Appreciating beauty in the natural cycle of life is far from a new notion in Japan. The country’s distinct seasons - springtime blooming of sakura (cherry blossom), sticky summers, a myriad of reds and oranges amidst the mountains in autumn, and thick snow weighing down dead branches in winter - have long since been admired in Japan. There’s even a concept based upon this very phenomena; wabi-sabi - the celebration of impermanence and imperfection in our everyday lives, where the subtle changes of the passing time make everything seem a little bit sweeter.
Ine, a tiny fishing village in the Kyotango Peninsula, two hours drive from Kyoto city, is one such place where you can feel a real connection to the physical world. A place where mountains descend into the sea and the setting sun casts shadows, painting the landscape in muted blues that blend with its cyan waters. Teetering atop the waves are the famed funaya of Ine, traditional wooden homes in which the first floors are open to the wind and waves, allowing fishing boats to glide inside to be housed overnight. It’s in one of these funaya that French hospitality visionary Thierry Teyssier has brought his wandering hotel 700,000 Heures, named for the amount of time the average person in the developed world spends on Earth.
The idea of a wandering hotel is a fascinating one. The logistics and organisation behind the monumental task is enough to make the head spin. Working on a hit-list of destinations three years in advance, Thierry tells me it’s worth it to make something exceptional for his guests, whilst also creating a circular economy for locals, producers, and suppliers - working with them to learn and understand their lands and culture, offering people a more meaningful connection on their travels.
I visited 700,000 Heures in the midst of Kyoto’s balmy summer, escaping the humid city to a welcome breeze fragrant with the scent of the sea. I walked into the funaya, which has been left entirely open to enjoy the sounds of the tides and watch distant fishermen cast nets for scores of creatures like squid and tuna, flounder, and bream. A leather trunk, standing vertically, is propped open in one corner, displaying a simple yet sophisticated bar set-up. My hosts, Thierry and Kiki, ushered me through to the concrete platform perched on the waters edge. More trunks. This time transformed into a dining table and set of leather-cushioned benches. The backdrop, a scene almost too picturesque to comprehend - tranquil turquoise waters dotted with far off islands and flanked by jumbled, stilted buildings. Here I sat and whiled away an afternoon, tension disappearing over a lunch of wine and freshly caught fish. I felt time drift away on the waves, and I thought on my surroundings. A world that time seemingly forgot, where people and water coexist – living, working, fishing – basking in the untouched elegance of an ancient land.
Each 700,000 Heures destination has experiences tailored to the setting in which you find yourself and Ine is no exception. A private boat ride around the bay, stopping off in a secluded spot primed for launching oneself into the clear waters; hopping on a bicycle and embarking upon a treasure hunt around the village, searching for clues to reveal a prize of paramount importance - the location of a hidden izakaya, a kind of casual gastropub ideal for a social drink and food; sipping Champagne in a secret picnic spot overlooking the Sea of Japan, and foraging in the mountains for moss to create mini Japanese garden scenes in one of the curated cultural workshops.
To stay at 700,000 Heures is to honour the idea of serendipitous living, and I couldn’t have been more pleased to have entrusted Thierry with 36 of my 700,000 hours on Earth. I only wish it could have been more.
700,000 Heures settle into a new destination across the globe every six months, each setting offering a totally different experience. The Ine property opened for a few months in 2020, though, due to COVID-19, the property closed and will be reopening in 2022. Just like the concept of wabi-sabi, the idea that this spot will be no more in six months makes time spent here all the more cherished. 700,000 Heures experiences are accessible only to a private community of members: le Cercle des Amazirs, which welcomes like-minded travellers to apply.
Rachel E T Davies
Rachel E T Davies