By Sandra Isaka
The drive from Kochi City to Nakatsukawa is one of the most beautiful in Japan. Winding up higher and higher into the mountains, grand curves give you fleeting views of the Pacific over your shoulder. Soon you encounter the great Shimanto River, with its clear, fast water and colorful bridges. Passing rice fields and small towns, the cares of the city start to drift away and you feel you are going back in time, to a serene and simple world. As you ascend the final mountains to Nakatsukawa, you may have to back up on the precariously narrow and blind road if you meet a car coming down. When you round the final curve into the small valley town however, it will all be worth it.
Surrounded by mountains, rice fields, and a sparkling tributary of the Shimanto River, Hakoba Farmers` Inn is truly the epitome of scenic, rural Japan. Owned by the Tanabe's, life-long farmers, everything about the inn is local. The family built the lodge next to their personal residence with their own hands. The wood interior, loft, and woodstove are complemented with uniquely Japanese touches like a sunken cooking hearth, a kotatsu, a huge tree stump coffee table and paper lanterns. Hakoba only accepts one party per night, so this beautiful lodging will be all yours.
Your stay includes dinner and breakfast, and Tanabe San`s cooking is truly amazing. She uses all homegrown vegetables and rice, with eggs from her chickens. Fish and crab are always fresh. Her husband makes creative and delicious homemade pizzas in a clay oven outside. You will eat until you can eat no more, and then some. After dinner, relax in the gorgeous, renovated bathhouse with views of the mountains at dusk and the moon at night when you slide open the huge windows. The roomy tub`s water is hot and relaxing, and you can enjoy yuzu or other fruits or scents in the water on special occasions.
The town of Nakatsukawa has only about 50 residents. Walk the tranquil road to take in the family gravestones, intricate stone walls, and impeccably groomed gardens of impossibly old women. A beautiful, marked path along the tributary is only a few minutes walk away. Make sure to check out the leaves there in the fall or jump in for a swim in the summer. A shrine with great views sits above a set of towering steps near the rice fields at the back of the property. Kayak on the river or hike around the many trails in the area. Though the town is tiny, there is plenty to explore. The only sounds you hear will be farm equipment, the river rapids, and animals--plus the charming town bells at 6 AM, noon, 5 PM, and 9 PM. At Hakoba you can experience Japanese cultural traditions like rice planting or harvesting, mochi making, tea picking, or a maple festival, depending on the time of year.
There is nothing quite like the mist in the mountains after a rain or Tanabe San`s freshly made tofu using soybeans from the garden. To visit Hakoba is to experience a hospitality, simplicity, and beauty that I have found unrivaled in Japan.
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