If you’re after a retreat into the natural wilds of Japan, look no further. Yokomura Eco-Lodge is the perfect nature getaway from Tokyo, deep in the Yananashi mountains with an organic farm-to-table experience.
A labor of love, the lodge is an environmentally friendly escape from Tokyo with rivers, onsen and mountain trails all within walking distance. Crafted over 2 years to create the perfect space for everything from friendly get-togethers to weddings to yoga retreats, the Edo-period farmhouse has been completely renovated and turned into a haven in the countryside. This isn’t just your average 4-6 people cabin though—with room for up to 20 people, this could be a company weekend away or your alternative birthday adventure.
Having lived in Tokyo for over a decade years, Byron and his wife Kaori were keen to leave the city life behind and create something new, something more than just a home for themselves. Having already moved to the small town of Fujino with plans to build their own property sustainably, the couple seized the opportunity to test their skills on a nearby farmhouse when it became available.
With a limited budget and plenty of skills to learn, this was going to be the tester property, but ended up becoming much more. The idea of “farm to table” was already big in America and Europe, but was little known in Japan, and hardly accessible to visitors. With the coincidence of having a restaurant nearby run by a chef who uses only home-grown vegetables it seemed like too good an opportunity to miss. Byron gained his farmers license earlier this year having always been a keen foodie, and now supplies fruit and veg to a variety of embassies in Tokyo.
Originally built in the Edo period, the 150-year-old traditional wooden farmhouse is similar to those that fill the nearby mountainsides, many still in use by farming families today. Originally used for silk production, it needed a complete overhaul after years of abandonment. It took the family and over 20 workmen more than a year to create their vision, with plenty of blood, sweat and tears. With as many eco-friendly methods as possible, the farmhouse was restored and the lodge created. The combination of Japanese and sustainable touches makes it something truly special, and retains the traditional elements of the community and surroundings.
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From unusual techniques to re-purposed materials and original features, the creation of the house was more than just practical, it took care and imagination too. With every aspect considered carefully to create a sustainable and beautiful space, incorporating as many Japanese elements as possible. The darkened walls of the lodge, for example, are made from wooden planks, charred to form a weatherproof coating in an old Japanese carpentry technique called yakisugi.
With high ceilings and large windows, the downstairs space is light and airy throughout the year, with an open-plan design for the living, dining and kitchen space. The bedrooms are spacious with an open-air feeling of sleeping in a cabin, without the cold. To keep the lodge warm in the winter months, over 100 re-purposed tatami mats have been used to insulate the building. Since they already have a layer of insulation inside and are usually thrown away when people purchase new flooring, they were perfect for the house.
While the bedrooms are up above, below the kitchen you’ll find a 5m-deep cellar, originally used to store mulberry leaves. As silk production was popular in the area, silk worms would be kept on the mezzanine floor while the mulberry leaves they fed on were kept in the cellar. Now a storage area, you can explore it if you like, with a trap door in the kitchen floor. It’s these touches of dedication to the history of the farm, as well as rural life in Japan, that create an experience, rather than a simple place to sleep.
Whether you’re there for work or play, the lodge has everything you need, from wifi to rivers. As soon as you step into the surrounding gardens, you’ll feel a million miles away from the city and can take some deep breaths of that country air.
While staying in the lodge, you’ll be able to sleep on futons in the eaves and share meals over the huge hand-carved wooden table. With a barbecue area outside you can spend warm evenings under the stars and enjoy the simple life.
There are plenty of opportunities to enjoy nature throughout the year, with a river perfect for swimming nearby. With pebbled edges and trees surrounding relaxing swim spots, it’s perfect for an early morning swim or afternoon picnic, and the mountain water is certainly refreshing. Whether it’s ripe persimmons falling before your eyes or intriguing mushrooms sprouting beneath your feet (don’t eat those!), there’s nothing better than knowing you’re back to nature. The mountain trails are all accessible and of varying difficulty—Byron and Kaori can advise on the best to suit your group.
The food could be one of the highlights of your stay, as local chef Ozawa-san from the nearby Furintei restaurant is available for in-house cooking for groups. Using locally grown, seasonal produce he’ll cook up a feast in no time, from fresh salads to handmade udon, all under your new roof. Breakfast is available for a small additional cost—made with local produce and available for discussion with Kaori and Byron depending on your needs.
Tours of the family farm are available to any interested guests and there will be seasonal activities , like bamboo digging. The family keep chickens at the nearby farm (pictured above) and have also started a community chicken-raising group in the village which has been replicated across the area.
For an added layer of pure relaxation, Akiyama Onsen is a mere 10-minute walk away, with indoor and outdoor baths to enjoy. What could be better than an evening stroll after dinner, a long soak and a walk back under the stars? The onsen is also a great opportunity to meet locals and have a chat about the area, get recommendations for walks or places to explore. When you’re having a night in, the lodge has its own private bath house next to the main building, perfect for a morning bath, surrounded by the sounds of nature.
Driving is certainly the most convenient way of reaching the lodge. You simply follow the Chuo Expressway from Tokyo and then a farther 10 minutes from Uenohara IC. If you’re traveling on public transport you can go direct from Shinjuku to Uenohara Station on the Chuo Line. From the station you can grab a taxi, local bus or free shuttle to the nearby onsen.
Yokomura Eco-Lodge is available from day bookings to monthly stays, with discounts based on the length of stay and can be booked through their website.