Hōshi: A Short Documentary on the 1300-Year-Old Hotel Run by the Same Japanese Family for 46 Generations

Hōshi is a ryokan (a Japan­ese tra­di­tion­al inn) locat­ed in Komat­su, Japan, and it holds the dis­tinc­tion of being the sec­ond old­est hotel in the world, and “the old­est still run­ning fam­i­ly busi­ness in the world.” Built in 718 AD, Hōshi has been oper­at­ed by the same fam­i­ly for 46 con­sec­u­tive gen­er­a­tions. Count them. 46 gen­er­a­tions.

Japan is a coun­try with deep tra­di­tions. And when you’re born into a fam­i­ly that’s the care­tak­er of a 1300-year-old insti­tu­tion, you find your­self strug­gling with issues most of us can’t imag­ine. That’s par­tic­u­lar­ly true when you’re the daugh­ter of the Hōshi fam­i­ly, a mod­ern woman who wants to break free from tra­di­tion. And yet his­to­ry and strong fam­i­ly expec­ta­tions keep call­ing her back.

The sto­ry of Hōshi Ryokan is poignant­ly told in a short doc­u­men­tary above. It was shot in 2014 by the Ger­man film­mak­er Fritz Schu­mann.

Note: An ear­li­er ver­sion of this post appeared on our site in April, 2015.

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Comments (4)
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  • Marcia McElligott-Sloan says:

    Beau­ti­ful­ly exe­cut­ed. Would love to go there.

  • James Wiegert says:

    Dear ‘Open Cul­ture’,

    As brief as his doc­u­men­tary is, Mr. Schu­mann por­trays the Hooshi fam­i­ly and their ryokan skill­ful­ly and sym­pa­thet­i­cal­ly in the time he’s giv­en him­self. (Or, so it seems to me.)

    The weight (bur­den) of tra­di­tion is clear­ly shown through the father, who feels dev­as­tat­ed by the death of his prodi­gal son and respon­si­ble for find­ing a replace­ment, and the daugh­ter, who wants out from under the weight of tra­di­tion.

    Four years have passed since Mr. Schu­mann shot his doc­u­men­tary.

    I won­der whether the daugh­ter con­tin­ues to resist, how­ev­er fee­bly, her father’s urg­ings to mar­ry some­one entered in the fam­i­ly reg­is­ter for the pur­pose of con­tin­u­ing busi­ness as usu­al at the ryokan. Or, whether she’s aban­doned thoughts of mov­ing away to mar­ry some­one of her choos­ing and done as her father urged: mar­ried a yooshi, a man adopt­ed into her fam­i­ly and giv­en her fam­i­ly name to main­tain con­ti­nu­ity with 1,300 years of his­to­ry. I feel sor­ry for her and her father, but espe­cial­ly for her.

    James Wiegert

  • Hilo Hattie says:

    Yeah, sure Jim! Poor old guy his “prodi­gal” eldest son up and died, his sub­servient wife is get­ting elder­ly too and, his youngest daugh­ter doesn’t want to be sucked into the lega­cy.

    Poor old guy… gone are the days of par­ty­ing with geishas and “host­esses” and now he can’t just sit around, sip tea and order his fam­i­ly, and infe­ri­ors, around to do his bid­ding.

    Poor old guy… his elder daugh­ters mar­ried and fled and, younger sons, if there were any, high­tailed it out too.

    The real tragedy is that one more mem­ber of these 46 gen­er­a­tions is being forced into this prison of a lega­cy. Yes, the gar­dens are sub­lime, the tra­di­tions quaint and the guest ser­vices are per­fec­tion but, at what cost to the self-deter­mi­na­tion and human rights of this daugh­ter? Her choic­es are ter­ri­ble… either to be forced into a love­less mar­riage like her mother’s, required to car­ry the bur­den of 1300 years of The Lega­cy yoked to her shoul­ders or, the guilt for not doing it.

    You want to be a guest at an accom­mo­da­tion that per­pet­u­ates this archa­ic inden­ture­ship?

  • James Wiegert says:

    Dear Hilo Hat­tie,

    Would I like to stay at the Hooshi ryokan? I’d love to, to enjoy the deli­cious foods, the hot bath and, yes, the gar­den. Hav­ing said that, my stay­ing there doesn’t pre­clude my under­stand­ing the predica­ment of the indi­vid­ual mem­bers of the fam­i­ly that owns and oper­ates the ryokan.

    As for the father act­ing as a dic­ta­tor towards his wife and chil­dren, he has his sphere of respon­si­bil­i­ty with­in the fam­i­ly and they have theirs. (And, the geisha and host­esses were for guests not the father.)

    As for the moth­er, who, as you said, prob­a­bly didn’t mar­ry for love, and so, you seem to think, should be pitied: I don’t think so. And I doubt if she thinks so. In Japan, pres­tige and even pow­er accrue to a woman mar­ry­ing into a fam­i­ly that owns a busi­ness 1,300 years old. (‘Pres­tige and pow­er’ with­in the local com­mu­ni­ty, and even region­al­ly and nation­al­ly when the busi­ness is 1,300 years old.)

    Cer­tain­ly that was true 50 years ago when the father and moth­er mar­ried. It’s true even today, though to a less­er degree.

    To return to love and mar­riage. Younger Japan­ese men and women do some­times mar­ry because they love each oth­er, but they also mar­ry because they feel com­pat­i­ble, able to coop­er­ate in shar­ing a life togeth­er, in rais­ing chil­dren. Nei­ther Japan­ese men nor women nec­es­sar­i­ly need- or want- to be loved to do that. Indeed, I’ve had Japan­ese women tell me that love, as in ‘West­ern roman­tic love’, is a both­er, too much trou­ble to main­tain. Far bet­ter to like some­one, to be able to trust and depend on some­one, than to love them. (Gen­er­al­ly speak­ing, Japan­ese men seem to me far more roman­tic than Japan­ese women. Japan­ese women strike me as prac­ti­cal, even- or, per­haps, espe­cial­ly- with regard to mar­riage.)

    Who am I to hold the opin­ions I do and write what I’ve writ­ten? I’m a now old­er man who was born in the Mid-West­ern US and who lives in Mal­ta, in the mid­dle of the Mediter­ranean. A man who lived in Japan con­tin­u­ous­ly from the sum­mer of 1970 to the sum­mer of 1998. A man who over those 28 years learned to speak Japan­ese as well as he speaks Eng­lish, at least with regards to most sub­jects. A man who lived in a mid-sized city north of Tokyo for 13 years and in Tokyo for 15 years. A man who mar­ried a Japan­ese woman, con­ceived a son with her, and lived as a fam­i­ly with her and his- our- son for nine years, before the mar­riage end­ed in divorce.

    Because the divorce was a messy one, my wife and I end­ed up in Japan­ese Fam­i­ly Court, whose offi­cials gave me full cus­tody of my son, who I raised as a sin­gle par­ent from the time he was eight years old until he reached adult­hood. He and I lived togeth­er in Tokyo until he was 24 years old, when we both left Japan, me for Mal­ta and he for the US.

    I said what I did about the mem­bers of the Hooshi fam­i­ly because I under­stand where they’re com­ing from. (Or, at least I think I do.) How­ev­er, ‘under­stand­ing where they’re com­ing from’ doesn’t mean I nec­es­sar­i­ly agree with where they’re going to, as it were.

    The father knows he’s ask­ing his daugh­ter to do some­thing she doesn’t want to do, and- I think- he’d rather not ask her to do it, but, from his van­tage point at the end of 1,300 years of tra­di­tion, he doesn’t have a choice.

    The daugh­ter would like to get out from under, but can’t. Whether she stays or goes, she’ll end up a ner­vous wreck. (I think she already looks and talks like a ner­vous wreck.)

    Since mar­riage has become less com­mon than it once was in Japan and large fam­i­lies almost nonex­is­tent, I sug­gest the daugh­ter might agree to take respon­si­bil­i­ty for oper­at­ing the ryokan but refuse to mar­ry a yooshi, a man brought into the fam­i­ly as her hus­band sim­ply to pro­vide heirs to car­ry on the tra­di­tions of the ryokan. She’ll have more free­dom to decide what to do after her father dies. (Per­haps she’ll decide to stay sin­gle. The stig­ma of stay­ing sin­gle isn’t what it once was.)

    In clos­ing I’ll say again: ‘I’d love to stay at the Hooshi ryokan’, for the deli­cious foods, hot bath and gar­den. And to meet the Hooshi fam­i­ly.

    James Wiegert

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