Soak in Chubu's nature and culture

GREAT WALLS OF JAPAN: The 20m-high snow walls in spring are a highlight of the Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route.


    Feb 19, 2014

    Soak in Chubu's nature and culture

    A LARGELY mountainous region dominated by the majestic Japan Alps, the Chubu region of Japan is a place with a wealth of sights.

    Chubu, which means "middle part", sits in the heart of Japan's main island of Honshu, between the Kanto and Kansai regions.

    Its nine prefectures offer some of the country's finest globetrotting experiences, with both nature and culture.

    The Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route, which stretches more than 90km across Toyama and Nagano prefectures, is an eye-opener even for the well-travelled.

    Along the route, which traverses 3,000m-high peaks of the Northern Alps, make a stop at the Shomyo and Hannoki Falls area for a stunning view of the highest waterfalls in Japan.

    Stroll along the Yuki no Otani (The Great Snow Canyon) to marvel up close at the massive snow corridors with walls as high as 20m. While the full alpine route opens from April 16 to Nov 30 this year, the best time to view the snow walls is from April through early June.

    Nagano prefecture, which sits on the south-eastern end of the alpine route, is known for having hosted the 1998 Winter Olympics and Paralympics.

    Besides world-class snow resorts, the prefecture is also home to the one-of-a-kind Jigokudani Yaen Koen (Jigokudani Wild Monkey Park) in Yamanouchi town. Visitors to the park can watch Japanese macaques bathe in their hot spring paradise.

    While the monkeys can be spotted all year round, they are more likely to frequent the hot springs in winter, from December to March. Watching them bathe is quite a sight, especially when they doze off in the comfort of the hot waters.

    Fans of the potent wasabi plant can satiate their tastebuds at the picturesque Daio Wasabi Farm in Matsumoto, Nagano's second-biggest city.

    The farm, which is the largest of its kind, is best known for being featured in the 1990 film Dreams, directed by the internationally acclaimed Akira Kurosawa.

    The soba noodles served with freshly picked wasabi rank top among the items popular at the restaurants in the farm, which also sells various wasabi products not for the faint-hearted, such as wasabi ice cream and wasabi wine.

    For those who cannot get enough of Japanese cuisine, the food wax factories - which make molded plastic resin replicas of food to sell to restaurants - in neighbouring Gifu prefecture may be able to satiate you.

    Try your hand at making these delicate replicas - from sushi to tempura to beer - at factories such as Sample Village Iwasaki and Sample Kobo in the castle town of Gujo, which thrives on a lineage of culture and craftsmanship.

    If you need a relaxing break, kick back for a luxurious soak at the Okuhida Hot Spring Villages, a collective of five hot springs, including an open-air bath located right next to a river.

    Close by, the cultural offerings of Ishikawa prefecture are not to be missed as well.

    The Higashi Chaya district in Kanazawa is the largest of the remaining teahouse towns there, and its historical rows of houses have been designated as National Cultural Assets.

    Visitors can lose themselves in the quaint maze-like alleys, and keep an eye out for intriguing performances by geishas, who have been around since the Edo period.

    Visit Japan at Natas Travel 2014 at Singapore Expo Hall 3 (Booth 3H74) from Feb 28 to March 2. Visitors can look forward to on-stage performances and photo-taking opportunities with Hello Kitty. Proudly brought to you by the Japan National Tourism Organisation and Singapore Airlines.