Travelogue Japan: Rail Mountain Bike @ Gattan-Go! in Hida City

They say that once you know how to balance yourself on a bike, you’ll never forget how to ride it. While that’s partially true, the last time I tried re-riding one after 10+ years almost ended up in me being flattened into a pancake (read  story HERE). I was understandably wary when our guide in Japan, Mariko-San, announced in the car that we’d be heading to a ‘mountain biking’ place next. I mean, it’s already difficult for me to ride on flat ground, and now you want me to bike on a mountain!?

image credit: Japan National Tourism Organisation

…… Oh. 

Turns out it was ‘sort of’ flat land after all, and the bikes she was referring to were railroad mountain bikes – basically bikes that have been attached to a railroad track on rollers! 😀

This unique activity in the Hida region of Gifu was the brainchild of illustrious locals, who decided to convert part of the disused 2.9km track (which formerly served the Okuhida-Onsenguchi station in Hida and Inotani Station in Toyama) into a tourist attraction. And so, in 2006, the Rail Mountain Bike Gattan Go (a Japanese term similar to ‘clickety clack’ in English) was born.

Hida Takayama & Hida Furukawa

There are several ‘models’ to choose from, including family-friendly ones that have a carriage at the back for the little ones.

Since we were a group of four, I took the front with Mariko-san, and the two guys followed from the back. A safe distance needs to be kept between the bikes so the instructors let us gain some ground before releasing the next set.

Before we set off, there was a safety briefing and a brochure to read (in simple English, if you can’t understand Japanese). We also had to wear protective safety helmets. Loose items need to be stored as it will be difficult to retrieve if they fall onto the track. You CANNOT jump off or stop during the ride (kind of like the motorised jeeps in Jurassic Park – and we all know what happened when they stopped lol).

Hida Takayama & Hida Furukawa

And… off we went!

The bikes rolled faster than I anticipated! Every now and then there was a loud “CLANK!” as it went over a notch in the railroad track, but the ride was anything but bumpy. If you’re lazy to walk but would still like to enjoy the beautiful mountain scenery of Hida, I 100% recommend riding the Gattan-Go. As the wind rushes through your hair, you’ll see verdant green landscapes on both sides, sometimes passing through high ledges that offer sweeping views of the quaint rural Japanese towns below.

Hida Takayama & Hida Furukawa

A vivid red bridge spanning across a roaring river. I couldn’t stop the bike so I precariously balanced the DSLR on my arm while taking 10x shots hoping one will turn out good lol (don’t try this at home kids).

Hida Takayama & Hida Furukawa

Riding past the backyards of some homes.

Hida Takayama & Hida Furukawa

Some parts of the track passed through tunnels that cut across the mountains. The tunnels were pitch black, and I could hear rushing water in the darkness even over the loud clanks of the bike roller against the rails. We also passed by several disused stations, some of which have small shrines next to them dedicated to local deities.

Kanazawa, Japan

End of the line! We had to stop so that the staff could turn the bike in the other direction. There was a basin nearby which was filled with fresh mountain water. Cool, refreshing and sweet!

Hida Takayama & Hida Furukawa

Heading back to the starting point with more gorgeous scenery.

The entire trip took us about an hour, but it sure didn’t feel like it!

Kanazawa, Japan

This ‘tunnel’ cookie was almost too cute to eat.

Almost.

Due to Japan’s changing seasons, RMTB Gattan-Go! only operates from April to September from 9AM – 4.30PM (8 slots per day) and October to November from 9AM-3.30PM (7 slots per day).

Price is at 1000 yen per pax.

RAILROAD MOUNTAIN BIKE GATTAN GO 

〒506-1147
Azumo, Kamioka-cho, Hida City

Getting There 

The attraction is accessible via buses and taxi from JR Takayama Station or Okuhida Hot Spring Villages (55-60mins).

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Travelogue Japan: Hida-Furukawa – The Small Town Made Famous By An Anime

Even if you’re not an anime fan, you might have heard of the hugely popular Kimi No Na Wa (2016). The movie earned a whopping $355mil at the box office, making it the highest grossing anime film of all time (topping Spirited Away)! It tells the tale of a city boy from Tokyo and a girl in a rural town in Japan who switch bodies, eventually falling in love with each other. Compelling story line aside, the animation is famous for its beautiful art style and references to actual landmarks and gorgeous landscapes in Japan.

One of these places is the small town of Furukawa in the mountainous Hida region, which I had the pleasure of visiting during my recent trip to Japan! 🙂

Kanazawa, Japan

Situated within the mountainous Gifu prefecture, Hida Furukawa is a quaint town with an old touch, since most of its buildings date back to the Edo era. Furukawa, along with sister town Takayama (15 minutes by train) was once famed for their high quality timber and skilled carpenters, so much so that nobles used to hire them to work on buildings in the capital, calling them the ‘Master Builders of Hida’.

Kanazawa, Japan

Today, agriculture is a major source of income for the town’s residents. Streets are quiet on a weekday, so much so that you could probably lie down in the middle of the road and not encounter any traffic! The newer part of town is characterised by small mom-and-pop stores, while the old section boasts typical Edo-era wooden structures.

Kanazawa, Japan

We popped into a local restaurant for a lunch. Since the region is mountainous, there are plenty of ingredients such as roots, shoots and mushrooms in the cuisine. Wasn’t sure what exactly I was eating since the proprietor spoke no English, but I think this was a mix of shoots with plump mushrooms, topped with quail egg and the town’s specialty, miso paste. The savoury miso brought out the earthy flavours of everything else, balanced by the silkiness of the raw egg. Amazingly fresh, amazingly good!

Kanazawa, Japan

Japanese food is always served in such a way that it feasts the eyes before it does the tummy. There was also a soup with noodles, beans, ginger/pickles, miso soup, bamboo shoots and rice.

Kanazawa, Japan

After lunch, we walked to Hida Furukawa Matsuri Hall, a museum dedicated to the town’s history and the Furukawa Festival, an annual event held since ancient times. Participants, dressed in nothing but a loin cloth, pull giant decorated wooden floats that are several stories high through the streets; accompanied by the beat of drums. Atop the floats are various puppets featuring both mythical and historical characters, which are moved to tell stories to eager spectators.

Kanazawa, Japan

Kanazawa, Japan

Back to the streets we go! An interesting point for visitors to look out for are the canals, which are stocked with fat and colourful Japanese koi fish. Strolling through the neighbourhood felt extremely relaxing, what with the gentle breeze and the sound of flowing water.

Kanazawa, Japan

Kanazawa, Japan

Furukawa is also known for its sake breweries, housed in traditional wooden buildings with the signature sugidama (cedar ball) hanging at the entrance. Was surprised to enter one and find that the ‘master brewer’ there was a white American man (!)

Kanazawa, Japan

And finally, we paid a visit to the very famous scene from the Kimi No Na Wa anime, the train station…

Amazingly detailed!

Getting to Hida Furukawa 

Useful guide here

*Photos not watermarked courtesy of Japan National Tourism Organisation