As someone who has spent a lot of time traveling in Japan, I understand the pull of popular tourist destinations. But if you want to see “real” Japan – the Japan that locals know and enjoy and that expresses the true culture of the country – then you have to wander off the beaten path. Yoro Town in Gifu Prefecture is a great example. With deep history, unique culture, delicious food and stunning nature, Yoro is the perfect spot for a taste of “real Japan.”
Situated near the mountains just west of Nagoya City, Yoro is easily accessible from Japan’s major cities by shinkansen (bullet train). From Nagoya, Yoro Station is only a short train ride through the countryside. However, as this is in the Japanese countryside, renting a car is the most convenient option. You can easily rent a car near Gifu-Hashima Station, which is conveniently located on the Tokaido Shinkansen line. With a car, you will easily be able to access the best locations around Yoro Town.
Lodging in Yoro
During my trip to Yoro, I stayed at the Senzairou inn, a beautiful Japanese inn with an incredible history. Senzairou was founded in 1764 and has been visited by a number of famous individuals since that time, including Emperor Taisho in 1906 (though he was Crown Prince at the time). Visitors today can still stay in the same room that Emperor Taisho stayed in during his visit! The rooms at Senzairou will bring you back to a long-lost era of Japan, yet with all the comforts modern visitors expect.
There is more to Senzairou than just the architecture and history, however. The meals at the inn are some of the best I have had in Japan, including Gifu Prefecture’s famous Hida beef. Senzairou also boasts a hot bath made totally from cypress wood, where visitors can soak in the refreshing waters and enjoy the calming influence of medicinal herbs from nearby Mt. Ibuki.
While Senzairou is a great option for shorter stays, some may find themselves wanting to spend more time in the Yoro area. Several long-term accommodations in town make this possible, and there are even coworking spots available as well. If you can work remotely and are looking for a great spot to see real Japan that is accessible to the rest of the country, Yoro is the perfect location!
In addition to comfortable places to stay, there are many unique cultural experiences to enjoy in the Yoro area. Only a short walk from Senzairou is one of the town’s most famous spots, Yoro Waterfall. Yoro Waterfall is famous for its natural waters which, since Japan’s Nara Period (710-794), are said to taste like Japanese sake and have healing powers. Even if the waters don’t quite live up to that reputation, the waterfall itself is certainly one of the most beautiful in Japan, especially considering how easy it is to access.
Experiences with locals
But there’s more to enjoy in Yoro than nature! I was able to enjoy a number of unique local experiences during my trip. The first was picking fresh vegetables with Mr. Ono at his local farm. It was the season for cabbage and broccoli, and with Mr. Ono’s help, I was able to pick some of the biggest of each that I have ever seen! I have passed fields like this so many times in Japan, so to finally be able to go out and work in one was a real treat.
One of my favorite experiences in Yoro was making pottery with Mr. Fukuda at Fukukaku Toubou. Fukuda-san used to be a painter at Noritake, one of the world’s largest manufacturers of luxury ceramics. Now he enjoys a quiet life in the country making pottery and offering visitors the chance to learn from him at his shop. Mr. Fukuda and his wife are happy to share about their life, if you’re adventurous enough to work with them around the language barrier. Regardless, learning from a skilled artisan in the Japanese countryside and walking away with your own handmade pottery is a special treat!
Several other unique creative experiences are available in Yoro. One is a woodworking class offered at the Kubota Woodworking Shop, where you can make a wooden spoon from wood cut in the Yoro area.
Another is a traditional gourd lamp workshop, which is actually held at Senzairou Inn. The teacher, Ms. Yuko Mori, used to be a professional hair stylist, but moved from the big city to the Japanese countryside to run a business making these lamps. Her gentle spirit and artistic eye make her workshop an easy opportunity for all levels and ages.
With all the opportunities to work with your hands in Yoro, you’ll surely be working up an appetite, and Yoro certainly has you covered. The Hida beef in the area is famous across Japan for its juicy tenderness, and is certainly among the most popular local dishes. You can order Hida beef at local yakiniku restaurants (where you cook your meat at the table), or just grill your own beef and vegetables outdoors at Hotel Nadeshiko Yoro onsen (a hot spring bath).
A big meal of beef and veggies followed by a soak in the hot spring is sure to help you sleep at night! The prices for beef in the area are very reasonable, so you won’t want to miss these opportunities.
There are many other great restaurants in town, including local cafes and dessert shops. One unique local shop offers the chance to try many kinds of local honey as well as honey from other countries, poured generously over a big bowl of fresh ice cream. In fact, you can use as much honey as you want, and as many kinds as you want!
Especially if you’re in the area during the summer, this is a perfect way to cool down and refresh yourself.
Yoro: a hidden gem filled with intrigue
My stay in Yoro was brief, but I was impressed with how much there is to see and do in such a small, quiet town. My visit was during the winter, and I imagine it is even more impressive at other times of year. If you want a break from the well-worn tourist spots to see locations that few other visitors to Japan will ever enjoy, I highly recommend a visit to Yoro. An impressive mixture of culture, nature, and cuisine await.