Lodgings where Foreigners Gather
If you come to Nagano, we want you to stay a few days, enjoy the onsen and natural environment, the delicious local cuisine, take part in some kind of activities and in general relax. For those who want to relax in one place as well as for those who want to travel around, it’s important to find a place to stay that will help you wind down and breathe easy after the effort of finding your way around unfamiliar places. We have lots of those places here.
Historically known as a “tourist prefecture” lodging houses in Nagano have long accepted travelers. How can this knowhow be used to successfully put into use to welcome overseas guests ?
Famous guide books like “Lonely Planet” and the “Michelin Green Guide” as well as the world’s largest travel site. “Trip Advisor” all introduce places that willingly accept foreigners.
The key word is Osekkai (do-gooding).
The common theme for all the ryokan we’ve seen has been a flexible attitude and a little bit of “do-gooding”. The master who decides and organizes the next part of a visitors trip, the okami who just has to fix the collar or the obi of the yukata and the okami who introduces and sticks her guests together. It is this deep, old fashioned sense of Japanese sociability that is attracting foreign travelers.
Here are some typical places.
Issa no Komichi Biyu no Yado
A group of bulky men returning from the ski fields greet Okami with a familiar “Hey Yuki” in the lobby, before heading off to the bar for a lively round of drinks. Visitors returning from the Snow Monkey Park are busy filling her in on the day.
There are around 5,000 overseas guests a year, with no particular slant on any particular nationality. “Communication is really important” she says, organizing buckwheat noodle-making and metal carving activities amongst other things.
These are popular with intellectuals from overseas, interested in historical culture and science.
The roof-top Rotenburo is popular with overseas visitors. There are many requests for sake floated inn the bath, in the falling snow.
Shibu Onsen, Senshinkan Matsuya
“We don’t do anything special. Only what any Ryokan would do” say the master and his wife. They are the 12th generation owners of this Ryokan. Their ryokan rated 8th in Trip Advisor’s “Best Japanese Ryokan” for 2014.
The answer lies with young owners. They never stop smiling. And the smoothness with which they welcome guests comes from heart.
She says “I not good at English”. She carefully shows how to put on a Yukata. The little things make an impression, like giving guests postcards made from the snaps they’ve taken. “It makes them happy and that’s fun.”
Watching them with the guests, you realize that just like the name Senshinkan, which means “to wash the heart” this is exactly what they do.
Chuokan Shimizuya Ryokan
This classic Japanese ryokan still lovingly users the original buildings from 160 years ago. For each post and joist there is a story repeated from Meiji, Taisho, Showa to Heisei Period. The atmosphere Japanese find nostalgic too. About 20% percent of the guests are from overseas.
“From my experience to now, many foreign guests want to converse in Japanese, so we go ahead and explain in Japanese. And well, we’re not very good at English anyway” say the owners and his wife.
Their cheerful hospitality and the labyrinth-like interior with its classical feeling “like a Ghibli Movie” are favorites with the guests.
And only five minutes away from Zenkoji it`s perfect for sightseeing.
Shibu Onsen, Kokuya
In the last seven to eight years, Kokuya ryokan which dates back sixteen generations, has actively been promoting Shibu Onsen overseas.
Starting with the Okami who answers the phone in fluent English, the staff are well used to overseas guests. Even staff not so fluent are ready to answer questions with their handy English-signed menus and directions.
“The most important thing is not to differentiate between Japanese and Foreign guests”. Everyone works to ensure all guests receive the same hospitality.
“Recently we had some French guests. They had been in Kyoto the previous day and they were delighted, saying this was the Japan they were looking for”.
Confident of the appeal of Shibu Onsen, everyone is committed to continuing to please overseas visitors and lead the expansion into other parts Nagano.