A couple weeks back, I had the opportunity to go on a 5 day FAM (Familiarization Tour) to one of my favourite countries in the world, Japan.
It was very exciting for me because I’ve been to the big cities such as Tokyo, Osaka and Kyoto before, but never to the Central region.
The amount of knowledge and experience I gathered during those 5 days were overwhelming- in the best way! People call Central Japan the ‘Real Japan’ because a lot of Japanese culture and customs actually originate from the central region.
We visited Aichi, Gifu, Mie and Nagoya City and I hope this Travel Guide to Visiting Central Japan helps you in your travels should you choose to visit Japan (which I hope you do)!
I will be sharing about the different Prefectures in Central Japan – Aichi (where Nagoya is), Gifu and Mie, and my favourite spots within each!
A Travel Guide to Visiting Central Japan – Aichi, Gifu, Mie, Nagoya City
What are Prefectures?
Japan consists of 43 prefectures.
It took me a while to really understand what it means, and I would advise that the best way to think of it is similar to Canadian Provinces/States.
There is a peace and serenity in Aichi. Not to mention, the absolutely stunning mountains and waterfalls. We stayed at the Yu No Kaze Hazu Inn (located in Shinsiro) and it’s a traditional Japanese Inn. It felt just like a private home and something out of an anime. We enjoyed a traditional Japanese dinner, where you’d sit on the floor during meals, and enjoyed sleeping to the sounds of the river outside. It was beyond peaceful. Also, if Onsen’s (Hot springs) are your thing, you can definitely enjoy a nice soak there.
Parfaits at Recontre Okayasu Café were divine!
You can find the café in Nishio and their delicious Parfaits are very popular! They only make 5 a day and we were lucky to try 2! Be sure to book your parfait well in advance, as it sells out pretty fast.
A must do in Japan has to be trying on Kimonos! You’d probably find the traditional Yukata’s in your hotel and you can actually wear them to dinner, to the onsen and to bed- it is honestly so comfy.
The Kimono on the other hand is a step up from the Yukata. They usually make them from Silk, whereas the Yukatas are from cotton.
We were dressed in Kimono’s (that was an experience in itself) and had to get on all fours to climb up the steepest flight of stairs to the top of Japan’s National Treasure- The Inuyama Castle.
Something I found out is that at the end of April, there is a festival where they release hundreds of lighted lanterns into the sky (for you Tangled fans out there).
Nagoya City is another of my favourites! It reminded me of a mini Tokyo. I loved the vibrancy and life in the city. They have several shopping complexes, and a 24 hour Duty Free Mall that literally has everything you can think of. In my opinion, it was a beautiful balance between city and nature. I feel like I appreciated the city more because we spent the days before exploring outside of it and into the smaller towns.
If you go anywhere in Mie, you need to visit the Ama Divers in Hachiman Hut .
It is one of the coolest experiences during my trip to Japan because I was able to fully immerse myself in the history of what Ama Divers do.
Ama Divers, who are predominantly female divers would free dive in only a loin cloth to capture seafood for consumption and sales. Why all women?
Our tour guides explained that it was because women biologically have subcutaneous fat that store warmth better than men, and during that time, this was a way for women to work.
Today, these incredible women still free dive and you can not only experience the meals they cook with the fresh seafood, but also dress up in the traditional Ama clothing and join them in dance.
It’s very entertaining- trust me.
We stayed at the Toba International Hotel and it was one of my favourite hotels ever. I don’t think any other hotel beats the stunning view of the Toba Bay and the string of islands that we woke up to in the morning.
The Ise- Jingu Grand Shrine is another hotspot to put on your list.
Here is a slice of history for you,
The shrine is dedicated to Amaterasu, The Sun Goddess and is the most sacred shrine in Japan. The shrine is also rebuilt every 20 years adjacent from the previous one to maintain it (how cool is that?)
Our guide shared the customary practices while exploring the Shrine such as how we are suggested to bow as a sign of respect upon entering the front gates.
She also mentioned to avoid walking in the centre of the bridge because it’s kept for the Gods.
As you walk further in, you’ll find a purifying station made of a stone basin filled with water, and multiple dippers. We use the dipper to cleanse our hands and mouth.
I absolutely loved Gifu (pronounced – gee-hu) for its natural beauty and history. We visited Gujo City – a city known for a variety of things but here are the highlights- Food Replicas, Soba Noodles, Gujo Dancing.
At the Gujo Hachiman Museum, we were introduced to the various Gujo Dances. A lot of tourists visit Gujo City during the Odon Festival.
We learned that the Odon Festival is this HUGE festival in August where everyone dances continuously (sometimes for a full day nonstop). The dance involves wearing a wooden sandal that makes loud noises as you dance, and there are a total of 10 different Gujo Dances ranging in difficulty, each holding a special meaning.
Seki Knife Museum is a place I would recommend if you love your swords/katanas and want a hands on experience into the making of these extremely sharp katanas.
I didn’t manage to take too many photos of the Gero Suimeikan Onsen Resort during our stay as it was pretty late when we got there. I do have to mention that the Resort is pretty far from the Seki Knife Museum via car, so be sure to plan accordingly.
But guys, the Suimeikan Resort was absolutely spectacular! It’s HUGE. It has 4 Onsens, both indoors and outdoors.
Restaurants, a huge gym, karaoke room, arcade, conference rooms and a separate quarter that is bigger than any Vancouver apartment.
Tips to best travel between Prefectures
When I travelled to Central Japan, I took a direct flight with Air Canada Rouge from YVR (Vancouver International Airport) to Chubu Centrair Airport in Nagoya . I found it to be a great way to travel and was extremely convenient.
Depending on the type of traveler you are, you might opt to go directly to the big cities such as Tokyo, Osaka or Kyoto. I’ve been to those cities in the past but definitely prefer flying to Central Japan for many reasons:
Firstly, if you love culture, I’d say travelling to Central Japan will provide an amazing culturally fueled experience for you. You get to explore the smaller and less popular towns, that each have their own unique flavor and specialty.
Secondly, I find that staying within Central Japan could potentially be cheaper compared to the bigger cities in Japan. You could also take the famous Bullet Train (Shinkansen) that travels 320 km/hr to travel to the bigger cities such as Tokyo and Osaka within the span of 2 hours or less. So you basically get the best of all worlds.
What to Pack
If you are travelling in the Summer when it’ hot and humid, pack at least one change of clothes a day, and hydrate LOTS because you will sweat LOTS.
If you are planning on walking a lot (which I definitely recommend), bring a comfy pair of closed toe shoes. I don’t want to recommend heels unless you are absolutely certain they are the comfy kinds.
Bring snacks/important medication if you’re planning on hopping on the bus within prefectures because they can take about 2-5 hours.
Cultural Things to Note as you Travel
Generally you could wear anything but you might want to take these into account.
The Japanese culture is pretty conservative, especially if you’re in the smaller cities/towns.
If you’re planning on visiting attractions like the shrines, I would definitely recommend planning your wardrobe accordingly. When in doubt, pack a scarf (for the ladies) if you are wearing short skirts/sleeveless tops.
Toilets in Japan entertain me very much and if you’ve been to Japan, you’d understand why. The Japanese are light years ahead in technology and the same goes for the toilets. You will find a ton of buttons (mainly all in Japanese characters), and they all have different cleaning functions.
I warn against pressing the button that looks like water shooting up your bum, because that’s exactly what it does. And, if you’re not sitting, expect to be shot in the face with water.
Oh, and there’s also a button that plays music so you can go Numero 2 without feeling self-conscious haha
- Vending Machines
One of my absolute favourite things about Japan has to be the vending machines.
Firstly, you will find vending machines everywhere, literally everywhere, even in the middle of nowhere.
I’ve seen vending machines for snacks, popcorn, drinks, ice cream, cigarettes, underwear- every. thing.
Onsens are public baths/hot springs. In Japanese culture, when you visit these open baths, you are to go naked.
Not bathing suits, no cover ups, just naked.
All the naked people around does get daunting, but you get used to it after a while. Also, a lot of Onsens won’t let you in if you have tattoos so word of caution there!
- Phrases that would help you
I love immersing myself in culture and that includes learning/speaking the language to the best of my ability. I did a fair bit when I was in Japan and think I did pretty well with sounding local.
Here are some phrases that you can use on the daily and will bring a smile on a locals face:
Thank You – Arigato Gozaimas
Good Morning – Ohayo Gozaimas
Good Evening – Konbanwa
Hello – Konnichiwa
Yes – Hai
Excuse Me – Sumimasen
Bon apetit (before you eat)- Itadakimasu
Till next time, xoxo