Snow Country Life and Traditions (Autumn)—Culture and Landscapes of Japan’s West Coast Heartland (11 DAYS)

DETAILED ITINERARY

 

DAY 1—TRAVEL TOKYO–URASA, URASA WINERY LUNCH & WOODCARVING TEMPLE VISIT, MUIKAMACHI-ONSEN RELAXATION: Depart Tōkyō (Shinjuku) in the morning and travel to Urasa, the gateway to the Uonuma region of Niigata. Enjoy an Italian-style lunch at a local winery where wines are slowly matured in snow-cooled cellars, or your choice of more traditional cuisine. After lunch, visit the nearby Saifukuji temple renowned for the small chapel with elaborate wood carvings by the 19th-century ‘Michelangelo of Japan’, Unchō Ishikawa. In the late afternoon, travel to your accommodation in Muikamachi-Onsen area of Minami-Uonuma, an atmospheric, small boutique onsen-ryokan within a modernised traditional house. Enjoy a relaxing soak in the private onsen baths at the ryokan, with a view to the rugged peaks of the Echigo Mountains.

DAY 2—HAKKAISAN AREA: Explore the Hakkaisan area of Minami-Uonuma. Depending on your group’s fitness, preference and weather conditions, enjoy an exhilarating day-climb of Hakkaisan (elevation 1778 m), a major peak of the Echigo Mountains with spectacular panoramic views. Alternatively, opt for a laid-back walking tour of the Hakkaisan foothills, including the Hakkaisan lookout (elevation 1147 m, using a ropeway), the world-famous Hakkaisan sake brewery where you can sample a cross-section of Snow Country’s sake, shōchū and fermented foods, and the Tomioka White Art Museum dedicated to Sōichirō Tomioka, an internationally acclaimed Niigata painter whose distinct style was forged by the Snow Country’s environment. Accommodation as per Day 1.

 

​DAY 3—SANJO TRADITIONAL KNIFEMAKING WORKSHOPS: Travel during the morning to Sanjō, a town in the industrial heartland of Niigata Prefecture renowned globally for its quality knifemaking and kitchenware. Try the distinctive Sanjō rāmen noodles for lunch and discover its curious connection with the town’s industrial history. Spend the afternoon observing artisans in workshops handcrafting Japanese-style knives, and learn how and why the tradition has developed since the Edo-period. Accommodation at a small, mid-range traditional ryokan in a quiet residential neighbourhood of town.

 

DAY 4—NAGAOKA HILL VILLAGE EXPERIENCE: Travel during the morning to Nagaoka, the second largest city of Niigata Prefecture. After lunch, visit a district of the city known as the ‘Fermentation Town’ whose historic townscape is dominated by soy sauce and sake breweries. Take a tour of a soy sauce brewery to see how soybeans are fermented into an amazing range of shōyu and miso products. Visit the Yoshinogawa Sake Brewery boasting over 400 years of history for a tasting of their crisp brews made with premium locally grown rice.  In the late afternoon, travel into the hilly countryside outside Nagaoka, famous for its photogenic terraced fields. Accommodation at a small, family-run village minshuku serving simple, delicious farmhouse cuisine using fresh, homegrown produce.

 

DAY 5—NAGAOKA HILL VILLAGE EXPERIENCE: In the morning, take a walk through the picturesque countryside with its terraced fields tinted in autumnal hues. Along the way, learn how and why the district has developed as the premier koi-raising region of the world. In the afternoon, head to the village arena and feel the raw energy of a bull sumo-wrestling tournament—a strictly controlled fight between two bulls, with attendants ensuring that the bulls do not sustain injuries—an ancient tradition that reflects the god-like reverence to cattle held in the local culture. Travel back to Nagaoka city in the late afternoon to your accommodation, a mid-range city hotel conveniently located for transport access.

 

DAY 6—MINAMI-UONUMA HISTORIC TOWN WALK: Depart Nagaoka in the morning for a historic town in the Minami-Uonuma area, whose old quarter preserves the unique character of a classic Snow Country town. Visit a workshop to learn about the painstaking processes involved in weaving the town’s celebrated kimono textiles, and enjoy lunch featuring the locally grown Koshihikari rice whose legendary quality is recognised by chefs worldwide. In the early afternoon, take a side-trip to an ancient country Zen temple set among towering Japanese cedar trees and absorb the serene atmosphere. Travel in the late afternoon to Matsudai, where your accommodation will be in a privately rented traditional house in the quiet country town.

 

DAY 7—MATSUDAI FERMENTED FOOD AND MODERN ART EXPERIENCE & KASHIWAZAKI RURAL VILLAGE EXPERIENCE PART 1: In the early morning, learn from a local specialist how health-giving fermented Snow Country staples such as miso, natto and doburoku (farmer’s sake) are made, including some useful advice for success. During the late morning and afternoon, inspect art installations of the internationally acclaimed Echigo-Tsumari Art Field—a community-based, rural-revival project which links modern art with the Snow Country’s rural environment and traditions. Enjoy a light lunch at the art gallery restaurant featuring the diverse local produce in a creative way. In the mid-afternoon, travel to a rural district of Kashiwazaki and immerse yourself in the tranquillity of village life untainted by mass tourism. Accommodation in a renovated traditional thatch-roof farmhouse (private rental) which combines the beauty of Snow Country architecture with modern comforts.

 

DAY 8—KASHIWAZAKI RURAL VILLAGE EXPERIENCE PART 2: Get an insider view of the Snow Country village life. Visit an 18th-century country estate which features one of the best moss gardens in Japan, take a tour of a small family-run sake brewery and sample the traditional-style brews crafted by the renowned master-brewers of Echigo (Niigata), and take a stroll within the village to discover its fascinating nooks and crannies. Travel in the late afternoon to your accommodation in a renovated traditional thatch-roof farmhouse (private rental), operated by the local community as part of their pioneering village revitalisation initiative. Dinner and breakfast feature vegetable-based farmhouse cuisine showcasing the local produce and traditional ‘bushfoods’.

 

DAY 9—KASHIWAZAKI RURAL VILLAGE EXPERIENCE PART 3: Delve further into Snow Country’s traditions with a visit to one of the last remaining handmade paper workshops in the region. Watch the artisan craft beautifully textured paper and try your own hand at it. Take a tour of nearby fields to learn how paper-mulberry bushes are grown, harvested and processed to yield the fibres for paper making. Back at the village, get to know some of the local food ingredients and how they are processed and used to produce simple, yet delectable country dishes. Accommodation as per Day 8.

 

DAY 10—TOKAMACHI HISTORY AND TRADITIONS WALK: During the morning, travel to the major regional centre of Tōkamachi. On arrival, enjoy a lunch of Hegi-soba, a buckwheat noodle specialty with a curious link to the town’s textile traditions. In the afternoon, drop in at a showroom in town to admire gorgeous kimonos and fine textiles that have been coveted by traders from all around Japan. Visit the Tōkamachi City Museum for an overview of the region’s natural environment, traditional life, and history spanning more than 5000 years. In the early evening, travel to your accommodation on the outskirts of the town, a beautifully restored 19th-century classic Snow Country house (private rental), operated through a community-based project dedicated to preserving Snow Country’s traditions.

 

DAY 11—TRAVEL TOKAMACHI–ECHIGO-YUZAWA: In the morning, travel from Tōkamachi to JR Echigo-Yuzawa Station where the tour concludes. Direct Shinkansen connections are available from Echigo-Yuzawa to Tōkyō, Ōmiya and Niigata. The tour cost includes your full rail fare from Echigo-Yuzawa to Tōkyō—ticketing for alternative onward destinations can be arranged, however, it may incur an additional charge.

 

MAIN THEMES:

  • Villages

  • Regional foods

  • Traditional crafts

  • Art

  • Country walking

  • Spirituality

  • Prehistory and history

  • Natural environment

  • Mountain hiking (Hakkaisan climb option)

 

ACCOMMODATION:

  • 5 nights in restored traditional Japanese houses (private rentals) with Japanese-style futon bedding in town, village and rural settings

  • 2 nights in an upper-range boutique onsen-ryokan with Japanese-style futon bedding and private onsen baths in a semi-rural setting

  • 1 night in a mid-range traditional ryokan with Japanese-style futon bedding in a town setting

  • 1 night in a minshuku (Japanese B&B) with Japanese-style futon bedding in a village setting

  • 1 nights in a mid-range city hotel with Western-style beds

 

DEPARTURE DATE: Tuesday 30 October 2018; itinerary subject to change depending on, but not limited to, accommodation availability, transport timetabling and weather conditions.

 

BOOKING REQUIRED BEFORE: Saturday 21 July 2018

 

MAXIMUM GROUP SIZE: 6 persons

 

COST: from AUD $5200­ per person (4–6 persons); from AUD $5700 per person (3 persons); from AUD $6200 per person (2 persons); POA for 1 person.

FINAL PAYMENT DATE: Saturday 15 September 2018

 

INCLUSIONS:

  • Full tour planning and guiding—11 days

  • Accommodation—10 nights

  • Breakfast—10 days

  • Lunch—10 days

  • Dinner—10 days

  • Ground transport (rail, bus, taxi)—11 days, departing from Tōkyō (Shinjuku), returning to Tōkyō

  • Admissions and fees for all attractions and activities listed in itinerary

  • Relevant information material

 

PHYSICAL FITNESS REQUIREMENT—MODERATE (HIGH/VERY HIGH for the Hakkaisan climb on Day 2): all days of the tour involve periods of walking on surfaced and unsurfaced roads and footpaths mostly on gentle to moderate gradients. Participants must be able to walk for up to 10 km per day, and continuously for up to 3 km at a time, on gentle to moderate gradients. There may be short sections of steep, uneven or slippery terrain, including stone steps. The itinerary may be modified for lower levels of fitness or mobility—please note, however, that additional costs may be incurred. The accommodation on Days 4, 6, 7, 8, 9 and 10 feature traditional open fireplaces that can make the air inside slightly smoky—participants must be able to tolerate low to moderate levels of wood smoke for extended periods, accept the risk of smoky odour lingering on your clothes and belongings during and after your stay; you must not suffer from existing health conditions that smoky air or soot may aggravate including, but not restricted to, conditions affecting your breathing, eyes and skin.

 

If undertaking the Hakkaisan climb on Day 2, you must be a seasoned hiker who can negotiate steep terrain, including short sections of rock scrambling. Participants must be able to walk for 2 km continuously at a time in forested and open terrain with moderate to steep gradients. You must not suffer from existing health conditions (or have a high risk thereof) that compromises your fitness, mobility, endurance, coordination or navigation skills, including, but not limited to, conditions affecting your heart, blood pressure, brain, nervous system, breathing, movement of your limbs, neck and the back, eyesight and hearing. The walking track, in places, may be narrow, rocky, swampy, slippery, or have sheer drop-offs on one side, and may be snow-covered or icy. The upper sections of the walking track are fully exposed to the weather, which may include strong winds, rain, snow, thunder and low temperatures, that may potentially create dangerous conditions Protection is essential against strong UV rays and glare, such as sunscreen, sunglasses and a hat.

 

CULTURAL TOLERANCE REQUIREMENT—MODERATE/HIGH: accommodation on nearly all nights feature Japanese-style futon bedding. Most meals will be traditional Japanese style served as a set menu, including a range of traditional country foods, with non-Japanese food options unavailable. Accommodation on 2 nights feature facilities that you are required to share with other guests (bathrooms are shared, but private). Those with particular views on animal welfare may find the bull sumo-wrestling tournament on Day 5 objectionable.

Takehiko Hashimoto trading as

Deeply Regional Japan Tours ABN 17594801316

Postal address:

PO Box 238, Mawson ACT 2607 AUSTRALIA

E-mail:

hashimoto@grapevine.com.au

Web:

www.deeplyregionaljapan.com

www.deeplyregionaljapan.com.au

© 2019 by Takehiko Hashimoto

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