The Chubu Region
In feudal times, a postal road ran along the Kiso River Valley in what is now Nagano prefecture. Daimyo, local feudal lords, and their entourages would stay at the postal towns that sprung up along this road on their way to and from Edo (now Tokyo) to pay respects to the Tokugawa Shoguns. Three of these towns on the Kiso River, Narai, Tsumago, and Magome, have been preserved and are great places to get a taste of the flavor of medieval Japan.
Kiso Ohashi, a beautiful wooden bridge over the river, has stood for centuries.
The city of Matsumoto has our second favotie castle (our favorite being Himeji). The asymmetry of the castle design and the moon viewing terrace make the castle aesthetically interesting, and inside the castle is a museum explaining the history of Japanese teppo (muskets).The castle defenses are quite ingenious and the carp in the moat look large enough to devour small children.
Here's Stinger with a couple of Nagano beauties. (Not that you can tell at this resolution.)
Legend has it that after the Genji(or Minamoto) clan defeated the Heike(or Taira) clan in the wars described in the Heike Monogatari, some of the Heike survivors took refuge deep in the mountains of what is now Gifu Prefecture. To protect their houses against the heavy snows of winter, their descendants developed a steeply slanted form of thatched roof known as gassho-zukuri (literally "joined palms"). In the town of Shirakawa-Go, many of these old houses, several over 400 years old, are preserved. The town has been designated by the UN as a world cultural treasure.
The inn we stayed in was over 300 years old and heated with a charcoal hearth.
There is an overlook above the town that is the site of what the signs say "may have been a castle."
The people of the town have taken great pains to keep the evidence of modernization hidden, and the view from the overlook truly seems like something out of a fairytale.
The Noto Peninsula, jutting out into the Sea of Japan from Ishikawa Prefecture, has mile after mile of beautiful winding seaside roads and unspoiled countryside, periodically interrupted by small fishing villages. As an escape from city life, this place is strongly recommended.
At the base of Noto Peninsula approaching the city of Kanazawa is the Nagisa Driveway.(Nagisa means beach, and whoever named the place made a natural mistake; why, in English, do we park on a driveway and drive on a parkway?) This is a long stretch of beach with hard-packed sand that has been opened for motor vehicles. If you have ever experienced riding on the beach, you know how exhilarating this can be. Ridng next to, or even in, the surf, feeling the sea breeze in your hair and the sun on your skin, the women in the beach houses and the tourists in the tour buses waving and smiling. It was so euphoric that when we reached the end, we turned around and did it again.
The gods were smiling on us that day. A group of equestrians had brought their horses down to the beach, and we rode with them for a while.
The poetry of the moment, horses of flesh pounding along the beach alongside our horses of steel, is something we'll never forget.