Swords, armour and ceremonial items are just some of the samurai secrets awaiting you inside this secluded compound.

If you want to see Japanese swords and armour — and you don’t happen to have a time machine — you’ll usually need to head to a museum.

However, we recently came across an astounding collection of katana, and it wasn’t in a museum, gallery, or other dedicated cultural facility, but inside a hotel.

This is no ordinary hotel, however, as the buildings used to house guests are actually old storehouses located in an old samurai family residence. And while they’re old, they’re far from being run-down, as they’ve been lovingly restored with touches that pay homage to their samurai past.

Located in Kakunodate in Akita Prefecture, an old castle town that’s often dubbed “Little Kyoto” for its preserved buildings and samurai residences, the hotel is called Wanoi Kakunodate.

▼ “Wanoi” means “Japanese Way of Life”

Unlike an ordinary hotel, Wanoi Kakunodate is made up of three separate private “kura” or “storehouses” — The “Nishinomiyake Bushigura“; the “Nishinomiyake Gakkogura” and the “Tanmonogura“.

Nishinomiyake refers to the highly respected Nishinomiya samurai family who once owned the land on which the buildings stand, while Bushigura translates to “warrior storehouse“, Gakkogura means “pickling storehouse” and Tanmonogura means “fabric storehouse“.

▼ Each storehouse is decorated with features that hark back to the history of the building.

We recently took a trip to Wanoi Kakunodate for an overnight stay, and went straight to the nearby Hotel Folkloro Kakunodate building, where guests are required to check in upon arrival.

▼ Check-in takes place at Hotel Folkloro Kakunodate

After checking in, Wanoi guests are guided to their private residence for the night, and we were shown to the Bushigura.

Old storehouses are known for their thick, heavy, dark doors and when we stepped inside the Bushigura we were delighted to see these doors were still preserved, even though they were retained for their beauty and not their function. A more modern wooden sliding door was provided for practicality, and the main living area was adorned with a working hearth in the centre of the room and a couple of giant curtains against the wall.

These curtains, usually seen surrounding the base at samurai battlegrounds, gave the warrior storehouse an instant warrior feel, and was topped off nicely with a set of armour in the corner.

▼ There were also a number of authentic samurai items on display.

Furniture and design features in the building all hold some significance, like the extensive use of traditional birch work, which flourished in Kakunodate as a handicraft for lower-ranking samurai.

Old books and school textbooks covering subjects like geography and English are also displayed as a nod to the scholastic pursuits of young samurai.

A lot of old folk tools are displayed, and there’s even an old palanquin near the stairwell that was possibly used by a daimyo or other senior-ranking samurai.

The Bushigura has two floors, with the bedroom located on the upper floor. It’s a real luxury to stay in a building like this because its reserved for only one booking, meaning you have the entire place to yourself, though its expansive size makes it particularly great for a private stay with family or friends.

▼ Japanese sword replicas hang on the wall above the bed, but don’t worry, the blades can’t actually be pulled out from the sheaths.

The beds are a lot more luxurious than any a samurai would’ve been able to sleep on, with these ones made by respected mattress maker Simmons.

▼ A beautiful sight to wake up to.

The warm wood, gorgeous ceiling beams, and cleverly designed lighting make the old storehouse feel warm and cosy, while the thick walls absorb sound so the interior remains peaceful and silent.

▼ The amenities are surprisingly modern, but still fit in with the old storehouse aesthetic.

▼ The tableware is also a local handicraft, with notes provided in English and Japanese to introduce guests to the history of the product.

The harmonious blend between old and new is incredibly impressive. There’s Wi-Fi, air conditioning, hot water, a refrigerator, and a coffee maker provided so guests can enjoy a night of history in modern comfort.

▼ The bathroom is a league above most modern hotels.

▼ And when you take a bath, you’ll be able to gaze out at the beauty of the old storehouse door.

▼ Wanoi also provides samue roomwear for guests to wear while in the storehouse.

▼ And you can chill out like a modern samurai in sitting areas like this one.

While the storehouse is undeniably beautiful inside, it’s equally gorgeous outside, with an atmosphere that conjures up images of old Japan and its warrior history.

▼ Even the path leading to the modern-day parking area is worthy of a photo.

Adding to the beauty is the fact that there are no hotel staff inside the warehouse as the whole building is reserved for private use of the staying guest. Most stays don’t include a dinner option because it’s hoped that guests will enjoy local specialties at nearby restaurants, but breakfast is usually provided, with staff delivering it to the hearth inside the storehouse at a pre-agreed time.

▼ Eating breakfast like a high-ranking samurai.

With only three storehouses available, it can be hard to get a booking at Wanoi, but now with significantly less tourists due to coronavirus, there are currently a lot more vacancies.

While a lot of people are resisting the urge to travel right now, each building is reserved for the exclusive use of the staying guest, and the only interaction with staff is at check-in, check-out and breakfast time, which makes it well-suited to social distancing.

So if you want to escape to a time when the current pandemic didn’t exist, albeit with a lot more swords and bandits, you might want to treat yourself to a night at Wanoi, and make use of the special half-price shinkansen ticket to get there.

Hotel information
Wanoi Kakunodate “Bushigura” / 和のゐ 角館「武士蔵」
Address: Akita-ken, Senboku-shi, Kakunodatemachi, Tamachikamicho 1-1
Price: Starting from 26,100 yen (US$243) per room per night (price varies depending on the plan and season)
Hotel website

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