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Tour the "Daily Life" of Hida Furukawa! Hida Satoyama Cycling

Yuka
Updated Sep 23, 2015

There are a number of cycling tours, but this guided tour offered by Hida Satoyama Cycling incorporates the catchphrase “A Journey Through Daily Life.” Thanks to the guides who know the area very well, the local folks will come and casually chat with you, and at times they even let you do some of their farm work! With a keen focus on producing “cultural exchange,” this remarkable tour has even won the Good Design Award from the Japan Institute of Design Promotion.

Cycle through hamlets where tourists rarely show up!

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The highlight of the Hida Satoyama Cycling tour is taking a mountain bike through the beautiful scenery of the village forest area named Hida Furukawa. Most of the visitors to Gifu Prefecture’s Hida area would go with the old standard and trek through the old townscape of Takayama or head to Shirakawago and then come back, but with this tour you can visit ta part of he Hida Furukawa area that is relatively untouched by tourists.

Nicknamed “Takayama’s Inner Parlor,” Hida Furukawa is the other old townscape located in Hida. It’s a town brimming with emotion as you see the koi carps swim in Seto River against a backdrop of white plaster walls of the storehouses and the stonewalls of the temples. Of course, the tour includes a trip along Seto River located in the town center, but the real pleasure is pedaling your mountain bike at full speed through the surrounding hamlets. May has the rice-planting season while summer has the verdant and fully grown rice plants; this is a place where you can personally experience the four seasons at a village forest.

Hida Satoyama Cycling Sponsored by: Satoyama Experience (Chura-Boshi Incorporated) Reservations: via email or phone (see homepage) Courses: Half - 10:00-12:00, 4,700 JPY Standard - 1:30-5:00, 7,300 JPY Ride & Hike - 10:00-3:00, 9,800 JPY *Tours that take you to Seto River in the middle of Furukawa are “Half” tours. *See homepage for more details

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You can interact with the locals!

When you pedal your mountain bike through the expansive countryside of the hamlet area, the local folks you meet along the way will yell out “Konnichiwa!” to you almost without fail. That is because a lot of the guides for this tour sponsored by Satoyama Experience have actually moved into the area themselves and are living in Hida Furukawa and interacting with many of the locals on a daily basis. For example, an old farmer would ask the guide, “How are the vegetables coming up at your place?” Because of those tour guides, one is able to have very meaningful interactions with the locals.

Also, since many of the tourists hail from the main metropolitan centers, a considerable number of them would come thinking “I wonder what It’s like living in a village forest?” or “I want to get rid of the fatigue from working in the city!” as they explore life in the countryside. All of them were very interested in hearing what the local folks have to say.

When this writer did this tour, a married couple that was cultivating green onions came and greeted us. We chatted about a bunch of things and then they said, “Guys, why don’t you take some onions with you?” as they invited us to harvest some of their onions for ourselves! Also, with our guide leading the way, we were allowed to come to the entryway of their house that is over a century old, and they told us how this type of architecture has been passed down through the Hida area for generations. After getting to know the locals, we developed a bond with them that had me wishing I could visit this place again. The fact of the matter is this tour actually gets a lot of repeat visitors.

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We used spring water for our teatime!

In the middle of the tour, the guide took us to a hot springs spot that the locals use to get their drinking water. We used that water for our teatime. We boiled the water in portable teakettles and we drank our hot drinks. We also had the locally made “miso rice crackers” along with our beverages.

We also took a break to rest our legs that were tired from pedaling our bikes, so I took some time to have some nice conversations with the other tourists and our guide. After spending all that time moving my body, it was a very nice little breather.

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Half of the tourists are from overseas!

You’ll probably know if you visit the Satoyama Experience website, but the site is also available in English as well as in Japanese. Satoyama Experience seeks to exhibit to the world the culture to be found in village forests (the “satoyama”), and it has information about tours of the Japanese countryside that was previously very hard to get for foreigners. But the people behind the website went the extra mile to make that information easily accessible.

Satoyama Experience’s PR man, Mr. Shiraishi, said, “Over half of the guests who participate in Hida Satoyama Cycling come from overseas.” Which is true, there are indeed a lot of foreigners who take part in the tour. There are even guides who’ve spent long times overseas, and they were able to relay information to tourists of various backgrounds in an easy-to-understand manner. Thanks to this, It’s a tour that attracts a lot of fans both inside and outside the country!

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The "Satoyama Offices" in these old houses are a must!

Source: Yanagi-gumi

Satoyama Experience has other categories in their repertoire beside the Hida Satoyama Cycling tour, such as the “Art & Culture”, “Town & Village Walk”, “Long Stay”, and “Magazine & Events,” in order to introduce the village forest life to new people.

In the “Long Stay” category, there is one item that is now receiving attention called “Satoyama Office.” In a joint project with a local contractor, Yanagi Gumi, they began casting light on the numerous old and vacant folk houses in the area by lending them to visitors who plan for long stays in the locality. The Hida Furukawa district was also unable to avoid the steady depopulation that is affecting the rural areas, so the houses made by traditional Hida craftsmanship were in danger of going to waste. However, they are finding new uses for those classic homes, such as renting them out as remote offices for people who work in major metropolitan areas. These residences are normally lent out one house apiece, each including a kitchen and a bath, which is perfect for extended stays. They"ve even prepared rooms with whiteboards and office equipment!

Especially in this day in age, you’re able to do your work just about anywhere if you have at least one personal computer. When the hot summer season comes your way, wouldn’t you want to do your work in a nice, cool setting? These houses aren’t just for work; you can also invite friends for an overnight stay in the country. These houses are definitely recommended if you are planning a trip to the Hida area!

Satoyama Office

Managed by: Yanagi Gumi Inc.

Rental House #1: “Genshichi” - A farmhouse that has stood for 150 years on a plateau 1000 meters high.

Rental House #2: “Suehiro” - This Sukiya-style dwelling blends many refined architectural techniques.

Rental House #3: “Shirakawago Office” - A small detached building located in Shirakawago, a UNESCO world heritage site.

Cost of Rental Houses: See Satoyama Office’s homepage.

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Places to see the village forest landscape, and "encounter" the people living there.

I used to wonder if the Hida Satoyama Cycling tour is so attractive because you’re able to see the beautiful Japanese landscape of olden days. However, now that I’ve actually taken part in it, I feel that what makes the tour really worth it is the encounters you have with the people. When you ride on your mountain bike, everybody from old folks to middle school kids will yell out to you “Konnichiwa!” or “We sure have a lot of visitors today!”

I was also able to hear about what life is like in the area from the guide who actually lives here, and I felt I was able to peer into the real daily lives of the local residents. There is definitely a lot more to be gained from that aspect of the tour than from simply enjoying the scenery. Because of that experience, the Hida Furukawa area feels very close to me, and there is no mistake that I will want to visit again once the seasons change. There were people in my tour group who were there for the second or third time. So why don’t you get away from the hustle and bustle of the city life and come here to soothe your spirit?

This article was originally published on Sep 23, 2015

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