Hatago Isen in Yuzawa identifies with the tradition of hatagos in Japan. The history of this style of accommodation offers an interesting insight into Japan’s past.
During the Edo period (1603 - 1868) travel around the country became more normal. Travel routes crisscrossed Japan and along the
se, post stations known as shukuba were set up with facilities for travelers. The Honjin were the top level of accommodation establishments and were only used by the officials. Below that were the Waki-Honjin which also housed officials and traders. The accommodation for normal travelers was the hatago, and they developed a culture all of their own.
A hatago was mainly used for short stays as they were places for travelers to rest before continuing on their journey. A popular practice at the time was for each village to send a representative to Ise Shrine and there to make an offering to the deity of agriculture to ensure an abundant harvest. These representatives held the money that had been collected to pay for the journey and along the way they would often spend some of this at the hatago where they stayed. Eating, drinking, and partying became a common practice as people traveled along the routes down to Ise Shrine with a purse full of money. Entertainers could be called to help the celebrations. Hatagos were a lively place to stay, and running one quickly became a profitable enterprise.
Classic ryokans saw the success of the hatago model. At the time the ryokans tended to be used for longer stays as people went there to take the waters and relax, but following the lead of the hatagos shorter stays were allowed. The culture of calling geishas as entertainers to dinners passed on to the ryokans from the hatagos too.
At the height of their popularity the hatagos were important points along the travel routes and offered the chance to meet people and exchange information. The development of the railroads caused a decline in the importance of the hatagos and the post stations, but traces of this culture can still be found.