Glenn Ballard was born in upstate New York. Yumi Nagashima was born half a world away in Tokyo, Japan. When the two connected through an online dating site in the fall of 2007, neither could have predicted the series of events that would eventually bring them to North Granby.
“When we started messaging, I was living in Massachusetts,” Glenn said during a recent interview with the couple. “I moved to Albuquerque for a consulting project. In the spring, Yumi agreed to come there so we could have our first date.”
“I was very excited to come,” Yumi said. “But I was nervous too because we had never actually talked, only messaged. I was very worried about what he would sound like and how I would sound to him.”
“Yumi’s coworker in Japan had family in Tucson, so she had a backup plan just in case I turned out to be a total loser,” Glenn added with a laugh.
Their first date was followed by a second in Hawaii. In October 2008, Glenn moved to Japan to be with Yumi and the next year the two were married in Tokyo. When work brought them back to the U.S. at the end of 2009, they settled in, of all places, North Granby.
“We had been looking at places in the mountains of Japan before moving,” Glenn said. “When we were searching here, we kept coming back to this place. Really, the house found us.”
“It had all the elements we were looking for,” Yumi said, listing them off. “The brook on three sides, the wood furnace, the wide floors—even the shape of the roof. Glenn said it would be perfect for remodeling in the Japanese style of architecture he is a fan of.”
In fact, the couple had big ideas for their new home. They wanted to create a bed and breakfast that would show real, authentic Japanese culture. One that would display the selflessness and extreme attention to detail that is such a big part of Japanese hospitality.
In her early 20s, Yumi worked as a tour guide for a company that encouraged their guides to stay and eat in the same places their clients did.
“I enjoyed being a tour guide,” Yumi said. “It allowed me to broaden my horizons.”
It also made her interested in her own service business. Over the next few years the two worked on the remodel, doing much of the work themselves—including sourcing many authentic items directly from Japan.
“Sometimes I would call manufacturers that had never sent their products overseas before,” Yumi said. “They would tell me to wait to pay them until I received my order because they wanted to make sure that I would get it before billing me.”
Yumi says that all the hard work has a great reward.
“When Glenn takes guests on a tour through the house and I hear them notice some little detail while I am in preparing dinner … if they say ‘Wow!’ or ‘I love that!’ then that is the happiest moment to me.”
Their bed and breakfast had a “soft” opening in 2016, with just one guest room ready. They named it O gawa shou, which means little river inn. The following year the second guest room was ready.
“Our guests have all been awesome people. The conversations we have with them are amazing,” Glenn said. “When they ask us if we are going to expand to more rooms, I think it would be impossible to do it on the same level.”
Glenn explains that the choreography required to give each guest a personal experience, one that feels as though it’s all “just happening naturally around them,” is both the challenge and the best part, especially since the couple run the B and B by themselves.
“I wasn’t a good cook when we first married, but I have learned, especially since we moved here. If I wanted Japanese food like at home, I had to learn how to make it,” Yumi said. “My mom is visiting us right now and even she says to me, ‘I can’t believe this is my daughter.’”
There is one expansion the couple has underway at O gawa shou; they are adding a commercial kitchen and an aquaponic garden. Not only will they be able to grow hard-to-find Japanese greens and vegetables, Yumi is interested in adding catering and cooking classes to their business.
“It would be another revenue stream, but it would also allow us to share even more about Japanese culture,” Glenn says, adding that he also likes to cook, so it is something they can share with each other as well.
Over the past several years the pair has really come to love North Granby, although Yumi admits that at first it was difficult driving here, especially given that she learned to drive in Japan on the other side of the road.
“I didn’t get my license in Japan until just after turning 40, so being a new driver and then coming here was very challenging,” Yumi said. “For the first few months I stayed inside, but I’m a pro now.”
They have also come to appreciate the little things in their day-to-day life— the wildlife, the moonlight, the cool breezes and the sound of the “little” river. But at the end, Yumi comes back to how thankful they are for the guests that have stayed at O gawa shou over the past two years.
“We are not good at marketing, but we have increased due to word of mouth, because our guests talk about us and bring others to us.”
O gawa shou B&B is located at 289 Granville Road, North Granby. You can visit their website at ogawashou.com.