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Oku-Iya Kominka

When you stay in Iya, we recommend making this traditional farmhouse your home.

Oku-Iya Kominka

Many visitors to Shikoku are keen to stay in kominka, the traditional farmhouses and townhouses of Japan. The kominka in Tokushima refurbished by Alex Kerr were leading examples of this old-new accommodation, and their focus is on the physical comfort offered by double-glazing and underfloor heating, while maintaining the ambience of a rural farmhouse. But we recommend a slightly different approach.

Kominka_Konya_4

We’ve stayed at Kerr’s properties Chiiori and at Tōgenkyō and while they’re certainly lovely to look at, we found that we didn’t feel quite at home. We couldn’t figure out how to use the heating and got cooked from underneath in the night. We had an unwelcome cold-water episode in the complicated shower. And there was a traumatic incident with a centipede in the bedding. These properties are unstaffed, so guests are left to figure things out for themselves, and it doesn’t always go well.

Fortunately, there’s a kominka in Iya Valley, where guests are looked after by a family during their stay. They welcome you when you arrive and show you around. They invite you to do small tasks like chopping wood and peeling vegetables to pass the time pleasantly before dinner, which they also cook. After the delicious meal of authentic local foods, they put out your bedding and quietly disappear, leaving you to enjoy the peace and stillness of the farmhouse at night. In the morning, they appear again at the time you designate to make breakfast.

You can think of kominka in terms of hardware – they’re a specialized kind of building. But to make them work, you need software. That’s the role played by your hosts. They make sure that you enjoy the novel experience of rural Shikoku living, without any surprises or unnecessary discomfort. Apart from the refurbished bathroom and toilets, our favourite kominka is largely as it was 100 years ago, making it a more authentic experience. The building itself was the home of a tobacco farmer, a product that was central to the economy of Tokushima from the Edo period.

Kouya_Kominka_summer_frog

Engagement with local people is almost always the most memorable and enjoyable aspect of travel, and the hospitality of your hosts is sure to give delight. We particularly enjoyed our tour of the vegetable patch that produces a significant part of dinner. Our host showed us rare cultivars of vegetables that only grow in Iya. A night in Oku-Iya is likely to involve a bit of music too. Kumiko-san likes to sing the local folk songs to the accompaniment of the shamisen, and she likes to hear whatever songs you might happen to know.

Dusk and dawn in the valley are especially beautiful times. The slanting light picks out the detail of every tree and of farmhouses on the opposite slopes. It highlights the clouds and mist that are a constant presence, whatever time of year. The morning sunlight in the valley presents a sight of ethereal beauty. It makes a fantastic start to another memorable day in Shikoku.

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