The CENTRAL HONSHU region lies almost in the geographical centre of Japan. Here you have the soaring peaks of the "Japan Alps", the Japan Sea coast which retains much of the nation's older and traditional lifestyles, all the way to the Pacific coast that thrives with highly developed modern industry. These are the varied faces that constitute this region.
Nagoya is 366 km. (229 mi.), or 1 hr. 50 min. by Shinkansen super express from Tokyo and 1 hr. from Shin-Osaka. Japan's fourth largest city, Nagoya is an old castle town, with a fine network of streets and wide boulevards. The region is noted as the centre of Japan's porcelain industry, lacquer ware, the "shibori-zome" tie-dyed cloth, and other arts and handicrafts. Near the centre of the city stands Nagoya Castle, originally a residence and military headquarters for the Tokugawa clan. The Tokugawa Art Museum is well worth a visit as it houses over 10,000 articles handed down by the Tokugawa family.
A number of pottery producing centres can be found in the environs surrounding Nagoya. Seto, 30 min. by rail from Nagoya, is one of the largest pottery producers in Japan well known for its pottery and many local kilns. Throughout the town there are many shops as well as studios offering a pottery making hands-on experience to visitors. Reasonably priced small souvenir plates are highly popular. Also Tokoname, 40 min. by train from Nagoya, has long been known for its Tokoname-yaki pottery.
Inuyama, 30 min. by rail from Nagoya, is famous for its white-walled castle, Japan's oldest existing fortress. Museum Meiji-mura, about 1 hour ride from Nagoya, is an impressive outdoor museum of buildings collected from the Meiji period (1868 - 1912). Ise-Shima National Park harbours the Ise Grand Shrine as well as numerous pearl fisheries along its magnificent seacoast. The Ise Grand Shrine, about 1 hr. 30 min. by rail from Nagoya, is the most venerated of all Shinto shrines in Japan. The main shrine is completely rebuilt every 20 years.
Toba, 20 min. by rail or 40 min. by bus from Ise, is a port town famous for its "Wedded Rocks", a pair of islets linked by a giant rope, and is a sacred Shinto spot of worship. Don't pass up a visit to Mikimoto Pearl Island, where pearls were first artificially cultured.
Takayama, 2 hrs. 10 min. by limited express from Nagoya, is an old castle town situated in a valley surrounded by the Japan Alps. Takayama retains much of the atmosphere of old Japan. The whole town is museum-like, dotted with attraction after attraction, including a variety of small museums devoted to traditional crafts embodying the town's long-standing tradition of the finest in craftsmanship.
1 hr. 40 min. bus ride takes you to mountainous Shirakawa-go Village. Nestled in a rural setting reminiscent of the old Japan, Shirakawa-go is world-famous for its steeply thatch-roofed or "gasshozukuri"- style traditional farmhouses, some offering an overnight stay as family-run inns.
The mountains of the Japan Alps are a series of volcanic peaks running from north to south through the central and widest part of Honshu. They are often compared to the Alps of Europe in ruggedness and beauty. The Northern Alps form the core of Chubu-Sangaku (Japan Alps) National Park.
Nagano became world-famous as the host for the 1998 Winter Olympics. Its highland areas offer superb skiing in winter and their refreshingly cool summer is ideal for walking and trekking. Zenkoji Temple in central Nagano City has been highly revered for 1,400 years as a primary centre of Buddhistic faith. Its imposing main building is a national treasure.
The main donjon of Matsumoto Castle in the city of Matsumoto is nicknamed the "Crow Castle" because of its black walls. The castle was built during the Age of Civil Wars, and therefore it has little decorative features, yet shines with a simple and masculine beauty.
Kanazawa, 3 hrs. by limited express from Nagoya or Osaka, originated as a castle town that retains much of the flavour of those early feudal times. The prevailing practices of Noh drama, tea ceremony, and flower arranging among the citizens came about as a result of the long period of unbroken peace which their ancestors enjoyed from the 17th to 19th centuries. Kenrokuen Garden, created in 1822, lies in the centre of the city, and is known as one of the three most beautiful landscape gardens in Japan, along with Kairakuen Garden in Mito and Korakuen Garden in Okayama.
A 1 hr. 30-min. train ride from Kanazawa via Fukui takes you to Eiheiji Temple, celebrated as one of the headquarters of the Soto sect of Zen Buddhism. It was founded by Priest Dogen (1200 - 1253), who brought Zen Buddhism to Japan from China.
Northeast of Kanazawa, the Noto Peninsula projects into the Japan Sea. Its long coastline features a diversified geography. The outer coast is characterized by its ruggedness while the inner coast is rich with bays and inlets with numerous photogenic fishing villages.
Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route is a magnificent, mountain-sightseeing route winding its way from Tateyama Sta. in Toyama Prefecture of the local Toyama-Chiho Railway and passing through the centre of the Northern Japan Alps to its terminus in Omachi in Nagano Prefecture. One can enjoy a superb view of 3,000-m-high class mountains from the convenience of a cable car, bus, ropeway and trolley bus.
Niigata Prefecture, 1 hr. to 2 hrs. from Tokyo, is one of the world's snowiest areas and, as such, attracts large numbers of skiers throughout the winter. Sado Island, 1 hr. by hydrofoil from Niigata, is the fifth largest of Japan's islands, and is home to many small rice farms nestled between its twin parallel mountain chains.