We reached our first goal of posting 100 beautiful 4K videos of Japan by March 2015. This goal wasn’t easy, of course, but thanks to the help of everyone, we made it. Now for the second phase of our plan: Cover Japan from North to South with at least 200 more videos by the end of 2015.
The second phase is a huge one for us, and we thought it would also be a good idea to share some behind-the-scenes moments with you with some videos and photos.
To jump-start this new phase, my daughter and I decided to travel along the famous Kiso valley (木 曾谷, Kiso-dani or also called Kiso-ji). Spanning from Gifu to Nagano prefectures in the Japanese Alps, this 70km-long route is part of the Nakasendo Highway (from Kyoto to Tokyo), completed in the Edo Era between 1603 and 1867 as a major trading route.
There are a large number of interesting things to see in the Kiso valley, but we are limiting ourselves to 5 major ones in an upcoming series of 4K videos. This series of blog entries on the Kiso valley will only feature our journey, making the videos, and nothing else.
First stop: Narai
Not to spoil too much, but Narai is really impressive. There is a street with hundreds of small houses that were built a few centuries ago, maintained by many generations of homeowners. We first arrived at Nirai at night under a stunning night sky, with thousands of stars welcoming us to Kiso valley.
After 4.5 hours of driving from Toyko, we eagerly arrived at our Ryokan, ready to sample Nagano’s finest dishes. The Ryokan we chose was rather simple. No onsen or air conditioning; just a kerosene heater to keep us warm.
Even without some of the comforts of home, we were eager to have dinner. Like most Ryokan, dinner is served at 6:00pm, and was a relatively simple fare: Delicious local trout, rice, sukiyaki, and homemade mochi.
Unless you have eaten homemade mochi, forget everything you think you know. The commercially-made mochi found everywhere in Tokyo and Kyoto pale in comparison to the homemade mochi of Nagano. Although not as visually pleasing as the commercial ones, these mochi were the best I’ve eaten since arriving in Japan in 2002.
Full of delicious food, we went to bed early to wake up at 6am and start shooting some videos. Just for safety, we turned off the kerosene heater and chose to sleep under our warm, heavy futon instead or so we thought!
After a good night’s sleep, we awoke in a freezing room. We could see our breath when talking! I’ve never seen my daughter get up and dressed so quickly in my life.
After eating breakfast, we went outside and saw a thermometer. It showed -6°C. Just the day before in Tokyo the morning temperature was 10°C.
During the off-season, Narai is nearly empty all day long, looking a bit like a ghost town. There was one young, Japanese couple there other than my daughter and me. This made it easy to shoot some beautiful 4K videos of the amazing architecture and temples in town.
Next stop: Kozen-Ji
With our visit to Narai complete, our next stop on our journey was the Kozen-Ji temple. Like the temple at Narai, Kozen-Ji was empty, allowing for more unobstructed shooting of its famous Zen garden and surrounding scenery. While Kyoto has Zen gardens that are more famous, less-visited stone gardens in places like the Kiso valley tend to be quite unique. You really should visit these rare, beautiful gardens.
Third stop: Nazame no Toko
Just between Narai and Tsumago, we stopped at Nazame no Toko, a small, granite island in the middle of the Kiso River. At the top of the island is a small temple.
While I saw photos of this place in the past, nothing prepared me for the fantastic scenery. Imagine a large mountain river with a granite lump in the middle, a few trees, and a tiny temple on top.
Nature doesn’t always make the most beautiful things easy to see, but with some persistence, my 7-year-old daughter and I succeeded in not only taking some breathtaking videos, but also climbing on top of the little island.
Words cannot do justice on how beautiful this place is. If I had to choose one, it would be “magical”. Surrounded by water, this small island looks like an oasis of tranquility where I would love to camp for a few days. As a place of worship, (many Japanese that stick coins around the little temple) however, camping or even a small picnic is forbidden. I’m glad I had the opportunity to visit the island, and happy the villagers kept the island pristine with its tiny temple.
It was time for us to drive to Magome and prepare ourselves for yet another adventure that we will share with you on our next entry.
More on Nazame no Toko
Here you are a few more photo of Nazame no Toko