Ooe Valley Stay

Located in Tottori Prefecture’s Yazu town, the all-inclusive Ooe Valley Stay invites guests to embrace the tranquility of its immersive natural surroundings through cycling, outdoor activities and even glamping. In inclement weather, the school’s former gymnasium — now known as the arena — offers bouldering, trampolining and more. One of Ooe Valley Stay’s main highlights is its exquisite selection of locally sourced sake, wine and craft beers, as well as its sumptuous meals showcasing the region’s distinctive food culture.

Visit the Ooe Valley Stay website for more information.


Exclusivity defines this unique experience, where only one group can stay each night. Just two hours from Tokyo, Sarusho is a former elementary school nestled in Gunma Prefecture’s Minakami town. A spacious playing field in front of the building beckons sports enthusiasts with opportunities for soccer, and there’s a full-sized pool for carefree swimming in the summer. Enhancing the experience are school lunch-inspired meals featuring Japanese and Western options, and for added nostalgia, the chance to don kyushoku uniforms while serving. Additional options such as archery kits, musical instrument and sports day equipment rentals and more can make your stay even more immersive.

Visit the Sarusho website for more information.

Katakuri House

Experience the allure of a 19th-century schoolhouse in Niigata Prefecture’s Katakuri House, which is a part of the illustrious Echigo Tsumari Art Field. The school closed its doors in 1992 and found new life as an experiential center and accommodation for visitors just a year later. Tsunan town, where the school is located, is a picturesque area rich in terraced rice fields, rivers and lush forests. Savor locally sourced seasonal delicacies, including exquisite sake brewed within the region. The accommodation offers seven Japanese-style rooms, two hot spring baths (one for men and one for women) and an array of art pieces. Access is most convenient by car, though bus travelers can prearrange a taxi from the bus stop to the hotel for a seamless journey.

Visit the Katakuri House website for more information.

Akizuno Garten

Those who really want to get to know the residents of the town they’re staying in should try Akizuno Garten in Wakayama Prefecture’s Tanabe city. This charming wooden structure, formerly Kamiakizu Elementary School, is operated and funded by residents working to revitalize the area in a way that promotes social connections. Alongside its accommodations, Akizuno Garten also houses a restaurant, a bakery, two former classrooms available for seminars and meetings and a mikan orange resource center (in honor of one of the area’s most famed exports). Visitors can engage in activities like making sweets and jam, or participate in agricultural experiences and working holidays.

Visit the Akizuno Garten website for more information.

Neconoshima Hostel

This refurbished 1954 schoolhouse is located on Sanagijima, a tiny island in the Seto Inland Sea with an incredible claim to fame: lots and lots of cats. Reachable in about an hour via a ferry from Tadotsu Port in Kagawa Prefecture, the islet is home to only about 50 human residents, living happily alongside the sizable feline population; the island’s furry inhabitants can often be found lazing around Neconoshima Hostel. The charming accommodation facility offers a window into the past — and rooms named for their prior purpose, like “the library” and “the arts and crafts room.” It provides the perfect setting for a secluded island escape where time seems suspended.

Visit the Neconoshima Hostel website for more information.

This article was published in The Bucket List special issue.