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Yasuyuki Yoshizawa first laid eyes on the old building in autumn, 2008. He remembers thinking back then that the two-storey wooden ryokan in Uwajima, a city on Japan’s southern island of Shikoku, was a beauty – or at least he imagined that it must have been decades ago. By now, the ramshackle building was tilting on its foundation and its owners, who had shut it in the mid-1990s, were wondering whether they should tear it down.

Yoshizawa, a Tokyo-based financier, immediately had an idea to save the ryokan from the wrecking ball. But to make it…


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