Translated by Ray Koh
(JTB Tour) Tour World Heritage Site Shirakawa-gō, Kanazawa and Hidatakayama
Take the worry out of your trip with this bus tour offered by JTB! Visit some of Japan's most exquisite locations alongside Japanese people!
Written by MATCHA-PR
How do you plan your travel itinerary when traveling in Japan? There are many things you would have to do if departing from Tokyo: making Shinkansen reservations, renting cars at your destination, securing the perfect lodging beforehand, reserving seats at a close-by restaurant for dinner. And that is without taking into account other things like budgeting and calculating distances between sightseeing spots, which makes ample preparation extremely important. And it is because of its importance that we spend a such great deal of time just doing that.
"Planning out my itinerary is fun but I want to visit various places time-efficiently!" "I want to drink while sightseeing and to travel without using a car!" "I want to reduce expenses while touring to my heart's content!" Tour companies are just the perfect fit for such people.
In this article we will introduce a popular winter tour designed by one of Japan's leading tour companies, JTB. We also feature popular sightseeing spots such as the famous World Heritage Site Shirakawa-gō (白川郷), the town with beautiful old streets - Hidatakayama (飛騨高山), and history-etched Kanazawa (金沢). There are numerous plans available to meet various budgets and goals, so find one that is perfect for you.
World Cultural Heritage Site Shirakawa-gō
Shirakawa-gō was registered as a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site in 1995. Shirakawa-gō is the name of a village located near the Shōgawa River (庄川) in Gifu Prefecture.
※ Officially registered under the name "Historic Villages of Shirakawa-gō and Gokayama".
Shirakawa-gō's distinctive feature is the gasshō-zukuri (合掌造り). Gasshō-zukuri is a type of Japanese architectural designs, characterized by its steep roof construction. This inclination makes facilitates the process of removing the snow, and it was conceived taking in consideration the drainage of water in this region where it rains heavily. It is said that the name gasshō-zukuri comes from the triangle shape of the basic log structure, a shape called (合掌 gasshō) as it resembles hands held together as in prayer.
The Residence of the Wada Clan (和田家住宅 Wadake Jūtaku)
Among the gasshō-zukuri houses, the residence of the Wada clan (和田家 Wadake) is distinctive. Wada clan was a famous family specializing in gunpowder trading during the Edo period, and their house has been designated as an Important Cultural Property of the Japanese nation. Being the residence of an influential clan, it is considerably larger than the neighboring houses and has a shikidai※ built in to receive special guests, distinguishing it from normal gasshō-zukuri houses.
※ Shikidai (式台): A wooden board at the entrance that is set slightly lower than the house's floor; guests would step on this before stepping onto the actual house floor.
The Residence of the Kanda Clan (神田家住宅 Kandake Jūtaku)
This house was built by the Kanda clan (神田家 Kandake), a family that branched out from the Wada clan and used to specialize in sake brewing. It is assumed it was built around 1850, and because its layout is more developed compared to other houses, it boasts a very high degree of refinement among gasshō-zukuri buildings.
There are still many other gasshō-zukuri houses that remained. These buildings steeped in history allow us to observe how everyday life in Japan used to be back then. There are also stores built in gasshō-zukuri houses and here you can taste local cuisine and buy exclusive souvenirs that are not available anywhere else. How about making a trip down to Shirakawa-gō to experience what a World Cultural Heritage Site has to offer?
Hidatakayama (飛騨高山 Hidatakayama)
Hidatakayama is one of the names of Takayama city, which is located in the northern part of Gifu Prefecture. Because it is situated right in the central area of Hida, the city is usually called Hidatakayama. In Takayama city there is a place called "The Old Town" (古い町並 Furui Machinami). "The Old Town" consists of the part city centered around the castle, the uptown area (上町 Kamimachi) that flourished as a town of the merchants, and the downtown area (下町 Shimomachi). Sanmachi dōri (さんまち通り), comprising the three streets of Kamisan no machi (上三之町), Kami ni no machi (上二之町), and Kami ichi no machi (上一之町), is a particularly popular spot in Takayama.
Under the eaves of the latticed windows you can see irrigation water flowing (a sight rare in Japan). Cedar leaf balls※ hang down in front of sake stores, while the main doors of the merchant houses align along with the sign curtains of old shops. Tourists can be seen flocking to stores that sell cheap sweets, traditional culture crafts and mitarashi dango.※
※ Cedar leaf balls (酒ばやし Sakabayashi): Also called sugidama (杉玉), it is a large ball made of cedar leaves traditionally hung outside of sake stores. A fresh ball is hung when a new batch of sake is made, and as the ball slowly turns into various shades of brown, it also indicates to people the age of the sake.
※ Mitarashi dango (みたらし団子): Skewered Japanese dumplings covered in a sweet soy sauce glaze.
Takayama Jin'ya (高山陣屋 Takayama Jin'ya)
A Jin'ya (陣屋) is a mansion where government officials used to assemble during the Edo period. Among the 60 such mansions that existed in Japan back then, Takayama Jin'ya is the only building that remained in its original form. As the sole remaining building of its kind, in 1929 it was designated as a National Historic Site.
When it comes to Gifu Prefecture's rāmen, Hidatakayama's Takayama Rāmen is famous. The dish commonly comes with its characteristic soy sauce-based soup and wavy noodles, garnished with spring onions, roasted pork and bamboo shoots.
Kanazawa is the prefecture capital city situated in the middle of Ishikawa Prefecture. In the Edo period, it was a sprawling city that rivaled Edo (former name of Tokyo), Osaka and Kyoto. Untouched by the American air assaults during World War II, it preserves its historical atmosphere until today.
Kenroku-en (兼六園) is designated as a famous place of scenic beauty. Along with Oyakama Prefecture's Kōraku-en (後楽園) and Ibaraki Prefecture's Kairaku-en (偕楽園), it is one of the Three Great Gardens of Japan. This mid-17th century Japanese Garden was created right outside Kanazawa Castle, with the aim of allowing visitors to witness the change of seasons when strolling around. Within the garden there is a large lake with small islands and carefully-placed bridges.
The tree featured in the photo is a famous Japanese red pine received from Kyoto's Hongan Temple. Just as in the photo, its branches spread out laterally and its sheer size is impressive when viewed up from close.
In December, Yukizuri (rope structures) are placed on the pine trees in order to prevent them from snapping under the weight of snow. This beautiful scenery can only be seen in winter.
If you're lucky, you might find foliage ablaze with red, just like in the picture above. If you are interested in more details about Kenroku-en, please visit the link below.
Kanazawa’s Kenrokuen: One of the Three Great Gardens of Japan
Higashi Chaya District
In the Higashiyama area, located 2 km from Kanazawa Station, there is a district called Higashi Chaya (ひがし茶屋, Chaya literally meaning "tea shop"), where famous early Meiji period architecture and other important traditional structures are preserved. Though it has an atmosphere akin to Kyoto's Gion district, it is much more tourist-friendly; its streets are filled with stores selling traditional Ishikawa Prefecture crafts, Kutani porcelain ware and precious cosmetics boxes which make perfect souvenirs. Just as suggested by the street's name, there are many stores offering delicious Japanese sweets and green tea.
Ōmi-cho Market (近江町市場 Ōmichō Ichiba)
Fish caught in the entire region of Ishikawa Prefecture are all sold everyday in the port of Kanazawa. Here in sea-facing Ishikawa Prefecture, people get fish full of vitamins and minerals in spring, white fish abundant in protein in summer, fish with meat brimming with nutrients after spawning in autumn, while in winter people catch crabs and other seafood. Such seasonal marine products can be found in Ōmi-cho Market.
Kanazawa is home to a number of spectacular sights where you can still see traces of old Japan such as Kenroku-en, samurai residences, the Chaya district, etc. Moreover, as you can also eat delicious seafood in Kanazawa, should you be in Japan, be sure to come visit this wonderful area.
Try Kanazawa Omicho Market's Fresh Foods!
Enjoy Delicious Food in the Evening
JTB's 2-day tour allows you to have all-you-can-eat crab for dinner.
If the timing is right, restaurant customers get to de-shell crabs one after another, devouring as much crab as they can. Because the crab's meat is stuffed in its carapace, it's delicious taste is concentrated. Eating crab is a a blessing that you shouldn't miss out.
※All-you-can-eat crab is limited to 60 minutes. ※Crab legs are served.
This tour package includes also all the drinks, such as beer, alcohol drinks (wine and Chūhai (チューハイ, a Japanese shandy that contains sake and other flavors), and soft drinks. You fill your glass of beer by yourself since the liquor comes from an automated machine, so all you have to do is set the cup and press a button for frothy beer to gush out.
The Seasonal Ingredients in Hida Region
JTB's 2-Day World Heritage Shirakawa-gō Illumination & Hida Takayama in Winter Package allows you to eat at the hotel the fabulously looking specialties that use local ingredients from Hida. The most famous product of Hida region is the Hida beef - meat from the Japanese Black Cattle; this high-quality meat is sought after.
Traits of JTB Tours
The tours we showcased here are available for both Japanese and overseas participants. In recent years, many visitors from abroad come to Japan only to take part in tours like these. There are many overseas tourists who visit famous places like Tokyo's Asakusa, Tokyo Skytree and Shibuya's Scramble Intersection. Yet there are also those who have already visited Japan a number of times, love this country and its history, and join bus tours to explore various places. In these tours take part also many Japanese who are both friendly and polite.
Among those Japanese people, there many who are most glad to have the opportunity to communicate with visitors from abroad.
The tours featured in this article are mainly carried out in Japanese, but the tour guides accompanying the participants are proficient in English and they explain all the important points to overseas tourists. Moreover, the pamphlets distributed at the various sightseeing spots are also written in English. Full English tours are rather costly, but this tour is reasonably-priced.
In the end
What do you think about the tour we presented? There are many places in Japan that preserve the old architecture of the towns. Move further towards the sea and you can find places where you can eat delicious seafood.
It can be fun planning out your itinerary, but how about visiting various places time-efficiently, drinking and touring without being burdened by a car, all the while keeping costs as low as possible? For persons who enjoy this style of travel, bus tours are the perfect choice.
The links below provide detailed information on the bus tours. How about giving them a try for your winter trip?
■2-Day World Heritage Shirakawa-gō Illumination & Hida Takayama in Winter Package
■2-Day trip. All-you-can-eat crab, World Heritage Site Shinagawa-Gō/Kanazawa/Hidatakayama (Departing from Shinjuku, traveling with Japanese)