How can we preserve local heritage through historical buildings through tourism and create new appeal for the area?
Historical buildings don’t usually draw crowds or create any income streams or appeal for their rural destinations, but that doesn’t have to be the case if we apply some innovation and collaboration to the problem.
On a recent trip to rural Okayama we ended up eating at a stunning Samurai House open on weekends for soba-loving visitors like us. This place is about an hour’s drive from Kurashiki city, it’s called Kawahara-tei.
It is only open on Friday, Saturday and Sunday- but worth the drive out if you are in the Okayama area. It’s a lovely drive through the countryside to get there- enjoying views of rivers and mountains the entire way from the expressway.
I love this concept of creating accessible heritage and history in Japan through collaborations between small restaurants and entrepreneurs with historical preservation societies, destination managers and owners of beautiful buildings like this.
There are so many lovely gardens around Japan that do a simple tea set, or matcha and wagashi set like this gorgeous gardens in Sankei-en Hiroshima – next to the airport.
There is something special that happens when old buildings are used in new ways- taking a historical building often forgotten, due to a lack of visitors seeking out empty buildings, and giving it new life by filling it with laughter, chatter, and the sounds of enjoyment as customers enjoy good food and drink.
Looking back on previous years, some of my favorite travel memories are from some historical buildings repurposed to accommodate modern drinkers and diners. No one would seek out, or even remember, a nondescript typical Starbucks anywhere in the world, but these add something special to the brand as well as preserve the culture and heritage of the area- so important to building an appealing brand as a destination.
Too often historical buildings are not open to be enjoyed as the original Samurai owners and their household would have, but here you can sit on the tatami mats and look out into the lush garden and imagine what life might have been like in this amazing house.
We were introduced to this place by Okayama based traditional Japanese carpenter Jon Stollenmeyer who pointed out to us the great restoration work on the upper beams and joints in the traditional Japanese carpentry style. It makes a world of difference when you have insights like this from a local expert.
The soba is great too! I love how the noodles are served on a tea leaf for cold Zaru-Soba noodles. The tempura and hot noodle sets are more filling and the tempura nice and crispy. Add this high quality soba to the lovely atmosphere of the dining area and you have a top-tier experience to enjoy!
Another great memory comes from a trip to Kyoto where I found a renovated teahouse into a Starbucks. These buildings are usually off-limits to any customers not paying huge sums for a Ryokan stay or kaiseki ryori meal. Recreating it as a fashionable space for a modern coffee chain in a gamechanger.
On a consulting trip to Matsue I also sought out a local history museum near the castle. I knew the dusty exhibits were unlikely to be too exciting, but there was something else that drew me to it. I had heard that there was a talented wagashi chef in residence at the museum’s tea shop. So, I couldn’t pass on the opportunity to sit and take in the rock garden while enjoying a matcha tea and freshly handcrafted wagashi set.
I hope to see more of this type of innovation in Japan to preserve historically significant buildings by creating new ways for visitors to enjoy them.