After making it through the long traffic of Golden Week, we finally arrived at Nihonmatsu where we will spend the next two nights“.

Located on top of a hill amongst rice paddies and orchards, we could make out the dark and tall pine trees that surrounded the house. Shinobu-san came to meet us at the entrance. As soon as we stepped inside, we were greeted by fairy lights and music box songs to the tunes from Studio Ghibli’s popular anime movies. There was an irori fireplace at the entrance and behind it was a study area with books and CDs. To the left was the dining room and to the right, the kitchen. We joined a Japanese family for Shinobu-san’s home cooked dinner. Everyday he would make us delicious hearty breakfasts and dinners with locally sourced ingredients. 

Full course healthy breakfast!

The house was a spacious, renovated traditional Japanese home with tatami mats and sliding paper doors. The more I looked around, the more I could see that Shinobu-san really put a lot of care and effort in decorating and giving life to his house. An origami dragon hung above the mantle piece corner surrounded by floating woven wooden balls while behind me was a table of booklets, small house plants and cartoon figurines. In fact I would later come to discover that every corner of the house was lovingly touched with Shinobu-san’s decorations. 

When talking about Japanese houses, you can’t miss out on slippers, the quintessential elements of Japanese homes. To walk around the corridors in a house you put on a pair of slippers and take them off each time you enter a room. Bathrooms on the other hand have their own specific pair of slippers. If you don’t find slippers that fit you (in my case most are too big), walking through a squeaky wooden corridor or going up some flights of stairs without trying to disturb other sleeping guests was a bit difficult. It’s even more awkward when you are in a hurry to reach the bathroom that’s located on the opposite side of the house. Rushing through the corridor in oversized slippers, taking them off, passing through another room, putting on another pair of slippers and rushing past another room and kitchen, only to be greeted with bathroom slippers was all quite a task. I often end up forgetting to take off the slippers when going into a room.

During the evenings, the house got quite cold. Conveniently, Shinobu-san had some wool socks for sale. A friend of his owns an alpaca wool clothing brand, with wool sourced from alpacas in Peru. The socks did their job and kept me warm throughout the rest of the trip and I’ll definitely take them on a future trip to cold places! (they do have a lot of nice stuff if you want to check them out:

Our bedroom on the second floor of the house.
On the second day, Shinobu-san’s friend Midori-san joined us at the house. Her cooking skills were on par with his. If they ever own a café together they would definitely have a lot of customers who can’t get enough of their cooking.

Shinobu-san’s house had an air of a Studio Ghibli movie. Maybe it’s the décor or the personality of the house. Whatever it is, it felt magical and welcoming. During our stay we spent a lot of time chatting to Shinobu-san and his visiting friend Midori-san about many things. They were both genuine and kind people. This is what I love about travelling, you get to meet so many interesting people along the way.

House of Cats

House of Cats

After standing for an hour and a half in the Shinkansen from Narita to Fukushima City and continuing the trip on a local train, we finally arrived at Izumi district in Fukushima. It was a quiet and peaceful neighborhood with many small cute streets and two-storey houses with perfectly rounded bonsai trees.

Our Airbnb accommodation was just ten minutes walk from the station, although we took a little longer to get there because it was slightly hidden in a backstreet and we could not find the house at first. Our hosts were Satoshi-san and his wife Katsue-san. They also share the house with three energetic cats: Milk, Choco and Chappy. Their house was your typical Japanese style house, with sliding paper doors and tatami mat rooms. While we sat in the living room discussing house rules, the cats came to inspect us. They would walk into the room, sniffing our belongings, not getting too close and then left.

Chappy looking out to the garden.

The more I looked around the house, the more I saw of what the cats were up to. There were claw marks in several places, some almost up to the ceilings, while in the bathroom there were some white paw prints where the cats must have stepped onto some white paint. Then there was our bedroom. One of the cats had jumped through the door and there was a hole the size of a cat in the sliding paper door. Satoshi-san, looking slightly embarrassed with a piece of white plastic board in hand, asked us if we could give him some time to fix the hole.

Since it was late afternoon, we decided to go for a walk to use the rest of the daylight to look around the neighbourhood (here are some photos from the walk

our cosy bedroom.

At night when we got back to the house, the cats were still very active. You could hear them run around the second floor, back and forth like little children. Before long, a cat was meowing in front of our room. It would pace around, call out and with no response, it would leave and come back a few minutes later and repeat the same thing. At one point there was a moment of silence but no sooner was it disrupted by a sudden weird scratching sound. I looked at the paper sliding door and I could see a silhouette of a cat with its pointy ears. The paper was thin enough that the black and white fur pattern was visible. It was Milk. She was probably getting impatient and knew that I was still awake. “Nooo…!” I said. Milk stopped scratching but her paw was still firmly pressed on the paper door. “I can still see your hand”. Funnily enough, as if she understood what I said, she gave up and left.

The next morning we were offered delicious homemade pancakes for breakfast from Satoshi-san’s wife, Katsue-san. We had a quick chat and I found out that a friend of mine had also stayed at Satoshi-san’s house during her trip to Japan a few years ago. What a small world!

the kitchen.

After breakfast I wanted to take a quick shower but the cats had taken over the bathroom. Someone had taken a shower earlier and and all the cats were happily drinking leftover warm water droplets on the bathtub and inside the small plastic container that is used for bathing. I didn’t want to chase them out of the bathroom so I kept waiting until the last cat had finished drinking.

Choco’s drinking was momentarily disrupted with me going into the bathroom.

When it was time for us to leave, as if by instinct, all the cats gathered at the door, hoping to sneak out. Luckily Katsue-san was there to make sure that they didn’t run out through the front door.

Katsue-san and Milk

Although we only spent one night there, it left me with a warm feeling and it was a good start to our Japan trip. Satoshi-san and Katsue-san were both kind and welcoming and all the cats were cute and adorable in their own ways. Even though they were mischievous at times, you could see that both Satoshi-san and Katsue-san really cared for them. It was nice to be in a house where you could see that the pets are truly part of the family.