AT THE CROSSROADS OF SHIKOKU
Centuries ago, the Oboke-Iya district was a major crossroad of the island’s four domains (‘shi’ = four, ‘koku’ = domain). Located in the mountainous heart of Shikoku, anyone traveling from one domain to another would have to pass through this area. Today, roads have been built along the river but in olden times, human-paved pathways traveled high over the peaks of the mountains, and with good reason. The valleys were rocky and prone to flooding, with dangerous wild animals lurking. Little sunlight makes it through the dense forest, making it impossible for crops to grow, and so communities settled in the mountains, where all the necessities for life could be obtained.
Since there’s little flat space on the steep mountainside, platforms had to be created using stones as the foundations in order to build houses and paths. These walls were made without mortar or cement, using only carefully placed stones. These walls have lasted for centuries.
ANCIENT SUSTAINABLE FARMING METHODS
With no flat spaces to grow crops, farmers developed ways of coping with the challenges of cultivation on slopes, sewing along the curvature of the hillside to prevent erosion and trap water streaming down. They collect wild grass and store it in stooks. This nutrient-rich organic material is then used to mulch food crops in a completely natural and sustainable way. Not surprisingly, food produced this way tastes wonderful too.
Because rice can’t be grown on slopes, soba became a staple in these regions. It’s an attractive plant with beautiful white flowers. At Sarukai you can wander among soba fields, and enjoy the wildflowers that grow around the farm.
ENJOY THE SLOW LIFE IN A COMFORTABLE KOMINKA
The hamlet of Ochiai is one of the representative mountain communities that have maintained the centuries-old way of life. Today, you can stay in one of eight dwellings built more than a hundred years ago, refurbished with every modern comfort. The windows are doubled glazed and the accommodation is equipped with underfloor heating for the winter as well as air conditioning for the summer, and the futons are thick and fluffy. Guests can choose between a luxurious shower and a bath with an amazing view.
These houses, collectively known as Togenkyo-Iya, were restored by Alex Kerr, whose other vacation rental kominka project, Chiiori, is known worldwide. Besides these old houses for private rental, you can stay in the homes of farming families across the region and take part in the slow life.
These houses, collectively known as Togenkyo-Iya, were restored by Alex Kerr, whose other vacation rental kominka project, Chiiori, received global recognition. Besides these traditional houses reserved for private rental, you can stay in the homes of farming families across the region and take part in the slow life.
For dinner, indulge in meals prepared by locals using vegetables taken from the hills around you, and wild meat such as boar and venison. People from countries where potatoes are a staple ingredient may be surprised at how deliciously different the potatoes here can be. Lunch can be enjoyed at an old thatched samurai residence or at a pleasant little roadside soba restaurant.