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Woodland Kyoto

Idyllic Scenery and Traditional Crafts: 10 Destinations in Kyoto’s Mountainside

2021.02.15

Woodland Kyoto is a treasure trove of primeval nature and traditional crafts developed through humans’ reverence for nature. We introduce ten destinations where you can reconnect with nature and learn about local crafts in Kameoka, Nantan, Kyotamba, Fukuchiyama, and Ayabe.

Discover Woodland Kyoto

The area northwest of Kyoto City, comprising the cities of Kameoka, Nantan, Kyotamba, Fukuchiyama, and Ayabe is often referred to as Mori no Kyoto, or “woodland Kyoto.” In this mountainous area, the proximity of the forests, rivers, and fields has shaped lifestyles centered around craftsmanship and occupations rooted in century-long traditions.

A trip north of Kyoto will be full of inspiring encounters. We’ll introduce ten facilities where you can experience the countryside of Kyoto through artisanal crafts, beautiful scenery, and products that are made locally with expertise and dedication.

Kameoka

The remains of Tamba-Kameyama Castle in Kameoka

Kameoka can be reached in 20 minutes by rapid train or 30 minutes by local train from Kyoto. A former castle town, Kameoka still preserves elements of traditional architecture such as fireproof namako walls made with lacquer, and clay roof tiles or windows with an ultra-fine lattice that was specific to old samurai residences.

Kameoka is known for its many artisan studios. From bamboo and wood crafts to glass art and traditional dyeing, Kameoka is the best place to see artisans at work. Many of these studios can be visited, and offer hands-on experiences of their crafts.

There are several guesthouses in the city that offer visitors a chance to experience rural lifestyles, such as Farmhouse NANA and Bishamon House. The elegant charm of traditional interiors can also be enjoyed at dining facilities like Hekitei and KIRI CAFE.

Kameoka is well-known for the beauty of the cherry blossoms along Nanatani River, and the Hozugawa riverboat tours that offer a chance to enjoy the breathtaking scenery of the ravine between Kameoka and Arashiyama.

1. Kyoto Hozuai Studio – Learn about Japanese Indigo Dyeing

Indigo dyeing, called aizome, has a long tradition in Japan; people have enjoyed this distinguished deep blue hue for centuries. Tokushima and Okinawa are particularly famous for indigo dyeing techniques. Less known, however, is Kyoto’s own indigo dying tradition!

Kyoto indigo dyeing was revived through the efforts of a research group. The indigo plant that produced this hue was traced and its cultivation resumed in Kameoka seven years ago. Currently, Kyoto Hozuai Studio specializes in the cultivation of this plant and indigo dyeing.

To learn more about indigo and traditional dyeing techniques, we suggest taking part in a workshop at Kyoto Hozuai Studio. You can try your hand at dyeing a handkerchief, a T-shirt, a scarf, or other textiles. (*Workshop fee: 1,100 yen; the fee differs depending on the size of the textile you wish to dye.)

The handkerchief-dyeing workshop takes from 30 to 45 minutes and follows the same steps as in professional textile dyeing: deciding upon the design, creating patterns by wringing, soaking the material in indigo dye then cleansing it with water several times, and drying. The result will be a pattern that is one of a kind!

If you fell in love with indigo, check out some of the products made by the artisans at Kyoto Hozuai Studio. They also sell aicha, powder tea made of indigo plant leaves, which is highly praised for its antioxidant content and anti-inflammatory effects.

2. Glass Studio Calore – Make Your Own Glass Object

Glass Studio Calore is run by a family of professional glass artisans. Visit their studio and you’ll find a variety of original glassware with beautiful designs, including objects for everyday use, decorative items, and artistic pieces.

You can experience glassmaking yourself by taking part in a 20-minute workshop. Choose the shape, pattern, and color of the object you want to make from one of the samples available (shown in the foreground of the photo above). You can make a glass, a cup, or a vase. The basic workshop fee is 3,500 yen (before tax) with another fee of 500 yen for every design feature you might want to add.

You’ll experience basic steps of glassmaking such as glassblowing, creating patterns and colors by fusing glass, and shaping the liquid glass using professional tools.

Liquid glass is heated in special ovens at 1200℃ and by the time you finish your original glass object, it will still have a temperature of 500℃! The object needs to be kept overnight in a special oven that gradually decreases its temperature, so make sure you can come the next day or on another day to retrieve your glass item. It will surely become a very special keepsake of your trip to Kameoka.

Nantan

Nantan is a very large municipality northwest of Kyoto, best known for the thatched roof houses in Miyama district. Visitors can find traces of the traditional rural lifestyle in Miyama Kayabuki no Sato, a village of 50 households, 39 of which are thatched-roof houses. This village has been designated a traditional building preservation district and a national heritage site. There are two museums in the village, a gallery, three cafes, and two guesthouses where you can enjoy the atmosphere of a thatched roof house.

The Miyama Kayabuki no Sato village can be reached by local bus from Hiyoshi Station, which can be accessed in about 50 minutes by train from Kyoto.

Another place of scenic beauty in Nantan is the Hiyoshi Dam, which offers great views of the surrounding mountains, Katsura River, and Lake Amawaka. At Springs Hiyoshi, a leisure facility located near the dam, visitors can enjoy hot springs, barbecue dining, and outdoor activities.

3. Miyama Folk Museum: Explore a Thatched Roof House

A walk through Miyama Kayabuki no Sato will fill you with wonder at the sight of houses that seems to have become one with the natural scenery around them. To make the most out of your visit, we suggest either spending at least two days in Miyama, or applying for a guided tour at the Miyama Tourist Association in order to get firsthand information on all the highlights.

Visit Miyama Folk Museum to learn more about the structure of a traditional thatched roof house and what it’s like to live in such a house.

The interior has a display of objects usually found in rural and traditional households – from the Buddhist altar and the tokonoma alcove decorated with seasonal flowers to simple furniture.

Climb into the attic to see the structure of the thatched roof in detail. A distinctive feature of this type of house is that no nails were used in joining the beams. The type of pampas grass used as thatch is also on display.

A visit to the Miyama Folk Museum is a chance to learn about traditional rural lifestyles in Japan.

Kyotamba

Kyotamba is a town in Kyoto bordering Hyogo Prefecture. This area boasts beautiful scenery of rolling hills crossed by the energetic flow of Yuragawa River. Kyotamba boasts a multitude of folk performing arts that still thrive here; these include the Wachi puppet theater, Wachi daiko drumming, Obata Manzai (a type of traditional stand-up comedy), and a folk dance called Wachi Bunshichi odori.

Kyotamba can be accessed by local bus from Sonobe Station on the JR Sagano Line. Roadside Station Nagomi can be easily reached from Wachi Station on the JR San’in Main Line.

4. Roadside Station Nagomi: Enjoy Traditional Performing Arts

Roadside Station Nagomi, or Michi no Eki Nagomi, is a center that handles local products and hosts community events. Visit the shop to find food products and handicrafts from Kyotamba.

The Hall for Traditional Performing Arts located within the adjacent building hosts regular performances of local arts on the fourth Saturday of each month.

If you have the chance, come watch a performance of Wachi puppet theater, also known as Wachi ningyo joruri. The roots of this folk art can be traced back around 200 years, when a professional puppet theater group settled down in this area. The puppet theater stole the hearts of the locals, who continued performing it with love and dedication to this day.

The repertoire and the puppets used are the same as in regular Japanese puppet theater. However, in Kyotamba, the puppets that are usually maneuvered by three puppeteers are handled by a single person! This distinctive feature requires great skill and led to Wachi puppet theater being designated an intangible cultural asset of Japan.

Watching the beautiful puppets come to life in the hands of the skilled puppeteers is an amazing experience, so be sure to visit Nagomi on a day when they hold a performance!

5. Tamba Wine House: Taste Exquisite Local Wines

Tamba Wine is one of the famous brands of Kyotamba. The company producing this wine was established in 1979, with the aim of creating a type of wine that pairs well with Japanese cuisine. Currently, their line-up includes more than one hundred wines, as well as grape juice and other products that have garnered much attention for their excellent quality and flavor.

Visit Tamba Wine House to enjoy exquisite local wines. You can also take part in 40-minute winery tours that include a walk in the vineyard, a factory tour of the facility where the wine is bottled, and wine tasting.

Our recommendation is Sumeragi, available in white, red, and sparkling variations. This wine captures the essence of Tamba Wine, pairing particularly well with dishes containing soy sauce or miso paste. The red wine goes particularly well with fish dishes, while the white wine is an excellent companion to side dishes containing pickles.

* Due to the COVID-19 outbreaks, the facility has stopped the winery tours, tastings, and restaurant operation as of January 2021. To check the latest information, please visit the official website of the facility.

6. Stunning Scenery! The Yuragawa River Terrace

One of the features of Kyotamba is the terraced land created by Yuragawa River. Climb one of the hills surrounding the Wachi area and you’ll be able to notice that the land is terraced in four levels. This phenomenon occurred naturally and the locals use the terraced riverbed to grow rice.

Please inquire at the Kyotamba Tourist Association about places where you can enjoy this scenery. On cool mornings in the fall and winter, you can actually view a sea of clouds covering the area.

Fukuchiyama

Visitors to Fukuchiyama won’t want to miss destinations like Fukuchiyama Castle, which was built by famous warlord Akechi Mitsuhide (?-1582), and the sacred Motoise Sansha Shrines. Mt. Oe (832.5 m) is well-known as the setting of legends featuring demons; particularly famous is the legend of Shuten-Doji, a formidable demon defeated by the hero Minamoto no Raiko, who knew that the demon’s only weakness was his love for sake. A local alcoholic beverage called doburoku was named Onibaba after this legend. (The Japanese word for “demon” is “oni.”)

The Yakuno Plateau is renowned for its sea of clouds, a phenomenon that can be enjoyed on clear mornings in the fall. It is also one of the very few areas where natural lacquer is produced.

Fukuchiyama can be easily accessed by train from Kyoto. We suggest renting a car to tour the area efficiently.

7. Motoise Sansha Shrines: Hidden in the Mystical Forest

Picture courtesy of Fukuchiyama City

Motoise Sansha is a complex of three ancient shrines surrounded by the mystical atmosphere of the forest at the foot of Mt. Oe. These shrines are thought to have been established 54 years earlier than Ise Jingu, one of the oldest and most influential shrines in Japan.

If you go past the Motoise Naiku Hall (pictured above), you’ll reach a peak called Himuro-ga-dake. At the summer solstice, the sun sets right above this peak. This mountain has been worshipped as the embodiment of the deity of wealth and crops.

Amanoiwato Shrine, located a little lower on the mountainside, is famous for being possible to access only by climbing the cliff using chains.

Picture courtesy of Fukuchiyama City

Motoise Geku, the Outer Shrine, stands out through its dignified architecture that seems to defy the centuries. It enshrines the guardian deity of wealth and crops.

8. Yakuno Woodware and Lacquerware Hall: Learn About Japan’s Lacquerware Tradition

The tradition of collecting lacquer from lacquer trees has a long tradition in Fukuchiyama’s Yakuno district. The Yakuno Woodware and Lacquerware Hall is a facility dedicated to this treasured culture, consisting of a shop, a gallery displaying artwork made with lacquer, a library with exhibits of materials and utensils related to Yakuno’s lacquer collecting culture, and a studio where visitors can have a firsthand experience of decorating objects using lacquer.

Picture courtesy of Woodland Kyoto DMO

Lacquer trees, called urushi-no-ki in Japanese, must be at least 10 years old before their sap can be collected to produce lacquer. The sap collection, as well as growing these trees to produce quality lacquer require specific skills and experience. You can learn more about this traditional occupation by viewing the exhibits in the library.

Japanese lacquerware is known for its high quality and durability. You can find and purchase products made by local artisans in the shop of the facility–from vessels and other kitchenware to tea ceremony utensils, elegant storage boxes, interior decoration items, and accessories.

If you have at least 30 minutes at your disposal, how about decorating a piece of lacquerware? You can choose from four courses that differ in terms of difficulty and required time. Decorating a simple plate with colored lacquer (photo above) is the light course and costs 1,540 yen.

A lacquerware artisan will teach you the basics of how to handle lacquer. After choosing and assembling various patterns and shapes, you’ll use your creativity to turn your lacquerware item into a piece that is one of a kind. Follow the artisan’s instruction carefully as fresh lacquer can cause a rash. After taking your lacquerware item home, you’ll be able to use it after three months.

Ayabe

Ayabe is a municipality located in the mountainous area northwest of Kyoto City. Ayabe Station can be reached in about an hour and 40 minutes from Kyoto Station by local train or an hour and 20 minutes by car.

The Kanbayashi district of Ayabe is the ideal destination if you wish to spend some time in the heart of nature taking long walks in the primeval forest, listening to the sound of mountain streams, and enjoying the hospitality of a local guesthouse. Komyoji Temple, located on Mt. Kimio, attracts many visitors with its beautiful Niomon Gate.

The area is known as the Shaga and Paperbush Forest is particularly beautiful from the end of March until mid-April when the white butterfly flowers (shaga, or iris japonica) and the yellow-flowered paperbush plants go into bloom.

Kurotani, located in the northwestern part of Ayabe, is home to a paper-making tradition that boasts a history of over 800 years. Kurotani washi paper is highly appreciated all around Japan and a visit to this village is a chance to see artisans at work, learn about their craft, and even try your hand at making this type of paper.

9. Komyoji Temple Niomon Gate and a Walk in the Primeval Forest

The Niomon Gate of Komyoji Temple, originally built in 1248, has been designated a national treasure. Its double-roofed structure is rare in Japan. The two impressive statues of Nio Guardian Kings located within the gate are also from the Kamakura period (1185-1333) and are designated important cultural assets.

Enshrouded in the silence of the forest on Mt. Kimio, Komyoji has been a place of prayer and pilgrimage for centuries. The wooden carvings that decorate the main hall are extremely detailed and beautiful, dating back to the Edo period (1603-1868).

We suggest visiting together with a local guide and venturing into the forest behind the temple. This primeval forest is known for its giant trees, some with unusual shapes. A walk through here while hearing the stories of these trees and what they mean for the local community is a chance to rediscover the wonders of nature.

10. Kurotani Washi: Marvel at Traditional Papermaking Crafts

Kurotani washi is the name for the type of traditional Japanese paper made in and around the Kurotani district of Ayabe. This craft has an 800-year history and has been nourished by a naural environment that allows the growth of paper mulberry (kozo), the basic material for Kurotani washi. The clear water of Kurotani River is also an indispensable element in local papermaking.

To learn more about the history of this craft and the process of making paper from kozo, visit the Kurotani Washi Cooperative. A tour of the facility will give you the chance to see the tools used in traditional papermaking. The facility also holds workshops where visitors can experience papermaking and decorating paper items.

Kurotani washi is made entirely by hand through a painstaking process that involves more than ten stages of production over the course of several months. The result is an extremely durable type of paper that is ideal for artistic uses such as calligraphy, art, interior decoration, and stationery.

Visit the exhibition room on the second floor to learn about the history of Kurotani washi and its many uses. You’ll probably be surprised to learn that, due to its durability, Kurotani paper was also used to make kimonos and accessories in the past.

Stop by the shop of the facility to pick up souvenirs made with Kurotani paper. There are elegant stationery items, objects of daily use such as coasters, wallets, card cases, book covers, and even interior items such as cushions with beautiful designs!

Explore Mountainside Kyoto, a Treasure Trove of Nature and Artisanal Crafts

The ten destinations introduced above are a very small selection from all the wonderful places to visit in the mountainside of Kyoto. However, they are the ideal start of a trip to this area that is literally filled with beautiful scenery and precious crafts born out of the humans’ collaboration with the natural environment.

A trip to Kameoka, Nantan, Kyotamba, Fukuchiyama, and Ayabe will leave you refreshed and filled with joy at encountering the roots of some of the most remarkable elements of Japanese culture!