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Travel Guide

High Life on the Middle Road Japan's Great Northwest Sado's Creative Soul

Busking Beyond Borders Alone in the Lion's Den Cycling Noto












Alone in the Lion's Den

Sado Island's Creative Soul

Banff Mountain Film Festival

High Life on the Middle Road

From the Editor. . . . . . . . 5 Events. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 6 Beer Buzz. . . . . . . . . . . . . . 8

Japan's Great Northwest

Busking Beyond Borders

Market Watch. . . . . . . . . . 9 Japan Eco Track. . . . . . . 19 Travel Directory. . . . . . . 28

Autumn 2019 | 3


F r om t h eEdi t o r

Published Seasonally


here is a buzz in the air in cities throughout Japan, from Kumamoto to Sapporo. Japan has the honor to host Asia’s first Rugby World Cup and the party has definitely started. Crowds spilled from the Fan Zone in Yurakucho as the inaugural game kicked off with Japan defeating Russia. A day later, Yokohama hosted South Africa and New Zealand in a rare early group matchup of heavyweights that could likely meet again later in the tournament. The World Cup runs through early November so there’s still plenty of time to catch a match or visit a Fan Zone to join the fun. While twelve host cities are seeing most of the action, it’s a great opportunity for the whole country to show off the incredibly rich, diverse and exciting travel destinations Japan has to offer. From foodie heaven to natural beauty, electric cities to tranquil gardens and temples, there are endless choices for travelers to explore beyond the stadiums while in host cities or on the way to the next match. Check out our quick travel guide for a few tips and then explore our new website for even more information. East Japan gets a lot of attention as most people arrive to Tokyo and start exploring from there, but the northwest coast offers some beautiful, low-key areas for those looking to avoid the crowds. From the well-preserved districts in Kanazawa City to Noto Peninsula’s beautiful coastlines and secluded bays, to the port towns of Niigata and Yamagata to the north, there are numerous place to stop along the coast and explore the hills and mountains inland. Bring your international driver’s license and get ready to explore Japan’s Great Northwest. Staying in the region, we jump a ferry and head over to Sado Island for the annual Earth Celebration, the world music festival hosted by the renowned taiko group, Kodo. We also catch up with one of Sado Island’s creative souls— long-time resident and artist Johnny Wales. Another artist—singer/songwriter Nick Saxon—joins us this issue as he travels Japan with his guitar busking his way from Kyoto to Tokyo on the old Nakasendo Route, playing music and connecting with locals along the way. Nick and I met through a mutual friend at Surfrock International and he came up to Nozawa Onsen last winter for two memorable performances at the Winterland Taproom. It turns out that his fiancé, Shino Timmermans (who is half Japanese and Belgian) spent summers growing up in Shimosuwa, a small town on Lake Suwa where I lived for three years after spending my first three months in Kyoto. Her grandparents' house was a stone’s throw from where I lived. We stay on the Nakasendo to check out a new project called Zenagi. With the Rugby World Cup going on now, the Olympics next year, followed by the Masters Games, Japan is no secret anymore and travelers from all walks of life are looking for unique experiences. Zenagi offers just that: a luxury escape on an ancient highway with guided outdoor adventures from Japanese pro athletes, and locally-sourced culinary delights. There’s more in this issue from Japanese ciders to Tokyo markets, exciting film festivals and alpine adventures from our climbing contributor and author, Tony Grant. Check it out and then be sure to find more on our recently revamped website at Autumn is such a special season in Japan, where every season is a new adventure. Get out there! —Gardner Robinson

PUBLISHER Outdoor Japan G.K. DIRECTORS Mike Harris, Charles Odlin, Gardner Robinson FOUNDER / EDITOR-IN-CHIEF Gardner Robinson MEDIA PRODUCER / EDITOR Rie Miyoshi CONTRIBUTING EDITOR Bill Ross CONTRIBUTORS Joan Bailey, Amy Chavez, Tony Grant, Bryan Harrel, Neil Hartmann, Abdel Ibrahim, Pauline Kitamura, Takashi Niwa, Tim Rock, Justin Stein DESIGN Outdoor Japan OUTDOOR JAPAN G.K. 45 Yubiso, Minakami-machi, Tone-gun, Gunma-ken 〒 379-1728 EDITORIAL INQUIRIES VIDEO / MEDIA PRODUCTION SPONSORSHIP / PROMOTIONS DESTINATION MARKETING



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©2019 OUTDOOR JAPAN G.K. all rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part without written permission is prohibited. Views expressed herein are not necessarily those of OUTDOOR JAPAN G.K. Printed in Japan.

Cover Photo: Rie Miyoshi

Autumn 2019 | 5


AutumnEvents Setouchi Triennale 2019 Held once every three years, this world-famous contemporary art festival held on the Seto Inlands was launched to revitalise rural areas struggling from depopulation. This year’s theme is “Journey through the Seasons” and lasts 107 days. When: Until Nov. 4 Where: Seto Inland Sea

Sea to Summit The last of Montbell’s outdoor series for the year concludes in Nagano and Mie. Kayak, bike and hike from the ocean or river to the top of a mountain. Participants can compete solo or as a team. Oct. 26-27: Chikuma River / Mt. Kosha, Nagano Nov. 9-10: Kihoku, Mie

Yokonori Nippon Film Festival Japan's surf, skate and snow scene is celebrated at this week-long film festival dedicated to yokonori, literally translated as "riding sideways." Showings are held in the Shonan surf town of Chigasaki. Purchase tickets online. Oct. 12: Aeon Cinema Otaru, Hokkaido Oct. 19: Aeon Cinema Kitakami, Iwate Oct. 20: Escal Plaza Hakuba, Nagano Nov. 9-15: Aeon Cinema Chigasaki, Kanagawa

Arashiyama Momiji Festival Celebrate the changing autumn leaves at this annual festival in iconic Kyoto. Boats will parade on the river around Togetsu Bridge, with elaborately dressed characters on board reflecting the Heian Period nobles. When: Nov. 10 Where: Arashiyama, Kyoto

Jidai Matsuri More than 2,000 people will parade in traditional Japanese garments through Kyoto, reflecting the region’s 1,200-year history. The procession starts from Kyoto Imperial Palace, traveling along Oike-dori to Heian Jingu Shrine. Special seats with English guidance are available for ¥3,500 from Kyoto City Tourism Association. When: Oct. 22 (Kyoto Imperial Palace: noon, Oike-dori street: 12:50 p.m., Heian Jingu Shrine: 2:30 p.m.). Where: Kyoto Imperial Palace/Oike-dori street/Heian Jingu Shrine Kanazawa Marathon Cheer on 13,000 runners at this marathon, starting at Hirosaka-dori by the Shiinoki Cultural Complex. The race passes by the city’s attractions like Kanazawa Castle, Kenrokuen Garden, the restored teahouses of Higashiyama and the Teramachi Temple area. When: Oct. 27 Where: Kanazawa, Ishikawa


OMM Japan One of the toughest adventure events out there, the OMM is a mountain navigation race held in extreme environments. The OMM race is held in a different region across Japan every year. When: Nov. 9-10 Where: Kirigamine-Kurumayama, Nagano Autumn Illumination View kouyou under the night sky at Rikugien Gardens. Built during the Edo Period, this daimyo teien belonged to a feudal lord and remains a popular destination to view the autumnal foliage. When: Nov. 17-Dec. 9 Where: Rikugien Gardens, Tokyo Nara Marathon Not to be confused with the Naha Marathon, this one is held in the ancient city of Nara. Starting and finishing at Konoike Athletics Stadium, the course weaves between temple streets passing significant landmarks like Todaiji Temple, Suzakumon and the five-story Kofukuji Pagoda. When: Dec. 21 Where: Toyota Stadium, Aichi

Toyota Stadion Sprint Challenge yourself to a Spartan Stadion, a five-kilometer, 20-obstacle race held in a stadium. Penalty burpees have been reduced from 30 to 15. A shorter two-kilometer race for children will also be held at the same time. When: Dec. 21 Where: Toyota Stadium, Aichi Niseko Shootout Enter for a chance to win snow gear, lift passes and other prizes at Niseko's season-long photo contest. Winners' work will be presented at a film festival on Mar. 14. When: Dec.-Mar. 2020 Where: Niseko, Hokkaido Hanazono Niseko Renewal Exciting things are coming to Hanazono Niseko this season, starting with the Hanazono EDGE, the new ski center. This center includes a restaurant, café and bar. A kids' climbing wall and fun obstacles will keep children occupied at the Galaxy of Kidz Activity Center. The Park Hyatt Niseko Hanazono, ski-in, skiout luxury accommodation opening in January. When: Dec. 7 Where: Niseko, Hokkaido

Hanazono EDGE



High on the flanks of Gunma Prefecture’s Mt Komochi, the striking outline of Lion Rock (Shishi-iwa) is visible from the Kan-etsu Expressway. Its six pitches of compact andesitic face-climbing make it the perfect place to escape from Tokyo in spring and autumn.


pproaching the car park on this particular day I note with apprehension that mine is the only car. As I’ve come to rope solo the route, I decide that’s what I signed up for so I might as well embrace the solitude. After an hour of steep hiking, Shishi-iwa appears through the thinned-out birch forest above. Usually there would be several parties gearing up or on the route, but not today. I set my bottom anchor on a tree at the base of the first pitch, stack the rope in my pack, attach my self-belay device and I’m off. The first pitch of the route always feels tricky, reliant on friction, and it takes time to get my head into the right space. After a brief pause I make the crux rock-over, follow a steep groove rightwards, and I’m at the anchor. I fix my rope, rappel and clean the pitch, then re-climb. Rinse and repeat. The second pitch laybacks up an enormous detached flake, there but for the grace of god. At the top I mantel over onto the narrow dirt terrace below the crux thirrd pitch. This pitch is consistently steep and fingery, delightful face climbing, and today it feels smooth as I clip one bolt after another. At the crux undercling I throw my right leg out wide and gently shift my weight across, then after a few more vertical meters I’m on the sloping shelf sorting out my anchor. The friction slab of the fourth pitch goes without incident, and soon I’m midway up the fifth. A minor route-finding error sends me up the wrong way, and I endure a tense moment at the top. The sixth and final pitch is steep but short lived, and I dispense with the rope altogether. A final scramble and I’m on the summit. The views are sensational and I relax into the moment. Feeling the sun on my back and the sting of andesite in my nostrils, I decide to linger in the Lion's Den a while longer… For full route descriptions of some of Japan’s finest alpine climbs, check out Tony’s book “10 Classic Alpine Climbs of Japan,” available on Amazon in print or e-book.

Autumn 2019 | 7

Making Cidre



early four years ago, I wrote about how craft cider (called シ ー ド ル from the French cidre) was relatively hard to find in Japan, and most of it was imported from Europe and North America. The country still has a way to go to catch the U.K., which consumes more than 13L per person annually, or even the US, which drinks about 0.6L per person annually. But Kirin’s Hard Cider (4.5%) is a palatable, balanced (if a little boring) semi-sweet cider that you now see in konbini and izakaya, and is a signal that things have changed significantly. But what of the craft producers? Can Japanese apples produce ciders that rival the funky French cidres, the tart Spanish sidras, the elegant British ciders, or the fruity dry-hopped infusions coming out of North America? In my opinion, they’ve still got a way to go, but there are some standouts. I have been pleasantly surprised by the quality overall, and the producers will keep improving over time. Unsurprisingly, Japan’s cideries are concentrated in apple-growing regions: Aomori, Nagano, Yamanashi. Many of them are wineries or even sake brewers branching out to a new product (after all, they already have the fermenters and bottling equipment!) but a few others have started out from scratch due to a love of ciders. The best Japanese ciders I have been able to try so far are all from the Shinshu Region. Kamoshika Cidre is located in the outskirts of Ina, in southern Nagano. They make four products, labelled based on their vintage, with 2018 being “La 3e Saison” (their third season). Their ciders are uniformly delicious, with the Doux (8%) having a balance between sweet and tart reminiscent of Granny Smith, and their Rosé (6%) being a standout, with a beautiful pink color and flavors of cherry coming from an apple called “Honey Rouge” developed at Shinshu University.



Chateau Lumière in Fuefuki, Yamanashi, is a fourth-generation family-owned winery going back to the mid-Meiji period when it was founded by a local lord. As they already make sparkling wines using the mèthode traditionelle, it is not surprising that they also package their cider in champagne bottles. The Lumière Cidre 2017 (8%) that I tried was pale straw in color, forcefully carbonated, and had a balanced acidity and a bit of funk that reminded me of a Normand cidre. Unflitered and bottled on lees, the flavors grew stronger as I approached the bottom of the bottle. Finally, Son of the Smith in Matsumoto, Nagano, are inspired not by the French tradition but by the crisper American ciders. They started by doing collaborations with Reverend Nat’s in Oregon and are now producing a variety of ciders that are unique in the Japanese market. One of this summer’s releases—Fermentation Geeks Only (7%) uses a blend of three apples (including the Honey Rouge that is in the Kamoshika Rosé)—is aged in Ichiro’s Malt whiskey barrels, and is dry-hopped for a complex flavor of apple, tropical fruit, and whiskey, like a fascinating cocktail. Next time you go to a craft beer bar or beer festival (like one of the many listed below happening this autumn), take a break from all the delicious ales and see what craft Japanese ciders are being poured! I think you might be pleasantly surprised.

Festival Roundup

Oct. 4-6: Tsukuba Craft Beer Fest (Ibaraki) Oct. 4-6: Saisons, Sours, Barrels & Brett (Nagano) Oct. 11-14: Kyushu Beer Festival (Tokyo) Oct. 11-14: Kyushu Oktoberfest (Fukuoka) Oct. 11-14: Akita Oktoberfest (Akita) Oct. 12: Musashi Fuchu Beer Festival (Tokyo) Oct. 12-13: Okinawa Oktoberfest (Okinawa) Oct. 12-13: Yona-Yona Ale’s “Chō-Utage,” Odaiba (Tokyo) Nov. 16-17: American Craft Beer Experience (Tokyo)



Koenji Market

he Koenji Market is a lively monthly affair where growers and producers from Ibaraki, Fukushima and Saitama prefectures join a number of local food craftsmen and women the third Saturday of each month. Held in front of the Za-Koenji Public Theater, it is a tasty, yearround event where locals gather, shop and eat. “We wanted to give farmers a chance to tell and share stories,” says Yosuke Sasabe, the market manager, which is appropriate given the venue. Za-Koenji Public Theater is home to the area’s dance troupe and the annual Bon-odori Festival that attracts thousands of visitors and features contemporary plays by some of Japan’s most-cutting-edge playwrights. The market, which celebrates its tenth anniversary next year, is part of the organization’s goal to be a community as well as cultural hub. Atsuhisa Emori comes each month from Saitama with heirloom varieties of potatoes, edamame, and other seasonal vegetables along with blueberries. Executive manager of Nihon Taberu, a

journal that aims to connect urban and rural residents through story, Emori started Imakoko, his urban farm, about ten years ago. “I had a garden, knew some farmers, and decided to get started,” he said with a smile as customers swirled about the table. Nagahiro Akiyama and Takahito Takahashi come about every three months to the Koenji Market from Aizu Wakamatsu in Fukushima Prefecture. Crates full of sunwarmed tomatoes, green cucumbers, and fresh onions sit alongside garlic, edamame, and melon. Okahijiki, a salad green, is nearly as popular as the freshly grilled sticks of chicken and onion they whip up in between produce customers. Nearby, the line for Koji Harada’s beautiful breads snakes between the line of stalls. Dense loaves of walnut, raisin walnut, fig and rich sesame are laid out along with twists of bacon and handmade bagels to name but a few. Harada runs Panificio, a nearby bar-café and has been working his magic with flour and yeast for about 14 years. Next to Harada, Yuka Inoue of Hadashi Spice beams behind her display of whole and powdered spices. Barefoot like the name of her business, she shares recipes and instructions for making the best curry or a tailor-made chai. The Koenji Market is one of a handful of local spots, including the Kichijoji Asaichi, where she can be found. Around the corner, Kyoko Kojima’s table features her creative pastry concoctions. “I worked at a candy store for years,” Kojima says, “and then branched out on my own seven years ago.” Muffins, fig jam, macaroons, and coconut-banana cake are ready for nibbling, but it is her three pepper cookies that steal the show. Pink, white and black peppercorns spice up a heady butter cookie for a treat and like the market, is not to be missed. KOENJI MARKET Koenji, Tokyo (4-minute walk from Koenji Station) Third Saturday of every month 11 a.m.- 6 p.m.

Autumn 2019 | 9

f f n a B



he best of adventure films hits the big screen this autumn as Banff Mountain Film Festival returns to Japan. With inspiring stories from the far-flung corners of the world, the film festival will showcase more than 15 films.

Follow Jochen Merle and Max Kroneck on an ambitious six-week “bikepacking” trip through the Alps in Ice & Palms. A 100% self-powered adventure, the 1,800-km. journey starts from their home in southern Germany and ends on the shores of the Mediterranean Sea. In between, they ski iconic peaks and pedal along endless empty roads.


You can’t have an adventure film festival without a feel-good ski movie. In Life of Glide, big mountain rider Jeremy Jones dissects his lifelong passion for the simple and sacred feeling he calls the glide. Age is but a number for 12-yearold ski prodigy Kai Jones. Far Out: Kai Jones follows this preteen grom around his hometown in Jackson, Wyoming as he scales the Tetons, backcountry skis at Jackson Hole and fills in the rest of his time with climbing, cross-country running and wake surfing.

On the other end of the spectrum, 97-year-old runner George Etzweiler dons his lucky ancient green running shorts in For the Love of Mary. This touching documentary follows Etzweiler as he races up the highest peak in the northeastern U.S. in memory of his late wife. Drone technology has literally taken adventure films to a whole new level. Skier vs. Drone features electrifying footage chasing 2018 Olympic Bronze Medalist skier Victor Muffat-Jeandet as he competes against two-time World

Drone Racing Champion Jordan Temkin at Snowbird, Utah. Even in the best of conditions, Corbet’s Couloir in Jackson Hole is nerve racking enough for skiers and snowboarders. Cam McCaul and Casey Brown decide to mountain bike Corbet during icy conditions in Rogue Elements: Corbet’s Couloir. To appreciate mountain biking, we need to go back to its roots. Twenty years in the making, The Movement is a homage to free riding. While the mountain bike industry was moving towards competitive racing, three small, but dedicated, crews of Canadian extreme mountain bikers were changing the MTB sport in the backwoods of British Columbia. Thirty feet away from a grizzly bear, Doug Peacock’s standoff with one of North America’s fiercest creatures changed his life. After serving in the Vietnam War, the author and eco-warrior dedicated his life to observing grizzlies in Wyoming and Montana. As the protection of Yellowstone grizzlies are now under a threat, Peacock pushes to advocate for wild causes in Grizzly Country. Tierra del Viento (Land of the Wind) takes us on a road trip to the vast wilderness of Patagonia. National Geographic Traveler Argentina’s exclusive photographer Eliseo Miciu sets out to capture Patagonia’s moving soul: the wind. Going to the extremes to photograph condors, elusive wild horses and harsh outdoor weather, Miciu captures the world in his trademark black and white style. In Notes From the Wall, three of world’s best climbers try to free climb one of Patagonia’s hardest routes: El Regalo de Mwono, a 1,200-meter-high climb on the east side of Torre Central.

Family is a recurring theme at Banff, as the heartwarming film This Mountain Life: Coast Range Traverse Segment documents a mother-daughter team set out on a six-month ski traverse in the Coast Mountains of Canada for the mother’s 60th birthday. Nine-year-old Janibek is a Boy Nomad in Mongolia's Altai Mountains. With a passion for racing horses, Janibek is faced with the harsh reality of nomadic living as he and his family face a “zhut,” a hard winter blocking the passes and their winter migration. Join photographer Ben Thouard in Surface as he aims to go beyond typical wave shots to capture original moments in surf photography. In high-end modern rock climbing, 5.15 is the top of the difficulty scale. In Reel Rock 12, 19-year-old climber Margo Hayes moves to Europe to train to

be the first woman to climb two of the most iconic 5.15s in France and Spain. To purchase tickets, visit

Sch ed ul e

Oct. 11-14: Gate City Osaki, Tokyo Oct. 19-20: Shiretoko Nature Center, Hokkaido Oct. 27: Sapporo Kyosai Hall, Hokkaido Nov. 10: Higashikawa Cultural Arts Exchange Center, Hokkaido Nov. 16: Asahi Community Hall Azalea, Toyama

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T ra v e l G u id e

Japan is the first Asian country to host the Rugby World Cup as twelve cities from Hokkaido to Kyushu welcome rugby fans from around the world. It takes place over six weeks, giving travelers the opportunity to explore the areas around and in between some great host cities in Japan.

HOKKAIDO Sapporo Dome Home to the 1972 Sapporo Olympic Winter Games, Sapporo has long been Hokkaido’s international hub. At the Okurayama Ski Jump Stadium, take the chair lift to the top of the hill for views of Sapporo and peer down the 90-meter ski jump. Mt. Moiwa is one of Sapporo area’s small, forested mountains. With easy access from Susukino—Sapporo’s nightlife area—it makes for a great half-day trip. Early birds can check out Hokkaido’s fresh fish and seafood at Sapporo’s version of Tsukiji Market—the lively Nijo Ichiba. IWATE Kamaishi Recovery Memorial Stadium A 10-minute walk from Kamaishi’s stadium is the newly constructed Unosato Visitor Center serving fresh local kaisen (seafood) like oysters, salmon, shrimp and ikura (fish roe). Ta k e i n t h e s c e n e r y f ro m t h e pine-covered rocky coast at Jodogahama Beach. Jump on a cruise and visit Blue Cave, named for its cobalt blue water. Walk part of the 1,000-kilometer Michinoku Coastal Trail, which hugs Tohoku’s eastern coast. This trail was formed by the Japanese Ministry of Environment in 2013 to revitalize the areas affected by the 2011 earthquake and tsunami and showcase the coast’s turbulent beauty. SAITAMA Kumagaya Rugby Stadium Saitama has a reputation for being Tokyo’s boring suburban cousin, but the area features some beautiful outdoor spots. Nagatoro Tamayodo Natural Park is centered around the Nagatoro River, popular for traditional river boating and whitewater rafting in the sum-


mer. After a day in the water, soak in Chichibu’s natural onsens a 20-minute train ride away. The recently opened Gravity Park in Chichibu National Park features zipline adventures and the Canyon Walk, a 100-meter-long, 50-meter-high bridge built over a stunning valley. Known as “Little Edo,” Kawagoe is a fun place to meander past kurazukuri (clay-walled warehouses) buildings from the Edo Period and sample sweet potato dishes this city is known for. Also try Coedo Beer, the local craft beer. TOKYO Tokyo Stadium Tokyo Stadium is located in Chofu, an older, quieter area 30 minutes outside of metropolitan Tokyo. Take a peaceful after noon stroll at the 1,300-year-old Jindaiji Temple to view the changing autumn leaves. Enjoy a free one-hour brewery tour (and free samples) at Suntory Brewery Musashino Factory in neighboring Fuchu City. The Tokyo Racecourse is next door to the brewery and one of the nation’s top horse racing courses. Established in 1933, this family-friendly attraction holds cup races every weekend from October to the end of November. KANAGAWA Yokohama International Stadium Yokohama was one of the first Japanese ports opened to foreign trade and boasts an international flair and popular craft beer scene. The iconic Minato Mirai area sits right on the harbor and is lined with shopping malls, a small amusement park and Landmark Tower. Escape to the peaceful Sankeien, a traditional Japanese-style garden designed and opened in 1906. The garden is dotted with historic buildings reconstructed from traditional cities such as Kyoto and Kamakura.

Starting at Kita-Kamakura Station, take a two-hour hike through the hills of Kamakura, ending at the Great Buddha statue. Shop for traditional crafts on the main street that leads to the beach. SHIZUOKA Shizuoka Stadium Ecopa Kakegawa Castle is a 10-minute walk from the Kakegawa Station, the closest shinkansen station to the stadium. Get a glimpse into daimyo life at Ni-no-Maru Goten. Kakegawa Castle is one of only four castles where the daimyo’s living quarters have been preserved. Enjoy a traditional tea ceremony and wagashi sweets at the tea house. Choose from 16 eateries and bars serving everything from black sesame ramen, yakitori, modern cocktails and fresh sashimi at Honjin Dori. AICHI City of Toyota Stadium The 62-meter Atera-no-Nanataki, labeled one of the “100 Most Beautiful Waterfalls of Japan” isn't too far of a drive from the city. Up north, experience traditional ukai (cormorant fishing). The Kiso River upstream from Inuyama Castle is one of the few places in Japan where you can view this 1,300-year-old fishing style. Back in central Nagoya, dodge the office buildings and duck into Arimatsu, a town that was part of the Tokaido— the coastal highway linking Tokyo and Kyoto during the Edo Period. Arimatsu continues its tradition of shibori (tie-dye) and karakuri (wooden dolls for festivals). OSAKA Hanazono Rugby Stadium Mt. Ikoma is not far from the stadium. There’s a peculiar amusement park built on the top of this mountain providing stellar views of Osaka.

North of Mt. Ikoma is one of Osaka’s best-kept secrets, Fumin no Mori Hoshida Park. There are easy hiking courses, one which includes a suspension bridge and a panoramic view of the park. Designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2019, the Mozu Tombs in the south of central Osaka are a group of elaborately-shaped tombs built between the fourth and sixth century. HYOGO Kobe Misaki Stadium There’s more to Kobe than beef! You’ll find it hard to believe you are so close to the city at the 43-meter Nunobiki Falls, a haven 23 minutes from Shin-Kobe Station. Held every autumn, Rokko Meets Art is an outdoor art gallery on the summit of Mt. Rokko. The festival runs until Nov. 25. On the other side of Mt. Rokko is Arima Onsen, Japan’s oldest hot spring resort town founded more than 1,000 years ago. The rustic onsen is sought after for the “golden springs,” reddish brown in hue from the high iron content. OITA Oita Stadium No visit to Oita is complete without visiting Beppu Onsen, which produces more hot spring water than any other onsen resort in Japan. Try sand bathing (covering yourself with sand warmed by the hot springs) at Takegawara or Kamegawa Onsen. Nicknamed the “Mt. Fuji of Oita,” the 1,584-meter Mt. Yufu is the region’s landmark. The beginner-friendly east peak takes two to three hours while the west peak involves scrambling and chains and takes four to five hours. Japan's longest underwater limestone cave, the Inazumi Underwater Limestone Cave, was formed after being submerged by Mt. Aso’s eruption. Walk around this illuminated cave to see unusual stalactites and turquoise streams.

FUKUOKA Fukuoka Hakatanomori Stadium Shika Island’s white sandy beaches will make you feel like you’ve escaped to the tropics. With a circumference of 12 kilometers, the island is easily explored by bike and is just a half-hour ferry ride or an hour drive from Hakata. A hidden town an hour drive from central Fukuoka, Yanagawa is known as the “City of Water.” The town is surrounded by a small moat where boatmen row donko (wooden sightseeing boats). Although it’s out of the way, Akizuki Old Town is worth the effort. It is called the “Little Kyoto of Chikuzen” (Chikuzen is the old province name for Fukuoka) for its well-preserved samurai residences, earthen walls, latticework and gates. KUMAMOTO Kumamoto Stadium Kumamoto is one of Japan’s gourmet cities with its clean groundwater and mineral-rich soil. Kumamoto Castle stands in the center of the city with shopping and local dining streets a five-minute walk away. Bring your hiking boots and camera for Aso-Kuju National Park, home to the largest active volcano in Japan. An easy day trip from central Kumamoto, this national park offers dramatic rolling mountains, grassy plains with horses and grazing cows and Nakahake’s bluish-green crater lake. Kurokawa Onsen to the north is a hot spring town with spacious rotenburo (outdoor baths) built next to the gushing Tanohara River. Purchase a tegata (wooden pass) for admission to the baths at three ryokan (local inns). If you don’t have tickets but want to join in the fun, attend live viewings at the free Fan Zones at Tokyo Sports Square, Chofu Station Square, Yokohama Rinkai Park and Kumagaya City Community Plaza. v

Autumn Spring2019 2019 | 13



ne of the best things about traveling through Japan is the scenic train rides that duck into tunnels and emerge into mountainous landscapes, idyllic rice paddies and dramatic coastlines. The Uetsu Line, which starts at Niigata Station, is a laidback way to get to the sights and flavors along the Sea of Japan. Stations along the line are great starting points to jump off, rent a car and explore Japan’s great northwest, where sacred mountains meet rustic coastlines dotted with fishing villages and hot spring towns. MURAKAMI KINGS As you step out of Murakami Station, you’ll notice 70-centimeter-long dried sake (salmon) hanging tail up from awnings. This may look grisly at first glance, but seafood lovers will not want to miss the food culture here. Salmon, or iyoboya (the "king of fish" in the local dialect), shaped Murakami's history. For hundreds of years, the caught fish were a source of income, providing tax revenue for emperors and feudal lords, serving as New Year traditional gifts and paying for homes and schools.


In the early 1700s, the castle town of Murakami went through an economic slump as overfishing and habitat destruction ruined the salmon harvest. However, an enterprising samurai, Aoto Buheiji, studied the Miomote River to find ideal locations for salmon to spawn and came up with tanegawa-nosei, a controversial conservation system to aid salmon spawning. He designated optimal sections of the river as protected spawning areas to not only guide the fish but to prevent poaching. The river was divided into channels where fishermen were allowed to catch salmon ascending a particular section. People also needed special permission to harvest eggs. As most close-knit communities go, the locals were initially angered by this new reform and the assumed lack of freedom that came with it. Thankfully, the government supported Buheiji’s plan and the salmon returned in great numbers, making Murakami prosperous again. Today, the Miomote River boasts Japan’s first artificial salmon hatchery. The river is bustling in mid-October to the end of November during fishing season: approximately 10,000 salmon are caught here per year. Cast

net fishing starts from around Oct. 21 to Nov. 30 while fly fishing starts from November to the beginning of December. More than 100 traditional ways to prepare salmon have been passed down in Murakami, with shiohiki-sake (salmon salting) being the most common. Following a 1,000-year-old tradition, the salmon is carefully handrubbed with coarse salt then air dried to be exposed to the Sea of Japan’s powerful winter wind. The locals are careful not to open the entire belly of the salmon when gutting the fish, as this is associated with harakiri (a samurai’s honorable suicide). You can participate in this tradition at the annual shiohiki workshop at Iyoboya Salmon Museum held from late November to the beginning of December. Air drying the salmon is a common household sight during the New Year, but the sight of a 1,000 salmon hanging from the ceiling in the Sennenzake Kikkawa salmon store is an impressive sight. Founded in 1626, Kikkawa leaves the salmon hanging for a year to enhance flavors, which you can enjoy at their nearby restaurant, Izutsuya.



Japan may be known as the Land of the Rising Sun but the sight of the sun setting beneath the Sea of Japan as you travel along the west coast is also stunning. Just a 10-minute drive from Murakami, Senami Onsen in Niigata is a sleepy hot spring resort built right on the coast. The area is dotted with Showa Period ryokan (inns), free ashiyu (foot baths) and hot springs spouting boiling water at about 90 degrees. Yunohama Onsen just across the border in Yamagata Prefecture is officially recognized as a place to view one of Japan’s 100 most beautiful sunsets. It is also called Kame no Yu (turtle hot spring) as a legend from the Tengi Era (1053-1058) says a fisherman found a washed up, injured sea turtle here. For seven days it rested on the shore, healed by hot springs flowing through the sand. Surfing in Japan is said to have started here. In the Edo Period, a haiku poet recorded seeing local youth riding waves on senoshi boards (makeshift surfboards taken from a wooden boat's removable floor). In the 1900s, people started bodysurfing here and in the autumn of 1960, it hosted a commemorative Memorial Cup surfing contest to celebrate this area as the birthplace of Japanese surfing.

Tsuruoka is a deeply spiritual region famous for yamabushido—Japanese mountain asceticism that dates back to the 7th century. To become a yamabushi (mountain priest), one must go through a week-long intensive training in the mountains. "I came back from Tokyo because I loved the nature here so much,” says Yukio Mizuno, a yamabushi who also works as a nature guide. After graduating from university in Tokyo, he returned to Yamagata to live in his hometown of Tsuruoka. “Here, the mountains, rivers and oceans are so close to each other. There’s always some outdoor activity in every season." As this region has become quite popular with foreigners wanting to try yamabushi training, Mizuno organizes short-term stays which include a oneday course, staying with a local yamabushi, mountain vegetable foraging and cooking shoujin ryori (traditional vegetarian cuisine prepared by Buddhist monks). Tsuruoka was designated as a UNESCO Creative City of Gastronomy site in 2014. Here, you can taste freshly caught fugu (pufferfish). Fugu is an incredibly poisonous fish (even touching some of its guts can be deadly) and can only be prepared by the top fugu chefs

who undergo years of training. More than 90% of fugu in Japan is farmed, and of the remaining 10% that is wild, 70% is caught in Shonai (the region that includes Tsuruoka and Sakata further north). As if eating pufferfish isn’t enough, travelers can participate in a unique experience: a fugu preparation workshop at Kamo Aquarium. Chef Takeshi Suda is one of the most famous chefs in Yamagata, known for his artistically designed fugu dishes. Suda utilizes a special technique where he drains the blood of freshly caught fish and removes its nerves while it is still alive. This way, raw fish is kept fresh for a significantly longer period of time than if it were prepared normally, and will taste like it was just caught even up to a week later. GETTING THERE From Tokyo, take the Joetsu Shinkansen (two hours) to Niigata Station then transfer to the JR Uetsu Line to Murakami Station (50 minutes). Rent a car ahead of time so you can access Senami Onsen and Kikkawa easily (there’s a Nippon Rent-a-car branch outside Murakami Station) as taxis can get expensive. It takes a little over an hour and a half on the Uetsu Line from Murakami Station to Tsuruoka Station. Unless you’re joining a tour, it’s recommended to rent a car here as well so you can access various beaches or go up to the mountains. Starting October 2019, the new JR Kairi train will connect Niigata to Sakata via the Uetsu Line. For ¥840, this luxurious train has reclining seats with expansive window views, an event space and a dining area serving meals prepared by a local chef. v

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Photo: Earth Celebration

An island with a colorful past has long attracted local and international creatives to its rocky shores. The collective soul of Sado's residents strive to preserve and nurture the island's art, music and a participatory culture.


bout fifty kilometers west of Niigata sits a relatively nondescript island called Sado-ga-shima. Sado Island was once was the home—albeit involuntarily—to some famous residents including former Emperor Juntoku who was banished to Sado in 1221 and died there 22 years later. Nichiren Shonin, the founder of the Nichiren school of Japanese Buddhism, was also exiled to Sado in 1271 for a time and the famous Noh actor and playwright Zeami was sent to Sado in 1434. In the twelfth century the island’s fortunes turned when gold was discovered, setting off a mining boom that attracted a rich variety of new residents from miners and engineers to merchants and fishermen. In the 70s, counter culture figures again arrived—this time by choice—as artists and musicians, making their way to the lush hills, rocky coastlines and quiet beaches of Sado. The taiko (Japanese drumming) group Ondekoza, which formed in 1971, went on to become Kodo, the world-renowned taiko group based on Sado. Kodo has traveled to all corners of the world and have more than 4,000 performances under their fundoshi. Every August, people flock to Sado Island for Earth Celebration, the arts and music festival Kodo started in 1987.


Earth Celebration is, in a sense, Kodo's annual homecoming after months on the road touring. The festival not only showcases their musical talents—and those of guest musicians—but also introduces the beauty of Sado. Arts, crafts and food are on display at the Harbor Market in Ogi and sake and food tastings can be found around the island. There are drumming workshops as well as various aquatic activities such as SUP, kayaking and even scuba diving. While activities can be found throughout the 855-square-kilometer island, every evening of the three-day festival concludes at Ogi Town with a heart-thudding performance full of drums, dance and a diverse set of traditional Japanese instruments. Amidst growing tensions between Japan and South Korea, a guest taiko troupe from Korea, Kim Duk-Soo SamulNori, was a vital reminder of the peace and friendship many of the two countries' inhabitants wish for. With Sado perched between the two nations, it acts as a bridge to bring people closer together. The performance sent out a beautiful message that teamwork and creativity see no harsh differences; that art brings communities from all over the world together.


JOHNNY WALES Walking through a damp, faint trail along a rice paddy, long curly grey locks peak out around the corner of a room where stacks of novels, magazines, and art supplies surround an out-of-place, shiny silver Mac computer. Illustrator, puppeteer and longtime Sado resident Johnny Wales waves me over to his studio, then leads me to a building a few feet away. As the door to the traditional Sado-style farmhouse slides open, Kyla, Johnny’s Akita dog, greets me enthusiastically before falling into a lazy slumber by the old shoyu barrels in the covered corner of the outdoor hall. "My wife and I bought this home three years ago from a 101-year-old man. The house is just as old as him," Wales says while pouring piping hot coffee into mismatched mugs, "We replaced the tacky tiles in the kitchen with older, dark wooden flooring from a friend’s home that was getting demolished." The creaking kitchen floors remind me of the scene from "My Neighbor Totoro" where Mei and Satsuki run up and down the old dusty home, cleaning the floors just like those here. Retro signs of salt, coffee and the like hang from the walls at no particular height or placement. They look as if they were taken from stores that closed down one by one as populations outside large cities dwindled.

Wales talks as he strolls through the dim rooms in his proud home, flicking on lights and opening windows here and there as we enter a large room. "The main room is the same size as a Noh stage, with two rooms next to this the same size. That’s how all Sado-style farmhouses were made back in the day. The size of three Noh stages is the rule. As it should be! A family home was the center stage for all events in life and for a family. Weddings to funerals were all held in these rooms."

Retracing our footsteps through the house along the outer hallway we somehow end up in yet another room, a museum of sorts storing Wales’ collection of everything imaginable from classic car figures to Japanese brush and ink holders that "everyone mistakes for pipes," he notes, a doll house, a 3-D replica of a Van Gogh painting and puppets–all handmade by Wales. On the walls hang newspaper clippings. Settling into the cozy warn-in chairs in his studio, he tells of how he fell in love with Sado, and how it continues to surprise him with new joy every day. "Sado was the Japan of my dreams," Wales reminisces about his first visit to Japan in 1975 on a three-week youth exchange. "Just as I thought about skipping out on the last few days of planned tours, we visited Sado Island and it felt like I was lifting up a curtain revealing the Edo Period.” Even after returning to Canada, he knew he needed to find a way back to Sado. As an artist, he was well versed in theater and various arts. He recognized and appreciated the passion Sado’s artists and musicians displayed sharing their own creative vision with people considered “outside” of the community. "Sado’s uniqueness is in the strong belief of participatory culture," he raves. "Go to the museum and you’ll find signs that read 'Please touch the objects.' Elder artists will hand over their art supplies and tell you to give it a try. I’ve never seen that in big cities where, if you belong to a community of artists, you’re part of that community, but no one from the outside is allowed in." After working with Kodo on production and lighting on their North America tour, Wales returned to Sado in 1977 to work as a puppeteer under master Moritaro Hamada while living in a cabin by the sea in Shimafumi on Sado’s southwest coast. "An old lady rented out a cabin to me for ¥1,500 a month," I pause to calculate, believing he means dollars. "I know what you’re thinking," he adds, noticing my expression." It really was yen. I did the math over and over again too, and with the exchange rate then, it came to about four Canadian dollars a month."

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The puppeteering stint only lasted 14 months, admitting to the pressure and struggles he felt as the only foreigner on the island back then. "I felt like a star and a freak at that time. Sado was way too small of a stage at that time." Wales returned to Sado in 2000 with his wife. He was able to work remotely as an illustrator for Japan’s Yomiuri Shimbun, thanks to the internet boom at the time. Although she is from Tokyo, she found solace on the island. "Sado isn’t right for everyone, we've both been around the world, but it’s right for both of us, then and now." Sado harmoniously blends a varied landscape of nature and people. The affordable cost of living and the fresh and delicious seafood add to the richness of the island. Wales believes that Sado isn’t just another inaka countryside region in Japan. Its artistic history and wealth deposited by the gold mines cultivated deeper investment and roots in preserving and providing the unique culture and arts on the island. "Everyone here is welcoming—that’s part of the culture. And if you come here to live or visit, you’re expected to participate in any and all aspects of it," he adds. The island isn’t small: it takes nearly half a day to drive around so plenty to explore. Wales, who's been a resident of Sado for nearly half a century, says he is still discovering Sado, much as he did in his youth. He notes there are new rivers and streams when the ever-changing coastlines recede. Sado also hosts the world’s smallest hanabi taikai (fireworks festival) in Osaki. Many long-term residents hope to see more of the arts and lifestyle being supported through new generations moving over. A good example is Kodo, as their extensive apprenticeship program attracts passionate taiko drummers from all over Japan and the world. Yet Kodo isn’t the only creative passage onto the island, especially for remote creatives like Wales himself.


GETTING THERE Sado Island has three ports easily accessible from Niigata City. As access is difficult without a car on the island, Sado Kisen operates several car ferries and high-speed jetfoils throughout the day. As the Sea of Japan can get rough, especially during the winter and typhoon months, be sure to check ahead as ferries can get cancelled. From Niigata to Ryotsu: The car ferry takes just over two hours and costs about ¥2,510 while the high-speed jet foil takes one hour and costs ¥6,520. From Naoetsu to Ogi Port: Sado Kisen operates one to three car ferries per day to Ogi Port. The one-way journey takes just over two hours and costs ¥2,720. This ferry does not operate from late November to February. From Teradomari to Akadomari: Sado Kisen operates one to three high-speed boats to Akadomari. The one-way journey takes one hour and costs ¥2,960. This ferry does not operate from December to February. v


a l u s n i n e No t o P

Ishikawa Satoyama Satoumi

Explore picturesque coastal towns in Ishikawa


reen-carpeted staircases leading to the ocean, rustic wooden houses lined up along the bay and glassy lagoons where dolphins await: time seems to stop on the Noto Peninsula. Noto extends about 100 kilometers into the Sea of Japan offering plethora of landscapes from flat sandy beaches to jagged cliffs. Public transportation is limited here, so the best way to explore the area is by cycling the Japan Eco Track, which stops at many of the attractions Noto Peninsula has to offer. Take the bullet train from Tokyo or the high-speed Thunderbird Express Train from Shin-Osaka Station or Kyoto to Kanazawa Station and begin your journey here. NOTO SATOHAMA ROUTE The Noto Peninsula can be circumnavigated in 30 hours, starting with the Noto Satohama route in the south. It takes about one hour to reach the coast from Kanazawa Station. One of the highlights is cycling on the Chirihama Nagisa Driveway—eight kilometers of flat, firm sand. HAKUI-GANMON-SATOYAMA ROUTE It gets more challenging as you make your way up north. Starting at Hakui Station, this route, which takes four to five hours, has several steep uphills but the views are worth it as sandy beaches are replaced with dramatic cliffs.

OKU-NOTO ROUTE Traditional seaside towns have endured on the peninsula’s northern tip. Noto is characterized by its black-roofed buildings and well-preserved architecture: remnants of the past when this region was a thriving port town on a trade route. Nearby are the famed Shiroyone Senmaida rice terraces, 1,004 small rice paddies built into steep slopes leading down to the coast. Rice is planted in late May and greens during the summer, then turn a rich gold in autumn. If you need a break from cycling, visit Wajima City’s bustling morning markets or hop into a kayak at Kinoura Village Inn. There are also short coastal hiking trails like the Tsukumo Bay Trail or opt for the longer 10-kilometer Misaki Nature Trail. Watch the sunset from the Rokkosaki Lighthouse or the peculiar-shaped Mitsukejima rock island. NANAO BAY ROUTE Cycling across the Twin Bridge Noto to Notojima (Noto Island), where you can kayak or swim alongside wild Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins in Nanao Bay. After a long ride, unwind in a hot spring at Hyokkori Onsen or rest your feet in an ashi-yu foot bath at Wakura Onsen before making your way into Nanao City.

About Japan Eco Track

Montbell—Japan’s largest homegrown outdoor brand—started a series of events in 2009 called Sea to Summit. The goal was to invigorate local areas, holding events to experience nature through canoeing, cycling, trekking and other means of human-powered movement. While these events continue to be held in beautiful areas around Japan, the natural progression was to provide information and guides so travelers could experience these areas throughout the year at their own pace while learning the history and culture of the region and interacting with locals. Japan Eco Track guides contain maps with designated routes of varying difficulty levels. Each guide includes information on local restaurants, guides, tour operations and other attractions. Along Japan Eco Track routes there are support stations located at affiliated stores and major transportation hubs such as train stations, airports and Michi no Eki (rest areas). Discounts and special offers are available at participating locations when travelers show the Japan Eco Track booklet. There are more than 15 guides, with new areas being developed and offered in English. For more information, visit

Autumn 2019 | 19


A passion for the outdoors and cultural preservation were the inspiration of four friends to convert a kominka into Zenagi, the first luxury hotel in the Kiso Valley and a base for adventures you won’t find anywhere else in Japan.



he Nakasendo has been rejuvenated in recent years with hiking enthusiasts and travelers searching for a path away from the well-trodden tourist trail. Connecting Tokyo and Kyoto, the Nakasendo (meaning “Middle Road”) is an ancient highway with a section that travels through the Kiso Valley. During the Edo Period, the post towns of Tsumago and Magome flourished as key traffic hubs. Hikers may recognize the names as the cobblestoned route between these two towns remains one of the best-maintained portions of the trail. During the Showa Era’s rapid economic growth, Tsumago was deemed as a model town of the Edo Period for its preserved landscape and architecture. The residents then worked hard to establish the “Uranai, Kasanai, Kowasanai” principle: don’t sell, don’t lend and don’t destroy. This motto still stands strong today as the Nakasendo has retained its local, sleepy countryside atmosphere. Although technically part of Nagano, this region is closer to Gifu. Without a car, access can take a while which is one of the main reasons why the Nakasendo remains largely uncongested. The surrounding mountains of hinoki (cypress trees) is a nod to the region’s history of supplying hinoki timber to rebuild Japan’s holiest Shinto shrine, the Grand Shrine of Ise. Fresh meltwater courses deep in the valley, starting from countless waterfalls and spilling into the town’s irrigation system. Kiso seems to have it all for outdoor lovers as well as the spiritually inclined.

So it’s no surprise that the team at Menex decided to build the region’s first luxury getaway here. Surrounded by terraced rice fields and misty hills, Zenagi, the “Expedition Hotel,” is a converted kominka (Japanese traditional farmhouse) aiming to provide travelers who are willing to pay a bit more for unique experiences you won’t find elsewhere, such as private tours with Olympics athletes, stream climbing to waterfalls you can’t access otherwise and farm-to-table fine dining. Menex is made up of four well-respected professionals in the outdoor industry: Olympic rafting athlete Taro Ando, national snowboarding champion Tadayoshi Chabara, Asian Games paragliding gold medalist Yoshiki Kuremoto and successful television documentarian Muneyuki Okabe. The team came together after becoming friends in 2013 at the tough team-relay race, the Red Bull Dolomitenmann, where Ando and Kuremoto were participants and Okabe was filming. Ando introduced Chabara to the group and the four bonded over their passion to revitalize Japan’s countryside through adventure tourism. With the help of the government, who wanted to promote tourism for Tokyo 2020, Menex decided to build a unique luxury experience in a region that encapsulated both nature and culture. Kiso Valley checked all the boxes.

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Targeting high-end travelers looking for a romantic getaway or an exclusive vacation to Japan, Zenagi costs a lavish ¥120,000 per person for one night, which includes three meals and a guided tour of your choice. Stepping into Zenagi, visitors will immediately notice how quiet and calming this place is, with rustling leaves, chirping crickets and birds for background music. It lives up to its name; the “Zen” in Zenagi means different things: shizen (nature), ozen (celebratory meals), the meditative zen and zenkou (good deeds). At first glance, Zenagi seems minimalist with its wide-open lobby and high, beamed ceilings, but a closer inspection shows intricate details designed to create a relaxing haven. The building originally belonged to a wealthy farming household and is a few hundred years old, with the wooden columns and beams assembled without nails still intact. Architects and interior designers will appreciate the art pieces and locally designed furniture handpicked by Okabe. The elegant lobby substitutes as an event room for private parties with the dining area along the right wall. Tucked behind hidden walls are three suites with an inviting hinoki bathtub and a view of a private rock garden on the

first floor. The bedroom is right below the rafters overlooking the lobby below. The design evokes a sense of community, yet allows for privacy and subtlety when needed. The restaurant on the first floor serves Japanese and Western slow food cuisine depending on your preference, using the season’s fresh produce and game meat from Kiso. Initially coming across as a bit shy and reserved, Eiji Fukuoka, the in-house chef, is an avid fisherman who after a while (right around the fourth and fifth course) starts

enthusing about his daily catch of the day and his responsibly sourced ingredients like mountain vegetables, catfish and rainbow trout from the neighboring fish farms and bear meat and venison caught nearby. Depending on the weather, visitors can choose to go on an outdoor expedition or a cultural tour. The electric-powered mountain bike tours go to some of the fish farms and give travelers a chance to talk to the farmers, who are more than happy to share about their trade. Don’t let the label “e-bike tours” turn you off—it proves to be quite an adventure as you cycle up challenging mountain paths to waterfalls only long22 | TRAVELER

time residents know about. Watch out for kamoshika (Japanese serow) which are commonly found bounding across the mountain roads on early mornings. This is also bear country, so it’s recommended to go outdoors in a group. You’ll also see the critically endangered Kiso horse, one of the eight indigenous horse breeds of Japan. It is revered by the town as it is an integral part of the Hanauma Festival held every October. This vibrant celebration is held to give thanks for a bountiful harvest and the horses are decorated with colorful paper blossoms which the locals rush to grab as they are said to ward off evil spirits. Even through all the commotion, the gentle Kiso horse remains calm, one of its notable characteristics. On a regular day, 12-year-old local favorite “Ossu” resides just a five-minute cycle from Zenagi. Standing just a few centimeters shorter than a human adult, the chestnut stubby horse is owned by the town and loved by the residents. The cycling tour also drops by an archeological site dating back to the Jomon Period (14,000 to 300 B.C.),

when hunter-gatherer culture prevailed. It is said that the early Jomon people settled into this valley and flourished thanks to the abundance of water. Perhaps the most thrilling activity during the green season is sawanobori (stream climbing) up the emerald-blue Kakizore River. Unlike canyoning where you’re navigating down a valley, sawanobori is a type of mountaineering in Japan where you go against the current and up mountain streams to their source. Although you need to be in relatively good shape, the Kakizore Gorge in the summer is an ideal place for first-timers as there are plenty of resting spots in between rapids and climbs. There are even quiet swimming pools where the water is pristine for snorkeling or fishing for iwana and amago river fish. It takes around two hours to navigate upstream on a strong current day, but the swim to Kirigataki at the end is worth it, especially since the regular lookout spot for this waterfall only provides a distant, tree-blocked view. With your private waterfall and crystal blue swimming hole nestled in the valley, it feels otherworldly.

GETTING THERE The fastest way from Tokyo or Osaka is the shinkansen (bullet train) to Nagoya Station. From Nagoya, it’s an easy transfer on the JR Shinano Line to Nakatsugawa Station. From there, it’s a 30-minute drive to Zenagi. Zenagi has pick-up services available for staying guests. For more information, visit v

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aiting for our flight home from the Philippines, Shino and I compared passport stamps and realized we’d been to more than 30 countries. That’s a lot of hours, kilometers and adventures together. Looking back we asked each other what the best way to bridge language and cultural barriers and really connect with people. Shino added, “What’s one thing everyone loves?” Apart from chocolate—the answer was music. At that moment, “Songs Beyond Borders” was born. I’m a singer, songwriter from Newcastle, Australia. My fiancé and partner-in-crime Shino Timmermans grew up between Japan and Belgium. Busking on the streets of Japan seemed like a great place to start our new adventure and connect with people through music. KYOTO WHIRLWIND It’s the journey, not the destination, right? Well, ours started with a nine-hour flight from Sydney to Tokyo, followed by an hour on the train from Narita Airport to Tokyo and finally a three-hour bullet train to Kyoto. It was a long, delirious sixteen-hour journey. We knew the Japanese summer heat can be oppressive, but it wasn’t until we stepped outside that evening for a late dinner that we realized just how brutal it actually was. At 10 p.m., the temperature was still soaring above 37 degrees Celsius which is tolerable from where I come from, but the humidity made it hectic. Pro tip for summer travelers…pack plenty of underwear, socks and shirts, because your sweat count is going to be through the roof. Despite this, we were so happy to be back in Japan and our dinner of sashimi, miso soup and sev-


eral ice cold beers was delicious. The next morning we rose to the sound of fellow backpackers leaving their dorms and heading out for a day of exploration. That first morning in a different country, not knowing where to start or where the day will lead is a great feeling. It always is. We had an empty canvas and would start in Kyoto’s famous Gion District. Our goal for the day was to find the best busking spots around the old capital. We spent the day wandering the ancient streets, following our noses in and out of delicious cafés until the summer sun gently began to slip lower in the sky. This was right about the time we heard the sweet echoes of a fellow street busker in the distance, his gentle sounds bouncing off the walls.

We had come too far to let an old angry typhoon send us back to our hotel. We decided to set up under the bridge, where a handful of people were also hiding from the storm. I began to play, and almost immediately people began to stop and listen. It was awesome. Despite the sideways rain and gale force winds, the music brought us together, huddled under a bridge in the middle of a typhoon. Our determination had proved worthy, as our little gathering under the bridge grew from five people to twenty-five, all captivated by my music. I only lasted for two hours, but it was the most fun I’d had in a long time. Once I had finished, we mingled with people from Japan, Korea, China, Russia and Spain. Some traveling, some studying, some also performers. We were all bound together in his moment, this triumph over the typhoon.

Following our ears this time, we were led to a bridge—and there he was, right in the middle of it, head down and completely in the zone, oblivious to the swarm of humans passing by. I wondered to myself, Is that how I look when I play? Judging by his appearance, and what he was playing, he must have been a local. In his hands was a traditional shamisen, old and worn, but so beautiful like fine wine. His skills were hypnotic. I could tell he had spent a lot of time with his beloved instrument. The day had been a success. I had found a spot to play. I thanked him, threw some money in his case and we moved on back to our hotel where we collapsed in bed and fell asleep almost instantly. I drifted off with the sweet sounds of my new busking friend’s shamisen dancing around my mind. The next morning we struggled to get out of bed. It’s that “Travel Delay” sloppy feeling that takes several coffees to shake off. Once we managed to get outside the hotel, the heat was right there where we left it like a punch in the face. Good morning Kyoto! It was about mid morning when we heard the news of the typhoon. Apparently it was on its way, and fast. We looked at each other and laughed. Trust me to book our time in Kyoto in the middle of a typhoon. Still, we had a plan and it was going to happen. We arrived back in Gion the same the typhoon did. And she was blowing a gale! There was no possible way of playing in the streets which were mostly empty. Those who were around were desperately clinging to their belongings while the wind spit rain at them and sent the odd umbrella tumbling down the river. It was like a scene from an apocalyptic movie.

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Feeling lucky and grateful, we handed out some CDs and shook hands with many new friends. Physically exhausted, we had enough for the day. And just when we thought it couldn’t get any better, we happened upon an old bar on the way to the bus stop, which served its purpose perfectly. Our journey would continue east as well. After a quick stop in Osaka, we’d follow the old route through the mountains to Tokyo. It would take us through the Kiso Valley, then to the shrines and forests around Lake Suwa, onto the old castle town of Matsumoto and finally south until we reached the streets of Tokyo. AFTER THE STORM Later that evening, the wind had eased quite a bit and the rain had stopped as the typhoon moved east, We decided to head back out for an evening busk. The temp was still around 35 degrees, but felt much cooler than the day before. It was crazy. The streets were full with life after the storm. Traffic flowed in every direction, with car horns competing with the sounds of shuffling feet on the pavement. I decided on a location at the opposite end of the bridge this time, just outside the train station. While I was setting up, a crowd had already formed to see what was going to happen. I played my set twice, consisting of songs from my last two albums, plus a new one I’d written recently. The response was wonderful. It was so nice to look out to a crowd of smiling faces, all joined together in this moment through my music.


Singer/Songwriter Nick Saxon is also a voiceover artist and freelance presenter for the National Geographic Channel. Shino Timmermans is a photographer who also runs her own vintage clothing label and is fluent in three languages. You can follow their journey through Japan and “Songs Beyond Borders” on Facebook @nicksaxonmusic and on Outdoor Japan (www.outdoorjapan. com). They’ll return to Japan this this winter and spring starting with a short residency at Winterland Lodge & Taproom in Nozawa Onsen (www. before heading to the warmer climes of Shikoku and Kyushu to busk on the streets. v

Autumn 2019 | 27

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Profile for Outdoor Japan Media

Outdoor Japan Traveler | Issue 72 | Autumn 2019  

There is a buzz in the air in cities throughout Japan, from Kumamoto to Sapporo. Japan has the honor to host Asia’s first Rugby World Cup an...

Outdoor Japan Traveler | Issue 72 | Autumn 2019  

There is a buzz in the air in cities throughout Japan, from Kumamoto to Sapporo. Japan has the honor to host Asia’s first Rugby World Cup an...