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The Taste of Chūbu

Where ancient and modern coexist!

GO CHUCUChubu, the most central region of the main island of Honshū (Chūbu means central), is made up of nine prefectures; Aichi, Fukui, Gifu, Ishikawa, Nagano, Niigata, Shizuoka, Toyama and Yamanashi. At the region’s centre lie the Japanese Alps, made up by the Northern Hida, the central Kiso and the southern Akaishi mountains.

The region offers an extensive range of attractions to visitors, both domestic and foreign including gardens, castles and temples; the tradition and culture of geisha, traditional costume, samurai, festivals, events and fireworks; wellness through trekking including a substantial part of the Nakasendo Road as well as the general tourist route of the Shoryudo Trail, visits to the Japanese Alps and ski resorts, relaxation and wellbeing through visits to onsen (outdoor spas); and the gastronomy of the region’s food including wagyu beef, soy and miso sauces, its beverages including sake and whisky, and the markets for fish, vegetables and fruits including the Yoshikawa Nasu, an aubergine, grown in what was the Yoshikawa Village, now a part of Sabae City in Fukui Prefecture.

Chubu Map

Map of Chubu

For trekking and mountains the section of the Nakasendo Road that runs through Chūbu ranges from the famous battlefield of Sekigahara in the west of Gifu Prefecture through to the resort town of Karuizawa in the east of Nagano Prefecture near Mount Asama, though the relatively walkable section runs between Mitake in Gifu Prefecture and Kiso-Fukushima in Naganao Prefecture. The main and easily navigable general tourist section runs between Tsumago and Magome. In Magome there is also the Tōson Kinenkan, a museum dedicated to the author Tōson Shimazaki who was born in Magome. For anyone wishing to understand more about the Kiso Valley section of the Naksendo Road Tōson Shimazaki’s book, ‘Yokaemae’ (Before the Dawn), about the comings and goings along the road in the lead up to the Meiji Restoration, is published in English.

Tsumago Castle view of town

Tsumago from the site of the ruins of Tsumago Castle on the Nakasendo Road © T. Skingle

Sacred Mount Ontake, located in the Northern Alps and famous in Japan, hit the worldwide news when it erupted in 2014.

Kaida Plateau Mount Ontake

Mount Ontake prior to its eruption in 2014 © T. Skingle

The broader ranging Shoryudo Trail runs through Central Chūbu in a serpentine route connecting with many places of historical interest including the UNESCO heritage site of the village of Shirakawa-go with its gassho-zukuri (hands in prayer) farmhouses, and the venerable Ise Grand Shrine. The trail also connects with and crosses the Nakasendo Road at Magome which is one of the starting points for the eminently walkable, and navigable, section of the Nakasendo Road between Magome and Tsumago.

For further information on the Shoryudo Trail please see https://www.visit-centraljapan.com/en/shoryudo/index.html

shoryudo-753x1024

Shoryudo Trail © Go! Central Japan!

For great ski-ing look to the slopes of Nagano whilst another area famous for its heavy snow, though perhaps not its skiing, is the west coast of Honshu – called Ura-Nihon (the back of Japan) on the coast of the Japanese Sea along the coast of Ishikawa and Fukui Prefectures. It is relatively undeveloped and perfect for hitchhiking and meeting local people, though perhaps not in the depths of winter when the snow is incredibly deep.

For temples and shrines the main highlights are the Rokusho Shrine in Okazaki in Aichi Prefecture, Miidera (Onjo-ji Temple) in Ōtsu in Shiga Prefecture near Lake Biwa where the graves of the poet Matsuo Bashō and the warlord Minamoto (Kiso) Yoshinaka can be found at Gichi-ju Temple.

Gichi-ju Temple graves

(left) the grave of Matsuo Bashō, Gichi-ju Temple © T. Skingle (right) the grave of Kiso Yoshinaka, Gichi-ju Temple © T. Skingle

It is from Sakamoto near Ōtsu that the cable car can be taken to the endlessly fascinating mountain top Enryakuji temple complex of Mount Hiei with its extensive history and its connections to the stories of Minamoto Yoshitsune and his companion the mountain ascetic monk Benkei who is also linked in legend to Ōtsu’s Miidera Temple and its great bell. Of course this area in Gifu is also famous for the historical Eight Views of Ōmi.

Chubu

(left) Enryakuji Mt Hiei – Jogyodo and Hokkedo Benkei’s Bridge © T. Skingle (right) Miidera’s Great Bell associated in legend with Benkei © T. Skingle

Other perhaps not so well known are Zenkōji Temple in the city of Nagano, and the Ishiura Shrine in Kanazawa.

Kanazawa the capital of Ishikawa Prefecture, with its stunningly beautiful Kenrokuen Gardens, has come to prominence over the last decade as a historical site of some pre-eminence that is reasonably accessible and can be reached by Shinkansen from Tōkyō in around 2 hours 30 minutes. Kanazawa can also be reached from Tōkyō by air (there are around 10 flights in and out every day), and a much cheaper way by bus (8 hours and 30 minutes from Shinjuku).

Kanazawa Kenrokuen Garden

(left) Kanazawa’s Geish District Higashi-Chaya © Go! Central Japan! (right) Kanazawa Kenrokuen Garden’s Kotoji Lantern in the Autumn © Go! Central Japan!

For historical samurai related locations there is Inuyama village and its castle (built in 1537), Nagoya, Okazaki, Toyama and Nagashima, whilst for traditional cultural locations and activities there is the Geisha District of Higashi Chaya in Kanazawa, and the Tezutsu (hand held) Hanabi (fireworks) Festival which takes place at the Yoshida Shrine in Toyohashi, Aichi Prefecture, on the third Friday of July with 350 hand held fireworks and 12,000 other fireworks let off in an almost unimaginable spectacle.

Tezutsu Hanabi

Tezutsu Hanabi (hand held fireworks) at Yoshida Shrine in Toyohashi © Go! Central Japan!

For food and drink there is Kaiseki cuisine fine dining with the Kanazawa geisha, a large variety of seafood and fish, and the world famous and exceptionally delicious, buttery, melt in your mouth wagyu beef from cattle massaged with sake, browsed on immaculate pasture and fed on luxury items such as beer.

Chūbu is also, quite rightly, renowned as sake country. The finest is brewed in Niigata, with its more than 90 sake breweries, which with its sake friendly climate, famous sweet Koshihikari rice combined with the water from melting snow produces some of the best sakes in Japan.

Luxury Japanese whisky is now renowned throughout the world with Chūbu’s Mars Shinsu ‘Iwai 45’, Chita, Wakatsuru, Chichibu and Kirin Distillery’s Fujin Gotemba to name but a few of those available. For any whisky fans who find themselves in Chūbu visiting a whisky distillery is a really great experience!

Slightly more specialised attractions include one of the twenty-four wonders of Echigo mentioned in Suzuki Bokushi’s ‘Snow Country Tales’, the sokushinbutsu (mummified priest) Kōchi Hōin, subject of the old Jōruri Puppet Play ‘The Tale of the High Priest Kōchi’, which is located at Saishōji-ji Temple, Nagaoka, Niigata Prefecture – http://www.saisyouji.jp/saisyo-ji/contents-sokusinbutu-navi.html

snow country tales

‘Snow Country Tales’ (Hokuetsu Seppu), by Suzuki Bokushi, 1837/1841. Illustration by Santō Kyōden (山東 京伝)

This as well as the internationally renowned drummers of Kodo village on Sado Island and the island’s less well known skills of the puppet companies ‘Osakiza’ Bunya, ‘Masaakiza’ Bunya, and the traditional ningyō jōruri (aka bunraku) ‘Saruhachiza’ Company.

Finally, and definitely not to be missed, there is a top selection of Chūbu onsen (baths fed from natural thermal springs) with ‘Amazu’ in Kawazu in Shizuoka Prefecture, ‘Awanoyu’ in Azumi in Nagano Prefecture, ‘Fujiyoshi’ in Ito in Shizuoka, ‘Genji no Yu’ in Fujikawa in Yamanashi Prefecture, ‘Kurogane’ in Unazuko in Toyama Prefecture, ‘Lamp no Yado’ in Misakimachi Jike in Ishikawa Prefecture, ‘Oyadani no Yu’ in Chugu in Ishikawa Prefecture, ‘Taki no Yu’ in Takayama in Nagano Prefecture, ‘Tsubame Onsen’ in Sekiyama in Niigata Prefecture and finally ‘Yarimikan’ in Okuhida Hot Spring Village in Gifu Prefecture.

Chūbu is, from September – November 2019, hosting fixtures for the Rugby World Cup at two of its venues at Toyota City Stadium and Fukuroi City’s Shizuoka Stadium Ecopa and in 2022 the hugely anticipated, and world’s first, Studio Ghibli theme park will open in Nagakute City near Nagoya.

Chūbu is a pretty large area and the number and variety of places to visit and events to experience are almost boundless. A visitor could spend months if not years as an explorer in the region but, with a time limited vacation, might do well to contact Go! Chubu! (at Chūbu Centrair International Airport, and/or on Facebook: Japan Travel – Nagoya, Chūbu) for further advice, information and guidance.

Places and venues around the region can be accessed by air, road, and rail. The famous Japanese Bullet Train or Shinkansen which travels at a top speed of 287km per hour will, between Tōkyō and Nagoya, be superseded in 2027 by the Chuo Shinkansen Line’s Maglev train route which will travel, mostly underground, at 500km per hour covering the 286km (177 miles) in 40 minutes!

‘The Taste of Chūbu’ was presented at So Restaurant in London’s West End by Go! Chūbu!, and Accord Overture which is based in Paris and Tōkyō.

Author’s Profile:

Trevor Skingle was born and lives in London where he works in the field of Humanitarian Disaster Relief. He is a Japanophile and his hobbies are Kabuki, painting and drawing and learning Japanese.

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