Don't let Chubu's spectacular scenery whizz by
Most tourists will only glimpse the region as a blur through a bullet train window; Chubu, though, deserves your attention.
The central region of Japan’s main island, Chubu is the mountainous hinterland that predominantly serves as a passage between the economic centers of Kanto and Kansai. There are nine prefectures in Chubu which can be grouped together into three regions: the Hokuriku region, consisting of Fukui, Ishikawa and Toyama prefectures, the Koshinetsu region, which includes Yamanashi, Nagano and Niigata, and the Tokai region, made up of Shizuoka, Aichi and Gifu prefectures.
Fukui is located along the Sea of Japan coast and is best known for Eiheiji temple, an active monastery in the mountains with around 200 monks who come to train in Soto Zen Buddhism. Other attractions in the prefecture include Echizen Ono Castle in Ono City. During the colder months of the year the early morning fog blankets the town below making the castle look like its floating above the clouds. For breathtaking sunset views, head to the Tojinbo Cliffs and watch the sun go down behind one of the prefecture’s most iconic natural landmarks.
Ishikawa is worth visiting for the picturesque city of Kanazawa, which has well-preserved samurai and geisha districts, as well as one of Japan’s top three most beautiful gardens at Kenroku-en. The city is home to several art museums, one of the most popular being the 21st Century Museum Of Modern Art that boasts of a wide collection of contemporary pieces from all over the world. Elsewhere in the prefecture, head up the coast to see the spectacular scenery at the secluded Noto Peninsula or drop by Myoryu-Ji Temple which is sometimes incorrectly referred to as the ninja temple.
Toyama prefecture marks the start of the Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route which is a unique route across the Northern Japan Alps. From April to June you can walk (or drive) through a giant snow corridor where accumulated powder creates 20 meter high white walls, before continuing through Chubu Sangaku National Park all the way to Nagano prefecture. During the warmer months tourists often visit Kurobe Gorge which is the country’s deepest V-shaped gorge. The trail throughout the gorge is filled with hot springs and beautiful nature views.
It’s hard to miss the soaring Mount Fuji, which dominates landlocked Yamanashi prefecture. The Fuji Five Lake region at the base of the mountain has some beautiful lakeside resorts, with hiking, fishing and hot springs aplenty. Aside from The Fuji Five Lake region, an easy day trip from Tokyo via the Limited Express Azusa from Shinjuku station would be hiking up Shosenkyo Gorge. The summit offers a beautiful panoramic view of the surrounding nature as well as a view of Mount Fuji on a clear day.
While Nagano might be most known for its wide range of ski resorts like Shiga Kogen and the Jigokudani Monkey Park in the winter, there remains so much more to do and see. A trip to the prefectural capital of Matsumoto can easily make up a full day of exploring. Start from the stunning Matsumoto Castle or “Crow Castle” then make your way to the Matsumoto Museum of Art for a day packed with history and culture.
Niigata receives some of the heaviest snowfall in the entire country which makes it a top tier winter destination. Due to the snow the prefecture is able to produce high quality rice and rice wine or sake. In March the city of Niigata celebrates Sake-no-jin which is an event much like Oktoberfest. For a more rustic experience, head outside the city toward Sado island where tourists can enjoy hot springs, hiking, and more sake brewery tours. Hop into the Hangiri or (washtub boats) in Shukunegi, a traditional boat ride to tour you around the coastline. If you’re up for a more immersive cultural experience, join a taiko (drum) playing workshop at the Sado Island Taiko Center.
Mount Fuji also muscles in on Shizuoka prefecture but the area is best known for Izu Peninsula, a popular weekend destination thanks to its stunning coastlines, beautiful beaches and quaint towns within easy reach of Tokyo. The towns of Atami and Ito found on right on the coastline are some of the more well known hot spring towns. If hot springs may not be your thing, hang around one of the many beaches that outline the peninsula. The more adventurous may consider consider a day or two spent exploring the western part of the peninsula at Nishiizu or Dogashima Kaigan Coast.
The bustling economic center of Nagoya in Aichi prefecture is Japan’s fourth largest city. During cherry blossom season one of the most notable landmarks in the city, Nagoya Castle bursts into life as the castle grounds are filled with pinkish hues. To see more seasonal blooms another popular destination is Tokugawa Garden which is right beside the Tokugawa Art Museum and offers scenic views of Ryusenko Lake. While in the city don’t forget to sample some local prefectural delicacies like eel or unagi and chicken wings.
Gifu prefecture is home to the ‘little Kyoto’ of the north, Takayama. A peaceful town found at the foot of the Japanese Alps, the well preserved streets of Takayama are very much reminiscent of the Edo period. Located nearby are the picturesque UNESCO World Heritage Sites of Shirakawa-go and Gokayama. Both are home to wooden traditional Japanese farmhouses some of which are available for overnight lodging. In autumn visit Yokokura Temple for the most vibrant burst of foliage.