The Okutama region in far western Tokyo is a playground for outdoor adventurers. The pristine waters of the Tama River that flow through the middle of Okutama is one of the most popular spots in Japan for canyoning and white water rafting. The mountains are covered in dense forest and dotted with limestone caves, waterfalls and onsens. Continue reading “Autumn Hiking in Western Tokyo”
It was a typical August day. The sound of cicadas filled the air and it was hot and humid like the build up to a summer storm. Only, I was not in Tokyo, or even remotely near any city for that matter. I had found myself deep in the mountains of northern Gifu Prefecture, at a place that very much looked straight out of a fairytale. Continue reading “Summertime at the Fairytale Village of Shirakawa-go”
Has there ever been a place you’ve dreamed of going to for years? You’ve seen it in pictures, you’ve read about it, you’ve heard about it from other travellers… but you just haven’t been able to get there yourself. Continue reading “Vine Bridges of the Iya Valley”
November in Japan is such a great time to be outdoors. Crisp mornings and clear skies, golden afternoon light and intense sunsets, and the best part… explosions of autumn colour around every corner! Continue reading “Momiji Hunting in Gunma”
You can’t go to Gifu without trying the local specialty, Hida beef. This premium, marbled steak, similar to the famous Kobe beef, is tender, juicy and oh so tasty. Seriously, I’m drooling just thinking about it.
While we were in Takayama, we chose a Hida-gyu specialty restaurant, called Suzuya, and ordered the most popular dishes on the menu – miso steak cooked on a magnolia leaf and shabu shabu. I loved the idea of cooking on leaves, which are collected from the neighbouring mountains. All of the vegetables – mushrooms, cabbage, onions, peppers, carrots, spring onions – are locally grown, too. It was delicious and hit the spot. Though, I have to say, nothing compares to a simple Hida beef yakitori seasoned with a bit of salt and pepper.
The red beef was almost the same colour as the red leaves outside! Of all the places we visited on this weekend trip, Takayama’s autumn colours were the most brilliant. Before hitting the road again on the Sunday, we went to the highest point in the town, to a park called Shiroyama where Takayama Castle used to stand. We were actually hoping to catch a glimpse of the town from above, but it turned out there were too many trees to see anything. But that didn’t matter at all. Instead, we were completely blown away by the colours. It looked like someone had gone and painted the leaves in neon yellow and red and orange. I don’t think I’ve ever seen leaves so brightly coloured before in my life. The park was small and we didn’t spend long there, but it was an absolute gem!
From Takayama, we drove up through the mountains to Toyama. The entire weekend was incredible. Japan is such a diverse, beautiful country, and there’s so much to discover.
After a short and sweet visit to Kenrokuen in Kanazawa, we jumped in a rental car and hit the road, travelling south for an hour or so into Gifu prefecture. I love driving on expressways in Japan – the road surface is so smooth, there are loads of tunnels which means less winding roads, and no one pays attention to the speed limit. The autumn colours in the mountains we drove through were sublime, especially when the sun was peeking through the clouds and lighting up the foliage.
Stop number 2 on our weekend trip was Shirakawago.
Shirawakago is made up of a few different villages that date back to the 11th century. The farmhouses in the area are famous for their triangular-shaped, thatched roofs designed to withstand heavy snowfall. In the winter, the accumulated snow gets so high that the second floor often becomes the main entrance! But before the white stuff comes, the valley has a few weeks of spectacular autumn colours.
It was my second time to this secluded World Heritage site – the previous was in the middle of a stinking hot summer a couple of years ago. Just like last time, I was in awe of the massive gassho-zukuri farmhouses. It’s not until you go inside one of them that you realise just how large and spacious they are. Today, some houses are used as museums, while others are occupied by families or run as ryokans for visitors to stay in. The main street is filled with souvenir stores, but as soon as you leave that area, it feels like you’ve travelled back in time.
The village wasn’t as packed with tourists as it is sometimes, so it was very peaceful and relaxing to wander around the farmhouses. The colours around the lookout on the hilltop were beautiful and I could have stayed there forever taking photos! We ended up staying until the carpark closed at 5:30pm, then continued onto Takayama city where we spent the night. We went to sleep dreaming of yellows and oranges and reds. Little did we realise the stunning sights we would stumble upon the next day – more on that in the next post!