Having spent most of our time submerged in the Japanese culture, visiting places where we would be the only tourists or at times even the only people, it felt strange sitting in the fully packed Shinkansen from Arita to Okayama. To both of our delights most of the other backpackers that also switched trains on Okayama all set out in directions other than ours.
The Dosan Line-Limited Express made us feel much calmer, if it wasn’t due to the limited amount of other people using the train it was through the change in landscape. Quite soon after leaving the city of Okayama and its outskirts behind, we traveled over the Seto Ōhashi (Great Seto Bridge) which took us over the Mizushima-nada sea and onto Shikoku island. The train ride took us from the coast through the peaceful mountainous forests to our stop Awa-Ikeda.
As the Airbnb we were headed for was on top of a mountain, without easy access to supermarkets or even konbinis (the Japanese 24/7 convenience stores which you’ll normally find everywhere) we set out to buy supplies for our stay before finding a taxi that would take us to our final destination.
Using our broken Japanese, Google translate and the written directions it took us quite some time to convince the cab driver that where we wanted to go really existed. Eventually it seemed that he agreed to take us up on the mountain, even though all three of us weren’t completely convinced we would arrive at our preferred destination. The winding road seemed endless with more upwards road and trees around the corners, riding silently the air inside the taxi was filled with a tense kind of excitement.
After what felt like hours, the driver excitedly pointed at a building on top of a hill, a building which we recognised from the Airbnb’s listing. We had arrived at UB-1, a building which once used to be a primary school but with diminishing rural populations had lost its previous function.
Hajime Momo, a veteran in design and IT, saw an opportunity and did the opposite of what most people had done. He said goodbye to the big city and started a new adventure in the rural country side of Japan. Under his lead he transformed the school into a space that allows for interaction between the local people and people who come from the cities, or even from abroad, who are looking to develop new products and business ideas using local resources.
The school now doubles as a guesthouse for short term guests and long term residents, as well as a meeting place for both guests and locals. During our stay we were the only guests but we did get to connect with local farmers who told us about their struggles, the changes in the countryside, how they saw their future and shared their locally sourced meals with us.
It was inspiring seeing how Momo is making a change in this small community and how he is part of a bigger movement in Japan that slowly seems to pull people away from the fast paced city life into a more sustainable and enjoyable way of living.
For those curious to join Momo at UB-1, be it either to feel connected to the locals or to relax while taking an outdoors bath overlooking a river valley, we suggest checking out his Airbnb profile: https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/5797516#host-profile
Please say hello to Momo from us if you make it out to UB-1.