Experience the “Slow Life” of the Japanese Countryside in Kamiyama

In my previous article I introduced the village of Kamiyama in Tokushima prefecture and one of my favorite waking tours there. This time, I would like to introduce the other fun activities to enhance your experience of the Japanese countryside.

Walk or cycle around

Kamiyama’s terrace rice fields

In Kamiyama, simply walking around is enough of an experience already. On top of the Ooawa walking tour, the villagers are also preparing the ‘Kamaya Morning Tour’, where a local guide takes you through the fields and ends at the organic bakery and restaurant Kamaya (a place I highly recommend). Walking around freely is also very enjoyable, and the fact that most of the locals (especially children) greeted me on my way made me feel welcome.

Primary schoolers on their way to school on one of the village’s main streets

What struck me during my first visit in Kamiyama is how vibrant the local nature is (should we thank goddess Ogetsume for this?). I’ve been to other rural parts of Japan before, but in Kamiyama I felt I was encountering a much more diverse fauna and flora than usual in a very short span of time. Maybe it was also because it was summer, but it was impossible to walk two minutes without meeting a new sort of insect, bird or another critter (tiny, green frogs are everywhere). I couldn’t help but take a picture of all the creatures and the child in me felt like a Pokémon hunter. What made me really happy was to see a swallows’ nest, something I had not seen in a very long time.

Some of the tiny new friends I made in Kamiyama

Kamiyama only has 6,000 inhabitants and few houses, but the village is sprawling. So if you’d like to go further, renting a Brompton bicycle is a great way to explore. If you’ve never heard about Brompton bicycles before, they are foldable bicycles, which means that you can, for example, ride the local bus to the top of the village and use the bicycle to go back easily down the road (make sure to check the schedule in advance as there are very few buses).

Waiting for the bus with folded Brompton bicycles

Riding along the village’s rivers is a good way to enjoy the local beautiful scenery without getting lost. When tired, do not hesitate to have a stop and put your feet in the clean, blue waters! Using a ‘slow’ means of transport to go around is also a great way to experience how quiet and relaxed the whole place is. It’s almost as if time was flowing more slowly here.

One of the rivers going through the village. Having a snack break near the water is a great way to relax

Stay in a traditional house

Doji, one of the traditional accommodations available in Kamiyama

The main and most popular place to stay in Kamiyama is Kamiyama onsen, a ryokan where you can bathe in natural hot spring water. It is also the recommended accommodation if you would like to have your own bathroom and don’t like to share it with other customers. By the way, you can bathe in the onsen as a visitor, but please note that, unfortunately, the place is not accessible to people who have tattoos.

The lounge space in Moja House.

However, if you are willing to share some space and commodities with other travelers (often pilgrims), staying in a kominka (traditional folk house) is a great way to have a glimpse at how the locals live. These are usually rooms or whole houses owned by local families that have fallen out of use as families have grown smaller. To keep some life in the buildings, some are turned into guest houses. Expect authentic, old fashioned furniture and a stunning view from your window in the morning.

The kind of view you wake up with when you decide to stay in a kominka

Recommended kominka lodging in Kamiyama include Moja House, Saraya and Doji. Each house is located in a completely different part of the village, Doji being the most remote. Make sure to check the location and your means of transportation before making your reservation!

Learn new skills with the locals

Picking sudachi from the trees is quite an easy task – just wear long sleeves and be careful of the spiky branches!

Being in the countryside is a good way to be involved with food-related activities!

One of the main things to do is to go harvest one of the local products. It was still summer when I visited Kamiyama, so it was still possible to harvest sudachi, a green citrus fruit that Tokushima folks love to put in all sorts of dishes and drinks. In Tokyo, sudachi can be found in some shops but they are a little expensive, so I was pretty happy to bring about half a kilo home. If you are living outside of Japan, please remember that you are not allowed to take fruits and vegetables out of the country, so it may be better to cook things on the spot or make some fruit juice.

After picking up the fruits, Miss Moja from Moja house and I enjoyed some home-made sudachi soda while watching the setting sun

Cooking experiences are also available. A very peculiar one is offered by a lady who has built an old-style irori (a traditional hearth) in her house. I learnt how to dispose the pieces of wood for the fire and how to blow on it. It was my first experience of making a fire (I’ve never even made a campfire before) so I was pretty excited.

Learning how to blow on a fire to fan its flames

We cooked rice in a pot on the fire, and then used the embers to grill tofu and konnyaku skewers as well as cooking sweet potatoes. The skewers were served with delicious local yuzu miso sauce. We also had a lot of fresh tempura and all you can drink miso soup. The menu was modified because I’m a vegetarian, but fish or meat can be cooked on the irori as well. I was so full after the lunch I was happy to immediately go hiking to start burning off all of those calories!

We even got a delicious traditional dessert

Go on a short hike

At the start of the hike to Amagoi no taki

If you like hiking and waterfalls, two short hikes are available close to the village. One very short hike (30 minutes round tripboth ways ) goes to Jintsuu no taki, which is famous for freezing in winter if temperatures stay below zero for more than three days.

The other waterfall is Amagoi no taki, which takes about 40 minutes both ways. Avoid going there on rainy days as the steepest slopes get really slippery and even the locals won’t attempt the hike.
The path follows the clear stream of water in the forest and some smaller waterfalls can be seen along the way.

The waterfall is really huge and impressive

Enjoy the local events

Lanterns spell ‘Reiwa’ the name of the new era starting this year at Shosanji temple

During my stay, I was lucky to take part in the local festival celebrating the beginning of autumn. It took place at Shosanji temple, which is the reason why Shikoku pilgrims come to Kamiyama. The temple is worth a visit but is a bit hard to access. Buses will take you only half-way, from which you will have to get a taxi. Of course, you can decide to do like the pilgrims and walk all your way to the temple, but make sure you have plenty of time and energy – the route is long.

Awa-Odori dance at Shosanji temple

The festival consisted in a few food stalls, an Awa-Odori dance (the dance originates from Tokushima) and fireworks. At the end of Awa-Odori, everyone is invited to join the dance and I saw many foreigners dancing happily among the locals (I danced too).

Kamiyama has many events and festivals all along the year so it may be a good idea to make your visit coincide with one of them – it will be the best way to meet the locals as everybody is in a good mood! One good way to check on what’s going on is to follow the village’s Facebook page (even if it is in Japanese only).

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Writer / Translator

I’m French but I’ve been living in Tokyo for many years during which I had a lot of meaningful and thrilling experiences. I’m curious and I love learning new things. My hobbies are kick boxing, scuba diving, Japanese traditional painting, etc… As a writer, I’d like to share information about less touristic, more authentic places. I will also write about all the fun and cultural activities unique to Japan.