My girlfriend and I are going to Japan again and this will be my fourth time there. I speak and read enough Japanese to go anywhere confidently but I%26#39;m pretty ignorant of the more nature-oriented spots. We are basically looking to get into Tokyo and get out as quickly as possible, mixing nature (onsen, hiking, etc) with historical sites (we loved Kanazawa for the architecture, samurai centre with moat, etc but we quickly got our fill of temples in Kyoto). Of course, we%26#39;re food nuts but I%26#39;m sure that we%26#39;ll be lucky anywhere we go.
I guess I%26#39;m looking for some suggestions to find hidden gems (ryokans in the mountains, onsen with monkeys, not a lot of whiny kids, etc). We%26#39;re both very adventurous and as I said, my Japanese is good enough to keep us from getting lost. We have two weeks and plan to get a shinkansen pass for both.
Is Noto Hanto worth seeing?
looking for the nature lover/history tour
just some extra detail: we%26#39;ll be there from late July to early August. The heat will obviously be a big factor but we%26#39;re also looking to avoid the rainy season. If we pushed north to Hokkaido, would it still be rainy around the end of July?
I%26#39;m really curious about Hokkaido. Is this a perfect place to get away from the city and find some cool-breeze but still hot hiking?
looking for the nature lover/history tour
Hokkaido would be fabulous place to go, but you won%26#39;t find samurai stuff. AINU, yes! Great food, too.
Noto Hanto had the big earthquake in 2007, but they%26#39;re slowly getting back to business.
Here%26#39;s a site in Japanese. It has pretty pictures! lol
If you haven%26#39;t already gone, Kamikochi would be a nice place to spend a couple of days. There is a variety of accommodation available. It can be a bit crowded on the lower trails during the day in summer (particularly weekends and August) but the upper trails have been better in my experience. There are cool huts up on the ridges that sell you astronomically expensive beer and snacks.
You could easily combine this with a stop in one of the Oku-Hida onsen villages:
(Japanese website with very nice clickable accommodation map)
Takayama is a nice town too:
and I love Gujo-Hachiman, where they have a great dance festival all summer.
If you haven%26#39;t done the Kiso Valley, with its small post towns, it%26#39;s worth going too. http://www.quirkyjapan.or.tv/kisoji.htm
But if it%26#39;s your fourth trip you%26#39;d have been there?
If you head towards Tohoku you will find fewer foreign tourists and interesting sights. At the end of July, in Fukushima prefecture, is a really cool festival called Soma Nomaoi,
it%26#39;s difficult to find accommodation, because the town is small and not really equipped for the influx of people. But it%26#39;s quite a spectacle though I%26#39;ve never been so damn hot in my life.
Further up that way are more lakes and gorges and smaller onsen. You can still get some history in; I really liked Yamadera,
(though it is heavily visited) and Kakunodate, http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e3601.html.
The people of Kakunodate were wildly curious about us, I don%26#39;t believe they see THAT many foreign visitors.
Last October I went to Sado Island and Noto Hanto; I like Sado Island better of the two though in summer it will be, again, as usual with any nice place in Japan, CROWDED. there is a big Earth Day festival there, with Taiko drummers and all. I have never been but always wanted to. Sado is very rural and scenic, you have to get around by train. The fishing villages look like they are barely clinging to the coast.
Noto Hanto was pretty wild and rural too; the coast is, in many places, magnificent. I enjoyed the small town of Wajima with its morning market; tough old ladies selling dried fugu and vegetables. There are two old samurai villas up the coast in a little town called Sosoji and the most beautiful onsen I have ever stayed at is Lampu no Yado. Interestingly, they told us there that since their picture appeared in the Lonely Planet guidebook, they have had many foreign guests.
Noto Hanto presents a transportation problem as there are not many trains. The Northern most part is accessible only by bus, I believe. I drove, so don%26#39;t know.
This is way too much info.
I forgot, if you want to see a bunch of amateurish photos of various places including Noto Hanto, my photos are at www.flickr.com/photos/kellywarrick.
Also worth considering on your trip are the other islands. I%26#39;ve done a bit of driving around northern Kyushu and really liked it. Kurokawa is a gorgeous onsen town.
There are so many places to explore.
Hokkaido is great. Kushiro Marshland, thru Mashuko/Akanko, to Utoro, Shiretoko National Park. The Kamuiwakka natural river onsen there is the ultimate nature onsen that you wade up a short distance the warm river water to the soak holes near the steam rising. Just right temp. Clothes optional. a few people %26amp; free. A lot of healthy wild deer around on the way.
You might see the nesting Tancho cranes near train stations %26amp; canoeing, too. Great cheap seafoods all around.
Or go to Iya Valley in Shikoku(Heike story) or Takachiho gorges(the folklore Japan%26#39;s birthplace) in Miyazaki, Kyushu.
wow - thanks so much. this is really great info and more than I could have hoped for. The old stern old lady and morning markets sound great. I%26#39;ll dig through the many links and come back with any questions. thanks again