A Journey to the Heart of Japan
On 1st -7th June 2014, eight wholesale travel agents from Australia were invited by Japan National Tourism Organization (JNTO) Sydney Office on a 5-night hosted product development and familiarisation trip to the Chubu region of Japan.
After flying from Sydney to Narita on Japan Airlines, the group took a domestic flight to Nagoya and stayed there overnight. Nagoya, the largest city in the central Japan, prospered as a key junction point between Edo (Tokyo) and Osaka in ancient times.
From Nagoya the group made their way by coach to the old post towns of Magome and Tsumago in the Kiso Valley, beautifully preserved to look as they did in the Edo period. Tourists can take a leisurely, scenic hike from Magome to Tsumago, which takes about 3 hours and is best enjoyed during times of fresh greenery or autumn tints. Luggage can be sent in-between the towns from the Tourist Information Offices for a small fee.
After Tsumago, the group headed to Gero Onsen in Gifu, considered to be one of Japan’s top 3 hot springs areas, along with Kusatsu Onsen in Gunma and Arima Onsen in Hyogo. Gero Onsen’s hot-springs have been nicknamed bijin no yu, meaning ‘springs for the beautiful’ as the properties of the water are said to improve skin tone and complexion. Here the group stayed overnight at a ryokan (traditional Japanese Inn) and were were treated to kaiseki (a traditional Japanese degustation banquet), while wearing yukata (cotton kimonos) – an experience not to be missed!
The next day the group visited Takayama, an old castle town called “Little Kyoto”, stopping by the Miyagawa Morning Markets, a fresh food market selling fresh fruit and vegetables, flowers, pickles and snacks. Takayama’s grand festivals held in spring (April) and autumn (October) attract tens of thousands of tourists every year. The opulent festival floats can be viewed at any time of year at the Festival Floats Hall in Takayama. Next, the agents visited Takayama Jinya, a former government outpost.
Their next stop was Shirakawago, a World Heritage Listed village of thatched-roofed farmhouses. The group travelled by coach, however tourists typically take the Nohi Bus from Takayama Bus Station, which takes around 50 mins. They marvelled at the breathtaking views of the village from the Shiroyama Observatory Deck.
From Shirakawago it’s another trip on the Nohi Bus to another quaint old town of Kanazawa, rich in history and traditional culture. Highlights of Kanazawa include Kenrokuen Gardens, considered one of the top 3 most beautiful gardens in all Japan year-round. Next to Kenrokuen is Kanazawa Castle, which has one of the most spectacular displays of cherry blossoms during springtime. Kanazawa is one of the few places in Japan home to a geisha district, called Higashi-Chaya. If you’re lucky, you might a geisha, hurrying to her next appointment. Some of the teahouses lining the main street have been converted into restaurants or even souvenir shops.
Next the agents travelled to Tateyama. The Tateyama-Kurobe Alpine Route is famous for its Snow Corridor, which can reach heights of over 20m. Tourists can explore the area by coach, trolley bus and cable car while taking in the gorgeous alpine scenery. Even in the beginning of summer, the temperature change from the lowlands to the mountains was remarkable and you could still see snow.
Their last stop was Nagano city. Nagano is famous for its world-class ski resorts such as Hakuba, Nozawa Onsen and Shiga Kogen, but it’s relatively off-the-beaten track for Australian tourists during other seasons. Nagano city has a fantastic temple called Zenkoji – historically significant as housing the first statue of Buddha in Japan. The agents were given a tour of the temple grounds by an English-speaking monk. The temple has an underground tunnel, where visitors feel their way through complete darkness for the chance to touch the “key to paradise” – said to bring happiness.
Over the course of 6 short days, the agents were given a taste of some of the fabulous attractions the Chubu region has to offer. Highly recommended for repeat visitors to Japan and those tourists seeking the road less travelled.
Photos provided by Cherylyn A. from On The Go Tours and Tony L. from CTS Tours