By Geoff Day
Until recent years, the exquisite sasayuri lily flourished across the Japanese countryside. Due to environmental factors and development, this once common flower is now a rarity to behold. Similarly, the iconic thatched roof lodgings of Japan's past are now nearly impossible to find. It is with this vision that the Rice Terrace Villa Sasayuri-ann was reborn from a renovated traditional mountain house constructed nearly 200 years ago. It is only fitting that sasayuri lilies now bloom on the slopes rising to this historic villa.
Branded as an ancient paradise beyond memory, Sasayuri-ann in Nara Prefecture is a unique lodging with rich history and fascinating cultural activities set in the birthplace of the Japanese ninja. Sasayuri-ann offers guests (two to ten people) an exclusive mountain house experience with panoramic views over the countryside and rice fields below.
This mountain villa is the perfect combination of Japaneses style and luxurious accommodation. From the thatched roof to the traditional pine flooring, Japanese authenticity pervades throughout the lodge. While this historic home stays true to its spirit, it has been completely restored and refurbished with every modern convenience and luxury necessary for the perfect getaway. Thatched roof houses are famous for being cool in the summer and warm in the winter and air-conditioning, heating and ventilation ensures year-round comfort. The main room with its huge windows offers a panoramic view of the rice fields below and is used for dining, living and sleeping. There is ample space for up to ten guests and an expansive ceiling with the masterfully designed thatch roof high above. The irori sunken fireplace provides a gathering point in the center of the room and is the perfect place to cook traditional meals and enjoy drinks. Additional areas in the main house include the entry room, two restrooms, laundry room, kitchen, second dining area, changing room, bathing room and a second floor rest and study area. The spacious 400 liter cypress wood bath is perfect for warming the body and is an interesting contrast to the second custom-built ceramic bathtub with views overlooking the rice fields as you bathe. There is also a second building included with rent that includes a fully stocked library, business and meeting room (with television, Wi-Fi, meetings table, etc), a traditional tatami tea room and a second bathing room. Decorations and lighting throughout the houses are reminiscent of Japanese simplicity and are created in the style of shugendo which focuses on fully understanding the relationship between humanity and nature.
Guests are treated incredibly from start to finish. The lodging offers a free pick-up and drop-off service from the nearby Nabari station (~10 minutes by car to the villa) on the Kintetsu line. As the villa is completely private and rented out by the group, the staff (located next door and available at all times) will start out by giving you a guided tour of the amenities. With a fully equipped kitchen, guests may choose self-catering or Japanese course menu delivery services (nabe, etc.) and the staff will help you get your meal started in the fireplace before leaving your group to enjoy the evening. Rich cultural events are available as options from the main living room and include a range of activities deeply associated with the region such as live ninja demonstration, Noh theater, Zazen or chanting sessions in shugendo style, traditional music performances, and more.
The owner, Matsubayashi, is a highly regarded shugendo monk and will be happy to show guests to several areas in the area throughout your stay. Matsubayashi and his staff speak Japanese and English and are quite happy to spend time and share stories and experiences with guests. Guests who wish to wake up early can experience the sunrise followed by a demonstration of shugendo and the path to experiential awakening through discipline. Matsubayashi's wife is also quite happy to spend time with guests and is highly regarded in performing traditional activities including tea ceremony and flower arrangement.
Nabari has a rich history and sightseeing destinations include the 48 waterfall path of Akame, the Nabari ninja village and training school, Murou-ji Temple (Japan's second oldest), and much more. For those who would rather explore on their own, there are multiple options available as a service from Sasayuri-ann including motorbikes, car rental, bicycles, kayaks and more. If you are looking for more of a relaxing mountain getaway, staying around the villa itself has plenty. Areas to explore include a large campfire area, a ninja star training field, a farm with fresh mountain vegetables, rice fields, fish ponds, forest paths and more.
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