Located just over an hour’s train ride from central Tokyo is the beautiful Akigawa Valley which is located inside the Chichibu-Tama-Kai National Park. This is where Tokyo residents head for some respite from the hustle and bustle of the metropolis. In the spring, the valley is resplendent with sakura blossums. In the summer, the smoky aroma of bbq meat fills the air at the Akigawabashi Kasen Park Barbecue Land where families gather for a BBQ by the pristine waters of the Akigawa river. In the fall, the valley bursts into a kaleidoscope of colours which is perfect for trekkers, photographers, nature lovers and artists seeking inspiration.
The Akigawa Valley is a perfect two day getaway from the city if you are visiting Tokyo. There are various hiking trails and natural onsens (hot baths) which are open to the public and easily accessible by public transport. Public buses to the various attractions are available from the bus terminal at the JR Musashi Itsukaichi Station 武藏五日市駅. However, If you are travelling with family, a more practical option would be to get off at Akigawa station and rent a car from there. We stayed at the Toyoko-Inn hotel in Akigawa which is just next to the train station and the car rental is just a few minutes walk away. This budget hotel is very new and though the rooms are small, they are well equipped with all the facilities that you will need. There are also quite a few restaurants around as well as a large supermarket to stock up on supplies.
From Akigawa, it is just a short drive to the beautiful Akigawa Keikoku Valley. Your first stop along the way would be a visit to the Kotoku-ji Temple 広徳寺. Founded in 1373, the temple is set amongst ancient trees whose leaves explode into bright firey colours in autumn, drawing photographers and artists alike to its grounds. The trees have been designated as natural monuments by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government and it is not hard to understand why. The bright golden leaves of the ginko trees fall onto the ground to blanket it with its bright yellow hue which turn fluroscent under the warm rays of the noonday sun! Make sure to venture to the area behind the temple to catch the beautiful red leaves of the maple trees!
Kotokoji Shrine: Map & Details
One of the most iconic places you can visit is the ishibune-bashi bridge which is a 96m long suspension bridge built across a beautiful stretch of the Akigawa river which offers the perfect photo opportunity and is especially beautiful during Autumn. It is located about 15 mins from the Musashi Itsukaichi Station by bus. Just across the bridge is the very popular Seoto-no-yu Onsen.
Ishibune-bashi Bridge: Map and details
Seoto-no-yu onsen was built in 2007 and is known for its natural alkaline water which feels amazingly smooth on the skin! The facilities are very modern but the place is very popular and can get rather crowded espeically on weekends and holidays. When we were there, there were big groups of hikers sitting around the grounds having a picnic! We didn’t get to experience the onsen but there is a free foot bath right outside where the public can get to soak their tired feet. It’s FREE! What other excuse do you need to visit?
Seoto-no-yu onsen: Map and details
Located in the adjacent township of Hinode-machi but still accessible by bus from Musashi Itsukaichi Station is Tsuru Tsuru Onsen which feels a little more secluded than Seoto-no-yu onsen. The facilities are slightly older but it is very clean and well maintained. We managed to bathe in the tsuru tsuru (jap: smooth) alkaline water there and it was excellent!
Tsuru Tsuru Onsen
The in-house restaurant features dishes with ingredients sourced locally and we had a very good meal there. You can choose either to sit on the floor or on chairs. We initially chose to sit on the floor but soon found out the the section with the chairs offers a far nicer view of the wonderful scenery outside! If you are in Tokyo for a few days, a short trip out to this onsen is well worth it.
Tsuru Tsuru Onsen: Map and Details
Along the way to Tsuru Tsuru onsen, you might consider a quick detour to have a look at a 700 year old tree that grows in the premises of the Sjikami Shrine. It was designated to be a national monument in 1942 and is said to be the only one of its kind in Japan. The branches are twisted in a very unique fashion that makes it look like a ginseng root. It’s the only tree I have come across with crutches supporting its branches! Dendrophiles (lover of trees) would find it fascinating, I am sure. The rest of us would probably look at it with the same sense of bewilderment as a work of modern art at the museum.
Shidareakashide: Map & Details
The Akigawa International Trout Fishing ground is a great place to introduce the kids to the sport of fishing. The peak season is spring when the trout grow to a good size. We were there in the Autumn, so they were a tad smaller. Rods are available for rental and after catching your fish they will exhange it for a cooked one so you don’t even have to wait for it to be gutted and grilled!
Akigawa Trout Fishing
During weekends, the restaurant is opened for lunch and you get to try their popular Trout Kabayaki Rice. They also offer BBQ rental and sell other BBQ ingredients so that you can set up your own BBQ party by the riverside!
Akigawa International Trout Fishing: Map and details
Driving around town, we passed by plenty of small farms and even managed to buy some radish that have been freshly picked from the ground for 100 yen! It was really good to be able to experience some rural Japan so close to the city!
The Akigawa farmer’s market is just a short drive from Akigawa and it is where you can find all the local produce as well and local ingredients like soy sauce, onion powder, bbq sauces etc. This is the place where the local chefs go to buy their veggies and where you can pick up some great produce to bring home.
Akigawa Farmer’s market: Map and details
With a population density of 20.8 persons per km, Hinohara is the only adminstrative area in Tokyo that is still classified as a village. It is the place to go when you need to get away from the hoardes of people in Metropolitan Tokyo. There are many hiking trails through the forests which make up 93% of the area.
The biggest attraction of Hinohara village is Hossawa Falls which is a four step, 180ft high waterfall that is listed as Japan’s 100 best waterfalls. It is an easy 15min trek from the car park. Apparently there is a cafe there which we didn’t get to visit which is 400 years old! In the winter, the waterfall freezes over and people will flock there to marvel at the natural phenomenon. While walking back from Hossawa falls, don’t forget to visit the souvenior shop and have a peek into the telescope to see a beautiful waterfall in the distance! There are many other falls along the hiking trail and you can spend the whole day hiking if you wish to cover them all.
Hossawa Falls: Map & Details
Chitoseya tofu is located at the beginning of the side road leading to Hossawa falls. You might be wondering why this little tofu shop is located in the middle of nowhere. But this really isn’t nowhere or just anywhere. It is near to Hossawa falls and thus to the source of fresh mountain water which is essential for making the tofu. We tried the premium silken tofu made from Hokkaido soy beans and it’s the best tofu I have tasted. The soy flavour is strong and flavourful which makes all the tofu we have in Singapore taste bland by comparison. The shop also sells soy milk soft serve and is famous for its soy milk doughnuts.
Chitoseya Tofu: Map & Details
We had lunch at this quaint little Japanse Italian restaurant called Villa Delpino which is located near the entrance to Hossawa Falls. This place is a one man show where the chef cooks, serves and cleans up. He does a pretty mean pasta using fresh local ingredients. The cheese and the pasta are Italian, of course. The view from the restaurant is beautiful! Dinner is by reservations only.
Villa Delpino: Map & Details
If you really want a rustic village experience, you might consider staying at Kandukuri sou Inn. This is a 300 year old kayabuki house with a straw roof that is surrounded by forest and streams. There is also a cypress bath with great views of the forest. Meals are provided at the inn which feature the local produce. Note though that the place is remote and offers only basic facilities and services, so you do have to be prepared to lay out your own futons and get the bath ready by yourself!
Kandukuri sou Inn: Map & Details
This trip is a part of Tokyo Sightseeing Promoting Project, sponsored by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government