With the goal of bringing travellers and locals closer together, in 2015, Oku Japan became the first tour operator with a physical presence on the Kumano Kodo by opening a branch office in the small mountain settlement of Chikatsuyu. Since then, we have been continuously humbled by the community and how we have been welcomed after many years of working together at a distance. We remain involved in the everyday lives of those who live and work there, with our very own branch office team members being locals of the region itself.
A far cry from typical office life, Oku Japan team members Mayumi Bamyo and Satoe Shoji typically spend time with various people in the community each day. While Satoe and Mayumi are both from Wakayama, becoming involved in the community of Chikatsuyu has allowed them to learn more about traditional life, such as rice planting, digging up and cooking bamboo shoots, and picking tea. Neighbours commonly stop by for a morning chat, and the more relaxed, slow pace of rural life means that these special moments have become a staple of their everyday.
This also makes for abundant opportunities to learn more about the details of life in the countryside, from individual worries to livelihood highlights. Being located in the charming village of Chikatsuyu has given us at Oku Japan the opportunity to learn even more, and we aim to use our position to serve as a lens for sharing the culture and lifestyles of this incredible community with the world.
One of the most rewarding parts of being based in Chikatsuyu is the privilege of being invited to join in local festivals. Festivals are an important part of Japanese culture, holding great value culturally and spiritually. This is particularly the case in small communities, where festivals are also a way to boost morale, bring friends and families together, and celebrate the local way of life.
In particular, yearly harvest festivals are a regular feature of rural Japan and our local office allows some of the Kyoto based team members to visit Chikatsuyu to actively take part in the festivities, such as making mochi using freshly harvested rice and setting up tents for local vendors. Patrons at these festivals can enjoy delicious local food, watch the Shishi-mai lion dance, and even venture out onto the Kumano Kodo Trail to take advantage of the refreshing weather and festive atmosphere.
It’s deeply important to us that we give back to the community that has welcomed us so kindly, with local farmer and blueberry aficionado Onaka-san expressing to us that interactions with our guests have helped local businesses in the area flourish, especially those based in tourism such as the inns and luggage transfer businesses.
Chikatsuyu is a village that has felt the benefits of a sustainable form of tourism first hand, with limited accommodations to prevent overcrowding, and the nature of the trail that attracts people looking to experience deeper Japanese culture rather than to visit fleetingly. And it is always a pleasure to learn from members of the local community that our presence is able to bring such a brightness to Chikatsuyu.
One of the many reasons we have found it important to maintain a presence on the Kumano Kodo is to create a more personalised experience for our guests - it’s one thing to visit a small, rural community, but it’s another one entirely to meet someone who can welcome you in and introduce you to their way of life.
So, what does this mean for you?
You are most likely to visit Chikatsuyu on your second night walking the Kumano Kodo, a wonderful continuation after your introduction to the Kumano Kodo with much to still look forward to. During your stay, you may meet some inquisitive local people, particularly while spending time with Mayumi and Satoe at our branch office. You will be surprised by how easy it is to communicate despite not having a working knowledge of each other’s language, however Mayumi and Satoe will also be at hand to help, just in case. Chikatsuyu is a welcoming village, with people who are excited to share their culture and history with our guests.
And as if that wasn’t enough, did you know that our branch office also doubles as a traditional inn? Renovated from an old, unused wooden building, Oku no Yado Chikatsuyu not only serves as a space for our Chikatsuyu team to work out of, but as a space welcoming to both travellers and locals for a chat, some coffee, and even as overnight accommodation if required.
Even if you don’t stay overnight at our inn, you can arrive in Chikatsuyu knowing that you’ve already got some friends excited to welcome you.