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Watch This Sweet, Sad Documentary About The World’s Oldest Family-Owned Business

A visually arresting look inside the world of an ancient Japanese hot springs and the family who owns it.

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Houshi Ryokan, a traditional Japanese hotel built above a hot springs in the Ishikawa Prefecture, is 1,300 years old. Up until 2011 (when a slightly older hotel was discovered), it held the title of oldest hotel in the world. Throughout its epic history, the ryokan (the Japanese name for this kind of hotel) has always been owned by the Houshi family. Houshi means Buddhist priest, and the hotel started as a monastery. The Buddhist monk who lived there adopted a son named Zengoro, and since that time each subsequent generation has named the son who will own the hotel after him. The current owner is the 46th Zengoro to bear this name.

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This moving, gorgeous short documentary by German cinematographer Fritz Schumann examines the lives of the Houshi family today, as they reconcile with the past and worry about the future of their business. It’s startlingly sad: tranquil ponds and gorgeous, 400-year-old gardens surround a family in mourning, unsure of their future. The Houshi’s only son died a few years ago, leaving their daughter with the intimidating responsibility of being the first female in the family to inherit the hotel, an honor it doesn’t seem she really wants. Her mother speaks about her own arranged marriage, and hopes that her daughter will marry for love. The 46th Zengoro tells us about his troubled relationship with his now dead son. It’s an incredibly intimate look into a place that couldn’t be farther from the hypermodernity of famous Japanese cities, its age-old culture struggling to come to terms with the 21st century.

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I'm a writer living in Bushwick, Brooklyn. Interests include social justice, cats, and the future.

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