Local company in Nagano turning old house, community center into ‘decentralized hotel’

The Yomiuri Shimbun
People look at a house that has been vacant for almost 20 years and is scheduled to be renovated next spring in Nagano City on Nov. 3.

NAGANO — A project is underway to convert a vacant old house and an aging public facility into accommodation in the Togakushi district of Nagano City as a way to energize the local community.

It is hoped that developing the entire neighborhood into a “decentralized hotel” by tapping into the potential of unused buildings will solve local problems such as the lack of successors for shukubo temple lodgings and the exodus of young people, while vitalizing the tourism industry.

The project is run by local company Awai, which was established in 2021 by Yujiro Hayashi, the 40-year-old director of an Osaka-based company that makes use of old houses, together with other businesses and individuals in and outside of the Togakushi district. The company aims to provide unique experiences in Togakushi, drawing on its beautiful natural surroundings and spiritual culture.

The two buildings to be renovated are the Gakushukan community center near Chusha, one of the five shrines that make up Togakushi Shrine, and an old house that has been vacant for more than 20 years and is near Hokosha, another element of Togakushi Shrine. Both buildings are located conveniently close to the shrines.

Gakushukan was set to be demolished due to its age, but Awai decided to rent and renovate it with the plan of developing the first floor as a cafe and restaurant and the second floor as two guest rooms for couples and families to stay in. The renovation work is scheduled to be completed by the end of January and the facility will open next spring.

As for the vacant house, the company found the owner and bought it. The roof had collapsed under the weight of snow and there were signs that bears and other wild animals had broken in. The renovation work is scheduled to begin next spring with the help of local businesses. It includes restoring the thatched roof, which is currently covered with tin, to give it an old-fashioned rural feel. To attract medium- to long-term visitors who would rent the whole house, the company is considering installing a kitchenette and a sauna.

Unlike typical resort hotels and traditional Japanese ryokan inns where visitors have everything they need within the facility, the “decentralized hotel” project aims to use the entire community to provide hospitality through such activities as having guests walk around and tour the area.

Planned activities include hiring local residents to guide visitors to Okusha, another of the five shrines of Togakushi Shrine and a popular destination for strolling among cedar trees, as well as allowing guests to reap thatch for the roofs of old houses.

On Nov. 3, Hayashi held a briefing on the project for local people involved in the project and showed them around the two buildings.

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Yujiro Hayashi, second from left, explains his renovation plan at Gakushukan in the Togakushi district in Nagano City on Nov. 3.

“When I first heard about the project, I didn’t think it would be possible to convert the buildings into lodgings,” said Terufumi Yamaguchi, representative director of a local tourism association. “The project now seems to offer a solution to the problem of vacant houses, but also stimulates tourism businesses in the area.”

Rates for both accommodations are expected to range between ¥25,000 and ¥30,000 per night, slightly more expensive than other lodgings in the area. The company plans to use the profits to further expand its business.

“We’d like to maximize the potential of the area, where nature and people have lived for 1,200 years, through offering quality spaces and meals that match the charm of Togakushi, as well as a variety of experiences,” Hayashi said.