Learn what it feels like to be a novelist with an editor hounding you about your manuscript!

Have you ever wondered what it’s like to be a novelist? To have a strict deadline that you have to make, even though it’s oh so hard to stay on task? To have an editor constantly calling you and visiting to see how your project is going or if you’re finished with the manuscript yet?

Well, if you’ve ever wondered, you can have the whole experience at Homeikan, an old Japanese ryokan inn that’s offering a special one-night program called the Bungo Kanzume Plan, which roughly translates to “Literary Retreat Plan”. Our Japanese-language reporter Chie Nomura thought it sounded fun, so she booked a stay to see what it’s all about.

Homeikan was built more than 100 years ago and is actually a registered Tangible Cultural Property. The inn, which was originally a lodging house, has three buildings in Tokyo’s Hongo Sanchome neighborhood: a main building and two annexes.

They host the Bungo Kanzume Plan at the Morikawa Annex. It’s a program designed to emulate the life of a writer or literary master who in olden days needed to isolate themselves in order to finish their manuscript. This sounded like a great plan for Chie, who had some work that needed to get done. Would she be able to knock it all out?

The Morikawa Annex is just five minutes walking from Todai-Mae Station on the Tokyo Metro Namboku Line. In fact, it’s just around the corner from the illustrious University of Tokyo. However, Chie thought she was going to the main building, and ended up walking from Hongo Sanchome Station on the Marunouchi Line, which took about 13 minutes. It was a little bit of a hilly walk, but she was able to see the main building and the Daimachi Annex on the way, so she didn’t mind at all.

The Morikawa Annex has a very old-school feel to it, and Chie felt certain that many authors came to stay here in days gone by. The interior entrance hall is huge, and very cool. She couldn’t get enough of the atmosphere.

One of the shoe cubbies bore a sign for “Chie Nomura-sensei”. Chie felt sheepishly pleased, since “sensei” is used to honor novel authors. “I guess I am a sensei today!” she thought, blushing. After taking off her shoes and donning a pair of indoor slippers, she was promptly showed to her room by the staff, who, in this plan, refer to themselves as “the Editing Department”, in keeping with the theme.

▼ Even the hallways feel very historic and refined.

Chie’s room was at the very back of the inn, and was named “Haruna”. Here, too, was a tag with “Chie Nomura-sensei” on it. It felt a little like she was a celebrity entering her dressing room, but she kind of liked it.

Entering he room, it was just as as classic and historic-looking as she expected, and pretty spacious too!

It was a 12-tatami mat room, which is quite large. Even though the futon was already laid out, the room felt huge, maybe even too big for just one person, so Chie worried that she might feel a little lonely here. But when “Editor Ito” explained the way the program works, she felt a little relieved.

Apparently, you can hire an “editing team” to help you get your work done, and you can tell them how involved you want them to be. You can also book a number of optional services to have them keep you on track, like holding the key to the safe for you–so you can lock your phone in there–, as well as have the full experience of being a struggling author by hiring actors to play debt collectors or to pretend that your spouse and your secret lover run into each other.

After Chie selected her options and Editor Ito left, she set about getting to work. There was a nice desk in the room, but since there was also a beautiful old Japanese-style writing table she decided to use that. But as she was setting up her workstation, she realized a major problem…

The outlets were too far away!

This wouldn’t have been an issue for writers of yore, but for Chie, a child of the modern age, electricity is a must! Then she decided to try connecting to the Wi-Fi, but that didn’t go very well either. A quick SOS to the Editing Department solved both of those issues, however. “Editor Suzuki” immediately brought her two extension cords and a Wi-Fi router! They really left nothing to be desired.

Unfortunately, even with two extension cords she didn’t have enough length to reach the opposite end of the room, so she had to move the writing desk closer to the futon. But no matter! With her phone charging and her laptop plugged in, Chie was ready to get to work!

Her goal for her stay: writing a SoraNews24 article and a blog update. Being in isolation did seem to help her work progress much faster, but the biggest enemy was the constant call of the World Wide Web. Without even realizing it, she often ended up scrolling on Twitter or checking her e-mail.


Suddenly, her room’s rotary telephone began to ring in a super old-school 19th century style. It was the progress check-in! After receiving a scolding about wasting time browsing the web, Chie remembered she needed to go out and investigate the inn itself for her article, and so left her room to explore.

Chie’s a fan of retro things, so she couldn’t get enough of the architecture and interior design. The building has four floors, and a surprising number of rooms (Chie’s was on the second floor).

▼ A break room

Every now and then she would spot signs that say things like, “How is your work coming along?”, so eventually she felt compelled to return to her room and get back to writing.

It was about 6:30 p.m. when she finished her tour of the inn, which was about the time she had requested a watch guard. She took a peek out the window to see if they were there, and…there they were!

▼ “Are you trying to escape from your window?”

The Editing Department was really committed to making Chie get her work done! As Editor Ito kept close watch on our reporter with a pair of binoculars, Editor Suzuki held up signs asking about her progress.

▼ “Are you done with your manuscript yet?”

Chie couldn’t help but smile as she saw them. Feeling comforted, she sat down and got back to work. Amazingly, she stayed on task until it was time for refreshments, though her attention did wander as she wondered what she would be getting for dinner.

Dinner was katsudon (pork cutlet bowl)! Chie’s favorite food, what she would eat as her last meal if she knew the world was going to end. It also came with a nutritional drink and a bag of candy. Chie appreciated what a good balance it was: a hearty dinner, an energizing drink, and a sweet snack for later. After dinner, she got back to work.

At about 8:30, she decided she wanted an early bath. The women’s bath was the “Roman bath,” and Chie loved it, with its tile flooring and walls painted to look like Rome. She had the bath all to herself, and enjoyed a long soak in the nice, hot water.

After the bath, Chie borrowed a hair dryer and returned to her room to dry her hair. Despite being alone, she felt oddly excited to be in a hotel room at night. It was the same feeling you might get when traveling with friends, especially on a school trip. But she still had work to do, so she sat down at her computer plugged away.

A little after midnight, she finally finished an article, so she rewarded herself with a beer and went to bed.

Ring ring ring ring!

Chie woke to the sound of the old-school telephone again. It was her 7 a.m. wake-up call. She answered the phone half asleep and promptly went back to her futon after hanging up. A little after 8 the phone woke her up again, and the Editing Team told her that they’d brought her breakfast, and she hadn’t even realized. Since it had been sitting outside her door for an hour, they brought her a new tray that was absolutely delightful!

▼ Definitely a ryokan-style breakfast!

After breakfast, Chie began to pack up to go home. She’d hoped to get a little more work done in the morning, but she’d stayed up late and overslept, so she didn’t have time. “It’s okay!” she told herself. “I worked pretty hard yesterday!”

Check-out was 10 a.m., and lots of other sensei were checking out at the same time, so the front desk was quite busy. The Editorial Department forgot to ask her one final time about her progress, which was a little disappointing, but Chie couldn’t blame them too much.

In any case, Chie successfully finished the Bungo Kanzume Plan! To be honest, she wasn’t really that productive, but she had a lot of fun staying in a really old, well-established inn and experiencing the life of a writer. More fun, anyway, than our other Japanese-language reporter Ikuna had when she trapped herself in a hotel for five days to get work done. If you want to try staying in an old Japanese building in Tokyo, definitely check it out!

Cost of the Experience
One night’s stay: 8,000 yen
Progress call: Free
Writing desk: 2,000 yen
Personal editorial team: 3,000 yen
Outside watch guard: 1,000 yen
Breakfast: 1,000 yen
Dinner: 1,000 yen
Total: 16,200 yen (US$152.30)

Ryokan Information
Homeikan Morikawa Annex / 鳳明館 森川別館
Tokyo-to Bunkyo-ku Hongo 6-23-5
Bungo Kanzume (Literary Retreat) Plan website
Honmeikan Website

Photos © SoraNews24
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[ Read in Japanese ]