If the hustle and bustle of the big city has you hankering for a change of pace and some country tonic, pack up some friends and head out to the inaka. Many wards and cities own countryside cabins and lodges in Japan that can be rented cheaply by the ward or city’s residents.
Often referred to as “resident health villages” or something similar, these lodgings go for a pittance in comparison to what you’d pay on the private market. Keep in mind that while some properties are accessible by bullet train and other public transport, others are best reached by private car, so you may need to consider renting if you don’t own one.
A little further down are some examples of properties owned by Tokyo municipalities. Your muni not listed? Check with your ward or city office; the properties are also often listed on their websites. Have a look under “leisure” or “sightseeing.” You might also find them under 区民保養施設 (kumin hoyoushisetsu). Each ward or city has a different application process, but many (including several of the following) can be booked directly on the web. A few might require a call or fax (yes, we said fax—Japan loves its retro tech).
For most applications, it will probably be necessary to speak a decent level of Japanese or have a fluent friend help you. Weekends and holidays can get booked out pretty far in advance (have a look at Shinjuku’s occupancy calendar, for example). It varies by city, but lotteries* for these cabins may open several months ahead of time, so if you’d like to go on a weekend, it’s best to book early. It is possible to book a property owned by a different ward to the one where you live, but residents will be given preference—and if you do get in, you’ll have to pay a higher rate.
*Since the population is so high, your name goes into a mini draw to score a booking. A similar system is often found for public sports facilities in Japan. While success isn’t guaranteed, the odds are much better than lottery draws for money!
Country lodges in Japan, by ward
Shibuya: The ward offers a lovely little lodge in Hakone called Ninotaira. The cost is 5,450 yen per person based on double occupancy, and includes two meals and onsen (hot springs). The lodge is a two-minute walk from Chokoku-no-mori on the Tozan railway. Here’s how to get from Tokyo to Hakone.
Shinjuku: Residents of Shinjuku are rather lucky, as their city provides several properties. First on the list is Hakone Tsutsuji-so, a lodge in Hakone that is only five minutes’ walk from Chokoku-no-mori Station. A bit more spendy than Ninotaira, it costs 6,700 yen per person, based on double occupancy, with two meals included. The hot spring is 650 yen extra.
At Green Hill Yatsugatake in Yamanashi Prefecture, visitors can stay in a cottage or lodge, starting from 7,500 yen per person based on double occupancy. The rate here also includes two meals and onsen. Food is seasonal and locally sourced. To get there, take a Limited Express from JR Shinjuku Station to Kofu, then transfer to the JR Chuo Line and ride it to Nagasaka Station (then take a shuttle).
Megamiko Village in Nagano Prefecture is set on a beautiful lake and offers lodging from 4,700 yen per person based on double occupancy. This includes two meals, including a lovely kaiseki-style (fancy and traditional) dinner and a breakfast buffet, as well as a public bath. You can take the shinkansen most of the way—simply get off at Sakudaira Station and catch a shuttle from there.
Shinagawa: They offer up Minami Alps Hayakawa Eco Village in Yamanashi Prefecture. Cabins and cottages start from just 3,150 per person, and—bonus—you can bring Fido. Onsen access is included, but unless you go for a more expensive option, you’ll need to cater for yourself food-wise. To get there, take a Limited Express from JR Shinjuku Station to Kofu, then transfer to a train bound for Shimobeonsen. From there, take a bus to the Eco Village.
Setagaya: The ward’s Residents’ Health Village in Gunma Prefecture is 4,760 yen for an adult in the high season (less in winter, and even cheaper if you book for several nights), and includes two meals and onsen access. Check out the local farm tours while you are there. To get there, take the shinkansen to Jomo-Kogen Station, then a shuttle bus to the lodge.
Machida: Kyukamura in Nagano Prefecture is good for those who like to rough it a bit. Cabins go from 2,500 yen per person based on double occupancy or higher. They are self catering, but bedding and kitchen accoutrements are included (just remember to bring your own towels). People who live, work, or go to school in Machida can apply up to six months in advance; others can apply three months ahead of time. Pets can accompany you for 500 yen a furbag. There is also a campsite option for 200 yen a person. To save travel time, take the shinkansen to Sakudaira Station and then the Koumi Line to Shinano-Kawakami Station (followed by a shuttle to the cabins).
Fuchu: Offers Yachiho in the Yatsugatake area of Nagano Prefecture. This ski and snowboard-friendly spot starts at 3,000 yen per night based on double occupancy, and includes onsen but no meals. Meal plans can be added from just over 2,000 yen a day, with the price going up depending on how fancy your want your chow to be. An easy way of getting there is taking the shinkansen to Sakudaira Station and then the Koumi Line to Yachiho Station, followed by a taxi to the lodge.
What are you waiting for? The countryside is calling!
This post was updated by Carey Finn in February 2017.
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