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! 🙂
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’.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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 (!)
And finally, we paid a visit to the very famous scene from the Kimi No Na Wa anime, the train station…
Getting to Hida Furukawa
Useful guide here
*Photos not watermarked courtesy of Japan National Tourism Organisation