[From August Issue 2014]
Deep in the Japanese countryside, it’s possible to see a wild landscape known as “satoyama.” On the border between areas populated by humans and the mountains, it’s an environment in which humans coexist alongside nature. After World War II, people’s lifestyles rapidly changed and most of these areas were lost. However, you can still find such landscape in the Hida district of Gifu Prefecture (in Takayama City, Hida City, Gero City and the village of Shirakawa).
Chura-boshi Company offers guided tours called the “SATOYAMA EXPERIENCE” that highlight the charm of Hida to people from around the world. There have been many successful tours that offer participants the chance to experience the culture and history of this area. All of these tours can be conducted in English.
The name of the area, Hida Takayama, brings to mind images of old-Japanese style houses. Although they rarely see such traditional Japanese-style houses any more, in Hida, visitors can not only see them, but also stay in them. On such occasions, visitors are asked to bring their own futon, alternatively a shop renting futons can be recommended.
In Hida Furukawa it’s still possible to find shops that have been in business since the old days: rice stores with a rice mill, mochi (rice cake) shops, and tofu shops. “SATOYAMA DINING” is a tour that focuses on food; it allows you to get a feel for the relation between the local area and its food. It starts in the morning, bringing you to a local restaurant just when you begin to get hungry. Although the tours are in English only, you can study the history of sake in with “DISCOVER THE SAKE” tour. In addition, participants are taught how to wrap sake bottles with furoshiki (a square cloth) and how to drink sake in the traditional manner.
“HIDA FURUKAWA TOWN WALK” is a walking tour led by a local guide that allows visitors to get to know the town and the surrounding scenery from the point of view of the locals. SHIBA Ryotaro, a well-known novelist in Japan, wrote about Furukawa in his work, “Kaido-o-yuku:” “Because they are unspoiled by tourism, it’s possible to get a sense of the natural behavior, expressions and even the character of the people here.” In this town it’s possible to study a culture and lifestyle that has been handed down from generation to generation.
The most popular tour is “HIDA SATOYAMA CYCLING.” By making this easy trip along the roads between rice fields, you can enjoy the beauty of farming villages in each season. Also, experienced guides give thorough explanations of the culture and history of “satoyama.”
For the “KOMINKA OVERNIGHT TOUR,” held two or three times a year, participants cycle around “satoyama” and stay in old houses. All food provided comes from the natural environment of the area. You can enjoy seasonal ingredients such as, freshwater fish, edible wild plants, and soba (noodles). There are also short two-and-a-half-hour tours and hiking tours through a primeval Japanese beech forest (starting point reached by bicycle). Rental bicycles are available.