By Mandy Bartok
I’ve stayed in many hostels, but honestly I can't remember one that beats Guesthouse RICO in Wakayama City. The completely refurnished old building has a great atmosphere and extraordinary facilities. A relaxed and comfortable stay is guaranteed. However, what truly makes special this place is the vision and philosophy of its owners Mari and Takashi.
Once a Yakuza (Japanese mafia) owned neighbourhood, Shintori is now a completely safe and quiet area. However, given its dark past not many businesses have opened around and therefore very few people visit it. This hasn’t allowed the area to fully develop.
Mari and Takashi decided to change the reality of the neighbourhood and its people. The perfect combination of an architect and an urban planner, they’ve done an outstanding job since they opened Guesthouse RICO on December 2015. They explain how “the mission is to invite tourist to stay at Shintori. Restaurants, cafés, and new guesthouses will begin to open. Then the neighbourhood will start to change.”
At the first level of the building, you can find RICO’s reception and café. It’s a small, cosy room where both Mari and Takashi welcome guests as very few places do. They will literally do anything to make your stay and experience in Wakayama as good as possible. They will go the extra mile helping you in any way they can. While staying there, I needed to borrow a bike. Mari lent me hers for the day. There are many small details like this that prove their outstanding willingness to help their guests.
Everything that you see at the guesthouse was made by both owners. You can feel the care and passion to the place. They completely transformed it all by themselves and with help of their family and friends. Most of the decoration is made out of reused furniture they found on a torn down building. They cleaned and fixed it. It’s so beautiful, I would even like to take some of it home.
Guesthouse RICO is already making the dreamed changes to the community. There are several events and activities which allow the neighbours to have a better life and to integrate with the foreign community. A private collection of paintings made by disabled adults in Wakayama is exhibited all over the guesthouse. You can write a “love message” to the artist of your choice. All the work will be displayed at JR Wakayama Station from October 28 to 30.
Every 2nd and 4th Sunday of the month they have a small farmers market which sells fruits and vegetables at very affordable prices. This was thought by Mari and Takashi mostly for old people of the area. They wanted to bring a market close to them.
On the 1st and 3rd Sunday of summer and spring there are yoga lessons at its fascinating rooftop. The classes are not exclusive for guests. Anyone can join, allowing a deeper cultural integration between locals and foreigners.
Every month Mari and Takashi try to organise a special event. During my stay there was one for children of the area. A storyteller shared a tale to the kids. Afterwards, there were small stands selling the food described in the story. All of the dishes were prepared by locals.
There are several other projects in progress. A shared kitchen and co-working space is being built just besides the reception. The plan of a beer rooftop with movie nights its on its way as well. The objective is that locals and guests use these facilities for a deep integration of both.
Rooms rates range from ¥3,200 for a dorm to ¥7,500 for a private room. If you have a tent you can sleep on the rooftop for ¥1,500; only with a sleeping bag will cost you ¥1,000. For ¥500 you can have an amazing breakfast - fruit, bread, yoghurt and a perfectly well prepared drip coffee. Don’t forget to try Mari grandmother’s plum wine. Unfortunately she already passed away but she left some of her delicious drink behind. Not much left though!
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