Stay!By G.I Chavez
Nordic Charm in Hakuba
Oyado Kayabuki Chaya, Hakuba, Nagano
Private rooms with traditional Japanese architecture make Kayabuki a relaxing place to visit, but the location and access to great activities make this old farmhouse the perfect escape.
For more than a century this farmhouse rested on a quiet lane in the Kirikubo area of Hakuba in Nagano Prefecture. A few years ago it was renovated into the Oyado Kayabuki Chaya – a rustic lodge with three guest rooms just a stone’s throw from the Nagano Olympic Nordic Course, and only a 15-minute stroll from the Iwatake ski area.
With this kind of location considerably lesser accommodation, say, a lean-to or a blue tarp, would be appealing, but Kayabuki is equal to its setting.
Yoshiyuki Watanabe, the manager, makes sure guests feel at home, and during our stay we took him up on a special offer of kashikiri – renting out the entire lodge for two couples (and one child) – resulting in space nearly unimaginable to Tokyo residents.
The dining area at Kayabuki is large enough to handle three groups and features a hori-gotatsu, a heated table with space underneath for your legs, and an irori, an open, sand-filled fire pit, for cooking and relaxing after dinner. The Kayabuki dining experience was featured in a TV Tokyo gourmet special with good reason – the food is personally prepared and each item presented with an explanation about the preparation and ingredients, such as locally grown vegetables or fish caught from a nearby river.
On our first night, we had a duck nabe with vegetables, sashimi and oyaki, a steamed rice bun with vegetables such as nasu, kabocha or nozawana inside. After dinner, we moved to the irori firepit to relax. Watanabe-san made a charcoal fire and brought out jizake atsukan, which my German friend and I indulged without hesitation or personal regard.
The next morning, we got a late start while my friend paid his dues to the stern god of Nihonshu, then rented
cross-country skis from a shop at Iwatake.
My friend’s wife chose to snowboard, and my wife played with our 13-month-old son at the kids’ area. After skiing away the day, we went straight back to Kayabuki. There is a large public hot spring, Iwatake Onsen, just beyond the ski area parking, but the wooden ofuro (bath) at Kayabuki is much more peaceful.
We stocked up on supplies at the local liquor store, and Watanabe-san graciously allowed us to bring in our off-site purchases.
In return, we repaid him with a second, though more prudent, late night study of jizake.
The best part of cross-country skiing is the scenery.
We had spring conditions and, from the Nordic course, skiers can take in the long vistas of the mountains in the Hakuba Valley. The course is well-groomed and has a competitive layout – long, steep climbs followed by descents that require cornering skill at the bottom. These characteristics make it a favorite of many university Nordic ski teams, and they pass the average skier often – all Spandex and hunched shoulders, huffing out kilometer after kilometer.
For the less ambitious, the course has several detours, so you can stay on a relatively even plain. It starts on a broad field near the base of Iwatake Ski Resort, then the trail moves into the trees, rising in a series of short, but steep, climbs until in opens on another wide area. Here you can leave the competitive trail for short climbs and easy down hills, or make the long climb to the top of the course and ride a series of descents along the backside.
The final section involves a hill, followed by a quick descent and a quick climb over a bridge spanning a road, then a glide and tuck as you come out of the trees and into the clearing for the final loop. If the conditions are good, especially if you are skating rather than kicking, you can take the bridge in a tuck – even get a little air – and rifle across the flats all the way to the finish, imagining you are fighting for the Gold against the defending world champion.
If the snow is heavy and you are slow, you can just sit back and cruise, enjoying the scenery and thinking about the ofuro and dinner that awaits at Kayabuki.
Oyado Kayabuki Chaya (かやぶき茶屋)
Tel: (0261) 72-5454