One of central Japan’s best kept secrets is Hida-Furukawa, a stop or three (for rapid or local trains) past Takayama station. Hida-Furukawa is a well-preserved old town replete with dark wood and white-washed walls, carp-filled waterways winding along its narrow streets and a riotous spring festival boasting semi-naked men competing in shows of strength and agility, elaborately decorated floats and some of the loudest drums this side of Armageddon. Unlike Takayama, however, its historic streets aren’t clogged with tourists and there is a strong sense of the town being, well, a “town” rather than an open-air museum.
My wife and I have lived in Gifu Prefecture for many years and have grown tired of the same old same olds. Hida-Furukawa was a new destination for us and Satoyama Experience’s tour options looked like an interesting way to explore the area.
Satoyama Experience snowshoe tour
First on the itinerary was the snowshoe tour. Before this trip, my idea of snowshoes were those tennis racket-like contraptions Victorian gentlemen strapped to their feet before scaling the Alps dressed head-to-toe in tweed, a smoldering pipe clutched firmly in their jaws.
The trek takes place a 30-minute drive from Hida-Furukawa around the hamlet of Tanekura. Once a populous, bustling village in the mountains along the border between Gifu and Toyama prefectures, urban migration and a declining birthrate have brought Tanekura to the brink of extinction. Only a handful of homes remain inhabited and the community’s bleak future is represented by the only two children living there.
Gifu’s Machu Picchu
Yet it is an area of dramatic beauty. The hillsides are carved into perfect terraces for rice cultivation, each raised and bordered by intricate dry, stone walls. Their appearance has led to the slopes above Tanekura being nicknamed “Gifu’s Machu Picchu.”
The hills are alive
Like its Peruvian namesake, there is something ruinous about the walls above Tanekura. The rocks that make up these walls — countless millions of them — were sourced from the riverbed far below and the mountain peaks towering above.
Man versus nature
The hiking is interspersed with frequent stops to share information or because we have come across something interesting and unexpected. In the trees above Sasaki points out clumps of leaves.
Address: Furukawa-cho, Hida-shi, Gifu-ken
Best Time: Specific tours are seasonal but Satoyama Experience has something on offer all year round.
Price: Snowshoe trekking in Tanekura is ¥7,000 per person. The town walk is ¥4,500 per person.
Access: Hida-Furukawa is the next major stop on the JR Takayama line after Takayama station. The office is a seven-minute walk southwest of the station. Satoyama Experience also has an office in Takayama and offers tours in Takayama and around Shin-Hotaka. See their website for specific details: www.satoyama-experience.com.