As Japan’s population ages, municipalities and private buyers are finding innovative new uses for the infrastructure built for the baby boom. School buildings, in particular, are huge, perfectly usable structures that most of the surrounding community feels some affection for. Some have been turned into music studios, others co-working spaces, but in 2015 Hota Elementary School made history as the first school to be reborn as a roadside station with full hotel facilities.
Gateway to the Boso Peninsula
The area known as Hota is today part of Kyonan, a town on the west coast of Chiba’s picturesque Boso Peninsula. Hota Elementary School was founded in 1888, and served its community for over 120 years until municipal mergers and changing local demographics saw it graduate its last class in 2014. With community support, however, it was quickly refurbished and reopened the next year as Hota Elementary School Roadside Station, offering meals, shopping, and even accommodation.
Dining at Hota Elementary School Roadside Station will have you feeling nostalgic for your school days!
If arriving by car, you’ll find Hota Elementary School Roadside Station just off the Kyonan Hota Interchange (IC) on the Futtsu Tateyama Road. If you’re car-free but still want to visit, no problem: Take the JR Sobu Main Line to Chiba Station, then switch to the JR Uchibo Line and ride down to Hota Station. The journey from Shinjuku Station is about two hours in all, and the roadside station is a 15-minute (1.1 kilometer) walk from Hota station.
Shopping and Dining
A Japanese roadside station or michi no eki is like a cross between a highway service station and a mall.
Hota Elementary School Roadside Station has a broader range of amenities than most, and was designed to bring visitors and locals together on a personal level. Like most regions in Japan nurturing a tourism industry, Hota wants visitors to make a connection with the area and its people. Spaces in the roadside station encouraging this include the “Town Porch” (Machi no Engawa), where you can relax in the warm Boso sun, and the “Town Gallery” (Machi no Gallery), which showcases local artists.
Signs of the building’s past can be found all over the place!
In the old gymnasium, you’ll find the Kyonan Rakuichi market (open 9:00 AM to 5 PM). This huge space is filled with supplies, souvenirs, local crafts, fresh produce, and even flowers. (Kyonan is famous for its flowers—it’s one of the biggest daffodil producers in Japan, in fact.)
School themed gifts in the gift store
If you’re hungry when you visit, you have five options. The Satoyama Shokudo cafeteria, open 11 AM to 2:30 PM (3 PM on weekends) serves school lunch-inspired meals in a nostalgic setting, complete with traditional aluminum trays. Cafe Kinjiro, open 11 AM to 4 PM (5 PM on weekends), serves sandwiches, burgers, and other light snacks, as well as drinks and sweets. It’s named after Kinjiro Ninomiya, the legendary nineteenth-century administrator who is best known for being so devoted to his studies as a boy that he read while doing his chores. Yes—the boy depicted in all those statues outside Japanese schools, one of which now stands right outside the cafe.
Inside one of the eateries, complete with school chairs and a shoe box, typical of a Japanese Elementary School
There’s also a pizzeria called Da Pe Gonzo, open 11 AM to 3:30 PM, that serves pizza topped with plenty of local ingredients, including seafood. A Chinese restaurant named Class 3-B, after the room it’s located in, serves diners from 11 AM to 2 PM. Finally, A’ma~ne, is a store that sources Kyonan’s finest baked goods and sweets. A’ma~ne has no seating, but it is open from 8:30 AM to 5 PM, making it a handy non-lunchtime option.
Pizza at Da Pe Gonzo
Spending the Night
All roadside stations have restaurants, but few have accommodation—and none have accommodation like this. If you’ve ever wanted to sleep in an elementary school classroom without the teacher interrupting you, Hota Elementary School Roadside Station is a must-visit. It has 10 private rooms (sleeping 2 to 4) and 2 communal rooms (sleeping 5 to 15), making full use of the traditional school architecture and furniture for a unique nostalgic experience. The rooms even still have blackboards for drawing your own blackboard art. Prices start from ¥3,600 per adult (¥4,200 for private rooms). Evening bento meals are available, but only by advance booking.
The hotel rooms are set inside the old classrooms
Want to wash the road dust off before you bed down? No problem! There’s also an onsen called the Little Village Baths (Sato no Koyu), built in the old teacher’s wing (typical). A dip is ¥500 per person, and doesn’t require an overnight stay.
Hot Spring ‘Onsen’ Baths at Hota
The Boso Peninsula is a fascinating place, near Tokyo as the crow flies but geographically off the beaten track, with beautiful coastal scenery. One great hike just a couple of kilometers north of Hota Elementary School Roadside Station is Nokogiriyama or “Sawtooth Mountain,” formerly used for quarrying stone. At just 330 meters, Nokogiriyama is a relatively easy hike—there’s even a ropeway to the top—but is full of fascinating things to see. The Jigoku-Nozoki or “Peek into Hell” viewpoint from an overhanging outcrop is as terrifying as it sounds, and the mountain is also home to Nihonji temple, famous for its stone Buddhist sculptures. The Great Buddha here is over 30 meters high, making it taller than the Great Buddhas of Nara and Kamakura put together!
Hota Elementary School Roadside Station
724 Hota, Kyonan, Awa, Chiba Prefecture
(15 minutes’ walk from Hota Station, JR Uchibo Line)
Hours: 9 AM to 5 PM (excepting accommodation)
Please refer to the official website for the latest information.
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