The Hattoji International Villa

The Okayama prefectural government decided to create a series of low-cost places for international visitors to stay in order to try and encourage tourism in Okayama (I saw many signs of government spending in Okayama prefecture -- the concept of pork barrel clearly plays on both sides of the Pacific). Thus, they created the Okayama International Villa Group.
Okayama International Villa Membership Card

There are six villas in the group, but the two that sounded most appealling to me were Hattoji and Koshihata. I couldn't get to Koshihata for various logistical reasons, but I spent three wonderful evenings at the Hattoji villa.

The Hattoji villa is set amidst the rice fields of Hattoji, and is one of the more prominent landmarks in town -- the bus driver wil know exactly where it is. On my arrival, he was nice enough to drive straight up to it's driveway -- but remember where the bus stop is, that's where he picks you up! we'll be lookin down the mtn when we look
The villa itself is a beautifully preserved traditional Japanese thatch-roof farmhouse -- that's right, there's nothing between you and the rain except for rice straw! The farmhouse was originally in another village, but was moved to this site. It was used in filming the 1985 Japanese movie "kuroi ame" (black rain). Villa exterior However, the more important movie reference is My Neighbor Totoro -- if you've seen this wonderful piece of Japanese animation, you already know what this house is like. It was the house from Totoro -- down to the horizontal sliding door leading to an attic full of dust bunnies! The outer walls are shoji screens on the inside of a narrow porch, with sliding glass doors at the outer edge.
irori When I arrived, there was no one at the Villa. Within an hour or so, however, Maruo-san, the caretaker, showed up. She took me on a whirlwind tour of the Villa, giving me rapid-fire instructions in Japanese for tending the irori, the traditional fireplace around which the living room is centered, and which is the only heat in the villa (there is a modern kitchen and bathroom as well as a traditional iron kettle Japanese bath). my home away from home
The picture at right is looking through the living room into the bedrooms beyond. As you can see, there are no hallways; the rooms are simply separated from each other by sliding screens of either shoji or wood. The floors were all tatami, and as always with tatami, that meant shoes were not allowed in the villa (since I was already inside when Maruo-san got there, it's a good thing I had figured it out). This picture and the one of my bedroom are taken with natural light, emphasizing what a wonderful place the house is to be in. dining and beyond Above is my room at the villa, complete with the traditional alcove for displaying a scroll and a ikebana arrangement (as also found in the ryokan at Kinosaki). Originally I was going to use the bedroom next to this on the other side of the house, but Maruo-san started talking about that. Due to her patience, I eventually understood why she recommended I move: There are lots of wild boar in the woods around Hattoji even today, and they think a ripe field of rice makes a great meal. So, at night, the rice farmers put out very bright yellow flashing lights (which I saw for my whole stay there). The room I was originally going to use faced a rice field with one of these lights in it, and since there's only a shoji screen and some glass between you and it, it's kinda distracting. Happily, there were no flashers on this side of the Villa, and I didn't run into any wild boars in the woods either.
Maruo-san took about forty-five minutes to explain the running of the villa to me, then left. She was the only person I saw inside the villa while I was there. Although the guest book suggested there had been other visitors within about two weeks, there was no one else there at all in mid-September. That was typical of anywhere resort- or tourist-like that I went on this trip, even though the weather was beautiful; several people told me that the Japanese end summer September 1, no matter what the weather is like (this can't be explained by the school calendar the way it can here, since Japanese kids are in school almost the entire summer).
I hope these photos give you a little sense of the Hattoji Villa -- it was an incredibly wonderful place to stay, and an incredibly cheap one as well -- although it was supposed to be ¥3000 per night for single occupancy, for some reason it was only ¥2000 when I got there. Compared to lodging anywhere, that's a steal -- and this is an amazing place to be in as well. fountain When I went exploring the grounds of the Villa the next day, I found this pretty flowing-water pond (manmade). There are also bikes in the garage for your use, but like most bikes in Japan they're total beaters -- I wouldn't trust them on any real road! It's a shame, by the way, that's it hard to rent excellent bikes in Japan -- rural Japan would be a wonderful place for bicycle touring.
  Update in July 2007: Believe it or not, the International Villas arestill only ¥3000 per night. There's a great article about the villa on Shiraishi Island on SeekJapan.  
By the way, the logistics of the Hattoji Villa aren't made perfectly clear on the OIV website -- there are no restaurants or grocery stores in Hattoji most of the year, and you need to bring your own food in to cook. The nearest grocery store is down in Yoshinaga, and because the trusty Bizen bus only runs a couple times a day, it'll burn most of a day to go get food. So remember to bring it on up! The grocery store in Yoshinaga very convienent to the train station and bus stop, so it is practical to simply shop there after getting off the train and before catching the bus -- but be sure to leave a little time!
previous Hattoji map Hattoji next Views from Hattoji
  © 2007 Leo Hourvitz