While writing an article about Yonekawa Mizukaburi, a striking thought came to my mind. We, foreigners, who come to Japan, are usually drawn by its traditional culture. Of course, many people are amazed by Japan’s technological thought and popular culture, and Tokyo skyscrapers are definitely a site that everyone must see at least once in a lifetime, but personally I haven’t met a fallen-in-love-with-Japan foreigner who wouldn’t feel a thing towards old and fancy kimono set, or a small shinto shrine with bright red torii, or a typical Japanese house with tatami flooring and irori - traditional hearth with a tea pot hanging over it. We saw it in many movies and anime from Akira Kurosawa to Hayao Miyazaki, and this side of Japan is beloved by many people all over the world.
Experiencing traditional Japan is difficult, though. It takes some research to find out this kind of places - the authentic remains of the past. In Kurihara, there is a place that is so authentic as it can be - Kominka Iwamatsu 古民家岩松.
Built in 1903, the residence of Iwamatsu family, now a restaurant and cafe, is hard to miss. Seems that we already have seen it, in a movie, or an old photo. Wide yard with a variety of agricultural tools leads to a one-storey house.
When I entered it, I finally understood the literal meaning of Japanese word あがってください (“Please, come up!”) that I often hear at Japanese homes. You actually have to climb up one step to get to a tatami room.
The scent of smoked wood reminds me of the traditional houses in my own country. This scent is unforgettable. We get under the kotatsu blanket (Japanese table with a heater) for a while, to drink some tea and warm up.
Mr. Iwamatsu comes to greet us.
“Your house is so big and beautiful! I guess, your family was very wealthy!”, says one of the guests.
“Not at all”, he smiles gently, “They just put a lot of efforts in building this house”.
He takes us on a tour to show the house from the inside, and I can’t stop admiring these efforts of Iwamatsu family that have created a real masterpiece of Japanese rural architecture. The interior is no less gorgeous, suitable for historical TV series. Mr. Iwamatsu carefully explains every detail, like paintings on the walls that promise prosperity to the owners of the house, or Ebisu and Daikoku masks in the living room. Everything has a meaning.
“We often heard that we should keep this house and open it to public. But we thought that it is not so interesting for people just to come and see an old building, so we started a restaurant”, says the owner. But it is not a usual type of restaurant, where you order something from menu. In Iwamatsu, you never know the menu until you get your food. “We cook what local grandmothers bring us," says Mrs. Iwamatsu, “Local ingredients, many things that you can’t eat in a city. Now it is winter and we serve lotus roots, but today we had fuki (Petasites japonicus) shoots for the first time in a year, so the menu is changing with nature”.
Iwamatsu house offers an experience of traditional Japan, that has an ability to unite us all. It is a place that many Japanese will find dearly nostalgic, and, surprisingly, many foreigners will feel the same pleasant nostalgia for the place that they visit for the first time. Maybe it is something in the air of this place.The gentle scent of smoked wood that you will never forget.
Address: Kamihataoka Ezoana-9 Wakayanagi, Kurihara, Miyagi
Closed days: Wednesdays
Hours: Cafe 10:00–15:00
Restaurant hours: By reservation