Tourist niche: Local Japanese bed and breakfast caters to tourists to park and other landmarks

Samantha Hill

After years of living in Japan, one couple strived to create a new life in Park County combining their foreign language skills and enthusiasm for nearby national parks.

Yellowstone Horizons was established by David and Kiyomi Grant over eight years ago with the idea of assisting Japanese tourists around many famous destinations such as Yellowstone National Park, Grant Teton, Mount Rushmore and Devil’s Tower. As foreign visitors increase in the area, the two have carved a niche for well-traveled Japanese tourists.

Over 14 years ago, David and Kiyomi moved to Livingston into a cabin off of Cokedale Road after living with their two sons, Kai and Ian, in Kumamoto, Japan.

Kiyomi lived in Japan her entire life, while David had moved there after an exchange program while he was at Montana State University over 20 years ago. The two loved the area where they lived, as he worked selling medical supplies and she was a school teacher. But David began to miss Montana, so they moved back in the hopes of starting a new life.

After moving, the couple struggled finding work as they learned that their skills weren’t as easy to use in this area.

“You always hear the phrase, ‘You can’t eat the view,’ and it is true,” David said.

As David worked odd jobs, Kiyomi continued to struggle finding work and became bored. She then had the idea that, given her familiarity with Japan, she could host tourists in her home.

“I wanted to bring some money into the house,” Kiyomi said.

She began noticing that tourists coming to town wanted to see area landmarks, specifically Yellowstone National Park, so she began to study the animals in the park and came up with a plan to make the B & B an all-inclusive trip. Yellowstone Horizons is now booked up almost every week during the summer and is mentioned in vacation guides in Japan.

 Through the business, the couple have tried to combine Japanese comforts with American traditions, including speaking Japanese to assist customers. For breakfast, the visitors go up to the main cabin from an adjacent visitor’s cabin, and they are given a choice of American or

Japanese breakfast. While the American breakfast consists of eggs, meats and potatoes, the Japanese meal includes rice, miso soup and some kind of fish.

They like to have the option because they can still feel close to home while being so far away,” David said.

After breakfast, the couple takes the visitors on a tour through Yellowstone and the other parks, taking between three- and five-day trips. On the last night of the trip, they all sit down for an American barbecue.

During the summer season, the business is booked up pretty much every week. David and Kiyomi take turns hosting a tour every week so they don’t get too tired.

The business, David said, is mostly focused on summer tours, but as park visitor numbers have grown, so has the number of people wanting to visit in the off-seasons to enjoy things like snowcoach rides.

The tourists are always excited to see the bison and the geysers, David said. One thing they are often shocked by is how spacious everything is.

“They don’t get in until 5, so they don’t really get to see everything until the next morning,” he said, adding that most houses in Japan are very close together.

The cabin is placed on a hill with only a handful of other residences in the area farther away.

Although they have become well known for their services, the couple feel they are more than just a business.

“We have made many friends through the business, where, when we go to Japan, they have invited us to stay in their homes,” David said.

David and Kiyomi take pride in their repeat business, and noted they haven’t had a single bad review.

David said he has been thinking of growing the business to include guiding Americans traveling to Japan.

The Japanese culture plays a large role in the couple’s personal lives as well. Kiyomi continues to visit her family in Japan each year, and they decorate their Montanaa home with many antique Japanese plates, tea sets and sake bottles.

They even plan to send their youngest son, Kai, who is a senior at Park High, to Japan for a semester of school.

“He has seen what a big impact knowing multiple languages has done for us, and we want him to have the same,” David said.