Shirakawa-go is a small town, a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, located in the prefecutre of Gifu. This town is famous for its 100 Gassho-zukuri buildings, wooden structures, specially designed to combat the rigors of the harsh winter in the Hida region. Its main characteristic are the slanted straw roofs, ideal to prevent the accumulation of snow. The village of Shirakawa-gō is very small, approximately 600 inhabitants, so you can easily walk around the whole town in a couple of hours. The tourist office and a museum exhibiting Gassho-zukuri style building can be found right at the bus stop. The real attraction, however, is the other side of the Shō-kawa River. Firstly you cross the suspension bridge and stop to contemplate the water. Right on the other side you will find the nerve center of Shirakawa-gō. The Ogimachi settlement. If you ever had to choose a charming village, Shirakawa-gō would be a completely different place to those you have ever been to. It´s a different Japan, rural Japan, mountains, tradition and beauty.
Ohara is a lovely town close to the city of Kyoto and is not typically included in the tours. It is less crowded and you have temples, like Sanzen-in as popular and lovely as those of Kyoto. Ohara is north of Tokyo and to arrive we have to take the bus 17 from Kyoto Station but not one of the regular buses but those that go out of town.They don´t sell a day bond buying tourists to use this means of transport. Since there are 2 number 17s one must be careful: the 17 that we have to take says OHARA. The ride to Ohara is about an hour, because there are many stops. This village is situated in a beautiful valley in which were built many temples, some of which have achieved great fame. It is a highly visited area in spring and autumn because we can enjoy cherry red maples and Japanese respectively. The main temple, as I said above, is the Sanzen-in and to access it is a beautiful road runs along a river with trees on one side and the other traditional Japanese convenience stores. Other temples worth visiting are Shorin-in (very close from above) and Raigon-in (a little further but you get walking too). About 200 meters of the latter temple is a beautiful waterfall called literally "no sound waterfall". On the other side of town there is another area of temples, among which the Jakko-in, smaller but also beautiful.
Furano Hokkaido is a town famous for its fields of flowers, especially lavender. When approaching on the bus, you see vast meadows full of flowers. One of the most famous places to visit in these parts is Tomita farm where, throughout the year (or most of the year, not in the harsh winter) you can see the wonderful flower fields and lavender. When I went they had some fields that were fully matured and others that were just bushes. Also the whole farm is full of charming little houses that give lots of information about the process of growing lavender and its properties and there is even a laboratory and a greenhouse. There are also some gift shops with many lavender-related products for sale, many of them edible such as lavender ice cream which, oddly enough, is really good.
Uchiko is a small town within an old kabuki theater which was constructed in 1916 to celebrate the accession of Emperor Taisho. Shortly after it was converted into a cinema and then in the 1970s it was restored as the kabuki theater, which it still is today. You can visit the stage, the public area and backstage. This small town very well preserved with old traditional Japanese styles, with their wooden houses. It was principally a merchants and artists town. So, you can visit some old houses that belonged to upper middle class merchants. It has a neighborhood called artistic interest because there are multiple craft shows. Uchiko is especially famous for the wax and candle making. In a store you can see how to make some of these objects. In other businesses you can see handicraft work. In the last part of this neighborhood there is a huge mansion, former residence of Kami-Haga family which became rich from manufacturing and designing wax candles. This house preserves its original wooden structure and inside there is a wax museum, which not only explains part of the manufacturing process in making candles and its related instruments, it also has some wax figures that depict scenes of the era.
Japan is not all neon lights, bustling restaurants and temples. There are also zones devoted to rice for which seem to have spent many years. If not because fewer and fewer spaces are left for crops to survive. These are in the northern town of Ikoma (Kita-Ikoma) very close to the train station Gakken Kita Ikoma. I go through there every week and it is interesting to see the process.
Kakunodate is a small village situated in the North of Japan, more precisely in the prefecture of Akita. It is possible to visit some old samurai houses which are more than 350 years old. The town was divided into two parts: the North, where the samurai lived, and the South, where the traders lived. It is located in a beautiful natural setting surrounded by mountains and next to a river. The best time to visit this town is during the cherry blossom, which occurs here in late April and early May. The scenery is spectacular.
Yufuin is located in Kyushu, the south island of Japan. It can be reached from Beppu and Oita easily by train, there is at least one train every hour. Yufuin is a mountain village located at the foot of Mt Yufuin. There are many things to see there: temples, a spa, a lake, several good restaurants and souvenir shops to buy keepsakes and original gifts. The centre of Yufuin has a long shopping street, where all the tourists head to. There are two very interesting shops in the main pedestrian street, one that sells cat-related items and right next door is another which sells dog-related items. If you continue along the main road, past the station, you will readch the lake.
This Daibutsu (Giant Buddha) is located on Mount Nokogiri, right on a small peninsula in the province of Chiba. You can get there by train from the station called Hamakanaya but I think the best option is to take a boat from Kurihama. To access the port Kurihama you take a bus from the station Keikyu Kurihama and it took about 15 minutes. The crossing takes 35 minutes and costs 700 yen (and often more or less every hour). When we arrived, we finally got to the base of the mountain by taking a little walk. There, we took a cable car to reach the summit of Mount Nokogiri. My advice, though, is to get a one-way ticket from a different route. The views from the hill are stunning. On the road leading from the top to the square where the Buddha is located is another artistic wonder: 1500 Buddhist stone figures carved by Jingoro Eirei Ono (between 1779 and 1798. These sculptures punctuate all the way down stairs. There, we saw the lovely landscape and the sea and we could also see this Buddha which measures 31.05 meters. On the other hand, there is also the giant Buddha of Nara (more famous than this)which measures 18.8 and Kamakura (also more famous) 13.35. In 1783, this Buddha was built. It is a symbol for peace and tranquility.
The Daibutsu, or the Big Buddha, has made Kamakura famous. This is the third largest Buddha in Japan (the most in Chiba and the second most in Nara), but for me, it's the most beautiful, especially the outdoor seating. It dates from 1252 and it was inside a temple until a tsunami destroyed the building. It's best to go early to avoid crowds and to take good pictures. Admission is 200 yen and only 20 more to access the inside of the statue. This inner part is nothing special, but it's interesting to see the guts of this Buddha.
In the next stage from Chury to Iwata, and in the region of Shizuoka, I returned to enjoy a spectacular view of the mountains and the coast, which would follow me up on my journey to Tokyo. Here the cities and towns are no longer nice due to the industrialization and the building are ugly from WW2 onwards, as in many other parts of Europe. That said the low mountain, soft pedaling and the Pacific Coast are beautiful and will leave great memories. This stage is about 105 km long. I got to take some beautiful pictures of the sea, in Iwata, another city square with a park as big as the city itself, that is prepared for every kind of sporting activity it is overflowing with soft grass, where I slept like a log. Iwata is about 70km. West of Shizuoka, the capital of the region has the same name.
Karama is at the foot of Mount Fuji, the tallest peak of Japan. A fishing town is where I found this park of "boyscouts" . Getting here was hard because of the wind that blew all day. Also I went along the coast and there was not any mountain protection. I managed to do 100kilometers . Here I had a touchdown with the fascinating Japanese, then in a store buying fruit and food for dinner and the next day in the park with my bike and my store. Icame to visit to see if it was comfortable for 7 people, the owner of the store was a grandpa with which went to spread the word that there was a stranger camped on top of the people .... Anyway, I finished and laughed with everyone until midnight and with bags full of fruit (grapes, bananas and mandarins) for the following three days, they gave me more food because they understood that it would take too much weight on a bike that already was fully charged. Another 10 for the inhabitants of this village were so incredibly friendly. Again the Japanese left me without adjectives ..!
Ichibu is a quiet little town south of Nara. Originally a farming village, today it is a commuter town for people who work or study around Nara. To get there, just take the south line from Ikoma Station.
The area is simply called Kitamura in Japanese. The area historically similar to Shirakawa Gifu.
However, Shirakawa is isolated from major cities and travel routes course. Kitamura is from 60km away from city center of Kyoto and obviously it is far for those coming from overseas
However, the scenery is very nice and Old Japan is still alive there.