Ochiai Village offers an unparalleled experience. Enjoy rural Japan at its finest when you stay in a thatch-roofed farmhouse built during the Edo period.
A Tale of Two Villages
Disconnect from the world and connect with your family, nature and Japanese history by escaping to Iya Valley. How about experiencing all of this while enjoying luxury accomodations? Step back into the Edo period – and enjoy 21st century comfort – in Ochiai Village, Iya Valley.
After studying for a month straight, Matt passed his Fleet Marine Force Warfare Officer board, but the whole family sacrificed for him to do so. We wanted some family time, and a rural, traditional village in the Iya Valley of Shikoku seemed perfect.
Ochiai – a Traditional Village
Known for thatch-roofed farmhouses, this village is a part of the Important Preservation District of Historical Buildings. Many of the homes date back to the late Edo period – about 200 years ago! Several homes have original framework, but were updated with beautiful furnishings and the conveniences of a top-notch modern home.
This area was once home to fleeing Heike warriors who lived here in secret.
Here, what is considered “traditional” is simply a way of life for the people of Ochiai. They live simply and have been able to adapt to the harsh circumstance that these mountains afford them.
Our farmhouse is called “Ten-ippou.” Originally built in the end of the Edo period, much of the original structure is still intact. The updates in the house leave you feeling like you are living in luxury, with top-of-the-line accommodations! Sit down, look out into the valley, and you’re transported back in time to traditional Japan. Enjoy the simplicity of rural, mountain living.
The home had everything we needed and more: yukata (thin kimonos), a full kitchen, delicious mountain water, laundry, toiletries, wifi and a large TV (the TV went unused the entire time).
There are three options for dining at Ochiai village. The first two options include having a local make your meal with ingredients that are specific not only to Iya Valley, but to the village itself.
Rice doesn’t grow well here, so they grow wheat for soba noodles and small potatoes. Tofu would go bad by the time it arrived, so they developed a drier, firm tofu, “iwadofu,” that is mildly sweet, like a sweet roll dough. These dishes aren’t found anywhere else in Japan.
Option 1: Have a local woman come and make dinner for you. Check in by 4:00 and head up to your farmhouse where (as advertised!) an elderly local woman is fixing you dinner! The price for this meal is ¥15,000. We opted for this thinking it would be a bit more instructional.
It was literally just an elderly woman cooking our dinner for us, especially since it was nearly finished by the time we got there. While neat, it’s not worth that price unless you have a large group (the price is the same regardless of group size).
Option 2: Have your meal made beforehand and brought to your home. This option is ¥3,200 per person and will be our option choice in the future.
Option 3: Bring your own food. There are no restaurants or even convenience stores in the area. Make sure you stock up for breakfast, lunch and snacks! The house is fully equipped with a fridge for storage.
Royce didn’t love everything, but he did like the tofu; still, it was good we came prepared with extra food. Jeannie loved the tofu and ate it for dinner and breakfast the next morning.
Experience of a lifetime
Ochiai Village is such a special place for our family now. We got to relax and enjoy nature from an amazing vantage point. Sleeping in an almost 200 year old farmhouse and enjoying the local meal helped us feel a profound connection to the area.
One of my absolute favorite things, though, was when we got Royce out of bed so he could look at the stars with us. The night was so clear – almost no light pollution meant the stars and Milky Way were on glorious display. Royce pointed out Mars, we showed him Mercury, and then we looked for shooting stars and airplanes together. It was unforgettable!
When we first drove through Nagoro on our way to Ochiai I couldn’t believe all the scarecrow-like people I was seeing. They were everywhere! I wondered, “Is this a joke?” I felt like they were filming a horror film there.
Later, I looked into why all of these scarecrows are in this rural town. A woman by the name of Tsukimi Ayano moved away from the village when she was a young girl and moved back early in the 2000’s. She started making these dolls or scarecrows to remember the past inhabitants of her beloved village.
The local school closed down in 2012 and Ayano made dolls of the last two students who dressed the dolls themselves with their own clothes. Their scarecrows sit in a now-empty classroom.
It’s heartbreaking to me to see these beautiful old villages, primarily inhabited by elderly people, sinking out of existence. Ayano has brought some life back to this small village by creating these scarecrows. It now has a reason for people to stop, but it is still in the middle of rural Shikoku and you would really only visit if you were in the area for something else, like we were.
We can’t recommend Ochiai enough. Driving is required (there is only limited bus service) and you’ll negotiate some mountain roads to get there, but you will experience the essence of Japan as maintained for the last few centuries. When you leave, you will bring a piece of Ochiai with you forever.
Check out Part One of our trip to Iya Valley and see more amazing things you can do when you visit Ochiai Village.
Plan your trip:
Make a reservation by going to the Tougenkyo-Iya website. You can also call, there is usually someone there who speaks english pretty well.
What are some of your favorite things to do in rural Japan?