Yamagata—Retreat and Recharge

Yamagata—Retreat and Recharge

The view from Hotel Forest Iide.

TEXT: Adam Fulford

You took a bullet train out of Tokyo and now you’ve arrived at Akayu Station in Yamagata on a Friday afternoon in mid-December. A bus is waiting for you, and you’re soon on your way to your final destination: the 300-person community of Nakatsugawa in Iide-machi. The bus journey takes about 45 minutes.

Typical farmhouse B&B fare.
Typical farmhouse B&B fare.

It’s your third trip to Nakatsugawa this year, and once again you’ll be spending Saturday night at a farmhouse bed & breakfast. When you first visited, in late May, you stayed at a B&B run by a woman who told fascinating stories about the old days as you sat around an open hearth and enjoyed an excellent meal featuring fresh wild vegetables. The next morning you picked some yourself, and ate them for lunch. On your second trip, in late September, you stayed at a farmhouse B&B that was even equipped with an elevator, improving accessibility for a visitor in a wheelchair. You learned about what they grow in local greenhouses and saw where Nakatsugawa maple syrup is made.

Thanks to a pottery workshop, forest walkshop, and barbecue in May and then a straw-craft workshop, park-golf tournament, and water walkshop in September, you have made plenty of new friends. In May, some of them showed you how to plant rice the old-fashioned way; in September, how to harvest rice the old-fashioned way. Then everyone got together to enjoy a meal featuring fresh mochi that you yourself had helped to pound.

You take another look at the schedule for the weekend. Tomorrow morning you’ll be starting the day with yoga followed by zen meditation.

In what new ways will you engage with the community this time? Tomorrow night you’ll be getting together with some elderly residents who graduated from the local school in 1956. They should have some fascinating tales to tell.

The mountain vegetables are delicious.
The mountain vegetables are delicious.

It’s been an enjoyable journey along snowy roads, and now you’re arriving at Hotel Forest Iide. You’ll be staying here tonight. On the main TV screen in the lobby, a photo of everyone boarding the bus at Akayu Station is already being displayed by the digital signage system. What will come up after the photo? Ah, information about where to go for the yoga and zen tomorrow morning.

Look outside! The lake has frozen over. Stunning. There’s a tempting bowl of mulled wine over there, and also a bowl of something else… A drink made from maple water and ginger? Ah, you remember now: a British participant proposed this at a product development workshop in September.

Before you settle down for a drink and a chat, you take your bag to your room. What’s in that box on the bed…? The sake cups that you made at the pottery workshop in May! Nakatsugawa has special permission to make rough sake. With these cups, you’ll be able to enjoy freshly brewed Doburoku Nouveau in style!

There’s definitely something great about this place, you think, as you walk downstairs to the lobby. When you left Tokyo, you were exhausted, but you already feel completely revived.

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