Kumano Kodo, the historic network of pilgrimage trails found throughout the Kansai region of Japan, just gained a unique new option for accommodations. Completed in April 2020, Sen. Retreat Takahara is an inclusive hostel converted from a former home in Wakayama by KURU and Coil Kazuteru Matumura Architects. The project features three separate buildings designed to promote interaction between guests, and all of the structures are wrapped in local Japanese cedar wood.

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large hostel building clad in cedar

One of the more extraordinary world heritage sites protected by UNESCO, the ancient network of trails making up Kumano Kodo is surrounded by nature and is often used for spiritually enlightening journeys. The hostel design does its part to blend into these important surroundings through building materials, especially by its use of local Kishu cedar. The architects were careful to avoid giving the buildings an “old fashioned log cabin” look by keeping structural details sharp.

Related: Tiny mobile dwelling celebrates local Shinshu larch in Japan

small guesthouse with cedar cladding
cedar building with glass wall open to outdoor patio

While the local wood appears bright and new at the time of completion, the boards will weather naturally over time, giving the structure a chance to match its rustic, forested environment. To make the project more sustainable, the architects chose to use what materials they could from the old, existing home in parts of the exterior.

floor seats around low wood table
guestroom with wood walls and sliding glass doors leading to a balcony

The hostel is anchored by a large, main building that acts as common area and a reception for guest check-ins, while the second and third buildings house shared bathroom facilities and guest rooms. Guest rooms contain a private bathroom and sink and are designed in authentic Japanese style, which promotes minimalism and simplicity. Gravel paths help connect the structures to each other and lead guests to other parts of the property.

small white chair and table on outdoor patio
cedar building surrounded by trees and mountains

The common space opens up to an outdoor terrace with access to a bonfire pit and barbecue facilities. Just next to the exterior patio, you’ll find a communal garden, where guests can participate in tending and harvesting.


+ Coil Kazuteru Matumura Architects

Photography by Keishiro Yamada YFT via Coil Kazuteru Matumura Architects