Yoshifumi Yano was tiring of the high cost of living and long hours of work at a travel firm in the city of Osaka when he heard of a hotel for sale in a small town nearby in Wakayama Prefecture that was known for its onsen, or hot springs.

On a whim, he visited Yunomine, where the property was located, and after a night's stay, decided to take it over. That was 18 years ago, and Yano became one of the first "I-turners" there — a city dweller who has moved to a small town.

Since then, the town has received World Heritage status from the United Nations cultural agency UNESCO and seen a steady rise in tourist numbers every year.