Somewhere Between Tokyo and Kyoto
By Popo Febrian. Posted on September 27, 2013
I never imagined that I will be the one of the Chubu Trip Ambassadors, but it happened. I got a rare opportunity to explore Central Japan and learn more about the other side of Japan from a different perspective. I realized that Japan is not only about Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka. There are a lot of other beautiful places to visit, particularly in the central area known as Chubu.
Day one: August 27th
We met at the Golden Clock at Nagoya station. I met the other two trip ambassadors from the USA and the Philippines. From Nagoya Station, we headed to Hida Furukawa station in the northernmost part of Gifu prefecture. I was amazed by the beautiful landscapes that I stared at from my window seat. It seemed like I had fallen into the world of Tonari no Totoro for about three hours.
We arrived at Hida Furukawa station exactly when our stomachs needed something to fill them up. We walked from Hida Furukawa Station to Ajidokoro Furukawa for lunch. I have no words on how to describe that place. Maybe “the beauty of Japanese soul” is the best way to put it. The Japanese cuisine that they served for our lunch was super-delicious, especially for me as a vegetarian.
After filling , we continued our trip to Satoyama Cycling. We explored the city by bicycle from the riverside to the top of the hill. We took a break inatthe old temple on the side of the hill and enjoyed the magnificence of rural Japan. The landscape, fresh air and uncontaminated mountain water from a traditional well was the perfect place to release all of my stress.
After the cycling tour was finished, we went back to Hida Furukawa Station and caught a train to Toyama Station. We arrived at the station and walked to Daiichi Hotel. After dropping off our luggage in our rooms, we headed to the sushi restaurant near the hotel. I never imagined that sushi would also be available for vegetarians — it sounds funny but it's true. The sushi chef was very professional, no doubt because he had spent more than fifteen years in training. Our first day's dinner could be described by the word “fabulous!”
Day two: August 28th
We had breakfast at Daiichi Hotel’s restaurant and took Toyama Dentetsu to Tateyama. Today’s trip was about the Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route. This is a spectacular 90-km route through the steep peaks of the northern Alps between Toyama and Omachi. There were several modes of public transportation that we had to take for that long journey.
First, we took a unique cable car that looks like a staircase in a metal box. Then we transferred to Murodo by bus. From the bus window, I saw a lot of wonderful scenery. As we went higher in elevation, the landscape opened up and the temperature got cooler. We arrived at Murodo bus station, the highest bus station in Japan, at 12:00 and had lunch there. Again, I got to eat some super-delicious vegetarian food.
At Murodo, I explored some hiking paths, but I ran out of time, since we had to continue our journey to Daikanbou by bus and then transfer to an elevated tramway. I felt a different sensation here — both fear and excitement at once.
The next cable car was waiting at Kurobe Daira, which would take us to Lake Kurobe and Kurobe Dam. Kurobe Dam, the biggest dam in Japan, was built 50 years ago by more than 400,000 workers. I was mesmerized by this great dam because of the beautiful rainbow near its waterfall. After we finished enjoying the lake and dam, we headed to the hotel, taking two buses and a train to get there.
We finally reached Matsumoto Station at around 7 pm. At that station, another English-Japanese interpreter was waiting for us. He knew everything about Matsumoto and he would be our guide for the following day.
We dropped our stuff off at the Buena Vista Hotel and then walked to an izakaya, a popular type of traditional Japanese restaurant. I ate seafood and vegetarian food. It was delicious, especially the deep fried potatoes and miso. We finished the second day of our trip with another Japanese-style dinner.
Day three: August 29th
We had a breakfast in Buena Vista Hotel's large hall on the 14th floor. I thought Buena Vista hotel must have been the tallest building in Matsumoto, since I could see all around the town while I was eating.
Our next destination was Matsumoto Castle, also known as Crow Castle. The castle was built in the late 16th century. One interesting point about Matsumoto Castle is that it has its original wooden interiors and external stonework. When I stepped inside, I was impressed by the smooth, shiny wooden floors.
A thousand stories have been told about this castle. One that sticks out in my mind is a story about a god who had protected this castle from fire. The symbol of that god is still hanging on the roof of the 6th floor. Another unique fact is that, inside the castle, there is a hidden floor between the 3rd and 4th floors, designed to fool enemies so that castle looks like it has five floors, but it in fact has six floors. Inside the castle, many ancient samurai weapons are displayed along with descriptions in Japanese and sometimes in English.
We finished exploring Matsumoto Castle and then walked to Nawate and Nakamachi streets. Along the streets we found many souvenir shops. Unfortunately we had came too early, and most of those shops were still closed.
Next, we visited Tagaki to make soba noodles for our lunch. We were taught by a professional soba chef how to make soft and delicious soba noodles, which are one of Japan’s most famous foods. It was very entertaining, and even though we were not chefs, our soba noodles were pretty good.
After enjoying our handmade soba, we headed to our next destination, which was Magome. Magome is on the old highway that connects Tokyo and Kyoto. This place is well-maintained by local residents and offers a variety of flavors for my beloved ice cream.
Another cool thing about Magome was the free Wi-Fi areas. I never imagined there would be free Internet in such a rural place. Awesome, isn’t it? Magome was our last destination, and we finally reached Nagoya Station at 7 pm.
Overall, the beauty of central Japan was mesmerizing to me, and it really struck a chord with me — especially Tateyama and Matsumoto Castle. This trip has opened my eyes and given me knowledge about Japan from new perspectives. This country of sakuera is not only about glamor and bright city lights, but also about beautiful places that are hidden from sight.
Popo FebrianPopo Febrian comes from Indonesia. He is a student of Nagoya University majoring in Multicultural studies. He wants to learn more about Japanese culture by directly involved in that society.
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