I am going to admit right at the top of this page that i'm not really sure that i want to even have it on the site. There, i said it.
Recommendations are a very tricky issue. What one person loves, another person might just as strongly hate. We all know that is true. What one person considers caring attention by the owner, another will consider meddling. Every henro is different and has different wants and needs.
Actually, i don't have problems with the recommendations, but with those notes that say "Tell everyone to stay away from Minshuku XYZ!" If it is for safety and/or cleanliness reasons, i will definitely post that note here. However, if it is because you simply didn't like the treatment you received, ...... well, those i can't post.
You see, i have received and seen notes from people that say they don't recommend something because they were treated poorly simply because they were a foreigner. While that could be true, i personally believe that more often than not it is not. I know and communicate with a lot of henro that would all say that, if anything, being a foreigner gave them an advantage, being a foreigner gave them a higher status, better treatment, etc.
While you may not agree with me, and that is your right, i would argue that in almost all cases, if a henro thinks they were mistreated simply because they were a foreigner, then that person should take a day off from walking, find a quiet spot to sit, and look at who they are. Look in the mirror and you may find the problem.
Note: I have addded a Lodging Recommendations section to the Online Henro Forum and you will also find recommendations there. The forum is were other people will, i assume, add their recommendations. When they are emailed to me, or i feel particularly pleased with a particular lodging, i will add it here.
OK, with that out of the way...... if you stayed anywhere that you think other henro have to know about, let me know and i'll post it here.
The owner had a career working in management for big name Japanese hotels. Somewhere along the line he decided that he wanted to run his own lodge, BUT (and it's a big but) run it on completely different terms. What he ended up with was not a hotel, but more like a condominium, where, as i understand it, you can buy time shares.
If you happen to be a walking henro, however, they would love you to stay. The husband speaks English, the wife does the cooking, and the kids love foreigners and have a million and one questions. The bath is fantastic. The food was served "family style," in that you actually take your food and then pass the plate to the next guest, asking someone to pass it back if you want more. What we had was not your typical rice and vegetables. This was resort food and indescribably delicious.
After dinner several of us were encouraged to sit around the fireplace with the husband and wife to chat about anything and everything. (In both English and Japanese, although i think the owner actually prefers English.) If it fits my schedule i'll certainly be stopping there again.
For all of this it is expensive, though. I think the price when i was there was 9,000 yen, with dinner and breakfast included as usual. Is it worth it? If you are looking for a place to spend one night out of "henro mode," this is the place to do it. They will make you feel at home.
Minshuku Okada & Minshuku Aozora (near Temple 66):
In a sense, it is very difficult to talk about hospitality "above and beyond" when it comes to the henro michi, because the hospitality all henro receive, from all lodging, from everyone you meet, from all sources, is noteworthy. Occasionally, however, you run across those that offer more than anyone would expect.
When you stay in a typical minshuku or ryokan, you will almost always be treated very well. Occcasionally it is obvious that you are just another paying customer, but in most cases you are recognized as a henro. You are fawned over, asked questions, told stories, introduced to the kids, shown pictures of past henro, and on, and on. Even in these cases, though, it seems to me that there is no doubt that the owners of the lodging are running a business and their motive is to make a profit. They treat you well, and you are a henro, but first and foremost, you are a customer.
For some reason, though, Unpenji seems to bring out the best in minshuku owners. On one side of the mountain is Minshuku Okada. On the other is Minshuku Aozora. And neither gives the impression that profit is their guiding force, their motive, or their primary concern. At either minshuku their concern seems to be your henro, your trip around the henro trail, your comfort, and your well being. They don't seem to be in the minshuku business because they think they will make a lot of money from it, but because they derive personal satisfaction from helping henro as they make their way around the island. They give the impression that they have found their calling, that this is not just a career choice but something their heart tells them to do.
Life as a guest at Minshuku Okada is almost like taking a break from the henro trail and going back home. When you check in you are greated like family and treated like family. Smiles and laughter flow from the time you arrive until the time you leave. Meals are served at floor level in a small dining room that can be so crowded that you sit with elbows almost touching your neighbor. That closeness, however, seems to promote an instant sense of comraderie, a bonding, that is found at few other minshuku. And even though he doesn't eat with you, the zabuton at the head of the table is reserved for Okada-san himself.
For Okada-san, the role of (henro) family patriarch is natural. He doesn't sit at the head of the table with any manufactured attitude of superiority, it's just obviously 'his place.' And from that zabuton, he leads the conversations, he leads the stories, he leads the laughter, he leads the sharing, he leads the experience of a night at Minshuku Okada. No one is ignored, everyone is pulled into the experience. Everyone is invited to share their experiences on the henro michi. Okada-san has most certainly heard it all before, but he always gives the impression that he is hearing it for the first time.
At breakfast the next morning, Okada-san changes hat. From welcoming host he changes to henro professor. After everyone is done eating, he pulls out copies of a hand-drawn map of the trail ahead and passes them out to everyone, Then, while standing at the head of the table he describes where we are headed, how to get there, what we can expect, what to look for, how long it will take, and more. And then you are dismissed — class is over. Everyone leaves at the same time, and Okada-san walks you out to the street to watch you leave. This is no 'here's your receipt, thanks for stopping' kind of operation; it is more of a 'thanks for stopping by, i really enjoyed it, see you next time.'
On the other side of Unpenji you find a new minshuku called Aozora. The owners are a couple who gave up regular 9-5 jobs in order to build and run a henro minshuku. He was salaryman and she was a dental hygenist, and it is obvious that they love what they do, and that henro are more new friends than they are customers.
I was walking with another henro that day, and because we were arriving late, very late, around 9:00 pm, the owner actually came out in his Jeep to help us find the way off Unpenji mountain and to the minshuku. When we got down, the owner, being a henro himself, said he would give us a ride to the minshuku if we wanted, but would understand if we said we wanted to walk it. We opted for the latter, but then found out that that meant that he was going to follow behind and next to us to light the way with his headlights. This guy was just too nice.
To make a long story short, when we got there just after 9:00, the wife asked us to be quiet because everyone else had already gone to bed. But they still had the bath hot for us, still fed us a full meal, just like all the other guests, still offered us a beer, and still sat around and chatted with us, — all as if we had arrived at 4:00 like most henro do. There was never any hint that we had put them out, that they were tired and in a hurry to get cleaned up and off to bed themselves.
I can not recommend Minshuku Aozora highly enough. They are wonderful peole, friendly, outgoing, helpful, considerate, and henro through and through. If you can adjust your schedule, stay at Minshuku Aozora.
Don't get me wrong, you are treated well almost everywhere on Shikoku. With rare exceptions, you are treated well at your lodging, you are treated well in the grocery stores, you are treated well by people you meet on the streets. As a henro, you will be well looked after the entire time you are there. But, occasionally, as in the case of Minshuku Okada and Minshuk Aozora, you are treated better than well, and stopping in is like stopping at home.
Lodge Ozaki (between Temples 23 & 24) & Omogo Ryokan (near Temple 44):
... I would like to mention a couple of wonderful places in case you have the chance to pass this on. Lodge Ozaki (p.15B) [of Shikoku Japan 88 Route Guide] is a wonderful friendly place with fabulous food and views and wonderful hosts. I found Omogo Ryokan in Kuma Kogen (p.44) a wonderful haven after my experiences in Oda, and there is a new minshuku in Ashizure called Hattomaru which is great - best food anywhere (like a whole mackerel as sashimi, katsuo tataki, many other forms of sashimi and a wonderful salad. We were told about it by the people in Asyuku (p.32).
First of all on page 30B [of the Shikoku Japan 88 Route Guide] M. Miyaku is to be avoided. I'm not sure how to describe it, but it's not somewhere that people stay overnight — more short stay, if you get my meaning. I hesitate to call it a love hotel, since it doesn't have the facilities of a love hotel, but it's a place where people come and go all night long. One Japanese henro told me that when he rang up to make a reservation the owner said incredulouly, "you want to stay here?" It has a bad reputation on the trail.
Secondly, ... Tokuoka Ryokan (on both p.43 and 44) in Oda village, .... It's a filthy and I think quite dangerous place — a sakaya ryokan in fact. I was warned as I came into the village not to stay there, but could not find anywhere else. Just after I arrived at the ryokan, the kitchen burst into flames, and although the fire was dealt with, the place was full of smoke and fire extinguisher chemicals. I was just glad I hadn't gone upstairs yet. Moreover, when I refused to stay after that (it was uninhabitable!), the woman owner became abusive, saying that everyone hated henro and especially foreign henro because they are unreliable. They refused to help me despite my having nowhere to go - they could have taken me to a minshuku 20km up the road — the nearest place with a vacancey — if they'd been prepared to give me a lift. In the end I walked back down the trail and got somewhere, but I was really shaken. All the Japanese henro, and indeed inn owners further up the trail, knew of this place and the need to avoid it. There have been many such unpleasant incidents and apparently the food is inedible.