A trip to Japan is not complete unless you venture out of the big city into the countryside. Rural Japan is full of delights and treasures but so many visitors miss out on the best that these areas have to offer. A trip to one of the local information offices is a must. They are often staffed by locals who are incredibly proud of their home and only too willing to point you in the direction of an attraction deserving of your time. An abundance of maps and leaflets will show you what is around and also help you narrow down your choices.
Uonuma City in Niigata Prefecture is one of those parts of the Japanese countryside that is full of hidden gems, but a cursory glance at both the scenery and the internet offer up nothing but famous rice. Just outside Koide, not far from the Koide IC off the Kanetsu Expressway, is the Yunotani Michi no Eki. It's surrounded by rice fields with the heavily forested mountains never far away. In true Michi no Eki style it has the rest area with the little shop selling an array of delicious looking local produce - seasonal vegetable, rice, and anything that can be possible made from rice as well.
Off to one side of the car park is the Okutadamigo Information Center and a helpful guide map of the area. The Okutadami Dam and Lake are a short drive away and with the autumn colors just around the corner will soon be a mecca for visiting photographers, and was the main destination for our trip. The Information Center is run by the Uonuma City Tourist Association and is your one stop resource for all things about the area. Once you have visited the lake you can plan out the rest of your trip. They have a computer and tablet available for you to check out further details on any destination that takes your fancy. The Uonuma Tourist Association website is a good start if you are looking for inspiration or a quick introduction to what the area has to offer. There is plenty on offer for nature lovers with masses to do in the outdoors from mountain climbing to fishing and camping. Leaflets on the many cultural assets of the area include temples with carvings from famous sculptors, an abundance of shrines and some interesting festivals. We left the Information Center with some good inside knowledge, an armful of leaflets, and a much better idea of what to do for the rest of the afternoon.