Anago no Nedoko roughly translates as “salt-water eel’s bed”. It hardly conjures up the image of a peaceful night’s sleep. But thankfully, this Onomichi guesthouse does not live up to its name.
The long, narrow building lies inside the city’s retro central shopping arcade. Rustic wooden paneling and intriguing decorations adorn the front of the guesthouse, a motif extended to the interior of its first floor café ‘Akubi’.
To find the reception you have to wriggle down a narrow corridor past the café (hence the guesthouse’s name). Even the most hardened traveler might baulk at the prospect of a cramped night ahead. However, those fears evaporate once you slide open the main doors to a surprisingly airy interior.
The ground floor has a cozy communal living room and kitchen area.
Sleeping arrangements are split between a mixed and women-only dormitory. Although Anago no Nedoko is a far cry from the upmarket accommodation you can find elsewhere in Onomichi, its rough edges lend it a quaint, homely atmosphere.
“The best thing about this place? You can relax like it’s a home away from home. You could say it’s like staying at a friend’s house,” says the young guesthouse manager Soichiro Yamamoto. “We also give our foreign guests special local advice in English about great restaurants and places to visit.”
Anago no Nedoko opened for business in December 2012 after a year of refurbishment, part of an ongoing project to renovate empty properties in the city. Amateur enthusiasts from the project, the local community, and professionals for more specialized jobs carried out the work. The mix of professional finishes and well-intentioned DIY adds to this guesthouse’s charm.
Although Onomichi is beginning to feature more on travel itineraries for visitors to Japan, Soichiro admits most foreign guests only linger in Onomichi for one night. They tend to use Anago no Nedoko as a pit stop before pedaling off on the popular Shimanami Kaido cycle route that connects the mainland to Japan’s fourth biggest island, Shikoku.
“It’s a shame they don’t spend an extra night to soak in the atmosphere of Onomichi,” says Soichiro. “I recommend strolling around the town and the hill just above us. This area feels like stepping back in time. It feels like Japan in the 60s or 70s.”
Onomichi may strike a chord with film buffs as it heavily features in Yasujiro Ozu’s 1953 classic film ‘Tokyo Story’. In some areas, it certainly feels like little has changed since Ozu filmed his scenes.
A foray up the hill overlooking Onomichi is not to be missed. A maze of narrow paths and walkways link charming cafes, galleries and shops dotted about the hillside. The abundance of resident cats on the hill also draws a fair share of admirers. There is also a ‘temple path’ running across the city that takes you past the string of temples built during Onomichi’s golden past as a center for trade in the region.
Watching over the city from the top of the hill is Senkoji Temple, one of the main attractions for visitors to Onomichi. Climb a few steps down from the temple complex and you’ll find yourself in front of Anago no Nedoko’s sister guesthouse, the Miharashi Tei, or the ‘Beautiful View House’.
Formerly a popular guesthouse during the post-war years, the Miharashi Tei has stood empty for the last 20 years. Now, as part of the same renovation project as Anago no Nedoko, this guesthouse is planning to reopen its doors to guests.
Masako Toyota, a young Onomichi-born member of the renovation group is heading the project.
“It’s a shame Onomichi doesn’t feature a lot on foreign guidebooks, but I recommend it, especially during cherry blossom season,” explains Toyota. “Guests can enjoy Anago no Nedoko for its quaint charm and the Miharashi Tei for its panoramic views and seasonal flowers.”
Even through the scaffolding, the view of the city and the sea from the second floor of the Miharashi Tei was spectacular. These guesthouses are giving Onomichi and its buildings a new lease of life and visitors a memorable alternative to the usual hotel experience.
Anago no Nedoko
Address： Tsuchido 2-chome 4-9 Onomichi-shi Hiroshima-ken 722-0035
Open： 13:00 – 22:00
Words & Photography Tom Miyagawa Coulton
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