Guest Review by Dave Kellogg
It’s commonly cited that Tokyo, with 30 million people, is the most populated city in the world. The iconic images of the megalopolis reflect its size: buildings stacked with neon signs; workaholic men and women dressed in business suits and nodding off on packed commuter trains; and thousands of people every minute flooding the crosswalks in the Shibuya Ward. What a relief then when my colleague Brendan and I walked up the narrow, empty alleyway not far from the Kasuga St. metro station and entered Homeikan Daimachi Bekkan (the latter word meaning ‘guest house’). Most hotels serve their purpose as staging areas for travel, but this bekkan itself becomes the destination. So much of what we wanted in our Japan experience was in our very bedrooms. Its traditional ryokan architecture and garden immediately bring Tokyo down to size and launch visitors back in time.
The owner: Kunio Koike inherited the complex from his father. His father built it as his private home. However, jealous residents of the building across the way, which his father also owned, complained it upstaged them. So he made it into another shared residence. Kunio explains that this is what makes it so unique: it was a home designed for private residence turned into a guest house.
The neighborhood: The neighborhood is named Hongo. In the 19th century, the neighborhood housed some of Japan’s great writers, including the woman on the Japanese ¥5,000 note, Ichiyo Higuchi. She died young of tuberculosis, but thanks to her few novels critics placed her as a groundbreaking female literary figure in patriarchal Japan. Another gentleman once lived across the alley in the older guest house (140 years) also belonging to Kunio. His name was Mamoru Shigemitsu, the Japanese Foreign Minister who, to conclude World War II, signed the instrument of surrender to the U.S. and its allies on the USS Missouri.
Around Hongo there are boutique shops and plenty of tiny Japanese restaurants, all on the ground level. Here, you don’t feel so overwhelmed with shops eight stories off the ground like you do in the major commercial districts of Tokyo. At the same time, the Tokyo Dome (home stadium for the Yomiuri Giants) and a super-mall with a rollercoaster on the roof is only about a 10-minute walk away.
The room: Brendan stayed on the second floor in a room called “Kasuga” which means ‘spring sunshine.’ I stayed on the first floor in “Irifune” which means ‘ships sailing in with a mountain of treasures’.
What we loved: The quietude and nature in the middle of Tokyo. The human brain is geared to be attracted to contrast and this guest house set among greater Tokyo is a dandy. In Japan, we are always smitten with the details as well — the fine touches. For instance, when we plopped our stuff down in our rooms we were greeted with a perfect little bean snack wrapped in a pickled sesame leaf as well as a pot of green tea. We took our treats to the wood chairs in the sun-room and looked out on our little garden. We were in Tokyo but really had no need to leave the room!
For further information and reservations: contact Homeikan Daimachi Bekkan
ABOUT DAVE KELLOGG
Dave Kellogg is a writer and TV host/director currently living in Beijing, China.
He works closely with his travel colleague Brendan Madden — together, they have produced numerous short and long-form travel documentaries encompassing material such skiing in Iraq, mountain biking to Mt Everest and staging a mock karate battle in a Beijing hutong. Check them out at In Deep Films.
Recently, Dave returned from filming in Japan near to where, and just before, the earthquake struck. His prayers go out to all people affected by the tragedy there.