‘The train passed through the long tunnel across the border into snow country. The earth lay blank under the night sky.’ These are the first two sentences from the novel Snow Country by Nobel Prize winner Yasunari Kawabata that I read on the train from Tokyo to Satoyama Jujo, a hotel situated in snow country.
Within half an hour I’ll get off at the same station as the novel’s protagonist, Shimamura, and be just as overwhelmed by the cold as he was, but I don’t know that yet. Near a statue of a geisha I wait at the station for my taxi to arrive and from there my journey continues by car. Night falls as the taxi works its way along narrow mountain roads, and I can see the earth lying beneath me, lighting up through the surrounding blackness; we seem to be driving straight into the Milky Way.
A hotel looms in front of me, built 150 years ago with Japanese hardwood—made to bear the weight of the snow that falls more than four months of the year in this region. Inside, traditional elements are combined with modern Japanese (and occasionally Western) influences. TheroomIsleepin was designed by Japanese architect Kei Kaihoh, with walls of light cedarwood, a beautiful desk and a chair of blank wood, a minimalist aesthetic that yet feels comforting. As I open the sliding doors the next morning, outside beyond a private onsen (hot spring), a panoramic view awaits me. The valley is obscured from view by low-hanging clouds due to the previous day’s rain, but the snow-capped mountain peaks are proudly visible above them. Steam vapours rising from the moun-tain ridges give the impression that the entire landscape is breathing.
This article is included in issue Nº14. Buy it here.