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Woodland Kyoto

Traditional Culture and Nature! A Three-Day Trip to Woodland Kyoto

2021.02.20

Interested in experiencing another side of Kyoto? We recommend a trip to Ayabe and Fukuchiyama, a region known as the Woodland Kyoto. Starting from JR Kyoto Station, this three-day travel plan is a chance to discover ancient crafts, stunning natural scenery, and traditional homes!

Discover Local Legends! A Trip Through Woodland Kyoto

Kyoto’s lush northwestern areas include Kameoka, Nantan, Kyotamba, Fukuchiyama, and Ayabe. Collectively, these cities form Woodland Kyoto. These areas strive to preserve their traditional cultures and are an authentic gateway to ancient Japan.

In this article, we’ll share a two-night, three-day travel plan in this stunning region. We hope you’ll enjoy these ancient treasures nestled in Kyoto at leisure.

Day 1: Learn About Lacquerware in Fukuchiyama

On the first day, our trip starts in Fukuchiyama, exploring one of Japan’s lesser-known ancient crafts: lacquerware!

Depart from JR Kyoto Station at 9:24 on the special express Hashidate-go train. You’ll arrive at JR Fukuchiyama Station at 10:40. From there, board the JR San’in Main Line to JR Kami-Yakuno Station to arrive in about 28 minutes.

Our first destination is the Yakuno Woodware and Lacquerware Hall (Japanese)!

The Yakuno Woodware and Lacquerware Hall: Unleash Your Inner Artist!

About a ten minute walk from JR Kami-Yakuno Station, the Yakuno Woodware and Lacquerware Hall teaches the beauty of lacquerware through local legends and culture.

Inside is a gallery, an exhibition room, and a store. You’ll also find a studio where visitors can make their own lacquer art!

Making lacquerware is a complicated process that takes months. The resulting products are elegant and sturdy, gaining more luster as they age. This allows them to be treasured for generations.

If you’re more of a hands-on traveler, the Yakuno Woodware and Lacquerware Hall offers extensive lacquerware classes. Experience the fascinating process for yourself!

There are four courses (Japanese) to choose from. In the mini-course, you can attach pieces of silver leaf to the lacquerware and create your own patterns (1,930 yen). The light course allows you to design a picture using colored lacquer paint (1,540 yen). The master course offers a maki-e style painting experience using gold dust (5,280 yen). Finally, the top-tier premium course lets you stick silver sheets and seashells onto the lacquerware, which is then touched-up by a professional (7,460 yen). All courses require advance bookings.

We selected the light course, which takes around an hour to complete. First, you’ll need to purchase a piece of lacquerware from the shop. Then you’ll receive a patterned paper to create art with colored lacquer paint. After the workshop, you can take the lacquerware home. However, you need to wait three months before it’s safe to use!

The Yakuno Woodware and Lacquerware Hall is a part of the Roadside Station Nosho-no-sato Yakuno (Japanese). There are onsen, lodging facilities, restaurants, and shops selling local goods and produce!

Miya Cafe: Take a Breather and Enjoy Kyoto Hospitality

After the lacquer-painting workshop, it’s time for a break at Miya Cafe (Japanese). It’s located just outside of JR Kami-Yakuno Station.

Opened in December 2019, Miya Cafe is a place where anyone can casually drop by. A renovated traditional Japanese home, the cafe has a lacquered ceiling and a homey wooden interior that create a relaxing atmosphere.

The second floor is reserved as a workshop space. There are regular classes, such as flower arrangement and other crafts.

The coffee is an original blend selected by a coffee specialist in Fukuchiyama. We suggest ordering the drink set. It comes with a slice of homemade chiffon cake and ice cream that complements the robust coffee.

If you’re hungry, Miya Cafe’s menu offers a curry made from Kyojidori chicken wings, pizza topped with seasonal vegetables, and Kami-Yakuno Station soba – a local specialty!

Above are the owners, Mr. and Mrs. Miyazaki, who will greet you with a smile. With their knowledge and friendly demeanor, they love giving travelers sightseeing tips, so ask away!

On your first night, we advise staying close to Fukuchiyama Station. There are many hotels nearby, but don’t forget to book in advance since it can get busy.

Day 2: Japanese Paper and Ancient Homes in Ayabe

Another action-packed day of adventure awaits as we board the train for JR Ayabe Station!

Our next stop is the Kurotani Washi Cooperative. Legendary makers of Japanese washi paper, Kurotani now offers workshops for visitors. You can try making paper while learning the fascinating history and method behind it.

Since the Kurotani Washi Cooperative is a bit out of the way, we recommend taking a taxi or rental car from JR Ayabe Station.

Kurotani Handmade Paper Class: Make Paper the Traditional Way

Surrounded by mountains, the village of Kurotani used the pristine waters of the Kurotani River and paper mulberry trees to become one of Japan’s leading paper makers. With over 800 years of paper-making experience, there’s nowhere better for a peek into this industry.

Kurotani washi paper is known for its durability. In fact, it was even used to make clothes! Nowadays, the paper is primarily made for Japanese calligraphy or fancy stationery.

In the beginner’s class at the Kurotani Washi Cooperative, visitors can make their own postcard-sized washi paper! The class must be booked at least a week in advance and requires five or more participants. The cost is 1,500 yen per person.

Once the postcard is complete, flex your creative muscles by personalizing it with decorations.

The Kurotani Washi Cooperative also has a shop selling various washi paper products, including a stunning range of multicolored paper. On the second floor is an exhibit showcasing the evolution of their washi paper and finest achievements!

Kurotani Washi

Kurotani Washi

You will find Kurotani Washi paper factory in a small riverside village set against a backdrop of forest. 800 years ago, when a rogue samurai fled to the area, he found the forests here were filled with mulberry trees and started making paper by hand. This ancient art is still practiced in the same location in Kurotani even to to this day.
Tour the village and workshops where paper is still being made slowly and carefully, all by hand. Try making washi paper yourself in a small workshop led by one of Kurotani’s artisans.

Furumaya House: Stay in a Traditional Japanese Home

A ten-minute drive from JR Ayabe Station, Furumaya House is a traditional Japanese home operating as an inn. Built over 200 years ago, Furumaya House was renovated into a guesthouse so visitors can experience Japanese history. Since it’s a little far from the station, we recommend getting there via taxi or rental car.

Inside are two bedrooms: a Japanese tatami room and a western-style room. All furnished with futons, the rooms have a homey atmosphere. We checked in early and took a stroll around the premises before relaxing by the fireplace.

The bathroom is also a delight! Stylish and spacious, the bath washed away our fatigue. It also invigorated us for the meal that was to come.

Speaking of food, everything is lovingly prepared by the guesthouse’s owner. The menu features locally-grown vegetables cooked into a heart-warming meal. Breakfast was a Japanese-style spread of veggies and fish, while dinner was a banquet of side dishes, each crafted with care.

The dishes—sashimi, tempura, pickled vegetables, and dessert—were delicious representations of Kyoto’s regional cuisine.

You can also purchase handmade goods, as well as tea and rice produced in Ayabe. All are available at the guesthouse’s shop corner. We recommend snagging your Woodland Kyoto souvenirs from here!

Furumaya is surrounded by mountains and lush forests, so we suggest taking a walk around the area the next day.

Day 3: Forest Wanderings and a Stylish Lunch

On the final day of our trip, we’ll wander through a mystical forest. What wonders await? Let’s find out!

From Furumaya House, we suggest taking a taxi or rental car and head for Komyoji Temple on Mt. Kimio or to the famous Shaga and Mitsumata Forest with its native flowers. Get a local guide to show you around and enjoy the forest’s charms.

Komyoji Temple and Niomon Gate

The Niomon Gate, the entrance to Komyoji Temple, was built in 1248. It is now a designated National Treasure of Japan. From the parking lot, you’ll have to climb a steep hill, so choose your shoes wisely.

After ascending the narrow path, we made it to the main temple building. Constructed from preserved wood, the temple is decorated with stunning carvings from the Edo Period.

Next to the main temple building, you’ll soon notice a massive bell. It is said that the bell’s ringing will echo down to the bottom of the mountain. Each person can strike the bell up to three times.

If you’re with a local guide, ask them to take you through the surrounding forests! Surrounded by ancient trees, you’ll feel the beauty of nature sweeping over you.

Gorgeous Fringed Irises and Honeysuckles

Picture courtesy of Woodland Kyoto DMO

In Ayabe, you’ll find the Shaga Forest in the town of Oitomi—famous for its fields of fringed irises and honeysuckle flowers.

From late March until mid-April, yellow honeysuckles cover the entire ground. In late April to mid-May, you’ll see countless white iris flowers take over the scene! If you’re visiting during these times, don’t miss out on this natural phenomenon!

Even if your trip doesn’t coincide with the blooming season, the idyllic forest is still worth visiting year-round.

Have Lunch at Saryo Yurari Yuitsuru

At the end of the trip, we stopped for lunch at Saryo Yurari Yuitsuru (Japanese), a renowned restaurant specializing in cuisine made with regional ingredients.

It’s located in a renovated machiya house that has a modern style with a touch of classical architecture. This restoration complements the old-fashioned streets surrounding Hirokoji. The scenery flawlessly blends the old and the new.

The interior is spacious and well lit. Visitors can admire dazzling garden views from the vast windows.

The lunch served at Saryo Yurari Yuitsuru is eye-catching! One highlight is the local rice, freshly cooked and presented in earthenware pots. Each grain glistens, and the soft, chewy bite is absolutely delicious! We grabbed a rice scoop and dug in!

The set comes with five side dishes, miso soup, and pickled vegetables. You can any leftovers home with you, so please ask the staff!

Heading Back to Kyoto

Saryo Yurari Yuitsuru is an eight-minute walk from the south exit of JR Ayabe Station. Before boarding the train to Kyoto, take a final look at the elegant town surrounding the station.

Looking for an escape from your everyday routine? Then nothing will hit the reset button like a “Mori no Kyoto” trip through the ancient forests of Kyoto. Experience traditional arts and crafts, stunning nature, and a deeper side of Japanese culture on this trip. Treat yourself to the lush forests on your next adventure!