Things to do in Shoryudo, Central Japan
Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto – this is the quintessential Japan itinerary. But for travelers who prefer the road less travelled, the 44 other prefectures in Japan might make for more preferred holiday destinations.
Cue, Central Japan – more commonly known by the locals as Shoryudo. Comprising 9 prefectures, this region is known for its picturesque sightseeing spots that will make anyone scrolling through your Instagram feed green with envy. The attractions here are not swamped with tourists, and make for a quiet vacation spot away from the crowds.
– Inuyama-Yuen –
1. Soak in a view of the city and mountain peaks at Inuyama Castle
One of the 12 remaining castles from Japan’s feudal era to have survived natural disasters and wars, Inuyama Castle is a must-visit for its glorious view.
The climb up the castle is rather nerve-wracking, as the rickety wooden stairs are angled at a steep 53 degrees.
You have to remove your shoes at the entrance. My advice is to also take your socks off and go barefoot. I climbed all four floors with my socks on, and kept fearing I was going to slide down and fall.
There are various lookout points on each level, but the panoramic sight from the castle’s main keep is the most impressive of them all. Standing at the top gives you a 360 degree view of the city, mountain peaks, and the Kiso-gawa River.
Thereafter, take a stroll along Castle Town that’s adjacent to the castle. The charming stretch is lined with souvenir shops and food stalls serving street snacks.
Address: 65-2, Kitakoken, Inuyama, Inuyama City, Aichi Prefecture 484-0082, Japan
Opening hours: Daily 9am to 4:30pm
Telephone: +81 568-61-1711
2. Witness cormorant birds dive underwater to fish on a river cruise
When I heard I could witness firsthand the ancient art of fishing with birds, I was beyond excited. Known as U-kai, this traditional fishing technique has been around for 1,300 years.
Before the demonstration began, we were invited to have dinner on a scenic cruise around the river. Our meal came served in a bento box replete with scrummy grub including grilled ayu, the sweetfish that was to be hunted later on. While this bento dinner is optional, I highly recommend it for the full experience.
Signaling the start of the cormorant fishing showcase were booming chants from the cormorant fisherman – “hou, hou!”. With only fire lanterns lighting up the dark waters, it was exhilarating as we sailed beside the fishing boats, and watched as the tethered birds majestically dived underwater to catch the river fish.
Do note that the tour only runs between 1st June and 15th October, so it’s best you plan your trip around these dates.
Address: 2 Kitahakusanbira, Inuyama, Inuyama City, Aichi Prefecture 484-0081, Japan
Opening hours: Daily 5:30pm to 8:15pm (timing varies depending on season)
Telephone: +81 568-61-2727
3. Enjoy a cup of matcha at the ancient Jō-an Tea Ceremony House
Built in 1618 by Oda Nagamasu, a powerful Japanese lord during the Edo period, Jō-an Tea Ceremony House is one of Japan’s most celebrated tea houses and a national treasure. In fact, this bamboo teahouse has been through so much, it’s a miracle it is still standing strong.
Moved to Tokyo from Kyoto on carts that were pulled by humans due to political changes, Jō-an was later disassembled and transported to Kanazawa to avoid American bombings during the war. Much care was given during its transportation, and houses were even demolished to pave the way, as the trucks carrying it were too wide to drive through rural roads.
It was only in 1972 that the teahouse was placed at the centre of the Urakuen Garden where it stands today.
Truth be told, I’m no history buff and was underwhelmed by the teahouse. However, the tranquil garden with its meandering stone paths and luscious greenery left me in awe. If the Garden of Eden was in Asia, this would be it.
Urakuen Garden and Jō-an Tea Ceremony House
Address: 6 Gomonsaki, Ooaza Inuyama-aza, Inuyama City, Aichi Prefecture, 484-0081, Japan
Opening hours: Daily 9am to 5pm (timing varies depending on season)
Telephone: +81 568-61-4608
– Takayama –
4. Eat your way through beef buns and wagyu skewers at Takayama Old Town
When I think of Takayama, I think of Hida beef, a type of wagyu from the Gifu prefecture that’s in the same league as Kobe beef. And a great place to fill yourself silly with wagyu street snacks is Takayama Old Town.
The charming stretch is lined-up with shops and cafes, all housed in beautifully-preserved shophouses from the Edo period.
When you’re there, find Kihachiro and order their Hida Beef Bun. Encased in soft pillowy buns were fatty wagyu chunks marinated in soya sauce, cooking sake and rice wine.
You can also get skewered A5 Hida beef cubes at various stalls for 500 yen (~SGD$6). This is a steal, considering wagyu is extremely expensive in Singapore.
The best part? Takayama isn’t widely populated by tourists yet, so there won’t be winding queues in sight! Score.
Takayama Old Town
Address: Kamisannomachi, Takayama, Gifu Prefecture 506-0846, Japan
Address: 35 Kamisannomachi, Takayama 506-0845, Gifu Prefecture
Opening hours: Daily 10am to 6pm
Telephone: +81 577-62-8811
5. Take the the Shin-hotaka Ropeway and marvel at the Northern Alps of Japan
You know you’re way up high when you’re standing above clouds.
It was nothing short of magical as we rode up 2,156 meters above sea level on the Shin-hotaka Ropeway, with the Hida Mountains looming out of the fluffy white clouds.
Despite having been to many mountaintops, this was by far the most breathtaking sight I’ve ever laid eyes on. Upon reaching the top of the outdoor observation deck, we basked in the beauty of the Northern Alps which stretch through the Nagano, Toyama and Gifu prefectures. If there’s one spot in Shoryudo you should put on your bucket list, it has got to be this.
For nature lovers, you can also explore the grounds leading to the hiking trail. Better yet, spend the day hiking up Kamikochi or Nishi-Hotakadake mountains!
Address: 710-58 Okuhida Onsengo Kansaka, Takayama, Gifu Prefecture 506-1421, Japan
Opening hours: Daily 8am to 4pm (timing varies depending on season)
Telephone: +81 578-89-2252
– Toyama –
6. Admire gorgeous glass art at Toyama City Glass Museum
Make a pit stop at Toyama and visit Toyama City Glass Museum. Designed by Kengo Kuma, an award-winning Japanese architect, the building is a work of art in itself, with slanted wooden panels decorating the space.
As the name suggests, the installations here focus on glass. And you will find a series of gorgeous glass art by acclaimed artists including Dale Chihuly.
Toyama’s public library is also found in the museum, and many of the books are design-focused. If anything else, this space makes for a great photo op!
Toyama City Glass Museum
Address: 5-1 Nishicho, Toyama, Toyama Prefecture 930-0062, Japan
Opening hours: Daily 9:30am to 6pm
Telephone: +81 76-461-3100
– Kanazawa –
7. Discover a well-preserved geisha district full of teahouses
Forgot Kyoto and its crowded streets; Kanazawa is a treasure trove of chaya, or tea houses, where geishas perform in.
Time feels like it stands still at Higashi Chaya District, where rows of historic wooden tea houses and shops dating back to the Edo period show no signs of aging. While we weren’t able to spot a geisha in the afternoon, we heard you can find them wandering the streets at night, with strains of music floating through the air from the teahouses.
Kanazawa is known for gold leaf pressing too. And it is at this district where you can try your hand at this elegant Japanese artform at Hakuichi. You can also eat like royalty and order a gold leaf-wrapped ice-cream here! Talk about high SES.
Address: 1 Higashiyama, Kanazawa, Ishikawa Prefecture, 920-0831, Japan
Address: 1 Chome-15-4 Higashiyama, Kanazawa, Ishikawa Prefecture 920-0831, Japan
Opening hours: Daily 9am to 6pm
8. Stroll the majestic grounds of Kanazawa Castle and Kenroku-en
Once home to the Maeda clan – a renowned Japanese samurai clan that ruled Hokuriku region until 1873 – Kanazawa Castle is a remarkable sight to behold. Many “oohs and ahhs” were exclaimed as we gaped at the sheer grandeur of the palace.
The sprawling ground connects to Kenroku-en, one of the three great gardens of Japan. It’s easy to see why the garden earned this title. The tidy landscape comprising of lush greenery against a massive pond and waterfall was pretty to a tee.
There’s a lookout point in the park, where you can even catch a glimpse of the mountains towering over the city. Unfortunately, Japan’s unpredictable rain came pouring down before we could snap a photo. So I guess it is best you go there to see it for yourself.
Address: Marunouchi, Kanazawa, Ishikawa Prefecture 920-0937, Japan
Opening hours: 1 March to 15 October, 7am to 6pm, October 16 to 28 February, 8am to 5pm
Telephone: +81 76-234-3800
Address: 1 Kenrokumachi, Kanazawa, Ishikawa Prefecture 920-0936, Japan
Opening hours: 1 Mar-15 Oct, 7am to 6pm, 16 Oct-28 Feb, 8am to 5pm
Telephone: +81 76-234-3800
9. Snap Insta-worthy shots at Kanaza 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art
Japan is the Paris of Asia in terms of art. With their thriving arts scene and respect towards culture, it is no surprise they boast some of the best museums in the world.
And even if you don’t have a buck to spare on ticketed entry, a trip to the Kanazawa 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art warrants a visit, thanks to their unique free outdoor installations.
Leandro Erlich’s Swimming Pool. Found in the museum’s courtyard, the installation gives the illusion that fellow museumgoers are walking underwater, when in fact the 10cm-shallow pool is supported by glass.
Kanazawa Century Museum of Contemporary Art
Address: 1-2-1 Hirosaka, Kanazawa City, Ishikawa, 920-8509, Japan
Opening hours: Tue-Sun 10am to 6pm
Telephone: +81 76-220-2800
10. Check out preserved living quarters of the Samurai
Here’s a fun fact: Samurais were aristocratic warriors with high social standing, and were important figures during the Edo period.
While samurai clans have since been dissolved, they are not forgotten by the Japanese folk. Walking around the Nomura Clan Samurai Home, a powerful samurai family that held executive posts for generations, was a solemn affair. It was as quiet as a library, and many locals were seen paying their respects.
Contemplate life at the serene garden out back
Nomura Clan Samurai Home
Address: 1-3-32 Nagamachi, Kanazawa, Ishikawa Prefecture 920-0865, Japan
Opening hours: Apr-Sep, 8:30am to 5:30pm, Oct-Mar, 8:30 to 4:30pm
Telephone: +81 76-221-3553
11. Grab a bite at Omicho Market
Tokyo has Tsukiji. Osaka has Kuromon Ichiba. As for Kanazawa, they have Omicho Market.
The maze-like, 300-year-old market is packed with stalls selling fruits, fresh seafood and dried goods. The prices are easy on the pocket too, and you can score a generous serving of fresh sea urchin at 700 yen (~$8.47).
The best part is that you can sample them all, from freshly-made mochi to grilled unagi, palm-sized oysters and sashimi.
Address: 50 Kamiomicho, Kanazawa, Ishikawa Prefecture 920-0905, Japan
Opening hours: Daily 8am to 6pm
Telephone: +81 76-231-1462
Explore Shoryudo via bus
Prior to this trip, I always thought taking the train or shinkansen was the best way to travel around Japan. However, after spending 5 days travelling around the Shoryudo region by bus, I daresay it is a good alternative if you have time to spare.
The routes we took were absolutely picturesque too. We drove through countrysides, past mountains and farms into cities. I saw more of Japan than I ever could on a train.
The best part? The tickets are really cheap, and a 5-day pass will only set you back 13,500 yen (~$163.51) – which works out to just slightly over S$30 per day.
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