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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Beautifully executed. Would love to go there.
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.
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?
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.