If there was a clock at this hostel, all you would hear in the rooms would be the ticking; such is the peace and quiet of this place, set in the entrance of a forest above the town of Tazawako. 4pm is as quiet as 4am at this hostel with rooms running in a plethora of directions like a ninja warren, so you can have a level of privacy that is not available in many city youth hostels.
From the rooms you can see the leaves sway in the breeze in the forest outside. You might imagine hearing the branches sway, but you actually can’t hear anything. The hostel is a good half an mile from the shores of Lake Tazawa (or Tazawako in Japanese), which during windy days can be more like the sea than a tranquil lake.
There are no lifts and no locks here, and the building looks like it was built before modern rules about railings on stairs and such. So if you are prone to falling down the stairs or struggle to lug a 20kg suitcase up three flights of stairs, you should ask for some assistance, or watch how the fit looking seventy year old grandparents do it.
It goes without saying that despite the age everything works and is super clean and tidy, like most accommodation in Japan. The age actually gives the place character, with the lower floors looking like an English Public School Hall, and the upper floors looking like some kind of converted farmhouse, with its raw unadorned concrete walls and wood paneling giving it a simplistic feel.
While the building is quite large, there aren’t so many guests, giving some sense of community. On the other hand the building is so spread out that you can quite easily find your own little corner without being bothered by anyone.
This hostel is run by a kindly young family and you may see the kids running around or the two fluffy cats outside. There isn’t much in terms of organized activities or get to know you parties, as many people come here with their family or small group, being a mainstay of Japanese families and university students. If you want more of a party scene where you can chat with lots of people from other countries, some of the Kyoto and Tokyo hostels can give you that. Here in the countryside there aren’t too many overseas guests. They are here of course, but the enormity of the surrounding mountains and fields swallows up the human presence pretty quickly.
There is also a small library and lounge which is filled with old manga books so you can relax by the heater. In the summer, there are fans provided in each room, but people not used to the humidity of a Japanese summer’s night could struggle to sleep.
Check in is strictly from 3:30 pm to 8 pm but you can leave your luggage in the unattended and unlocked area. But here no one steals anything and kids can run around unsupervised, it is that kind of place. There are no locks on doors, even with the entrance, but is probably safer than many places in the city with locks.
In the lobby area the two story high ceilings, dark wood beams, the 1930’s style lights, as well as the slow piped piano music gives an impression of an old English manor, one that hasn’t changed for decades.
For a small fee (630 yen for breakfast, 1030 yen for dinner), you can have a generous meal served in the communal dining area. Separate tables are allocated for each room or floor and you may have the opportunity to eat home cooked dishes that are only available in a ryokan or guesthouse. You may notice a raw egg soaked in a soy broth. Don’t eat it straight, but mix it with the rice, which will slightly cook the egg, giving the rice a creamy rich texture.
If you want to eat outside, there is one restaurant in Tazawako serving dinner, the very capable Orae; about five minutes walk down to the lake and then another five minutes along the shore to the north. Most guests here and in the other accommodations take dinner at their ryokan or hostel, that is just how it is done here, so there isn’t much demand for outside dining, despite having a fantastic view of the lake. For lunch there are a bit more variety, especially near Shirahama and the boat pier bus stops.