What are some of the oldest businesses that you can think of? How about that local restaurant in your town? What about General Electric, established in 1892? Or how about Shirley Plantation, which is the oldest business in the USA, established in 1614?
None of these compare to some of the oldest businesses in Japan. Did you know that a majority of the world’s oldest businesses are located in Japan? Out of the 10 oldest companies in the world, 7 of them are from Japan. In this post we explore Houshi, one of the oldest inns in the world.
Houshi is in the Gifu prefecture of Japan
Houshi (法師) was established in 717 AD and has been operated by the same family for over 46 generations. Up until 2011, it held the record for the oldest business in the world (it was overtaken by another Japanese inn).
The origin of the inn is steeped in history, folklore, and prestige. It is said that the great Buddhist monk, Taicho Daishi, along with his disciple Gengoro Sasakiri, climbed up the nearby sacred Mt. Hakusan (one of the three holy mountains of Japan) in 717. While meditating on top of the mountain, a mountain deity appeared to Taicho. The deity told Taicho that he would find a great underground hot spring at the base of the mountain and it would bring prosperity and good health to the local people. Taicho and Gengoro descended the mountain and uncovered the hot spring exactly where the deity told them it would be. Taicho then ordered Gengoro’s second son, Garyo Houshi (also his disciple), to build and run a spa at the site so everyone can benefit from its restorative waters. Generation after generation, Houshi proprietors have retained the name Zengoro Houshi and looked after the hot spring.
Statue of Taicho Daichi on Mount Hakusan
It’s amazing that a small family run business has survived for 1300 years. Through its history, the inn has received many samurai lords, Shoguns, and even emperors. But that’s not to say that the Houshi family hasn’t experienced challenges. As the world changes, as the economy changes, as politics and imperial lineages change, the Houshi family has had to change with the times.
Current generation Houshi family © Fritz Schumann
Previous generation Houshi family © Fritz Schumann
The current Zengoro says, “The only thing that hasn’t changed is that the hot spring has continued to flow. From the moment I was born, I was told to take care of the inn and do whatever it takes to preserve it for future generations. I’ve never advertised the business. I don’t have a business philosophy. What is certain is that the world is changing and our lives have changed. All you can do is go with the flow of time and think about how precious every moment is. Cherishing every moment…that is the Houshi way.”
Historically, the Houshi inn was passed down through the first born sons. Unfortunately, due to an illness, the current Houshi family lost their only son. Luckily, they had a daughter who was willing to step in to help run the inn, but she has sacrificed a lot for the sake of the family and the inn.
Lobby at Houshi
One of the hot springs at Houshi
She says, “there were times when I wish I wasn’t a member of the Houshi family. All I wanted to do was to graduate university and explore my interests outside of the inn. Before becoming more involved with the inn, I wanted to get married and move away. But now, I must stay and find a man who can be brought into the Houshi family; we haven’t found anyone that is suitable. I’m always conflicted by what I want to do and what I need to do. In my mind, my brother is and always will be the rightful 47th Houshi owner. I will not let him down. I will make sure that Houshi will be preserved for future generations.”
Onsen hot spring at Houshi
Mother and daughter Houshi performing for the guests © Fritz Schumann
In a modern world where people chase get-rich-quick schemes, where startups try to build the next great photo-sharing app in hopes of cashing out quickly, where people obsess over quarterly profits…, it’s refreshing to see that there are those, like the Houshi family, who are working hard to build something that will last for generations to come.
Snakku hopes to highlight and bring you snacks from businesses like Houshi - Snacks from Japan that you can’t find anywhere else and from stores, which have been passed down through generations and continue to make amazing Japanese snacks.
Houshi Ryokan has 74 rooms, 2 indoor baths, and 2 outdoor baths. Prices range from $140-400 per person.
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Also check out an amazing video of Houshi below:
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