For a dose of homely hospitality, check in to Tsumugiya, an artsy guesthouse situated close to the Kawasaki quarter in Ise town. Housed in a 100-year-old merchant's building, the quaint and intimate guesthouse has lots of warmth and character.
Being a backpacker herself, owner Totomi understands the needs of the traveller and strived to make the place homely and friendly. There are separate dormitories for male and female, as well as two private rooms. With only six beds to each dorm room, there is plenty of space to move around and stash your stuff away. Beds are large and comfortable, with privacy curtains for each bunk. The female dormitory has the added advantage of a personal toilet and sink area, which is most welcome. In addition, the shared toilet downstairs, with its wall of plastic green leaves, is always kept clean. The shower was one of the best I've had on my entire month-long trip, thanks to the bathroom's spaciousness and a shower head at the right height.
Head to the cosy lounge, where you'll find it easy to strike up a conversation or be serenaded by a random traveller playing the guitar. There are plenty of manga comics to read. The kitchen is fully equipped with all the amenities you would need to cook yourself a good meal. You will find the supermarket a five minute walk away. There is free tea and coffee here, as well as bread for breakfast.
The guesthouse provides a quirky handdrawn map of a local insight into the best spots for food, sightseeing and shopping in the area. The Kawasaki quarter used to be a bustling merchant quarter in Ise, and traces of its Edo-style buildings still abound here. There is even a secret sushi restaurant nearby, but I was told that it is best to visit with a Japanese-speaking friend. Ask Totomi for food recommendations.
Tsumugiya is a 10-minute walk from Ujiyamada Station, and a slightly longer 15-minute walk from Ise Station. It is best to follow the directions on the website so as not to get lost in the twisting lanes.