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Burgers in bygone days

Diners admire the old thatched roof of the restaurant.

Diners admire the old thatched roof of the restaurant.

Diners at the restaurant Hagi no Chaya, in Takahagi, Japan, head home through its grand nagayamon gate.

Diners at the restaurant Hagi no Chaya, in Takahagi, Japan, head home through its grand nagayamon gate.

An old Japanese home near earthquake-hit Fukushima enjoys new life as a restaurant

One of the most popular restaurants in Takahagi, a city in northern Ibaraki Prefecture and near Fukushima Prefecture, is helping to bring back tourists who have staying away since the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake.

Much of its charm comes from its location - in a 240-year-old thatched-roof house, called Hozumi-ke Jutaku, which was built in 1773 as a residence of the wealthy Hozumi farming family, who also ran businesses involved in sake brewing, forestry, financing and silk reeling. The house is equipped with a grand nagayamon gate that looks like the entrance to a castle and a tranquil Japanese-style garden.

Designated a cultural property, in 2011, the prefectural government set up a temporary cafe at Hozumi-ke Jutaku for the autumn leaf-viewing season.

That proved so successful that the following year, the prefectural government handed the project to Takahagi city, with local ham maker Itsuura Ham assigned to operate the cafe under the name Hagi no Chaya (Cafe Hagi).

About 9,500 people, double the target estimate and including many from outside the prefecture, visited the restaurant during its 36 days of operation.

For its second year, the municipal government expanded the scale of the project. The original 60 seats were increased to 100, and the operating period was extended by about two weeks.

Usually, Hozumi-ke Jutaku is open to the public with free admission, but visitors to the cultural property were scarce. However, when the restaurant is open, it is crowded with visitors, such as Sanae Fujita from Hitachi of the prefecture.

"This is the second time I've been to the restaurant, following a visit last month. This time, I had to wait for 11 days after I made a reservation,"says Fujita, 63. "I think the dishes are tastier when I eat them in a traditional building with a calm atmosphere that reminds me of days gone by."

The restaurant menu includes steaks and ground beef steaks made from Hitachi beef, a specialty of Ibaraki Prefecture.

"We started the restaurant from scratch, and had to get connected to the water and electricity networks. It seems the restaurant has become popular due to an ideal blend of new and old aspects, the public and the private sectors, local ingredients and the charm of the historical cultural property," says Itsuura Ham president Shigenobu

Koizumi.








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