Adventures in Chubu
By Anne Vornbrock. Posted on September 27, 2013
Bright and early on the first day we met in Nagoya station at the Golden Clock and started out on our journey. We followed a meandering river that went from being muddy to bright, clear, blue water. The hills and towns that rolled by created a peaceful atmosphere to start off our trip.
We arrived at Hida Furukawa Station. It was nice to see they kept it as traditional as possible by not allowing any overhead electrical wires and having the street lights mimic lanterns. The streets are famous for the canals that run through them, boasting of clean and clear water. We also were able to see koi (carp) swimming alongside the streets. It was a very clean and enjoyable town to see. For lunch, we enjoyed a traditional Japanese-style lunch. It was filled with local delicacies and was amazingly all vegetarian-friendly.
Following lunch was originally that part I dreaded the most: we were all going to go on a nice, long bike ride! At first, it felt a little daunting, but soon, we were coasting along, enjoying the rural vistas of Japan. Our guide had spent time in Australia, and we were able to ask many questions and learn a lot about the local culture in this area. Though it was about a four-hour bike ride, it did not feel like that. With so much to see and learn, time flew by! During the tour, at one of the stops, I was able to find and buy fresh peaches and blackberries! They were so delicious! I greatly enjoyed this tour and want to do it again in autumn.
After the bike ride, we hopped onto a train and went to our next destination, Toyama. For dinner, we enjoyed delicious sushi. Between the presentation and the taste, it was perfection!
As the end of the first day came closer, we went back to our hotel and got prepared for the next day, which was the day we decided to conquer the Alpine Route!
Day two dawned bright and early! A delicious breakfast was had, and then, onto the train! We took a local train to the start of the Alpine Route. I loved seeing the smaller stations; it was almost like traveling in a different time. We could see the mountains looming before us as we got closer and closer. We were soon on our way to the top! Using our Shoryudo Welcome Cards, we were able to get free postcards! The first part of our journey up was by cable car! The view was amazing! Following the cable car, it was then up and up and up by bus! Many hairpin turns and switchbacks later, through which I fell asleep, we reached the top of Tateyama!
We enjoyed lunch at Murodou, and of course, some of us had the mountain climbers' favorite: curry and rice. After lunch, though we were on a tight time schedule, we were able to run around atop Tateyama. Though we couldn’t go far, and though the hot spring/sulfur fields were closed due to too much gas, we were able to smell them and could see the gas rising. We took the shortest route, and luckily, the weather and clouds sort of held off while we were there,, so we were able to enjoy some spectacular views.
After running around in the refreshingly cool mountain air, we took the first of three trolleybuses or electric buses that ran in tunnels through the mountains. This was interesting all on its own, as the information about the tunnels was given in both English and Japanese. When we came out of the tunnels, we were still on top of another mountain, but this one had an aerial tramway, or "ropeway" if you will. It is quite intimidating at first, as you can see all the way down and realize that it is just a few cables holding you up! The view from the aerial tramway faded in and out as clouds rolled in, and the view was awe-inspiring! It has definitely made my list for places to see again in Japan.
At the bottom of the aerial tramway, we were a few steps from the Kurobe Dam, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. The view from here at the bottom of the valley is just as awe-inspiring as the view from the top. The dam is huge! We were feeling up to it, so we headed for the top observation deck! A lot of stairs and huffing and puffing later, we could enjoy a magnificent view of the lake, the dam, the river and the surrounding forests. Beyond the dam itself, the surrounding area seems almost untouched by man, it’s so quiet and peaceful. From the dam, we took two more buses before we were completely off the mountain. The rides were enjoyable and allowed you to see the forest from a different perspective.
We arrived at Shinano Oomachi Station, and we were able to relax for a bit before we had to catch a train to Matsumoto. At the station, they had a display of traditional paper clay (Kami-nendo) figures, which were interesting to see, as everything was done with or by paper. After the short respite, we were once again on our way! This time we were off to Matsumoto.
That evening, we enjoyed dinner at a local izakaya and talked about our plans for the morning. Before returning to our hotel, I was lucky enough to talk our guide into taking me to see Matsumoto Castle at night, as I had yet to see it at that time and I really did not feel like wandering the streets alone. The castle was beautiful, and the park surrounding it is actually open at night, meaning one can go jogging or just enjoy walking around the castle — or, if you are like me, taking pictures of it.
The next day also dawned bright and early, and as it was our last day, it seemed to fly by faster. That morning, we enjoyed a tour through Matsumoto Castle and a walk down “Frog Street”! Though it was early and most shops were closed, we were able to peek through windows and see some of the handicrafts and specialty items on display.
For lunch, we had a challenge ahead of us! We were to make our own soba! From the buckwheat flour up! Now, the first part was pretty easy, much like one would go about making noodles or even bread. A lot of kneading and rolling. The second part, which was rolling out the dough, seemed easier than it was, as one needed a special technique to get it just right. The hardest part was last: we had to cut our own noodles. This does not mean we threw it in an electric cutter, but we did so with a knife and board. Let me tell you that cutting soba thin noodles is not as easy as it seems! This part probably took the longest. After we cut what could have been kishimen noodles, we went downstairs to await our lunch as they cooked it. The soba itself was delicious; the thickness of the noodles, not so much. But all in all, it was a great experience that would be fun to try again. Following the soba, we decided to be adventurous and try wasabi ice cream! Let me tell you that it is like nothing you have ever had before or nothing you will ever have again. I can't even describe it! You have to try it!
After lunch, we were off to Magome. Magome is a small historic town. It is a great place for hikers and visitors alike. It has many guesthouses along with free Wi-Fi service for you to stay connected to the world. The shops and restaurants which line the main stone paved street give you the feeling of traveling back in time. There is actually a trail which connects Magome to Tsumago through the Kiso Valley. It’s about 8 km long. We unfortunately did not have the time to attempt this. However, we did make it to the edge of town were one would start their hike. This is another trip that is put on my list of things to do again in Japan.
We started back to Nagoya that evening and said our goodbyes at the same place we said our hellos.
It was an incredible three-day adventure. The landscapes of Japan are stunning and varied, and on this trip, we were able to see a few of them. Between the people we traveled with and the people we met, it was a wonderful trip. This is one trip I would repeat. Thank you so much for giving me the opportunity to travel with you.
Anne VornbrockAnne Vernbrock is living in Japan for over several years as an English teacher. She loves traveling and taking photograph.
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