating Cooperator Squad member, the Yokoboris started their life in the village. They began hunting for living quarters where they could hold events and become a watering hole where people could hang out. As they searched, they discovered an old farm house which later became the inn.
The couple live a fulfilling life in Kawakami. Miho is bringing up the children, taking care of the inn and plays the role of supporting people migrating or wishing to migrate to their hamlet. Hirohito also takes care of the inn while making Tarumaru and has blended into the community by helping at festivals and volunteering as a fireman.
When you visit, they want you to shed the idea that you are a guest and embrace the life as a villager. To not be a provider or a receiver is much more fun. That way you will get a deeper understanding of the village. Miho hopes that if you stay at their inn with your family or friends, you will be able to find a new bonding between each other. Hirohito believes that though there is nothing to purchase at the inn, your experience here would be priceless. The beliefs of this young couple has brought a breath of refreshing air into the hamlet.