Come for the retro architecture, stay for the bath and swimming pool filled with onsen hot spring water!
Japan’s birth rate has been in decline for decades, and during that time people have been overwhelmingly moving to big cities and suburbs for more diverse economic, educational, and cultural opportunities. One result of those demographic shifts is that some schools in rural communities suddenly find themselves with hardly any local kids to teach, which leads to consolidations and closures.
One such educational institution was Osori Elementary School, located on the Izu peninsula in Shizuoka Prefecture. Founded in 1892, enrollment peaked at 241 students in 1942, but by 1973, just 45 pupils were split between the school’s six grades, and Osori was shut down.
▼ Osori Elementary in 1945
However, this was not to be the end for the schoolhouse, which was built in 1907 and has since been expanded and renovated. In 1976, the Osori Elementary School building was reopened as the hotel Yamabikoso, with its classrooms converted into hotel rooms offering simple yet charmingly rustic accommodation.
The rooms are Japanese-style, with tatami reed floor mats laid atop the hardwood floors. But while the study desks and textbooks are gone, the building retains many of its elementary school design elements, such as hallway markers for each classroom.
There’s only so much repurposing that you can do, though, so Yamabikoso doesn’t offer all of the creature comforts of a standard hotel. Guestrooms don’t have private bathrooms or showers, for example. On the other hand, as luck would have it, there’s a hot spring that bubbles up from beneath the former schoolhouse, so there’s a shared onsen bath to soak in.
That same natural water source is also used to fill the facility’s outdoor pool.
Back indoors, there’s a row of sinks where guests can wash their faces and brush their teeth, and also a communal seating area with comfy sofas and a drink vending machine.
And while the rural location may have spelled the end of Osori Elementary School, it also means guests of Yamabikoso have easy access to mountainous hiking trails and a nearby river. Even the ocean is just 15 minutes away by car.
▼ Yamabikiso, following its most recent renovations in 2011
Reservations for adults, without meals, are 3,456 yen (US$31) per person per night. Considering that the school was closed down for not having enough people in the surrounding area, it’s somewhat ironic that reservations must be made for at least two travelers, but if you and a friend are looking for a very unique hotel experience while traveling in Japan, reservation information can be found here.
Yamabikoso / やまびこ荘
Address: Shizuoka-ken, Kamomura-gun, Nishi Izu-cho, Osori 150