Visit the Hidden Town of Tenkawa in Japan
Despite being only a 2-hour drive south of Nara City, Tenkawa Village manages to remain off the must-see list of major English travel guides. Crowded pine mountains remain unspoilt and relatively uncharted; a huge draw card for those who want to enjoy a peaceful atmosphere whilst working up a sweat from steep inclines and untended terrain. If you chose to diverge from one of the trails leading to a marked destination, expect to run into many a spider and hanging obstruction—literally. However, if you are the adventurous type, charge through the cobwebs and don’t look back, for you’re likely to stumble upon small clearings and gain a golden view over the village. While you’re unlikely to require walking poles, wear solid footwear, for you’ll be met with some pretty hazardous tree roots and hills requiring some tricky footwork.
For a small fee, you can enjoy the view without a red face or sticky shirt by riding a motorised rail-cart to the observatory. Although you’re likely to spend more time queuing for a seat than it would take to make the journey several times over, it’s a novelty to wind through the forest with a different perspective (sitting a metre or two higher than the heads of those opting to hike up). There are two rail-carts operating at mountains roughly 1.5 kilometres apart. Both rides take approximately 10 minutes and stop at the entrance of small limestone caves. Those willing to don a white helmet and pay roughly 500 yen can enter the damp cave on foot and weave through it’s small, colourfully lit spaces before exiting from a near-by hole.
By choosing to walk up to Menfudo caves, you’ll see where the path extends off in other directions. One of which leads to a suspension bridge over-hanging a flowing river bed. Whilst bouncing your way across the bridge, you can watch the sparkling fresh spring water cascade below. As long as you’re not too scathed by the light swaying of the bridge, I’d advise double backing and retracing your steps back down the hill. That way you can exit the mountain via the grounds of a beautiful Buddhist temple; rather than onto some lacklustre residential backstreets far from the other attractions.
|Access path to suspension bridge from inside temple grounds|
Whilst Tenkawa is accessible by train, I highly recommend hiring a car and spending a full day there. Alternatively, you could stay at one of the lodgings situated in the village, however, even the most basic establishment charges upwards of 10,000 yen per night. I recommend staying in Asuka which is a reasonable one-hour drive away. Situated in the old area of Asuka lays a transformed ryokan-style guesthouse with cheap dormitory accommodation. Surrounded by rice paddies and veggie patches, the grounds and scenery possess both candid charm and numerous impressive historical sites. Keep an eye out for a future post dedicated to highlighting the area of Asuka.
How to reach Asuka: From Osaka-Abenobashi Station, take the Kintetsu-Minamiosaka Line (bound for Yoshino) to Asuka Station (approx. 1 hour)
How to reach Tenkawa: From Kintetsu Nara station, take the Kintetsu-Kyoto Line (bound for Kyoto) to Yamato-Sadaiji Station. Change to the Kintetsu-Yoshino Line (bound for Kashiharajingu-Mae) and get off at Shimoichiguchi Station (approx. 1 hour). Take Nara Kotsu Bus No. 2 or 7 from Shimoichiguchi Station to Tenkawa.
Car rental: To rent a car in Japan you must have an International Driver’s Licence. Daily rates start from about 5,000 yen. Expect to pay around 3,000-4,000 yen to refill the tank of a standard economical car. I’ll be posting more details about renting cars in Japan in the near future.