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'Samurai inns' making use of historic storehouses to host guests in Akita Pref.

This image shows the interior of "Nishinomiyake Bushigura." (Photo courtesy of the Akita branch of East Japan Railway Co.)
A storehouse of Akita Kakunodate Nishinomiyake, which will be renovated into "Nishinomiyake Bushigura," is seen in the city of Semboku, Akita Prefecture, on Nov. 14, 2019. (Mainichi/Hiroshi Takano)

AKITA -- Traditional Japanese-style inns utilizing old storehouses will open to the public in the northwestern Japan prefecture of Akita next year, in an historic area where old samurai residences have been preserved, it has been announced.

Wanoi Kakunodate, as the facilities in the Kakunodatemachi district of the city of Semboku are called, will start hosting guests on March 16, 2020, the Akita branch of East Japan Railway Co. (JR East) and other entities said. The operators aim to allow inbound tourists, families and other guests to experience traditional Japanese culture and ways of living.

"In Kakunodate, tourist attractions are concentrated in a small area, so many tourists have tended to pass through the region. We hope we can contribute to promoting longer stays and make the style take root here," said Hideaki Kimura, president of JR East's Akita office.

The move comes as part of efforts under a tripartite agreement to promote tourism in the area. The deal was concluded in May between JR East Akita branch, the Semboku Municipal Government and the Tazawako Kakunodate Tourism Association.

Specifically, two storehouses dating back 100 years on the premises of Akita Kakunodate Nishinomiyake on Tamachi Bukeyashiki street, and another storehouse built during the late Edo period near a section of Kakunodate where traditional buildings are preserved will be renovated into Japanese-style inns. The latter facility has been used as a restaurant.

Members of the Nishinomiya family are descendants of a vassal of the Satake clan of Akita. At the new facility to be called "Nishinomiyake Bushigura," after operators renovate the family's old "maegura" storehouse, items including replicas of Japanese swords will go on display, to allow visitors to feel as if they had traveled back in time to the samurai period.

This image shows a bathtub inside "Nishinomiyake Gakkogura." (Photo courtesy of the Akita branch of East Japan Railway Co.)

Another facility called "Nishinomiyake Gakkogura" will be refurbished from a structure that had been used to store pickles, or "gakko" in the local dialect. Guests will be able to enjoy viewing cherry blossoms in spring while bathing in a bathtub designed after a barrel for pickles. They will also be treated to Akita's local specialties including "iburigakko" smoked pickles.

At yet another facility called "Tanmonogura," rolls of traditional Japanese fabrics are used as part of its interior design, making the storehouse, which is said to have hosted a fabric store, true to its original history.

Operators say they used the old Japanese character "i" to spell out Wanoi Kakunodate in a bid to convey the history of such facilities.

"We've added the features of Kakunodate to each of the inns. I believe our guests will be pleased to find them," President Kimura of JR East's Akita office said.

"There are only a few hotels in Kakunodate, and it's been difficult to make the area a tourist destination for longer stays. We hope the inauguration of the new facilities will lead to revitalization of the regional economy and help boost interactions between local residents and tourists," said Semboku Mayor Mitsuhiro Kadowaki.

Reservations to stay at Wanoi Kakunodate can be made via the facility's official website at: https://familio-folkloro.com/wa-no-i/kakunodate/

The accommodation fee is set at around 20,000 yen per person per night on weekdays during non-peak seasons and includes no meals.

(Japanese original by Hiroshi Takano, Akita Burau)

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