Home Community Voices Hideo Makihara’s Guesthouse: Keep Doing What You Love

Hideo Makihara’s Guesthouse: Keep Doing What You Love

Hideo Makihara’s Guesthouse: Keep Doing What You Love

By Takumi Ohno
Special to the North American Post

Seattle resident Takumi Ohno, known best for her Japanese language website, Junglecity.com, is co-author of a book coming out this April from Chin Music Press. Mirai Stories: Crafting the future from Centuries Past tells the story of Japanese people taking alternative career paths. This excerpt is from a chapter on Hideo Makihara, who some of you may know from his Seattle days. The following excerpt has been edited for length.

When I met Hideo Makihara at Onomichi Station, he was his usual, laid-back self with a half-grin. He gave me an overview of the town as we walked through an old shopping arcade, stopped at historical buildings, and ducked into trendy shops. Passers-by called out, “Good to see you!” and “How’ve you been!” as he walked by.

Hideo Makihara sits in his Miharashi-tei guesthouse, located in Onomichi City, Hiroshima Prefecture.

“I moved to Onomichi recently, but it’s been seven years since my first visit. I felt like I moved to a very familiar community, so I’m not completely new here.”

Hideo’s first visit to Onomichi was in 2009, when he learned of the Akiya Revitalization Camp, where he would be revitalizing vacant houses in Onomichi. He applied from Seattle.

“I’ve been interested in a lot of things ever since I was a kid, so the camp was great. Most of the participants were students studying community planning and architecture. Some already had job offers, and others were already working in these fields. I thought it would be fun to make things by hand because you can actually see the end product. It reminded me of when I mixed cement to help my father build a wall, or the doma (entry area made of compacted dirt) of my grandparents’ traditional Japanese house. I felt like it tapped into my different sensibilities and was different from designing things using a computer. I’ve been coming here ever since.”

Hideo graduated from college in 1991 and worked for two and a half years to pay off his college debts. With a year’s worth of savings and a Rotary scholarship in hand, he started graduate studies at the University of Washington. After earning a master’s degree, he entered a doctoral program but was recruited as an intern at Microsoft Research in 1997 by a linguistics professor who had gone to work for Microsoft. After three months, Hideo became a contractor in 1999 and, within a year, was hired as a full-time employee in 2000. He worked there until the end of 2013.

“So, I’ve only done what I’ve been interested in,” he says with a laugh. “Students ask me how I chose my career. I tell them I’ve never looked back. I know what I want to do. But you can’t always do everything that you want to do. I had to give up becoming a university professor. I also knew that I couldn’t be a top engineer at Microsoft.”

In Onomichi, he’s sometimes asked to talk to students about his career. “Regarding my job at Microsoft, the timing was right. I got my job at Microsoft because the company was sued for having given contractors the same amount of work as full-time employees (laughs). At that time, there were few linguists who were interested in computers and there were few computer scientists who were interested in linguistics. That was just one of the reasons. Contractors like me were called in for an interview and we became full-time employees. That’s really all it took. In Japan, some might be impressed by my master’s degree in linguistics in the United States, or by my work at Microsoft, but it’s not what you think.

“It’s a matter of how far you can go doing what you love. How far can you go doing something that’s right for you? That’s all it takes. Figure out what you like, and what you can and cannot do—it will change your outlook on things. Even if you just do what you enjoy, you’ll get further and you’ll be valued by others.”

After his eleventh year at Microsoft, he felt the need to do something different. That was in March 2011, right when the Great East Japan Earthquake struck. Hideo began relief efforts from Seattle. He also worked closely with many Japanese Americans in a fundraising effort that involved the screening of films on Japanese American history. He wasn’t able to go to Onomichi right after the tsunami, but this experience made him reflect on his own roots.

“Some Japanese Americans can trace their ancestors to as far back as the Edo period. Why haven’t I thought about my ancestry? I never looked at my family butsudan (Buddhist altar) and wondered, ‘Who’s that in the photo?’ I never bothered to ask about my grandfather’s background. When I asked a Japanese American friend of mine, he said, ‘In the US, we’re a minority, so we often think about where we came from.’ Japanese people living in Japan are the majority, so it may not occur to us to think about our past.”

In 2013, after talks about the revitalization of a site called Miharashi-tei, Hideo was asked to consider moving to Onomichi.

“I loved this kind of project. It sounded fun and I wanted to take part but I had no idea how it was all going to work out. It was just a chance for me to do something that I wanted to do, and that was appealing enough.”

Onomichi has been designated a Heritage City in Japan. It’s a town known for its many hills, within which Hideo’s workplace, Miharashi-tei, nestles. As the name suggests, Miharashi-tei is a lovely guesthouse with a spectacular view. It was built in 1921 and is also registered as a Tangible Cultural Property of Japan. A local nonprofit organization, the Onomichi Akiya Revitalization Project, began renovating the structure in January 2015 and welcomed guests the following spring when the project was completed. To get there, you can climb up 360 stone steps or you can hop on a cable car from the shopping arcade and walk down from there.

There’s a café on the first floor that can seat 10. Guests can stay overnight on the second floor where there are rooms for men and women that are separated by a sliding door. The shower and kitchen are all communal. Hideo has served as the general manager since its opening in March 2016 and oversees the guesthouse.

When asked about Onomichi’s appeal, he replied, “No doubt, it’s the people. This is the Japan that I remember. It’s a place where people can gather and build creative things with their hands. Onomichi is self-contained in a way, too. It has its own music scene, movie theater, and sense of community. It’s as if you miniaturized a small city in the U.S. You can say it’s a bit like Seattle in that each city has its own culture within a very big country. If you get to know the local scene, that’s all you need to have a good time. That’s what I mean when I say that Onomichi’s like Seattle.”

Onomichi is tiny. While locals who grew up here may want to leave, those who come here from elsewhere want to start something new. That is exactly what Hideo has done.

For more info on Miharashi-tei, go to: https://miharashi.onomichisaisei.com/