Shikoku Henro pilgrims looking for a place to stay near remote temples 44 and 45 won’t be presented with many options. Furuiwayaso is about the only hotel in the vicinit. It’s classified as kokumin shukusha, an inexpensive type of lodging found in national parks and other places of scenic beauty, operated by the local government and meant to be affordable for people on a budget. This place had rooms with two meals going for about 8000 per night, plus a real hot spring. Location, the most important factor for me, was ideal, so I settled for it.
I’ve stayed before in this type of lodging, so I had some idea of what to expect. Furuiwayaso managed to disappoint—and exceed my expectations at the same time.
First the bad. The building is old and poorly maintained, with large parts of it (including the inner side of the roof, visible from the upper floor) covered with black, scary-looking mold. The facilities are dated. Most of the rooms here come without toilet and bath, so you have to use the one down the hall (it’s rather uninviting). The only exception is the western-style twin rooms, which, I think, they don’t have many of.
The food is basic—not bad, but not particularly delicious—served in a big chilly dining room with rows of tables where you sit next to other guests. Check-out time is 9 o’clock, which is early (most places have it at 10). And there’s no elevator—very bad if you have heavy luggage and your room is on the third floor. No one here will help you with it, it’s just not that kind of place.
Having said all that, I would book it again in a wink—and here’s why: Furuiwayaso has one of the most breathtaking and awe-inspiring window views I’ve seen in my life.
Imagine entering a room, turning your head to the window and being greeted by a massive, vertical wall of rock, dotted with caves and trees growing here and there on the cliffside. This scenery occupies the whole window frame; it feels like you can almost touch it. It’s called Furuiwaya, and the hotel takes its name from this porous rocky wonder that includes about 90 rock formations in all.
Furuiwaya is nationally registered as a place of scenic beauty and is part of Shikoku Karst Natural Park—a high elevation plateau straddling two prefectures, Ehime and Kochi. Being on a tight schedule as a driving Shikoku pilgrim, I didn’t have time to really explore the area and only visited my two target temples, 44 and 45. The famous Iwaya-ji, temple number 45, is right under (and partially inside) one of the rock formations of Furuiwaya. It’s only 10 minutes away by car.
Another thing I liked about Furuiwayaso was the hot spring bath. They only have an indoor bath, but the water is of a good quality, it thoroughly warms you up with the warmth staying with you long after you get out. It’s worth stopping by for a soak even if you’re not staying overnight.