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What will you discover on Japan’s ‘Three-Star Road?’

The Mitsuboshi Kaidou, or “Three-Star Road,” is an area located in Japan’s Chubu region, encompassing Kanazawa in Ishikawa Prefecture, Nanto City in Toyama Prefecture, Shirakawa Village and Takayama City in Gifu Prefecture and Matsumoto City in Nagano Prefecture.

Often overlooked on most tourist’s radar, the Mitsuboshi Kaidou is a sprawling area filled with an amazing array of cultural attractions, natural beauty, world heritage sites and recognized Japanese national treasures.

Despite its name, there’s no strict direction to follow on this “road.” To help you plot your way, here are our top six things to see and do on the Mitsuboshi Kaidou.

6
Higashi Chaya District

Ishikawa

The Higashi Chaya-gai, or “Eastern teahouse district,” is Kanazawa’s pristine historical center.

Established in 1820, everything in the Higashi Chaya has been magnificently preserved: from its traditional wooden geisha (ornately dressed female entertainers) residences to the gold-leaf and lacquer decorating found in its abundant shops, restaurants and teahouses.

If you plan your visit on the weekend, you can take in a traditional geisha dance. The Kanazawa City Tourism Association puts on a performance in Higashi Chaya on some Saturdays.

  • Getting there: From Kanazawa station take the Kanazawa Loop Bus to the Hashibacho bus stop.

5
Kenrokuen Garden

Ishikawa

Kenrokuen is one of the “Three Great Gardens of Japan,” which includes Korakuen in Okayama and Kairakuen in Mito. Kenrokuen, or the “garden with six characteristics,” was designed to radiate these attributes: spaciousness, seclusion, artifice, antiquity, water-courses and panorama.

The “strolling-style” garden was developed over centuries by generations of Kaga clan lords. Unlike most gardens in Japan that would have you sitting for a moment of reflection, Kenrokuen was built to get you moving.

Its scenic ponds, hills and tearooms are spaced out, and the geographic features — such as winding streams and artificial hills — are meant to inspire you to walk.

  • Getting there: Kenrokuen can be reached from Kanazawa station via taxi or bus.

4
Gasshozukuri Villages

Toyama and Gifu

A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Ainokura Gasshozukuri Village is a delightful village that feels straight out of a historical drama. If you’re a history buff or after a taste of rural Japan, then its sprawling rice fields, grand mountains and picturesque farmhouses are definitely for you.

Located on the quiet outskirts of Nanto City, Toyama, the village’s thatch-roof houses feature gasshozukuri architecture. Roughly translated to “hands clasped in prayer,” gasshozukuri-style homes use triangular roofs to withstand the area’s heavy snowfall and were thought to resemble praying hands.

Although the nearby Shirakawa village in Gifu is more famous, Ainokura is more remote, giving it a more secluded atmosphere away from tourists.

  • Getting there: From Shin-Takaoka station, you can reach Ainokura and Shirakawa via the Kaetsuno Bus.

3
Matsumoto Castle

Nagano

Matsumoto Castle is one of five castles chosen as a National Treasure of Japan and the oldest of its kind still standing in the entire country. The castle features architecture, armor and weapons from the Sengoku Period.

The castle has been tastefully restored over the years. Climb to its top for a view out its wooden windows — once used by archers and gunmen to defend its walls — that now offer visitors panoramic views of the Japanese Alps and Matsumoto City.

A visit in April is especially worthwhile. Then, the castle becomes the quintessential  Japanese backdrop to the blooming cherry blossom trees.

  • Admission: Entry into Matsumoto Castle is ¥700 for adults, ¥300 for elementary and middle school students, and free for preschoolers.
  • Getting there: You can reach Matsumoto Castle via bus from Matsumoto station.

2
Kamikochi

Nagano

The Kamikochi highlands are a mountain resort area in western Nagano Prefecture. Part of the Japanese Alps, this pristine range of forests, clear rivers and lakes is designated as one of Japan’s National Cultural Assets and is considered the “Yosemite of Japan.”

There are several trails available for hikers, each with its own breathtaking views. If you’re lucky, you might even be joined on your trek by a troop of Japanese snow monkeys. However, be careful: these are wild animals and they are also known to be adept pickpockets!

There are several traditional Japanese inns near the highlands that blend in beautifully with the surrounding natural vistas. There are also lodges and campgrounds available. What better way to end a day exploring the valley than with a dip in a relaxing hot spring?

  • Getting there: You can access Kamikochi from Matsumoto station in Nagano and Takayama station in Gifu via bus

1
Takayama

Gifu

Takayama is a hot spot for Edo-period culture and architecture. Walking along the tight streets of the Takayama Historic District, you can’t help but feel immersed in history among its traditional sweet shops, food stalls grilling mouth-watering, skewered Hida beef and authentic nihonshu (Japanese rice wine) breweries.

Wake up early enough, and you can explore the Miyagawa Morning Market along the Miyagawa (Miya River) to find deals on one-of-a-kind souvenirs for your trip. Takayama is also famous for ichii ittobori, or yew wood carvings. Here you can find all sorts of handcrafted decorations, sculptures and even accessories made from yew wood.

Over at Takayama Zenkoji Temple, you can experience real zen meditation sessions with the monks. There is even yoga meditation available in the main hall so that you can stretch out all your earthly troubles.

The temple is particularly famous for its kaidan meguri, a pitch dark tunnel. If you can find the special lock located somewhere in the darkness, it’s said that your sins will be purified.

  • Getting there: The easiest way to access Takayama from most major cities in Japan is via the shinkansen.