2018.06.15 Island Inns that Feel Like Home

Exploring Setouchi #2

The Setouchi Triennale made Teshima known to the world. Charmed by the island’s beauty, the artworks and the kindness of the local people, many visitors want to stay overnight.

In response, a movement has been launched to convert empty houses or unused rooms into accommodations where visitors can experience the island lifestyle and culture, including farming and fishing.

There are now nine of these establishments, and their owners are happy to teach guests how to cook traditional local foods or let them try their hand at fishing or farming. What has this experience been like for the islanders? We interviewed two of them to find out.

Until the Triennale, Teshima rarely had visitors of any kind but now people of all ages come from every part of Japan as well as from overseas to enjoy the island’s art. And the islanders really look forward to meeting them. Yaeko Yamane (77), for example, is nurturing a warm connection with Australia.

“Just the other day, a guest from Australia who stayed here five years ago came and stayed again,” she told us happily.
Yaeko and her husband run a store on the island, but when she heard about the idea of turning homes into inns, she thought of using the house her parents once lived in.

Now, when she has guests, she leaves her husband to run the store on his own, while she takes care of the inn.

“At first I was a little nervous, wondering what kind of people would come,” she said. Her very first guests were not even from Japan but from Australia.

“When they reserved, they said they didn’t need any meals. But when I saw that they had bought instant noodles to eat in their room, I just had to do something. I whipped up some okonomiyaki for them on the spot.”

Those guests never forgot Yaeko’s kindness, and five years later one of them brought her whole family to visit.

Yaeko treasures a notebook with messages from all the guests who have stayed with her. Some are written in Japanese and express gratitude for the great food and hospitality. But some are long letters written in foreign languages.

Although Yaeko only understands Japanese, thanks to the translation function on her guests’ cell phones, she has no problem communicating.

Since she started running this inn, Yaeko has started to farm her fields more. Now that she has guests to cook for, she wants to feed them fresh vegetables and fruits year-round.

“It’s more work, but I still grow my crops from seeds. The soil here is so rich that everything grows really well. Everyone loves what I make from the things I grow.”

Yaeko raises chickens in her fields as well so her guests can have fresh eggs for breakfast.

“My husband runs the store and I run the inn. It keeps us from going senile,” Yaeko laughs. It’s clear from her well-tended fields that she spares no effort to feed her guests delicious meals.

Kiyoto Ikuta (56) returned to Teshima from the neighboring island of Shodoshima. “The Setouchi Triennale and the inns gave me an opportunity to come back,” he says.

He had been living on Shodoshima with his family, but for some time had been longing to return to Teshima, which he still loved. Thanks to the Triennale, he was able to come back and now makes a living from fishing and from taking care of luggage storage at the port.

Between these two jobs, he also runs an inn, which means that from spring to fall he’s very busy. But according to him, just to hear his guests rave about Teshima fish makes it all worthwhile.

Any guests that want to can join him when he goes fishing and then help transform their catch into the evening meal. He loves the fact that when he teaches guests how to fillet and cook fish like a true fishermen, they come to really appreciate just how good the seafood in this area is.

Another reason he’s glad that he started running an inn is the opportunity to meet people from the city.

“I’ve always lived in the country, so it’s interesting to meet city people. I’ve set up a couple of social media accounts and websites, but it was visitors from places like Tokyo that taught me how. Now it’s really easy to share information online. This inn has given me opportunities to meet people I never would have met otherwise.”

Kiyoto makes a point of sharing his personal experiences with his guests, such as how he helped artists make works for the Triennale. He also shares the island’s traditional culture. That way, his guests can experience a side of Teshima that they would never discover just by wandering around the island. That’s probably why many of his clientele are repeaters who come back regularly, sometimes as often as once a month. He makes sure that when they walk in the door, they feel like they’re coming home.

There are many other island inns that offer unique experiences, such as cooking with local ingredients, jam-making or the old-fashioned Japanese goemonburo, a deep iron bath with a wooden lid which you must stand on when sinking into the water so as not to burn yourself on the hot metal sides.

There are two ports in Teshima that connect the island to such places as Takamatsu, Naoshima and Shodoshima. It’s nice to spend a day touring the Setouchi Triennale and then return to Teshima for the night and share your adventures with your “family” at the inn.

Staying at an inn on Teshima makes you feel right at home.