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: The Thatched Roof Houses of Ainokura Village, Gokayama

People often talk about visiting Tokyo and Kyoto. I’m sure they are amazing in their own right, but Japan is so much more than these two places. For those who venture off the beaten path, there are exquisite gems waiting to be discovered, hidden deep within the mountains of central Honshu.

Welcome, to Gokayama.

Kanazawa, Japan

Like something out of a painting? Yes. 

Located within Toyama Prefecture, Gokayama is a valley region surrounded by mountains – best known for its gassho-zukuri (literally, prayer hands) houses. The slanted roofs are angled at 45 to 60 degrees, designed to withstand heavy snowfall in winter. Some of these buildings date as far back as 400 years! Three villages in the area have been designated as historic treasures and are on the UNESCO World Heritage list.

Due to its remote location, locals have retained much of their customs and traditions, making Gokayama the perfect place to experience rural Japanese life, one that has changed only slightly over the centuries. Most villagers still earn a living through farming and agriculture, as evident by the vegetable/terraced rice fields dotting the landscape.

Kanazawa, Japan

Breathtaking scenery. 

Kanazawa, Japan

Our day tour in a private car took us to Ainokura, the largest (and most remote) village in the area. Home to about 60 villagers, there are some 20 gassho-zukuri houses here. Some are still residences, while others have been converted into museums, inns and shops.

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There’s something invigorating about fresh mountain air – it’s so clean, it’s like air that hasn’t been breathed by any other living creature. It’s easy to see why people have ‘retreats’ organised in the mountains – the air, the clean water, the lush greenery… it does wonders for one’s wellbeing.

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What you should do in Ainokura: Take lots of pretty pictures of the homes, framed by the mountain scenery.

What you shouldn’t do: Trespass. The homes are private property.

Kanazawa, Japan

Neighbours pitch in to replace the thatched roofing every decade or so, according to our guide. The design is such that it leaves a lot of attic space, which in ancient days the villagers used to cultivate silkworms.

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There was a small shrine in the village that looked straight out of an ancient Japanese tale. Hidden in a grove, we accessed it through a traditional wooden gate (torii). Shady trees surrounded the clearing and in the middle was the wooden shrine. It was shuttered, but it looked really old and mysterious, with a bell pull dangling from the front.

Kanazawa, Japan

Kanazawa, Japan

On the right were steps leading further up the mountain.

Kanazawa, Japan

Flowers in full bloom in the village.

Kanazawa, Japan

A house verandah with children’s toys and bicycle. No gates or fences – very unlike the ‘forts’ you find in urban housing areas in Malaysia.

Kanazawa, Japan

We were pressed for time, but our guide told us the hike up to the viewpoint would be worth it – so we huffed and puffed our way up the side of the mountain (and realised we were really unfit).

Whoa. 

 

If you have a bit more time to spare, maybe stay overnight at the inn to really immerse yourself in the experience of rural mountain life, and visit some of the attractions in the area such as the museum (where you’ll get to see handicrafts such as washi paper – a popular product).

Getting to Ainokura Village

Bus: You CAN get to Ainokura by bus; it’s a stop along the bus route between Shirakawa-go (another gassho zukuri region) and Shin-Takaoka Station on the JR Hokuriku Shinkansen. The ride takes 45 minutes and 1,300 yen for one hour. Getting back might be a problem though.By car

Car: Ainokura is a 45 minute drive from Ogimachi via National route 156.

The Highlands of Kintamani, Bali

Hey guys! Here’s the next part of my Bali trip. We went to Kintamani, which is similar to Cameron Highlands here. Toto didn’t tell us the itinerary or I would’ve brought a jacket.. it was freezing up there. The journey took a good hour or so. The odd thing about ascending the mountains is that the roads are straight, not winding like how they are here.

The village offers excellent, panoramic views of the active volcano, Mount Batur (last major eruption in the 1960s) and Lake Batur.

Super frustrated at my phone camera. It refuses to take nice shots when in bright sunlight, turning out overexposed pictures instead. This doesn’t do it justice.

We got there at a bad time – it rained as soon as we finished lunch, but we had a good meal at an outdoor patio before it started pouring.

Wooden outdoor platform that you have to climb up on. The woven bamboo mat was very prickly. The buffet lunch was a scrumptious Balinese spread.

I couldn’t get enough of their goreng pisang (fried bananas). The deep fried brinjals and Balinese style satay (which is wrapped around thick sticks) was good too.

Our mountainside view. The restaurant was divided into a top platform and a lower platform, and situated right at the edge of the slope.

I really wished the weather had been better. The air here is very refreshing – like it had never been breathed in by any man yet. And the view of the mountain looming over the vast, sapphire-coloured lake is amazing. Will definitely want to come back here in the future, and hopefully the weather will be better then.

Getting There 

Private vehicles need to pay a 10,000 RP fee. There are two routes for cars coming from South Bali, from Ubud, and Besakih and Bangli. There are also shuttle buses from Ubud but advanced booking is required. From Denpasar, bemos and buses are available but travel time will take longer.