By Dmitry Rakin
Many reel in terror when the word hostel is mentioned but in Japan this type of accommodation has a whole new meaning. Allow me to set the scene.
A small but exquisite building with floors and beams of a dark, rich wood, narrows corridors lined with shoji that open up to reveal rooms that seemingly aren’t there and of course the engawa or veranda; a place that encompasses a peaceful garden at the building’s heart. I know the first time I saw such a house in a Kurosawa Akira film some years ago I yearned to visit such a place and now I finally find myself there.
Guesthouse Nara Backpackers is a hostel style accommodation that really is like no other. Located in a city with a rich history, the building also posses this trait. Impressively the house is nearly one hundred years old and staying in such an abode is a rare opportunity. A taste of tradition is easily found by wondering the shrines and temples of the city but spending the night in a place of this kind can only be found here. Until 20 years ago a woman who taught the traditional art of tea ceremony and flower arrangement owned the building so there is more to this guesthouse than just its history.
When arranging to stay you’ll be in awe at the rooms that are available. With a history of tea ceremony it’s no surprise that the building has its own teahouse but amazingly this room is one of many you can stay in. Still possessing its original features there’s unlikely many other places like it in the country where you can spend the night. Amongst the other rooms available are several private quarters with tatami floors offering a level of comfort and traditional surroundings of equal proportions. Depending on personal preference and availability dorm rooms are a large portion of the available lodgings one may stay in. The room I spent the night in slept six people and not once did I feel uncomfortable. A soft bed and a locker to store my possessions ensured I slept well through the night.
On the first floor is where you will find most of the amenities. Dropping off your luggage before check-in (3 pm) is a service offered and something I found extremely valuable upon arriving early. The house has several bathrooms ensuring guests are comfortable with showers available from 7 am until check out at 11. A large kitchen offers a place to cook and sit for those who wish to as well as a computer for those who do not have their own. Located near the centre of the house is a large open space that looks out upon the garden. This is the common space for all visitors to enjoy. I spent the evening in this area with guests and staff alike. We sat and conversed and the feeling of welcoming and hospitality is something I’ve never experienced anywhere. The members of staff are extremely pleasant and not only did they greet me in a friendly manner earlier that day they sit amongst you and help make everyone feel at home.
A home with such a humble atmosphere is something a hotel doesn’t possess and I never imagined staying at such a place was possible. Now that I have I know I’ll return again and I hope you come and see Guest Nara Backpackers for yourself. It really is one of a kind. Kofukuji Temple and Taritsu restaurant is within walking distance, while Round One sports, Karaoke and entertainment centre is just 1 stop away on the Kintetsu train or 5 minutes by taxi in Shin Omiya.
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