Off the Beaten Track Japan
Okuhida Onsengo 奥飛騨温泉郷
Tokyo - Matsumoto - Okuhida Onsengo - Takayama - Shirakawago - Kanazawa -
Tokyo (or Kyoto)
Comment from Tour Planner
Although Takayama and Shirakawago are widely known to foreigners travelling to Japan, Okuhida Onsengo seems to be not. The first two places may be memorized as one phrase. Or it may be the result of frequent tourism promotion done by Gifu prefecture.
You may have heard the word ‘Sho-Ryu-Do 昇龍道’, which is relating to the wide area tourism promotion. Literally it means ‘The way the dragon rises.’ They say the shape of the Chubu and Hokuriku regions at the center of Japan resembles a rising dragon, with the Noto Peninsula forming its head and Mie Prefecture its tail, and its rising body covering every part of the nine Chubu and Hokuriku Prefectures.
The Sho-Ryu-Do actually covers many tourist destinations in that area such as Nagoya, Gero (Hot Springs), Takayama, Shirakawago, Gokayama and Kanazawa.
However, I would like to mention that there are a lot of charm of Japan in towns that have deviated from the main travel route. For example, Okuhida Onsengo. The nostalgic and rustic atmosphere wraps the whole town in Okuhida Onsengo. Okuhida Onsengo is said to be a hidden treasure, especially for hot-spring enthusiasts.
I hope the following suggestions will be a clue for foreigners to discover the charm of Japan.
Accommodations and Tourist Facilities
in Okuhida Onsengo
To Okuhida Onsengo
from major places in central Japan.
Points of Interest
Matsumoto, situated almost right in the center of Nagano and known as the gate to the Northern Alps' climbing routes, prospered as a castle town at the foot of Matsumoto Castle. The castle's tower, a 5-story, 6-layer tower built in the Bunroku Period (1593- 1594) is Japan's oldest existing castle tower and is designated as a national treasure. Along the nakamachi-dori street to the south of the castle are many old merchant houses built in the 'kura-zukuri' style and warehouses built with 'namako' walls covered with square tiles jointed with raised plaster.
Matsumoto Castle 松本城
Matsumoto city, situated almost right in the center of Nagano Prefecture and known as the gate to Okuhida Onsengo and the Northern Alps' climbing routes, prospered as a castle town at the foot of Matsumoto Castle. The castle's tower, a 5-story, 6-layer tower built in the Bunroku Period (1593-1594) is Japan’s oldest existing castle tower and is designated as National Treasure. With its moody, dark facade, the Castle is also known as the ‘Crow Castle.’ With an entrance fee of 610 yen, you can enter the castle’s inner grounds. Ascending the steep stairs inclined at 60-65 degrees and seeing the castle’s original wooden interior must be a valuable experience. Fortunately, there is nobody who has slipped on the stairs yet.
Okuhida Onsengo 奥飛騨温泉郷
Known as one of the best weekend getaway destinations for Onsen Lovers, Okuhida Onsengo is scattered with five rural and rustic hot spring villages; Hirayu 平湯, Fukuji 福地, Shin-Hirayu 新平湯, Tochio 栃尾 and Shin-Hotaka 新穂高. All are conveniently accessible on the same bus route. Located in the center of Japan, Okuhida Onsengo can be easily accessed by public transportaiton from Tokyo, Matsumoto or Takayama. Stay overnight in one of the many hotels with indoor and outdoor baths for guests or take a day trip and enjoy the many public baths available.
Shin-Hotaka Ropeway 新穂高ロープウェイ
Don't miss a spectacular panoramic view of the Northern Japan Alps from the observation deck at the cable car terminus. The first leg of the ropeway stops at Nabedaira Kogen, which is the beginning of hiking trails. It is also the site of the Visitor Center, restaurants, a public bath. The second leg to the upper station is made in massive double-decker cable car. More Info.
Okuhida Bear Park 奥飛騨熊牧場
Visitors can see more than 100 bears, such as Asian black bears and brown bears. When you gesture to give them food, they will beg for it from you. Then, throw it to them. They will catch it skillfully. The gesture of each bear is very cute. You can take photos with baby bears. The shop of 'Mori no Bussankan' in the park has a selection of cute bear goods.
Sanmachi, heart of Takayama 高山
The heart of Takayama city, the Sanmachi area of preserved buildings, attract tourists from all over the country. You could spend a whole day wandering these old streets, buying souvenirs from many craft shops, sampling local tea and digging into local treats like Takayama Ramen, Mitarashi Dango (rice dumplings) and Pickled Vegetables. A number of Sake breweries are also located either in or nearby the Sanmachi district. Most offer tastings and the Harada brewery offers tours as well. More Info.
Hida Takayama Matsuri no Mori 飛騨高山まつりの森
Located outside of Takayama's city center, the Matsuri no Mori (まつりの森, lit. "Festival Forest") showcases the key aspects of the Takayama Festival, which takes place for two days each spring and autumn. The festival is known as one of Japan's three most beautiful, along with Kyoto's Gion Matsuri and the Chichibu Yomatsuri. At the main exhibition space, a number of magnificent, life-sized replica floats are displayed, offering visitors a close view at their elaborate designs, decorations and karakuri dolls. Karakuri are marionettes which are a key feature in the Takayama Festival.
Recognized by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site, this beautiful traditional village is the definition of picture-postcard perfect. Many of the buildings have been turned into museums, explaining the history of the region, the special architectural style, and features, and some of the key industries of Shirakawa-go. Shirakawa-go rewards return visits, as the shifting seasons bring out different aspects of the town. From the bright cherry blossom through the verdant summer, the fiery autumn leaves and the silent, white winter, Shirakawa-go always looks splendid. More Info.
With scenery remaining unchanged since long ago, people still live in World Heritage Site 'Gokayama'. Visit and learn about the wisdom needed to survive within harsh natural conditions of this snow heavy region, and the magic of the Gassho-zukuri (thatched roof) homes that are constructed without any nails. Experience firsthand one of the traditional local industries by making your own wash (Japanese paper) at Gokayama Washi no Sato.
Inami, founded in the mid-14th century and developed as a temple town of Zuisen-ji Temple, is the most famous woodcarving town in all of Japan. About 140 years ago, a major fire broke out in the temple. According to legend, the dragon carved in the temple gate climbed up a pine tree and spewed water over the temple gate, saving it from the fire. The town has a unique, calming atmosphere, with over 100 carving studios on the main road and woodcarvings placed in various areas, from bus stops to home signs.
Divert off the golden route to a town less travelled. Though not as large or central as Toyama City, Takaoka offers a mix of old-world refinement and modern convenience. Boasting such highlights as Zuiryuji Temple (national treasure), the abundant green space of Takaoka Castle Park, and one of Japan's three Great Buddha statues, the city attracts visitors year-round. You may arrive thinking it's a wonderful place for a day trip and leave thinking it would be the perfect place to live.
Zuiryu-ji Temple 瑞龍寺
Zuiryu-ji Temple, known as the family temple of Toshinaka Maeda, the second head of the Kaga Maeda family is a national treasure of Japan. Principle temple buildings including Somon gate (main gate), Sanmon gate (temple gate), Butsuden (Buddha statue hall) and Hodo (lecture hall) were constructed in a straight line, while Zen-do (meditation hall) and Daikuri (kitchen of the temple) were arranged bisymmetrically. These buildings are surrounded by corridor galleries to be connected with each other. This is a typical Zen-style arrangement of temple buildings.
Kanayamachi Street, Rows of latticed house 金屋町通り
Shortly after Toshinaga Maeda, lord of the Kaga clan, founded the castle town of Takaoka, he encouraged casting production as a stimulus measure. This brought substantial prosperity to Kanaya-machi, the cradle of Takaoka’s casting. Thanks to its old latticed houses and nostalgic atmosphere, Kanaya-machi’s townscape often appears in film and TV dramas. The 500m long stone road and old latticed houses complement each other superbly and the whole area transports you back to the Meiji and Taisho periods, while still looking beautiful today.
Doraemon's Walking Road ドラえもんの散歩道
Takaoka city, Toyama is the hometown of Doraemon’s creator, Fujiko F. Fujio. The town is actually overflowing with Doraemon related things and spots. Doraemon’s Walking Road is one of them. This is a small walking road in Wing Takaoka square, right in front of Takaoka Station. Twelve bronze statues of "Doraemon" characters can be found on both sides of the road. Each statue has a cheerful expression and is unique. When you enter the station, the characters welcome you on both sides. Before you even realize it, you'll be in a happy mood.
Johana, known as the Little Kyoto of Etchu (Toyama), is a temple town centered around Zentoku-ji Temple. The financial power acquired through flourishing silk production in the Edo Period can be seen in the brilliant Hikiyama floats paraded in the annual festival.
Toyama Glass Art Museum 富山ガラス美術館
Toyama is home to the most substantial number of active glassworkers in Japan, so naturally, it has an excellent museum dedicated to the craft. Conveniently located in Central Toyama, the Toyama Glass Art Museum cuts a distinctive figure in the urban landscape. The Kuma Kengo-designed building is a work of art in itself and a great advertisement for what lies within its walls. The basic entrance fee grants you access to the permanent collection on the fourth and sixth floors of the building. This includes the visually stunning Glass Art Garden with installations by Dale Chihuly that are a definite highlight.
Kanazawa was one of the most important centers for culture and art during the Edo period and remains a haven for art enthusiasts and culture vultures. This city contains museums and workshops on everything from gold leaf to samurai. Don't miss a visit to Kenrokuen Garden, one of Japan's most iconic landscape gardens, dining on impeccably fresh seafood from the Sea of Japan, shopping for traditional Japanese crafts such as gold-decorated lacquerware and Kutani-yaki pottery. Immerse yourself in the lifestyle of the samurai with a stroll through narrow streets lined with old earthen walls in the Nagamachi Samurai district, located near Kanazawa castle park. There you can glimpse inside the life of a samurai at the Casa Samurai Nomura, a restored home with a beautiful small garden. More Info.
Kenrokuen Garden 兼六園
Kenrokuen Garden is the focal point of Kanazawa and has a long and celebrated history. The garden was created over the span of several hundred years by the Maeda family, and today is one of the best examples of a strolling-style Japanese landscape garden. The garden offers something to enjoy whatever the season. "Kenrokuen" means “garden that combines six characteristics." These six characteristics are spaciousness, seclusion, artifice, antiquity, water-courses and panoramas. Not every garden in Japan can combine all of these features but Kenrokuen does.
Takayama Ukon 高山右近
In 1587, Hideyoshi Toyotomi, the then de facto ruler of Japan, decreed that Christian missionaries should be expelled. In 1613, The Tokugawa Shogunate outlawed Christianity. However, Ukon Takayama did not abandon his faith or succumb to such religious oppression. He relinquished his wealth and position as daimyo (feudal lord) and stayed steadfast to his belief. His devotion strongly moved and impressed people far and wide. Pope Sixtus V sent a letter in his praise. After Hideyoshi’s decree, Ukon went to Kanazawa, the capital of Kaga province, whose ruler Toshiie Maeda took Ukon under his protection. (He lived in Kanazawa for 26 years. It is said that his first house was located in the northeast of the present site of the Kanazawa 21st Century Museum.) Ukon built himself a house there but when Christianity was banned, he was forced into exile overseas. He sailed from Nagasaki to Manila in the Philippines, where he arrived safely but shortly died of disease in 1615. A statue of Ukon stands in Plaza Dilao, a square near the area associated with Ukon in Manila. The municipal government of Manila declared Dec. 21 as Takayama Ukon Day in his honor in 2018.