We arrived in Miyamacho (also known as Miyama Town), which is famous for its thatched houses. There are over 250 in this area -- more than any other place in Japan. Miyama means "beautiful mountain," which is fitting because this place is located in the mountains of the Kyoto Prefecture. Our first stop was to visit an important Japanese architectural heritage site, the village of Kita. It has the biggest concentration of thatched roofs in Miyama: 32 out of 50 houses are thatched. These things are pretty cool, though I wouldn't want to live in one. The oldest house was built in 1796, so there is plenty of history here. If you want to learn more and see what life is like on the inside stop by The Miyama Kayabuki Art Museum. They've got everything from old farming tools to paintings with Miyama themes. Admission is 500 yen ($5).
That night we checked into Hotel Kajikaso. Kajikaso is 1,000 feet in the mountains, alongside the tranquil Yura River. From the outside you would swear you were in Vermont, and inside it looks and feels like a ski lodge. But then you walk into your room. BANG -- another Japanese-style inn! That's right: a minimalist room with white walls, tatami (straw carpet), a very low table, a couple of pillows to sit on, a TV with bad reception, and a large window. I didn't even bother asking where the bed was, because I knew it would mysteriously appear after dinner. The rooms here don't have bathrooms, though I was fortunate to have a sink in my room (most didn't). Using the facilities required a walk down the hallway, to both a western and Japanese-style toilet (a hole in the ground). Don't forget to put on your bathroom slippers (in the middle of the night, that's difficult to remember). Breakfast, dinner (you better like seafood) and use of the hot springs are included in the room rates.
GOING TO SLEEP
There was no entering the wrong bath at this place, because both the men's and women's spas are clearly marked. Both also have an indoor and outdoor hot spring (the water temperature was 104). After my hot, relaxing and uneventful bath, I returned to my room only to find nothing had changed - there was no sign of a bed. At the last inn, when I came back from my bath the furniture (a table) in my room was pulled to the side, and my bed was laid out in the middle of the floor. Fortunately, the walls at this place are super thin so my when my neighbor (and colleague) heard me panic (I must've been talking out loud, perhaps even swearing), I heard a loud, disgusted voice say, "Johnny Jet, stop your whining and open your closet door. Pull out your bed (a futon), your little bean bag pillows, your sheet and comforter, and make your bed like everyone else." I froze with my mouth open and thought, "Damn, am I that high maintenance?" Then I realized she was just giving me attitude to get back for playing a trick on her when we first arrived (it's a long story, but it was hilarious).
Making my bed took 45 seconds. I gotta say, it was surprisingly comfortable. When I was done I said out loud "arigato" (thank you), then turned out the light. As I lay on my back looking out the window at the bright stars and full moon, listening to the trees dance in the wind and the Yura river flow nearby, I heard my neighbor through the wall make up some crazy Japanese sentence that even I knew didn't make sense. I asked, "What the heck is that supposed to mean?" She said,"Just like on the old Waltons TV show, 'Good night John Boy.'" It was fitting, because with the surreal setting I almost felt like I was in a performance. So when I said "ah, sank u berry much," I wasn't just talking to her.