Ozu to Uchiko

(22 KMs)

Tuesday 24th October

Ozu - Uchiko

Tranquil villas

We awoke to a foggy morning - not quite the sunshine we were used to. We left our panniers at reception and by the time we left the hotel the skies had cleared to another beautiful day. 

We headed back across the river, following the same route we had cycled in on the day before.  Somehow we had missed spotting Ozu castle, clearly perched above the town. It was demolished in 1888 due to deterioration but faithfully reconstructed in timber and completed in 2004. For around 1 million yen, you can book out the castle to stay overnight with the option of entering the castle dressed in armour.  Maybe next time…..

We cycled through the Ozu old town to Garyu Sanso Villa, a beautiful thatched villa complex located on the river.  It was built around 1907 based on designs from famous villas in Kyoto.  Apparently it took around 9000 artisans to build it over four years. 

The main building is Garyu-in, a big, wooden house with simple, elegant rooms and intricate carvings and other interesting features. The house opens onto beautiful gardens with gorgeous stone water features and big stepping stones in different shapes and sizes.  Also located in the garden is a small tea house, known as Chisi-an that used to be the bathroom,

The third building is the thatched house, Furo-an, which uses a living tree as one of its pillars.  It sits on stilts high above the Hijikawa River - there were some lovely views of the river if you could avoid the earthworks taking place on the opposite bank.

We detoured via the castle car park for a better view of the castle, but were informed by a couple of friendly Japanese tourists that it was a steep walk to the top and the view was the same, so we heeded their advice and headed back to the hotel to pick up our panniers. 

It was only around 15 kilometres to the town of Uchiko, famous for its high quality wax production in the late 19th century and beautifully preserved old town of Yokaichi, with its main street lined with merchant houses.  We stopped at the train station to store our panniers in lockers and then cycled to Karari farmers market in search of a Uchiko pork and miso burger that I had spotted in the Uchiko Tourist Guide.  We discovered them in a bakery in the market, together with a French raisin and walnut bun that looked delicious. 

We found seats overlooking the river and enjoyed our lunch - the pork burger tasting as good as it had looked in the brochure.  We wandered across the nearby suspension bridge and were tempted to have an ice cream.  As we approached the counter an American advised me that the gelato was delicious and what did I think of Trump?  I decided it might be a good time to explore the nearby market, returning later for an ice cream when the American was nowhere to be seen.  I tried the Jabara chocolate gelato, and it was sensational.  Jabara is a rare citrus fruit that is grown in Uchiko.  Thinly cut Jabara peel is mixed in with the ice cream - apparently it also helps with pollen allergies. 

It was time to explore the town and the Kamihaga Residence and Japanese Wax Museum was our first stop.  The Residence was another tranquil villa with spacious tatami rooms and a lovely garden.  The head of the family died during its construction so the top floor remained unfinished providing a clear view of the roof trusses.

The museum provided extensive information on the process to make the famous Uchiko white wax extracted from the berries of the Sumac tree, initially imported from South East Asia.  The berries were crushed into a fine powder that was steamed and then the wax extracted.  It was then bleached in sunlight to make it white. Twice one of the attendants explained some of the history of the site in English and as we were leaving, insisted that we take two persimmons. 

We then visited the Uchiko History and Folklore Museum which used mannequins to represent the daily life of a pharmacy, including mannequins serving at the counter, eating meals, working in the kitchen, keeping an inventory in the store room, and having conversations. The retired shop’s founder was shown living in his room and waiting to play Go with his son.   

Our final stop was the Uchiko-za Theatre, a fully operational kabuki theatre that was saved from demolition in the 1970s due to the efforts of the townspeople.  We wandered through the building to explore the trap doors and hidden passageways around the stage. The trapdoors enable dramatic entrances and disappearances.  There was a large turntable in the stage with its own special trapdoor.  It would have been interesting to see a performance - though the seating didn’t look comfortable. 

It was then back to the station to pick up our panniers and head to our accommodation at Kokuri Farm Inn which I had found on google maps.  It was extremely expensive to stay in Uchiko, with the only reasonably priced option being the youth hostel. The Kokuri Farm Inn offered dinner, bed and breakfast for just under $100 per person (9300 yen).  It was a few kilometres out of town and we weren’t sure we had the right place.  However, Simon was offered a registration form so we assumed they were expecting us.  The four rooms in the inn were custom made, circular in shape and felt like little hobbit houses, 

We were the only guests and weren’t sure what to expect for dinner.  It turned out to be delicious and one of our favourite meals to date.  There was classical music playing and two plates for each of us laid out on the table, one with chicken rissoles and salad, the other with rice, a small piece of fish, chestnut, taro potatoes and other mixed vegetables.  The wife then served a separate dish of fried chicken and potato crisps and a pumpkin gratin each.  We ate every morsel - except the garnishes.  Dinner was followed with green tea and biscotti.

The husband explained that he had made the alpine horn that lay the length of the stairs and showed us a video of someone playing it.  An unexpectedly good dinner.