The central region of Japan is called Chubu, an area that I like to call the soul of Japan—a place that keeps the nation grounded in its roots, its traditions, its true nature. The thing that upholds the very essence of Japan and keeps its spirits aflame. In this region, you will find yourself lost in reminiscence and a fascination of nature, culture, and rural life. Picturesque old towns and small villages cradled at the foot of the mountains, pleasurable roadways, delicious local delicacies, thriving local communities—these are the hues that make up the art that is Central Japan, a beautiful landscape that is what the soul of the modern man needs.
This is the heartfelt introduction that I wrote for Central Japan, otherwise known locally as Chubu. It was another familiarization tour that I joined back in December.
We came in December, at a time when the region was still transitioning from autumn to winter. Fall was still taking its last gasp—autumn foliage could still be enjoyed in many parts of the city, while skeletal trees give some areas an eerie vibe especially on a foggy day. Winter was already breathing its first breath—temperatures were nearly freezing but pleasurable for someone from a tropical country like me.
My fondness for the region is heart-deep. My ultimate-favorite part was walking around the old towns like Takayama Old Town (also known as the Little Kyoto of Hida), Gujo Hachiman, and Inuyama Castle Town.
Cradled amidst a mountainous area of Gifu Prefecture, Takayama engulfs you in a mesmerizing atmosphere that draws you back to the olden days when there was no rush by modernity, and time itself was gentle and consoling.
Such old towns mesmerize you back to the olden times, minus the clamors and furors that occurred back then, so it is purely comforting.
You can feel it in the air, the difference between being in an old countryside town and being in the metropolis. The rush of civilization and progress versus the comfort of an old town that is largely embraced by nature and cold, fresh air.
Gujo is a small city with the enduring appeal of a traditional Japanese town. Rivers and streams of clean, fresh water run across the city like veins that pump life to Gujo’s local industries of food and agriculture. A walk along its streets, lulled by the nearby streams, is an unflagging source of comfort to visitors that seek refuge from stress.
These towns have welcomed a nice amount of development, which is why it is easy to explore around on buses and trains or find a comfortable hotel, but I guess—thankfully—they did not see the need for a lot of skyscrapers and big shopping malls and amusement parks because who needs them here?
The old town provides more than enough to lose yourself in eternal awe of the modest rural life, of passion and culture, and of nature. A chance to break free from the grasp of the suffocating metropolis.
Do I sound like I hate the city so much? Maybe I do. I feel rushed, pressured, strangled by the ultramodern society that we live in. It is the same society that provides me convenience, luxury, and enjoyment. So, it’s kind of a love-and-hate between me and the city. I love and feel lucky to live in modern times—enlightened, technologically advanced, and capable of making many things possible. But naturally, it also has its downsides—the continued enlightenment, advancement, the pursuit of making more things possible and counting more achievements put so much pressure on the modern human’s shoulders.
Old towns like these serve as an oasis that allows a human to recharge and get back in touch with their true nature. A creature of the world. A child of nature that breathes air, is fed by trees and mountains, lulled by the river and the ocean.
My fascination for old and rural towns will always be this profound. We need to give more importance and more effort into preserving and supporting the communities in these places. They are doing us a big favor—they are the keepers, the caretakers of the places that we escape to when we are too stressed out or too heartbroken. You might say the city has everything we need, but believe me, the world would not be complete without the bucolic rural towns.
You can read my story of Central Japan in the Japan Special section of Philippine Primer magazine: primer.com.ph/magazine/vol36.pdf
PS. Did you know that Tokyo—despite being an ultramodern metropolis—also has a secret charm?