Many would-be-visitors to Japan dream of a deep connection with the history and culture, especially with that of the Edo era, better known as the Samurai time in this ancient country. Most foreign travelers spend time seeking this connection on what is often called the “golden route” of Tokyo and Kyoto.
What many don’t realize is that the central region of the main island of Honshu is home to amazing samurai history, and the stories of some of the most pivotal and famous historical figures and cultural influences are still accessible in this area that was originally called the Owari region.
The region is now made up of part of the modern prefecture of Aichi and nearby Gifu. These areas are connected both by rich natural resources like timber, and accessibility via rivers in ancient times. This made the region a natural place for the artisans, craftsmen, and merchants of the period.
The traveler who is willing to go a bit off the beaten track can experience firsthand this region on a three-day excursion covering three castle towns full of history art and fantastic food.
We were lucky this year to be some of the first to take the “Samurai and Timber” tour offered by Nagoya is not boring and we highly recommend this experience!
First stop GUJO HACHIMAN
Starting things off, we headed up to the mountain to the castle town of Gujo Hachiman. This charming village spreads along a deep-running river and is nestled in a valley. It has become famous over the centuries for many things, not least of which is its summer festival featuring distinctive local dances. We were lucky enough to be there at that time. No matter what time of year you visit, however, this place would be amazing.
A picturesque bus ride from the Shinkansen station in Gifu city took us a world away. We were able to truly enjoy ourselves from dawn till dusk with all five of our senses.
We started our explorations with a walk around town. Once we had worked up a good appetite, we had a local handmade soba lunch. Of course, all the noodles are made each day on site and the meal was filling and delicious. We even had a chance to watch the soba master at work.
From there, our visit to the local museum gave us a richer understanding of the various textiles and manufacturing products of the area. This included indigo dying, making a traditional all-purpose towel/cloth, called a tenugui, and even the famous Japanese plastic food samples that have been traditionally manufactured in the area.
The highlight of the museum, however, was a deeper explanation of the local dance festival, including a demonstration from experts. Any time of year you can visit the museum to learn about what makes the 10 festival dances unique and learn about the energetic locals who dance through the summer in colorful summer kimonos and distinctive, high wooden sandals called geta.
In the afternoon, we had a chance to screen print our own tenugui cloth at a wonderful local studio. Selecting our designs and choosing the layout was definitely a highlight of the day for me and I was so happy with the end result.
After this lovely experience, we also enjoyed getting custom sandals made for dancing that evening. Learning about the timber used to create the signature geta and choosing colors and designs was so much fun. The geta are surprisingly comfortable and easy to walk and dance in. We next had a special local dinner, miso-grilled Hida Wagyu beef! The signature red miso was surprisingly rich and delicious.
Finally, we joined the festival in our new dancing shoes and enjoyed ourselves under the summer stars!
On the next day, we headed to another charming castle town called Inuyama, in Aichi prefecture. We stayed at a new lifestyle hotel called the Hotel Indigo Inuyama Urakuen Garden, which is nestled right next door to a world heritage teahouse and traditional Japanese garden.
We channeled our inner samurai in the morning with an iaido lesson with real sword masters of this ancient, martial art. Donning the traditional clothing and learning about the philosophy was so inspirational. I think we even made pretty good progress considering our lack of experience.
We then had a tour of the famous hilltop castle and strolled through charming local shops nearby. Of course, at Arigato Travel we love culinary experiences so we were so happy that in addition to touring the oldest castle in Japan we were able to go on a local street food tour with delicious snacks and sweets.
Last but not least, NAGOYA…
Finally, on day three we went to the bustling city of Nagoya where the Tokugawa shogun clan had a huge influence. Seeing Nagoya castle and touring the palace that has been restored to its former glory was an unforgettable experience. Lunch was kishimen, a large flat noodle dish, famous in the area. My cold, summer version was delicious with refreshing citrus.
Now it was time for another hands-on experience. Many people in the Edo era carried folding fans as an important accessory to combat the summer heat and as an elegant addition to their wardrobe for special occasions. On this tour, you can work with an artisan whose family has been making fans for generations to make your own specially designed folding fan called a sensu. The experience was fun, albeit challenging, and the results were lovely.
We ended our three-day, historical adventure with a combination of a visit to the Tokugawa Garden and the Tokugawa Art Museum. Both really defy simple descriptions. If you are interested in this era, these are must-see spots and will give you a richer experience than many of the similarly promoted areas in Tokyo and Kyoto with far fewer crowds of other foreign tourists. The Tokugawa museum in particular is overflowing with amazing artifacts, art pieces, and armor.
All in all, to really connect with the samurai culture of Japan, this three-day excursion is an absolute do-not-miss and an easy stop in the middle of your Japan adventures! You can read about the details and book your experience from this link. Or email us to find out how to make this a part of your custom itinerary in Japan.
Featured Photo By Lauren Shannon (Arigato Travel)