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fter arriving at Tokyo’s Narita International Airport and making the transfer to Tokyo Station, catch a bullet train for the 75-minute journey to Karuizawa Station, the most convenient jumping off point for a part of Japan that is rich in tradition and history, has breathtaking countryside and cultural masterpieces and takes unforgettable cuisine for granted. Yet, for all that, these prefectures are too often overlooked by foreign visitors. Pick up your rental car — conveniently close to the station — and hit the road. The journey is on a combination of main roads and toll freeways, but the in-car navigation system can be set to English and signs on virtually all the highways are in English. The first stop is in the quaint town of Kakeyu, set deep in the valleys of Nagano Prefecture and famous for its onsen — hot springs. All the small hotels that line the narrow streets have their own therapeutic onsen, while a free foot bath is constantly steaming outside the town hall. But that will have to wait until after your first adventure. Iwao Tobimatsu takes visitors on cycling tours through the surrounding mountains, using road bikes for the paved sections but providing mountain bikes for the off-road options, which include a purpose-built course on a heavily wooded hillside overlooking the town. To add more local flavor, participants are encouraged to take to their bicycles in the jet-black outfits that Japan’s famous ninja warriors once wore. This valley was until a century ago still very isolated and considered a somewhat mysterious community, although it became more accessible once the tunnel was bored through the head of the valley and the road continued on to the city of Matsumoto, nestled in a broader valley and dominated by its 16th century castle, the oldest surviving original castle in Japan. After checking in, explore the historic heart of the town, which has been carefully preserved and has flagstoned streets flanked by traditional merchants’ houses. Matsumoto is famous for soba; or buckwheat noodles, which make an excellent dinner, while horse meat is another local delicacy. And don’t miss the opportunity to try some of the local sake rice wines with your evening meal.

Be up early the next morning to catch the castle — nicknamed “Crow Castle” due to its black wooden exterior. The wide moat has swans and countless koi carp, and the surrounding mountains make an excellent backdrop. Visitors can climb the surprisingly steep stairs inside the main tower of the six-story castle, passing displays of armor and weapons dating back to Japan’s 150 years from 1467 that are known as its “warring states” period. It is another 90-minute drive through spectacular mountains (home to monkeys, deer, wild boar and even the occasional bear) to the Shinhotaka Ropeway. Don’t be fooled by the relatively pleasant temperatures at the bottom of the ropeway, at 1,117 meters above sea level. By the time you reach the top of the mountain, you will be at 2,156 meters and everything around is coated in a thick layer of frost, with waves of icy clouds rolling over. On clear days, visitors have panoramic views of Mount Yarigadake — known as the Matterhorn of Japan — and numerous other peaks sufficient for the Michelin Green Guide to have awarded the observation deck two of its coveted stars. Continuing on, head for the town of Takayama, where again much effort has gone into preserving the traditional Sanmachi Suji quarter alongside the river. The narrow streets are lined with wooden merchants’ houses from the Edo Period and a number of museums, the highlight of which is the Takayama Jinya, which was the local office of the national government from 1692 to 1868 and is the only surviving building of its kind in the country. Bureaucrats, tax collectors and judges went about their business in a series of tatami-mat rooms linked by wood-lined corridors in the low and sprawling building After a stroll through the morning market the next day, the route takes you to the hamlet of Shirakawa-go, which has become a good deal more famous since its gassho-zukuri style of steeply pitched and thatched buildings were recognized by UNESCO as a World Heritage site in 1995. Set among paddy fields and surrounded by streams bringing water off the surrounding mountains, a number of the buildings are open to the public and detail the lives of the people of this farming community and how they have managed to preserve the village to this day. CONTINUED ON PAGE 6

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Buenas - August/September 2018  

Meals on Wheels: "Fast food" has a new meaning | Travel: Kanazawa | Artist: Enzo & Skratcher Guam | Business: The Great Dame| Essence of Gua...

Buenas - August/September 2018  

Meals on Wheels: "Fast food" has a new meaning | Travel: Kanazawa | Artist: Enzo & Skratcher Guam | Business: The Great Dame| Essence of Gua...

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