From Lake Biwa to the Yunokuni-no mori village up to the Japanese Alps, there is so much culture, history, and nature worth visiting in Central Japan. We explore all this and more!
We had an amazing weekend exploring parts of Japan that we’ve never seen before. As our time is winding down, we are in full throttle mode trying to fit everything we can into the next few weeks.
Our first stop was Lake Biwa. It is the largest freshwater lake in Japan and one of the oldest lakes in the world – it’s at least 4 million years old! Matt has been wanting to visit Lake Biwa since we came to Japan because of all the history associated with it, along with the unique flora and fauna. His only regret this weekend was not jumping in – maybe next time, babe!
Where is Lake Biwa?
Lake Biwa is just north of Kyoto in Shiga Prefecture. While we were driving around the lake what we noticed the most were all the fishermen – on the shore or in boats, the lake was filled with people fishing.
Besides seeing the lake itself, the main reason to visit Lake Biwa was to see the Ukimido Temple. It was originally built in 995 A.D. but was rebuilt in 1937.
Ukimido Temple is a floating temple out on the lake. It is known as one of the most beautiful views in Shiga Prefecture, and for good reason – the temple has a way of focusing your attention amidst the vastness of the lake. There is a 600-year-old pine tree on the serene grounds that adds to the peaceful and meditative feel to the temple.
On our way to our next destination, we stopped at a massive floating torii gate out on the lake, at Shirahige Shrine. We live near Miyajima, where the famous Itsukushima Floating Torii Gate is, and it was fun to see a freshwater version – there aren’t tides here to let you go right out to it, It is especially beautiful in the morning and in the evening.
Parts of the Echizen-Kaga Kaigan Quasi-National Park the Tojinbo Cliffs have quite the history. There are legends of a Buddhist monk haunting the cliffs, causing large tempest and storms to crash along the coast. Apparently, until a local priest took pity on the ghost and held a memorial for him; after that, the annual storms ceased.
These rock formations reminded us of Takachiho Gorge and the cliffs on Tawarajima. They are really dramatic! They were formed between 12 and 13 million years ago from volcanic activity and stretch about 1 km long and reach up to almost 30 meters in height.
The kids had fun throwing rocks in the water as usual, but I was pretty stressed out not wanting them to get hurt because the rocks are so rough and uneven. It is definitely not a place to let your kids run wild.
Yunokuni no mori Traditional Handicrafts Village
I can’t express enough how amazing this place was. It is not only beautiful – the homes and flowing water make a super tranquil scene – but also the ability to experience Japan culture in so many fun ways is really unique. Since we crammed so much into this day, we got here just before closing time so we weren’t able to participate in any of the experiences. When we come back to Japan, this will be one of the places on the top of my bucket list! Check out their website for more details and pricing.
Yunokuni no mori is a village offering traditional crafts specific to the Hokuriku region. Located in the Ishikawa Prefecture among 100 acres of natural forest, this village has preserved many traditional homes and each offers different handicrafts. You pay a small fee to enter the village, then pay for each experience you wish to participate in. Different experiences include:
- Cake making
- Gold leaf pasting
- Stencil dying
- Kutani ceramic ware
- Making soba
- Echizen-ware pottery board making
- Glass technology
- Decorating a music box
- Wajima lacquerware
I can’t wait to try out all of the crafts – they all look really fun. We walked around, played and took pictures at the umbrella street. On sunny days, the street gets really colorful from the sun shining through the umbrellas. Visiting Yunokuni no mori is a MUST-DO while in Japan.
Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route and Snow Wall Walk
Our whole trip was planned around us going to the Snow Walk on the Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route. Each spring, they plow the road and leave deep snow towering on either side of it upwards of 16 meters or 50 feet. Check out our full post about it here.
We’ve been to Nachi Falls, the waterfall with the longest uninterrupted drop in Japan, but Shomyo Falls is the highest waterfall in Japan. It falls in four different stages for a total of 350 meters or 1,148 feet.
The kids wanted to stay and play in the car and see it from a distance, which was fine because it was a bit of a hike to get to the base of the falls. Matt made the hike and marveled at the scale – only in person can you appreciate how large Shomyo Falls is!. It’s especially impressive during the spring when the snow begins to melt. Hannoki Falls is a seasonal waterfall that only flows while the snow is melting or after a heavy rain, and it was gushing in full force with all of the thawing snow!
Shirakawa-go Thatched Roof Village
We have loved the thatched-roof homes and villages since we stayed overnight in one in Iya Valley on the island of Shikoku, but Shirakawa village is actually the one we’ve been waiting to see for the longest time. Shirakawa is a UNESCO world heritage site. The traditional thatched-roof homes feature classic architecture techniques, and make the village a popular tourist destination.
We were shocked at how many people were here. Usually, places outside of Tokyo, Osaka or Kyoto don’t feel crowded; even though it’s in the middle of nowhere, plenty of people still find it worth the journey to go and see these unique homes. If you are looking for something more tourist-free and relaxing, Iya Valley is the place to go.
Plan your trip:
We really had a busy weekend. We drove through 11 different prefectures and explored several unique areas of Japan. It was an amazing trip, and one that makes me sad to leave this incredible country!