In contrast to the traditional brown Japanese buildings around it, Komeyakata Guesthouse pops out with its colorful exteriors in Murayama City, rural Yamagata Prefecture. The guesthouse is owned by a multicultural family with a British son-in-law, which might be why bilingual signs and notices in perfect English really help out tourists at the guesthouse.

I probably would never have stumbled upon Murayama City had I not been looking for accommodation near the famous Ginzan Onsen town. Traditional ryokan are either all booked up or way over my budget. Yamagata didn’t even come up as a search option on Hostelworld.com, so I tried Airbnb instead, and quickly found Komeyakata with an extremely attractive price of under ¥3,000 per night in either the dormitory or the private cottage (compared to around ¥20,000 per night at a ryokan). And what a bonus that it’s only a 30-minute drive to Ginzan Onsen! Things worked out for my itinerary.

Credit: Airbnb.com

One big thing that separates Komeyakata from other guest houses is that it provides a bunch of hands-on agricultural opportunities for their guests. Rice planting goes on in May and June, weeding in July and August, edamame harvesting in September, rice harvesting in October, and tofu-making all year round. The family that owns it interacts and works with the guests during all of these events. In fact, every year from spring to fall, Komeyakata recruits long-term volunteers to help with farm work and provides accommodation, meals, plus big smiles in return. Please refer to this website if you’re interested.

Komeyakata Guesthouse is a fun place inside out, and the vibrant appearance of the house is a disguise of its establishment since 1897.

What it’s like

Komeyakata Guesthouse is a fun place inside out, and the vibrant appearance of the house is a disguise of its establishment since 1897. The main common space consists of a dining area, a kitchen, and an open tatami room. This space made me feel like home as soon as I walked in — tens of clay Japanese dolls line the shelves of the information area, each with a different facial expression. Moreover, the amount of “things” at the kitchen area especially caught my attention. Like, these “things” fill up the shelves without wasting any space: around 30 bottles of strong homemade marinated fruit wines (orange, cherry, plum — you name it) and generous amounts of seasoning options, as well as local produce.

Do you see what I mean by “things”? Photo by Cara Lam

Right, free lunches do exist in this world. Guests are welcome to use the rice, snacks and seasonings labeled “Free.” And I urge you to taste the rice — it is oh-so-fluffy and nurtured by the family and volunteers in the rice fields behind the guesthouse. Each rice grain bounces in your mouth and carries a slight hint of sweetness. Another must-try item is the homemade kujira-mochi, a Yamagata sticky, chewy sweet made of nut, miso and soy sauce.

The spirit of the guesthouse, however, resides in the NES Family Computer (or “FamiCom”) next to the tatami room. (If this name doesn’t ring any bells, Family Computer is a classic video game console that Nintendo released in 1983.) Close to 100 game cassettes fill the drawers below, with Super Mario, Pacman and Final Fantasy being the favorites judging by their most color-faded labels. I ain’t quite a gamer myself, but nonetheless, I felt as if I’d time slipped to the 1980’s through the occasional flickers of the vintage red TV screen.

Get trapped by games (and time) here! Photo by Cara Lam.

After exhausting my gaming talent, I spent a good 30 minutes trying to balance the marble on the holes-filled 3D wooden maze labyrinth in the tatami room, then another 30 minutes or so learning easy, but unique Yamagata ben (dialect) phrases from the posters. For example, the Yamagatan “yes” is a simple and playful-sounding んだ (n-da) instead of the regular そうですね (soudesu-ne).

Time went by too fast at Komeyataka. I have to go back soon!

Things to know

If you’d like to take part in the farming activities mentioned above, please make a booking with the guesthouse in advance through the website or get in touch directly via phone or email.

Getting there

  • By Train:
    • From Tokyo, you can take the JR Yamagata Shinkansen for three hours to Murayama Station.
    • From Sendai, take JR Senzan Line or the Ou Main Line for 1 1/2 hours to Uzen-Chitose, then Murayama station.
    • From Yamagata, hop on the JR Ou Main Line for a direct train ride of 30 minutes to Murayama station.
    • *From Murayama Station, it’s a 20-minute walk or a 10-minute local bus ride to the guest house.
  • By bus:
    • From Tokyo: You can take the “Tokyo Sunrise” night bus from Yaesu Street near Tokyo Station to Murayama Station. It takes about seven hours and requires a reservation.
    • From Sendai: Take the Express 48 Liner bus toward Shinjo to Murayama Station for about 1.5 hours. No reservation needed.