Once in a blue moon, I would select my next travel destination because of an unusual or exceptional lodging in the area. This has brought me to places that I had not heard of before; the mountainous village of Higashi-Yoshino 東吉野村 in Japan’s Nara Prefecture is one example.
I was looking for a place to stay in Kyoto in summer 2015. Using Airbnb’s map function, I came upon a tastefully designed riverside home that was a modern take on the traditional Japanese house in the nearby prefecture of Nara. We booked it immediately.
Weeks later, we met our host, Marina, at Haibara train station. Enroute to her home, we stopped at a supermarket to get groceries. Marina explained that there is no grocery shop in the village so she would usually plan her weekly visits to the supermarket, which is a 20-minute drive from her house.
Marina and her husband, Daimon are a few years younger than AB and me. Designers by training, they lived in Osaka before uprooting their young family (their first-born was one year old) to Higashi-Yoshino. It was a drastic change, moving from one of the most populous cities in Japan to a mountainous village of some one thousand residents.
What brought them to this village with its aging populace and limited job opportunities (mostly in the forestry trade)?
Daimon’s good friend, Daisuke, who’s also a designer, had moved from Osaka to Higashi-Yoshino first and his creativity was rekindled by the tranquil surroundings and nature. Daimon and Marina soon followed in his footsteps and joined him in the village.
With the support of the local authorities, the two men set up Office Camp Higashi-Yoshino, a co-working space where visitors can rent a table, a meeting room, or even a room to stay for a longer period.
Marina and Daimon seemed have adapted well to their new surroundings, enjoying the slower pace of life and fresh natural environment. For additional income and to meet new people, they let out the upper floor of their home on Airbnb.
Staying with them was the highlight of our two-week holiday in Japan. Our room looked out to a gushing river (Kiyomizu Takami) and green mountains. The peaceful atmosphere was a refreshing change from the bright city lights.
Having spent most of my life in Singapore and lived only in dense cities, I sometimes wonder if I could live in a similar environment like Higashi-Yoshino.
I am used to the constant city lights and sounds, everyday conveniences such as a 24-hour supermarket and rapid subway trains, and easy access to cultural events and happenings. What would I do for a living in a small village? How would I occupy my time?
Perhaps instead of being daunted by the ‘smallness’ of such rural places, I should open my mind so that I could discover new things. Maybe I would find it easier to gather my thoughts, to create, and to write when my mind is not crowded out by big-city distractions?