Need a break from Tokyo?

Japan has always been fascinating for me – not only for that blend of modern and futuristic with the traditional and zen, but also the diversity in its land, people, and environment. It was great to return to Japan after more than decade and things have changed so much, yet everything felt familiar. Even when I was living here, I always found myself drawn to the countryside. So when my friend Yoko told me he set up an AirBnB, I jumped at the chance to check it out on my spring travel adventure with the little one.

Yoko was an exceptional host and had many stories to tell of his interesting and inspiring life. He’s lived in nine different countries across four continents in the past 16 years. He lost his wife after the birth of his first son and came back to his hometown to find a way to make a living while raising a small baby. He came up with the idea of running a temple hostel (… and recently he’s started a shared guesthouse for international students and locals – he wants to help support the local economy).

The temple was a hidden gem, nestled in the countryside of Japan away from the hustle and bustle of big city life. It’s only 1.5hrs on the Shinkansen from Tokyo station! Located in the valley of Urasa the view from the temple is surrounded by mountains.

We were lucky enough to see snow still on the ground in mid-spring making for a pretty and scenic (and cold) walk one morning. Being 250-yrs old, the temple was cool at night and in the morning, but the heaters, Kotatsu (heated table), and the warm blankets all made for a cozy atmosphere.

At the same time, I can imagine the temple to be very cooling in the summer. In his welcome guide, Yoko detailed all the places to eat, shop, and relax – all within walking distance from the temple. Overall, it was an amazing experience to be at the temple and to have Yoko share secrets of his hometown, including dining at university cafeterias (good and cheap), why there was a massive train station for such a small town (answer: a former Japanese Prime Minister came from the area), and playing basketball with students from the International University of Japan.

If you’re ever in Tokyo or Japan, check out the temple, the surroundings, and support the local economy of a small country-side town. There’s plenty of skiing and snow-shoeing in the winter and hikes in the summer… and if you like local experiences, tennis or basketball, Yoko’s your man.

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