Chiyoko Kamigahira (Okami, Ozekiya Ryokan)
Not even once in the past 70 years, have I gone to hang around on the days of the festival.
“I’m using just one kind of toner and nothing else,” says Chiyoko Kamigahira with a superb smile, asked about the secret to her enviably smooth skin. The okami (female chief service manager) of Ozekiya Ryokan, she is quite a celebrity in the town of Furukawa. Born in 1924, Kamigahira came to live in the town of Furukawa when she married into the family running the Japanese inn. She quickly established herself as a popular and iconic okami and has ever lived her life as such through all the changes the town has undergone.
I was born as the 10th of 11 children to a family running a tobacco store in Kokufu-cho, Takayama City. I was working at a yarn-making factory but returned home after the end of World War II. I got married and came here when I was 23 years old. So, it’s been 73 years.
But I have never gone to see the Furukawa Festival to this date. Those of us serving as okami are on the side of receiving and serving our guests. On the days of the festival, we serve dinner a bit earlier, and we clear up and prepare bedding while our guests go out and enjoy the festival. Your husband or son has to participate when it is his turn to play a certain role in the festival. But the festival is no occasion for you to dress up in your best kimono, when you are the okami of an inn.
Still, while tidying up guest rooms, you hear the sounds of the mikoshi (portable shrine) procession and ohayashi (festival music), or the hubbub of festival participants and tourists. And from those sounds, you can tell the progress of the festival. The procession passes in front of our inn. So, when the sounds get louder, I sometime stop what I am doing and rush to the doorway to see it.
Many of our guests watch the Okoshi-Daiko (rousing drum) procession either in front of the inn or on the side of the parking lot across the street. In the past it happened that a certain chochin paper lantern bearer in the procession held his lantern to our guests and let them touch it. They told us that they felt very courageous when they touched the lantern. Seeing our guests leave happy and filled with joy in such a way makes us happy as well.
For dinner on the eve of the festival, we serve sekihan (red bean rice) unless our guests don’t like it. This is not to say that they are like the three sacred treasures, but simmered warabi and zenmai fiddleheads, which have been eaten since old days in the Hida region, simmered sasa-takenoko bamboo shoots, pickles, as well as fried sweet potato and sashimi are the classic festival dishes of Ozekiya.
Now that the Furukawa Festival has become known more widely, it is drawing more and more tourists from various countries and regions. We’ve been advised by the police to beware of pickpockets. So, we tell our guests to take good care of their valuables as we send them to the festival. Also, we no longer let non-guest tourists use our bathroom. Some people may find it unkind, but we cannot help because we keep our guests’ valuable belongings. Innkeepers cannot afford to be easygoing nowadays, but it’s part of okami’s job to keep alert.
One thing that remains unchanged is the scenery of the Setogawa Canal, its carp-swimming water, and the temple along the canal. I think this is very unique to Furukawa. Carp are evacuated in wintertime because snow is dumped into the canal, but they are back before the Furukawa Festival in April. So, when you come back here as a tourist, please do take a stroll along the Setogawa Canal. Furukawa is neither a big company town nor a totally tourist town. Usually, this is a peaceful quiet town. We have many repeater guests who come here because they can relax.
Text by Minako Hoshikawa / Photo by Naoto Hayasaka [Y’s C]
6-15 Ninomachi, Furukawa-cho, Hida-shi, Gifu Prefecture / Phone 0577-73-2107
It started as an inn for merchants, accommodating many festival vendors during the Furukawa Festival. Today, its guests are primarily sightseeing tourists but include business travelers as well. Many guests choose Ozekiya Ryokan because they want to chat with the okami. It is in a prime location to enjoy the festival with all the processions—the mikoshi, yatai, and Okoshi-Daiko—passing down the street right in front of the inn. Ozekiya Ryokan is an eight-minute walk from the JR Hida Furukawa station.