We’ll come out and say it: Kyoto’s capital city gets all the glory, but the northern region of the prefecture is an underrated destination that deserves at least a day or two in your west Japan travels. Fukuchiyama is just over an hour northeast of Kyoto City, and with gorgeous landscapes, great food, charming traditional architecture, rich local history, and none of the city crowds — what more could you ask of your next adventure?
You can get to Fukuchiyama 75 minutes from Kyoto Station; for more information about how to get here and other great spots nearby, see here.
Fukuchiyama is great fun explored on two wheels, and for the casual tourist, a zippy e-bike is a wonderful way to see many sides of the city. It’s never been easier to explore on two wheels: rent a bike from Fukuchiyama E-Bikes and do it yourself, or have a local bilingual guide show you the sights (and secret spots!)
Over 6 hours, this cycling itinerary takes you through both historic townscapes and bucolic countryside; you’ll cycle largely on flat terrain, but the e-bike takes the strain off any extended uphill sections so you can focus on just enjoying the scenery.
Read on to find out what Fukuchiyama has to offer.
After meeting at Fukuchiyama Station, we get our first glimpse of the city with a leisurely cycle through the side streets of downtown Fukuchiyama — a pleasant warm-up before we cross the Yura River, perhaps pausing to enjoy the view of the surrounding mountains.
The picturesque Yura River, which wends towards the sea, was once crucial to trade in the city, as goods like Tamba beef were often distributed via the river. It was prone to flooding, however, and the area’s flourishing sericulture industry was put to use: mulberries were cultivated on the river banks to lessen the impact of floods. You can still see these mulberries here and there along the river today.
We breeze across Otonase Bridge, taking in our pastoral surroundings from the embankment, before making our way up through a residential area to the Izaki Castle ruins on top of a hill overlooking the city. Fortunately, our e-bikes make all the uphills eminently manageable!
The castle ruins are well-preserved, and fascinating if you’re interested in local history. Even if you’re not, the view from up here is simply gorgeous – what better way to spend a sunny morning?
From here, it’s a short cycle over to the sprawling Sandan’ike Park, with a large lake almost too pretty to be real.
Originally commissioned by Tadafusa Matsudaira, one of the lords of the Fukuchiyama clan, the park is a local favourite with families. Some of the highlights here include Shofu-tei, a teahouse on the pond; a zoo; and a botanical garden. No matter the season, the park is simply lovely for soaking up the sun and watching the clouds drift across the sky.
After this, it’s a breezy cruise back downtown across the Yura River — even easier as it’s downhill from here — and then south along the river to reach Fukuchiyama Castle Park, arguably the highlight of this town. If you only visit one place in the city, make it the castle.
Located on a hilltop, Fukuchiyama Castle is one of Japan’s Top 100 Castles, and is strongly associated with a warlord named Akechi Mitsuhide, who ruled over Fukuchiyama during the second half of the Sengoku (Warring States) period. The castle was exceptional for its time, incorporating the most modern building techniques available back then; the present structure is a reconstruction of the original, completed in 1986.
Unfortunately for Akechi, he is mostly thought of as a traitor in modern-day Japan. He was the primary instigator of the Honno-ji Incident, where he forced the warlord Oda Nobunaga to commit ritual suicide in an attempt to stop his efforts to unify Japan. In recent years, however, he was given a leading role in a major historical drama, and has been re-evaluated as a kind of tragic hero. In Fukuchiyama, he was well-liked by the townspeople for his generous policies. The Japanese bellflower – the Akechi clan’s emblem – was even designated the city flower.
Snacks, Souvenirs, Shopping Streets and Shrines
After all that pedalling — whew! — it’s time for a snack. Fukuchiyama is sometimes nicknamed the ‘city of sweets,’ a testament to its many wagashi shops catering to sweet-toothed locals.
Today, we stop at Chikiri-ya, a senbei shop that’s been operating for more than a century, located just beyond the train tracks. Senbei typically refer to rice crackers, but their signature snack, Odori senbei, are crisp, wheat-based biscuits flavoured with eggs and honey. The simplest things are the hardest to make, but the senbei here are always delicious!
We cycle through Hokimaru Park nearby, which has a great view of Fukuchiyama Castle, before pedalling onwards to lunch via the retro Naiki Shinmachi Shopping Street.
These shopping streets are known as shotengai in Japanese, and in Fukuchiyama, they were once lined with a great variety of shops, bustling with locals. There are far fewer shops here today, but you can still enjoy the town’s retro atmosphere.
After snacking our way through — we mean, exploring the shopping streets (they split into two partway), we loop back down the river for lunch at Yanagimachi, a rustic and elegant restaurant set in an old Meiji period townhouse. The specialty here is kamo suki (leek and duck hotpot), which is a real treat considering duck is rarely eaten in Japan. At lunch, however, the kyojidori oyakodon (chicken and egg rice bowl made with local chicken) is a hearty, satisfying reprieve from all the hard work of cycling.
Finally, we drift a few blocks west – no more than two or three minutes on our e-bikes – to visit Goryo Shrine. Set in the small, tidy Goryo Park, the shrine was originally dedicated to Uganomitama-no-Okami, the deity of clothes, food, shelter and matters related to the everyday. However, Akechi Mitsuhide is also enshrined here, further testament to how revered he was in Fukuchiyama.
Our itinerary ends here, but the day isn’t over. You can return your rental bikes, or take the rest of the afternoon to explore the town at your own leisure! Take the bike for another spin, or slow down and do the rest on foot. Don’t forget to try all the sweets in town! Whatever you choose to do, you’re sure to enjoy the rest of your time in Fukuchiyama.
● This itinerary is eminently doable as a guided cycle tour, but having an English-speaking interpreter is a real plus if you’d like to dive deeper into Fukuchiyama’s history and understand what you’re looking at.
● If you’re looking to book this itinerary with a guide, you can do so online here. (You’ll need to set the language to “English” from the drop-down menu at the top right corner.)