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Experience Akita’s past at wanoi KAKUNODATE

Experience Akita’s past at wanoi KAKUNODATE

Have you ever wondered what would living in a traditional storehouse (蔵 kura) be like? Newly launched earlier this year in March, the wanoi brand of hotels transforms old Japanese-style houses and historic buildings into hotels where guests can experience traditional Japanese culture and way of life. Talk about breathing new life into old spaces!


Today, we had the pleasure to speak with Mr Ando, General Manager at wanoi KAKUNODATE (和のゐ 角館). 

JR Times: How did the brand「和のゐ」(wanoi) come about and what is the meaning behind this name? Also, there is a strange hiragana「ゐ」used instead of 「い」, what does that mean? 

Developed by JR-EAST HOTELS Group, the wanoi brand is part of the group’s initiative that transforms historic buildings and structures such as old houses into hotels. The word「和」(wa) means Japanese-style, harmony, and way of life. So wanoi basically translates as an inn where guests can experience the traditional Japanese culture and way of life. As to why the hiragana「ゐ」(i) is used, in the modern Japanese language, the word for living or residing is represented by  the word「居」 (i) with the hiragana「い」(i). However, in the olden times, that word used to be represented by the word「ゐ」. This is to showcase the history behind the hotels.


(Image credit: wanoi KAKUNODATE)


JR Times: That is so interesting! Do you mind sharing with us which is your personal favourite room in this hotel, and why? For instance, what makes this room stand out in comparison to the other rooms?

wanoi KAKUNODATE is actually made up of three old kura storehouses located all around the Samurai Residence District, and the one I would personally recommend is the Nishinomiyake Bushigura (西宮家 武士蔵 Nishinomiya Samurai Storehouse). With many of the room’s structures—such as doors, pillars, and beams—left untouched and preserved since the construction of the storehouse in 1919, this storehouse maintains a lot of its originality. To enhance the tactile experience and concept of this storehouse, we have recreated scenarios in these rooms such as having a katana sword placed by the bedside and displaying a basket which was used for transporting goods in the past. Guests get to experience the life of a samurai right in this storehouse.


The living area of the Nishinomiyake Bushigura storehouse. (Image credit: wanoi KAKUNODATE)


JR Times: Besides the historically-rich and beautiful villas, what are some of the other charms of wanoi?

wanoi KAKUNODATE is the one place where guests can truly experience “living in Akita Prefecture”. For the bento-style breakfast served to guests in their rooms, we use local Akita produce such as rice and miso. Guest rooms are also furnished and adorned with traditional Akita crafts. We do this in hopes that guests will fall in love with our beautiful town. Also, all souvenirs are made locally: we sell traditional Japanese fans, bangasa (a type of traditional Japanese umbrella), as well as sake. 


JR Times: What is the best season to visit Kakunodate, and what can visitors do in this area?

The scenery in Kakunodate is beautiful all-year round, but the most popular season has to be springtime, where the streets are painted pink with cherry blossoms (桜 sakura). We recommend renting a kimono and taking a stroll along the Samurai Residence District that are lined with many historical buildings, all while viewing the cherry blossom trees. Besides spring, expect to be surrounded by luscious greenery in summer, red leaves lit up in autumn evenings, and memorable snowy scenes during the winter. If visitors venture out of Kakunodate a little further, they can even enjoy beautiful lakes and hot springs towns. 


JR Times: How many nights should visitors stay in Kakunodate to enjoy your above recommendations?

We recommend visitors to stay in Kakunodate around two to three nights. As there are three storehouses in wanoi KAKUNODATE, it is a good chance to experience each room a night. As there are only three villas available at each time, we highly recommend making the reservation one to two months in advance. Please ensure that the reservation is done on the official website.


Spacious bedroom with a unique, rustic charm. (Image credit: wanoi KAKUNODATE)


JR Times: Can you recommend any restaurants around wanoi KAKUNODATE that serve authentic Akita local cuisines?

Located in the same area as our Nishinomiyake Bushigura and Nishinomiyake Gakkogura storehouses is Restaurant Kitagura, which was formerly a warehouse but was renovated and transformed into a restaurant. At this restaurant, visitors can enjoy the local specialty Okariba-yaki which is grilled meat and vegetables seasoned with Sansho Miso. Visitors can also enjoy local dishes and sake at the in-house restaurant of Hotel Folkloro Kakunodate, which is the check-in location for wanoi KAKUNODATE.


Delicious meals are served onsite at Restaurant Kitagura, featuring Akita’s local cuisine prepared with seasonal produce. (Image credit: wanoi KAKUNODATE)


JR Times: For visitors who do not speak Japanese, where should he/she go and who should they approach? How is the hotel dealing with enquiries in foreign languages?

If a visitor has queries with regards to sightseeing, they can visit the Tourist Information Center located in front of Kakunodate Station (角館駅 Kakunodate-eki). The wanoi team consists of several English-speaking staff, but in the event where they are not available, a translation device will be used to facilitate communication. Additionally, it is possible to book tours or activities through our hotel concierge. Reservations for sightseeing taxis, Kakunodate sightseeing rickshaws, and kimono rentals are also available, so we highly encourage both hotel guests and visitors alike to contact us if they need help with placing reservations.


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Hop on to a sightseeing rickshaw and enjoy the sights and sounds of Kakunodate town! (Image credit: wanoi KAKUNODATE)


JR Times: Apart from sightseeing in Kakunodate, are there any recommended places to visit in neighboring stations that are close to wanoi KAKUNODATE?

We have two places to recommend. The first place would be Lake Tazawa (田沢湖 Tazawa-ko). It is the deepest lake in Japan, and has a high degree of transparency. Due to the refraction of light, the colour of the lake changes depending on the depth, green in the shallow areas and blue in the deeper areas. Visitors can enjoy the vibrant colours of the leaves while kayaking in the lake during spring and autumn. To get to Lake Tazawa, take the Akita Shinkansen from JR Kakunodate Station to JR Tazawako Station (田沢湖駅 Tazawako-eki) which is just a stop away (13 minutes). From Tazawako Station, the lake is just a 20-minute bus ride away. Visitors can also take a taxi directly from Kakunodate Station, which takes about 35 minutes.


The second place would be Suzuki Shuzoten (鈴木酒造店), which is a sake brewery which produces original Japanese sake for wanoi. Visitors can join the tour around the brewery, learn about sake brewing, taste and even purchase sake. They have American employees who can aid non-Japanese speaking visitors. Visitors can also admire the historical items which were donated by locals, placed around the storehouse. Suzuki Shuzoten is located about 10 minutes by taxi from Kakunodate Station. Advance reservation is required.


After a day of exploration, enjoy a house pour at the Suzuki Shuzoten. (Image credit: wanoi KAKUNODATE)


JR Times: Thank you very much, Mr Ando! Any parting words for our readers?

All the storehouses in wanoi KAKUNODATE are limited to one group per day. This way, guests can enjoy a private stay as well as take proper measures against infectious diseases. By staying with us, you can not only experience Kakunodate’s history and culture, but also the lifestyle of the town in various ways. Each of the three storehouses has their own unique history and characteristics, so why not experience them all by staying a night in each room? Even if you have visited Kakunodate before, we hope that you can come back again and stay with us at wanoi KAKUNODATE to experience the town like you never did before. We look forward to welcoming you and ensuring that your stay with us is a memorable one. 


(Image credit: wanoi KAKUNODATE)


wanoi KAKUNODATE (和のゐ 角館)
Nishinomiyake Bushigura | Nishinomiyake Gakkogura  | Tanmonogura

Check-in address: 14 Nakasugazawa, Kakunodate-machi, Semboku, Akita
Nearest station: Kakunodate Station (角館駅)
TEL: +81 187-53-2774
Check-in: 3pm–7pm* 
Check-out: 10am
(*Note: Please inform the hotel in advance if you are arriving after 7pm)


Header image credits: wanoi KAKUNODATE


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