After a rejuvenating night in Hamamatsu, we checked out of our hotel and headed to the Ena-kyo Gorge Prefectural Natural Park. This is a popular tourist stop, as people often go there to check out the precipitous cliffs and mysteriously shaped eroded rocks that can be found on the river bed. We stopped just to take photos from the lookout, but there are motor boats available that can take you out for a closer look. The area also thrives as a vacation spot being in close proximity to the Nagoya Metropolitan area.
One of the things I was looking forward to on this Japan tour was exploring the post towns. You won’t see anything like them back in Vancouver. Magome-juku is one such post town which has been beautifully restored that still remains from the Edo period. We quickly walked up the hill before we met the rest of the group for lunch. It has amazing views of the mountains once you look past the impressive roofs. The air felt crisp, the walkways were clean, and the people were really nice. I wish we had more time to explore this tiny town.
Our lunch consisted of a bento box with some traditional Japanese food. A well marinated fish, tamago (egg), chicken karaage, beans, pickled vegetables with rice, and a side of miso soba noodle soup quenched our hunger before we moved on. It seems simple, but you can tell the Japanese take great care in their food preparation. The fish was so delicious that some of our tourist friends decided to buy some extra to snack on afterwards.
To my delight, Tsumago-juku was our next stop. This is another post town in the Kiso Valley, adjacent to the previous one we visited. The two towns are connected by a trail, but we bused there to save us some time. In this town, you can find lots of ryokans (bed and breakfasts), where tourists can stay the night in an old historic setting. Many of the shops you find in Tsumago-juku will range from convenience stores selling boxed drinks (or in Dennis’ case, cold beer), to unique clothing, artisan, and gift shops, and preserved food stores.
Tsumago-juku is quite different from Magome-juku in that the restorations were made to recreate the ambiance of the Edo period. Most of the buildings were made of wood, and from their blackened exteriors, you can tell that it can get quite hairy if a fire broke out in this town. Luckily, there is a hose positioned almost every 50 metres to extinguish any potential fires. To maintain the look and feel of that era, cars are not permitted on the streets during the daytime, and we also noticed that they conceal the phone and cable lines quite well. I enjoyed this town very much, and I’m glad we spent more time in Tsumago-juku. I’d highly recommend visiting this town if you head to Japan. I think the next time we visit we may just stay at a ryokan.
After walking through two post towns, we made a short stop at Lake Suwa to do some souvenir shopping. This large lake is situated in the centre of the Nagano prefecture. We enjoyed some complimentary Japanese green tea, and also caved in to trying a matcha-filled pastry (right) from one of the bakeries in the shopping centre.
We departed Nagano and headed to Nagoya for a shabu shabu (Japanese hot pot) dinner. For those who don’t know, shabu shabu is basically a meal in which you put raw meats and vegetables into a pot of boiling soup. The soup flavours the meat and veggies, and vice versa, and we ate until we were utterly stuffed. Japanese curry rice was also served on the side, with unlimited refills.
After dinner, we packed back onto the bus and drove out of Nagoya City, where we stayed at the Gifu Miyako Hotel, which happens to be the Sheraton’s sister hotel. Stay tuned, as our next stop is Osaka!