Since I've been so slack about writing up my hotel reviews, I have an issue in that I remember there was something that felt a bit not right about this hotel, but I'm not sure what it was. The place felt a little dodgy but not in anyway that felt threatening or uncomfortable.
Maybe the owner/manager dude was watching porn when I checked in... or what may have been porn, I didn't actually see the TV screen but it had that kind of feeling.
Anyway, the check in was okay other than that. The guy didn't speak a lot of English but I never find that much of a problem because usually, at those kinds of places, I'm the only one checking in for the day with a non-Japanese name so they know who I am as soon as they see my white face. Then it's just a case of handing over your passport and paying. No big deal, and no need for any much Japanese anyway.
Again, I didn't take any photos of the room - I must remember do that next time I travel - but it was pretty basic. Small room, with a single bed and a unit bathroom. A bit run down and old but nothing too bad. I was just happy to be able to take a shower when I wanted after the place in Matsue!
I stayed at the Orange Hotel (which isn't actual Orange) for 2 nights and it cost me 3980 yen a night including breakfast.
Breakfast was in a dining room at the front of the hotel with self service toast and drinks. It wasn't anything fancy but enough to get you going for the day. Both mornings the breakfast area was very quiet.
The first night I wanted to do some laundry so went down to the front desk to ask if they had a coin laundry. They didn't but had a set up where you pay and can use their washing machine. It's a washer/dryer so takes forever to do a load but it meant I could go out and find some dinner and come back to clean, dry clothes.
There isn't much around the hotel. It's walking distance from Higashi Hagi station (which seems to be the main station rather than Hagi station itself) but unlike most Japanese towns, there is nothing around the station. There was maybe a ramen shop but no convenience stores or anything like that.
I walked in the other direction and found a soba shop so had some dinner. Apparently the shop is quite well known (I found that out later) and the noodles were good. Yum, curry soba. It's awesome when it's too hot for a heavy curry rice.
I asked a jogger if he knew where I could find a conbini and he told gave me directions but told me it was about 3 km away! Luckily, I found a small tobacco shop about a block away run by a lovely old lady.
I then wandered around town, heading for the bright lights thinking it was something awesome but found the biggest pachinko parlour in Japan. The place was massive! All the tourist info is about the historical stuff in Hagi, they don't mention the pachinko addiction.
Next to the pachinko parlour was a convenience store. The lesson in this is never believe people when they give you directions in Japan. So many people would rather give you dodgy directions than admit they have no idea.
Hagi itself is an awesome and very pretty town. If you are interested in Japanese history, especially from the Bakumatsu period, I'd totally recommend a visit.
The town is in the fork of two rivers so pretty much triangular in shape (is that an estuary?) Of course, it spreads out to the other sides of the river but all the interesting stuff is in that triangle. There is a tourist loop bus with a stop very close to the hotel and it's worth catching because so of the interesting stuff is not within easy walk distance, especially if it's hot.
Some of the stuff to see in Hagi includes:
- Homes of famous samurai of the bakumatsu/meiji restoration period - TBH these aren't that interesting. I mean it's a couple of Japanese rooms with tatami mats and sliding doors like you see everywhere but you can say you've been to the home of Kido or other famous dudes. Oh and you have to pay for most of them so it's a bit of a rip.
- The remains of Hagi castle - I didn't go there because it's just the remains.
- A kimono rental shop - I went in there by accident because I don't do kimono.
- Awesome old merchant shop - one of the most interesting historical places I've been in Japan because it's set up like it actually was, rather than just having random old shit sitting around. I guess interesting too because it was a real workplace not just some tatami rooms. Definitely worth a visit.
- In the same area, you can walk around the old samurai streets which haven't changed much since the samurai times. You really do get a feel for the old way of life. At the time, they were filming for some local TV show and had some wacky mascot [top right photo above] walking around with a couple of chicks so I wanted to get out of there.
- In another section of town, are a couple of old houses that have waterways that feed into the house, used for cooking, cleaning etc [bottom left photo above]. These houses, like most of the historical attractions in Hagi, have volunteer guides who will talk tell you all about stuff if you hint that you even know a bit of Japanese. They are pretty much off the bus route and a bit of a hike in the heat but one of the lovely guides organised a taxi for me to get to my next destination.
- Temple which isn't so interesting but is where the school of Yoshida Shoin was located. The best bit is the wax works museum of his life. It's as freaky as hell.
There was some interesting stuff out of town too which would be worth exploring if you were there for more time. I did go for a frolic on the beach near the castle. It was one of the nicest beaches I've been to in Japan, very clean.
I wasn't sure what to do for dinner that night and actually found a place on the Lonely Planet site that looked good. I rarely use the Lonely Planet but this was a find.
Maru is a funky little izakaya which was very close to the hotel. I worry about about going to izakaya alone and usually like to be able to see into the place before I enter so I know I'm not going to feel uncomfortable but Maru has a big wooden door. Once inside though, I had no problems. It's not one of those places where the owner chats to you all night but it was pretty easy going with no creepy old men.
For around 3,000 yen, I got an awesome Japanese style dinner with all the trimming including some really amazing local sashimi plus a tasting tray of 6 local nihonshu (sake). Can't beat that for value. I'd planned to try fugu the next day in Shimonoseki but it was included in my sashimi platter (and was much better than the stuff I had at the tourist trap in Shimonoseki).
Overall, I enjoyed my stay at the Orange Hotel despite the weird feeling. Hagi is definitely worth a visit and, if you want somewhere cheap and basic to stay, I'd recommend Orange Hotel.