Friday, June 21, 2013

Chasing Sakura - Japan (9) - Gassho House Experience: Gensaku (源作)

Our experience in Shirakawago is incomplete without a stay at a "gassho-zukuri" (traditional Japanese-style farmhouse).  However, making a reservation at these guesthouse could prove to be a challenge as the staff at most of these guesthouses normally don't speak English at all (and they don't have a website either).

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You could ask your friends in Japan to help you to call and make the reservation. Or, you could use the free service provided by the Shirakawa-go Tourist Association.  The website is in Japanese but you could figure out the form with Google Translate.  (Note:  You can only use the website to make reservations up to 4 months in advance.  You can also ask them to assist in making reservations with Nohi Bus.)

We filled out the form and received prompt response from the staff (all in English).  The staff made a reservation for us with Gensaku (源作)!  Gensaku is a 320-year old gassho-zukuri (合掌造) located in Ogimachi (荻町) famous for their local home-style cuisine.  Since check-in is at 3 pm, we left our luggage with the staff in the morning.  Since April is a slow month for Shirakawago, it looks like we were the only guests on that day!

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When we came back in the afternoon, our room is ready for us.  We were assigned room #1 and refreshment is provided.  Since it is a farmhouse (the family, who is also the staff, still lives there), there is no lock on the doors.  (If you are concern with your valuables, remember to bring them with you!  But really, I think Japan is one of the safest countries I have been to.)

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Rule #1: No fire!
Gassho houses are basically built by straw and wood.
They are not fire-friendly!
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Green tea and wafers~
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Taste pretty good!

Dinner is served promptly at 6:30 pm in the common room and what a feast!  There were 10 different plates in our meal and everything was super delicious!  As expected, we were the only guests of the night.  The owner tried to talk to us.  Unfortunately, my Japanese is not the best and we couldn't understand each other.  It was awkward but we felt their hospitality.  The only thing we didn't anticipate was the smoke from the hearth.  It was a meal we were all brought to tears *o*

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We specifically requested a guesthouse with a hearth (囲炉裏).
I can't say it was a mistake but I am not sure if I would do it again... lol!

We tried to open the door to let the air circulate.
But it only made the smoke situation worse... :'(
The owner came in and tried to explain to us the smoke only gets worse if we open the door to try to air it out!
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What a feast!!!
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Pickled vegetables
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More pickled vegetables
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Some more pickled vegetables!!!

Kyoto and probably Kansai region is very famous for their pickled vegetables.
I guess it's because of the climate and how families tried to preserve the fresh vegetables for consumption in the winter
It's the same everywhere else in the world.
It's interesting to see how each country interprets and creates their own version.
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Miso mountain yam (山芋)
Love this!
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Shredded yam (淮山)
Love this too!
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Hot tofu soup
Very delicious!!!
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Grilled fish
Could be hotter!
(It is probably because I took too long to take pictures...)
Should have put it on the grill to warm it up. :P
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Tempura vegetables
Crispy and delicious!  It is not oily at all!
So impressed since we are not even at a restaurant!!!
The dipping is either a green tea or wasabi salt mix.
Whatever it was, it pairs well with the tempura.
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Grilled Hida beef
Melts in your mouth.  Yum~~~
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Strawberry Jelly
Not too sweet, just my kind of desserts!
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Rice, tea, and other condiments
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Just as we were busy eating, the staff was busy preparing our room.  The coffee table was moved to the other side of the room and the beds were made.  April in Shirakawago is still pretty cold.  We kept the heater on when we were awake but turned it off when we go to bed.  (We don't want to cause a fire!)  I was fine and had a great night of sleep but my friends said their heads were freezing during the night!  (Maybe because I went to the onsen before I slept?)

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This is the onsen I went to.
(I took the pictures in the morning, which was smart because it was so dark at night!)
It doesn't have all the amenities and views but it did its job.
I was so warm the entire night after my soak after dinner.
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If you are a guest at one of the guesthouses in Shirakawago, you get a reduced rate.
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I got milk to be enjoyed after my bath.
Another brilliant idea XD

The staff knocked on our door at 7:30 am to let us know that breakfast is ready.  We tallied a bit before we finally moved to the common room...

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Huge breakfast!!!
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Hōba Miso (朴葉味噌)
slight sweet, very tasty.
best served with beef and rice!
I bought some from the sovenir shop and is still waiting to eat them~
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Soft boiled eggs
My favorite!
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Pickled vegetables
I like the pickled plum~
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boiled spinach in sesame sauce
This is very yummy too.
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Picked mushrooms (舞茸)
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More pickled vegetables
I guess winter is so long here there is a lack of fresh vegetables?
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Mushroom and tofu soup
The staff only brought us our soup when she saw us eating
This ensures the soup is hot and tasty!  So thoughtful!

We only paid JPY8,820 per person for the night's stay plus 2 meals!  Honestly, this is extremely cheap!  I had a great time staying at Gensaku and I would highly recommend anyone who wants to experience their hospitality and enjoy a night in the village.  However, we need to bear in mind that these guesthouses are usually small businesses and they cannot afford for no-shows.  

I was never asked to prepay or provide my credit card information when I make any room reservation in Japan.  They simply take my word for it.  If you traveled to any other foreign countries, they first thing people ask you when you make a room reservation is your credit card, or a deposit - just in case you didn't show up.  I know there are people out there who abuse the system.  I cannot stress enough - please play by the rules and read the cancellation policy.

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