Japanese Lodging Facility among Rice Fields in Disaster-Stricken Kyushu Proves Popular Amid Pandemic

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Kazuhiro Yoshioka, executive director of the association that runs Kominka Villa Antage, stands in front of the lodging facility in Toho, Fukuoka Prefecture, on Jan. 3. “We want to become an engine to promote the reconstruction of the village,” he says, “and make it more energetic than before the disaster.”

TOHO, Fukuoka — The heavy rain that devastated northern Kyushu in July 2017 led to reconstruction projects such as a lodging facility created by renovating a kominka old Japanese-style house in the village of Toho.

Called Kominka Villa Antage (“antage” is the local dialect for “your house”), the facility opened in July 2020. The popularity of the nearby terraced rice paddies in the Take district built more than 400 years ago and the hospitality of locals has helped the facility continue to receive reservations even during the pandemic.

The village hopes the rich natural environment that is a world away from the so-called Three Cs — closed spaces, crowded places and close-contact settings — can give rise to reconstruction efforts.

In mid-December, Shinjiro Nakamura, an architect from Fukuoka City, cooked and dined with friends at Kominka Villa Antage.

The facility is operated by general incorporated association Take Tanada, which is run by about 50 locals and the village. About 20 part-time employees clean and disinfect rooms and work at the reception counter at the facility.

The one-story wooden house has a tsukimidai moon viewing platform that offers night-sky views. The facility only accommodate one group per day.

Take Tanada had expected at most 25 groups would stay there through March, but as of the end of last year, 20 groups had stayed. Seven more reservations have been made for up through March.

“I like the beautiful terraced paddies and the star-filled sky,” said Nakamura, who was staying there for the third time. “I can relax here without worrying about the virus.”

The Take district’s 400 terraced paddies covering an estimated 11 hectares were designated in 1999 as one of the 100 top terraced paddies in Japan by the Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry. The 2017 heavy rain, however, damaged 1 hectare of the paddies, along with the stone masonry used for terracing.

The old Japanese-style house was bought by the village two months before the disaster struck. Based on requests from the local population, the village spent about ¥85 million using central government subsidies to renovate and transform the house, built in 1887, into the lodging facility.

Take Tanada director Masayuki Wada was among those whose fields were damaged in the disaster. He then began planting potatoes in the fallow rice paddies to make shochu, a distilled alcoholic beverage.

“Having realized the beauty of the terraced paddies through their experience with the disaster, local residents came to feel the need to protect them,” Wada said.

The heavy rains that hit northern Kyushu left 42 people dead or missing in Fukuoka and Oita prefectures. The village of Toho was seriously damaged and reconstruction has progressed.

The operation of the JR Hitahikosan Line has been suspended in some sections including those it the village, but those sections have been replaced with a shuttle bus.

“The novel coronavirus has led people to renew their appreciation of the importance of living healthy among abundant nature,” said Kazuhiro Yoshioka, executive director of Take Tanada.

Toho Mayor Hiroaki Shibuya added, “We want to find some good amid the bad of the pandemic, and promote regional development and migration to the village.”

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Guests dine at Kominka Villa Antage in Toho, Fukuoka Prefecture.