先日は常連のお客様の送迎でさくらんぼの出荷場に寄ってお土産に買ってあげました。The other day I was driving some longtime guests home and stopped at a cherry stand and bought them some as a gift.
お客様は90代の女性お二人です。前回に送迎した時はハゼ掛けの時期でしたのでせっかくだから姨捨棚田をサービスで通りました。お二人に凄く印象的だったのようで、今回の滞在で「素敵な思い出だった」と何回か言ってくださりました。（90代の割には頭がしっかり…） The guests were a pair of ladies in their nineties. Last time they came it was rice harvest season so on the drive here I took them through the Obasute Rice Terraces. Apparently the scenery made a big impact on them because they couldn’t stop talking about it. (Both of their minds are quite sharp for being in their nineties.)
今回の送迎でより大きな印象を、と思い、しかし、何が良いかと悩みました。そして、途中にさくらんぼの出荷場があると思い出しました。シーズンが短いんですが運が良く販売してました。On the drive this time I was hoping to do something that would make an even bigger impact. Then I remembered there’s a cherry stand along the way. Cherry season is so short but fortunately they were open.
お二人は朝採りのさくらんぼが初めてだった様で、大喜び。90代の方を喜ばせるのはなかなか難しいですが、おかげ様で大成功しました！It was their first time to have fresh-picked cherries so they were very pleased. It’s not everyday that you can make a pair of ninety year olds happy but this was an outstanding success!
次回はさらに大きな印象が出来る様に、青い目のおもてなしにおまかせください♪ Next time I’ve got to think of something to make an even bigger impact, but that’s what hospitality is about.
Photo of the path to Togakushi Oku-sha Shrine by T-san from Kanagawa Pref.
In Japan there is a concept called "omotenashi". Usually translated as "hospitality" or "service", it is integral to the overall concept of a ryokan. The secret behind omotenashi is to simply provide a guest with what they want. However, the problem is in 'reading' a guest to ascertain what it is they want. And for some, the guests themselves don't realize what they truly want. Sometimes, it requires a bit of serendipity, as with this recent example.
A husband and wife arrived by car and didn't seem to be in a good mood. After checking them in and showing them their room, as I poured their tea they told me that all the places they had driven to and planned on seeing that day were still closed for the winter. There has been an unusually large snowfall this year so many places are late in opening for spring. As it had been a disappointing trip for them so far, accordingly the staff and I decided to do a more hands-off approach to serving them.
At check-out, the wife mentioned wanting to eat soba (buckwheat noodles -- Nagano's specialty). Our favorite place for soba is Togakushi, the area above central Nagano City that is famous for growing some of the best buckwheat in the country. There is something special about eating soba noodles at Togaushi made from the clear mountain water and in the fresh mountain air. Our most beloved restaurant is Yamaguchi-ya. The dining area features a picture window with a stunning view of Togakushi Mountain. We had run out of brochures for Yamaguchi-ya so I had recently requested them to mail us some more. Just then a package arrived and, low-and-behold, it was the brochures from Yamaguchi-ya. Our proprietress handed one to the guests, and off they went.
Yesterday we received a thank you e-mail and pictures from the guests. Apparently they had enjoyed a relaxing stay at our inn with the onsen baths and our chef's cuisine, but the highlight of their trip was Togakushi, especially the soba at Yamaguchi-ya and the spiritual nature. The picture shared here is the one they took of the cedar trees lining the path to Togakushi Oku-sha, the Inner Shrine.
If we had asked the guests at the start what they wanted, they probably wouldn't have said "Togakushi". But through a bit of serendipitous omotenashi, the guests were able to overcome the disappointing start and make a memorable trip.
Kamesei Ryokan's women's onsen now has a 2nd outdoor bath: this tanuki-colored Shigaraki ceramic bath.
The proprietress and I drove the 260km to Shigaraki (Shiga Precture, Koka City) and picked out the size and color, and had the bath specially made. Meanwhile, I made the fence surround, deck and pocket garden for the bath.
Our women's onsen has a fairly small indoor bath, but now guests can enjoy not one but two outdoor baths. And the Shigaraki ceramic is the perfect complement for Kamiyamada Onsen's skin-softening hot spring mineral water.
We hope everyone can come and take a soak in our new bath!
My next column for the Nagano edition of the Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper will be out on 02-November. The gist of the message is that tourism is evolving from just trying to increase the number of tourists and getting them to spend more money, to a form that brings more overall benefit to the local community through meaningful interaction. One example I give is timely with its rugby connection (the Japan Rugby World Cup final will take place on the 2nd). I explain one of our recent Zukudashi Eco Tours cycling tours. We had two participants from New Zealand and when we passed an apple orchard, the farmer called out, "Tyler-san!" I often take guests INTO her fields and experience helping with her farm work. One of the New Zealanders was Maori, and he did a haka dance for the farmer. I bet that was the first time in history for a real-life Maori to do a real-life haka dance in a Nagano apple orchard. The guest enjoyed sharing his culture, and the farmer appreciated it as well.
Grape Season in here!
I took our exchange student from Hungary to Nakajima Orchard to buy the new-crop grapes so serve as dessert to our guests tonight here at Kamesei Ryokan. We got 3 colors of grapes: the purple 'Kyoho', red 'Shinano Smile' and green 'Ouka'.
I also got some bunches of the popular 'Nagano Purple' variety to sell at our front desk. They are seedless, and you can eat the skin (for 'Kyoho' and many other Japanese varieties, you usually have to pop the skin off before eating). Fresh picked this morning and first of the season, and priced very reasonably.
The orchardist said all the rain and the lack of sun this summer meant this year's grape crop is maturing about a week later than usual. Apple trees on the other hand loved the extra rain and it looks like this year will be a bumper crop.
The grape harvest should continue through early October.
Apple season will start in earnest with the early autumn varieties in October, including the 3 Nagano Apple Siblings: the red and aptly-named 'Shinano Sweet', the crisp and green 'Shinano Gold', and deep-red colored 'Akibae'. Then the mainstay 'Fuji' apples are usually harvested in November.
We hope you come and enjoy Nagano's delicious autumn fruits!
中島農園 Nakajima Orchard http://www.nakajima-nouen.com/
For my regular column in the Yomiuri Shimbun's Nagano edition, I wrote a piece on various points of view concerning Japanese inns. Much of what I wrote got edited away, but below is the non-edited version.
Basically, I wrote about how the sitting area of many ryokan guest rooms is dropped down 1 step so the eye levels of the people sitting on the chairs there, and that of the people sitting on the tatami mat floor are the same height. A student of Frank Lloyd Wright named Arata Endo first set that trend in the process of making the Honenmushi wing of the venerable Sasaya Hotel here in our onsen town, Togura Kamiyamada.
Other examples of points of view I used were how low the entrances are to rooms, with the reason being that makes is more difficult for enemies to wield their katana swords (something I get to think about every time I bump my head) and how the handles for the sliding 'fusuma' doors are so low, since the proper way to open them is from the kneeling 'seiza' position rather than standing up. Unfortunately, my samurai-related comments got edited out as being unsubstantiated, which feels like a smack to the forehead...
Once again provoking the local government. Ideas for concrete steps the regional government could take to promote / improve the area's inbound tourism.
The 2nd Great Onsen Town Pub Crawl to take place this Thursday October 4th!
今回は新しい参加店が沢山: 万蔵(ジンギスカン)、栄楽(ホルモン)、やまよし(居酒屋)、まめ(小料理屋)、瑞祥カフェ(デザート)、藤岡(焼き鳥)、亀屋と壱星(ラーメン)、かかし(そば)、クラブ連とBar Wizard(飲み屋)、串一(串焼き)、鶴の湯と白鳥園(温泉)など
継続の名店を含めて約40軒を楽しめます。継続店: Da Qui とラフィーネ(イタリアン）、安兵衛（焼き鳥）、apacheと古波久（居酒屋）、義家（ホルモン）、アルゴット（デザート）、瑞祥（食堂＋温泉）、ホテルプラトンと万葉温泉（温泉）、かわいいと瑞祥（食堂）、亀清旅館（デザート）、有田屋旅館（ローストビーフ）、ビリーヴ（スナック）、射的3件、ずくだしエコツアー（サイクリング）、アーツプロデュース（ステンドグラス）。