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Exploring the Pure Waters of Yoshino-gun Part 2: Higashi-Yoshino Village


Part 2 of our journey takes us to Higashi-Yoshino Village.


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Although the population of the village is only around 1,600, there does seem to be an overabundance of artists and creative types living here.


No doubt, the stunning landscape, clean air, and solitude inspire and give the mind space to cultivate new ideas.


Quite simply, Higashi-Yoshino is a beautiful part of Nara Prefecture. Enveloped by breathtaking mountain terrain punctuated by winding country roads that demand exploration, it's everything the Japanese countryside is cracked up to be.







Kinoko-no-Yakata - The Mushroom Palace

(きのこの舘)【LUNCH】



You would be forgiven for being unsure of what to expect upon being told you were going to eat at "The Mushroom Palace." Even more so if you aren't really a fan of mushrooms. A lunch made up of solely various types of mushrooms could sound more like a punishment than a special treat. However dear reader, do not be quick to judgment. There is more here than meets the eye.



Speaking (or more accurately, writing) as someone that is not a fan of mushrooms, I can say hand on heart that I thoroughly enjoyed my lunch here and can't wait to go back! The restaurant serves fresh mushroom dishes that have been grown in the deep mountains and clear streams of Higashi-Yoshino village. The menu also consists of mushroom pickles, mushroom rice, mushroom curry, mushroom noodles and more exotic choices such as deer and wild boar.


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The restaurant is divided into two sections. The front area has a large wooden table with an irori sunken hearth built into it. Here you can cook your own mushrooms over charcoal. The table is suitable for 6 people and behind it is a large fish tank containing ayu sweetfish which can be ordered and then grilled fresh for you. The back room has a couple of kotatsu tables on tatami mats and you cook your mushroom on a small Shichirin grill.


Preparing your own food this way is great fun and really adds to the experience.



The Mushroom Palace has been the center of a lot of recent media attention, appearing on several nationwide TV shows. The walls are adorned with celebrity autographs and pictures. This popularity means making the trip down here without a reservation is quite a gamble. For the 50 minutes or so that we were there, staff had to turn away 2 groups of walk-ins due to being fully booked; and this was on a weekday!



Connected to the restaurant is their growing room. You will pass it on your way to the bathroom. Looking in you will see rows and rows of shimeji mushrooms growing out of what looks like plastic milk bottles.


Access:





Address: 1601 Washika, Higashi-Yoshino Village, Yoshino District, Nara

Tel: 0746-42-0991

Hours: [Restaurant] 11:00am – 7:00pm: [Shop] 9:00am – 7:00pm

Closed: Thursday





 



A Small Roadside Rest Area Hiyoshi-no-sato Marche

(小さな道の駅 ひよしのさとマルシェ)


The small roadside station Hiyoshi-no-sato has two facilities, "Hiyoshi-no-sato Marche" and "Hiyoshi-no-sato Processing Center." Hiyoshi-no-sato Marche sells village specialty products, vegetables, snacks, and freshly baked bread, and offers tourist pamphlets about the village. They also have a small eatery at the back of the facility, famous for its delicious bowls of udon at ridiculously cheap prices.



The adjacent Hiyoshi-no-sato Processing Center processes and manufactures village specialties including the famed Kakinoha Zushi and various yuzu citrus products.



We were lucky enough to be invited to take a look around the facility, meet some of the staff and get a big bag of goodies to take home.







Address: 224 Washika, Higashi-Yoshino Village, Yoshino District, Nara

Tel: 0746-42-0991

Hours: 6:30am – 8:00pm everyday




 


Statue of a Japanese Wolf

(ニホンオオカミの像)



This bronze statue stands to commemorate the extinction of the Japanese wolf (or ookami, in Japanese). Once an apex predator that could be found on the islands of Kyushu, Shikoku, and Honshu, a combination of exotic rabies and aggressive population control led to its ultimate eradication in the Meiji period. The last recoded capture and kill was in Washikaguchi of Higashi-Yoshino village in January 23, 1905, perhaps not far from where this statue now stands. The skull and fur of this, the last Japanese wolf were bought by a zoologist and sent to the Natural History Museum in London for preservation.


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You will need a car, or will at least need to be a proficient cyclist to reach the statue. The spot along the Takami River where the statue is located is rather isolated, but should you make the trek, you will be rewarded with some amazing countryside views.



The Japanese wolf was not particularly large. Its stature was more akin to that of a border collie than say, an Arctic grey. Recent DNA studies and genome sequencing have shown that the Japanese wolf was a descendent the Siberian wolf of the late Pleistocene era and more closely related to dogs than any other wolf found so far and this may account for the somewhat regular stream of unconfirmed sightings that persist to this day. Experts believe that sightings of feral dogs have been mistaken for the extinct Japanese wolf.



The Japanese wolf has a long standing connection to the Shinto religion and Japanese folklore. They were revered as mountain deities (yama no kami), that protected villages, crops and travelers with fangs, hide, hair and even skulls being used as various types of good luck charm.



Wolves in Modern Day Pop Culture

The Japanese wolf regularly appears in modern day arts and literature, perhaps most notibly in the 1997 Studio Ghibli film Princess Mononoke, which features a great white wolf goddess that raises a human child. A similar myth tells the tale of wolves that raised an infant who had been abandoned in the forests of the Kii Peninsula, and later became the clan leader Fujiwara no Hidehira. The popular anime, Wolf Children is about the life of the last Japanese wolf who can turn into a human, and his human wife who raised their two hybrid children as a single mother, after the wolf-husband was killed.



To this day, the wolf motif continues to appear in such places as video games and TV shows, as do the claims that the Japanese wolf is still alive and well, somewhere deep in the mountains of Japan.





Address: Ogawa, Higashi-Yoshino Village, Yoshino District, Nara

Tel: 0746-42-0441 (Higashi-Yoshino Village Office)




 


Niukawakami-jinja Shrine Nakasha

(丹生川上神社 中社)


Yumebuchi (夢淵) and Himukashi-no-taki or Hingashi-no-taki Fall (東の滝)


The Niukawakami-jinja shrine Nakasha may appear rather humble at first, but it in fact has the distinction of being the birthplace of Japanese wooden votive plaques, (ema in Japanese).

The word ema is made up of two Chinese characters;

絵 (e) which means "picture" and

馬 (ma) which means horse.



You have probably seen these ema plaques in one form or another at every single Shinto shrine you have ever visited and many Buddhist temples have also adopted the practice, too. But in case you are unfamiliar, ema are small wooden plaques consisting of a cute illustration on one side with a space on the opposing side to write one's wish. They are then hung up in a specified part of the shrine or temple complex. That sounds straight forward enough, but why are they literally called "horse pictures"?


That's a good question, and there is an equally good answer.


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Niukawakami-jinja shrine Nakasha was founded in 675 during the reign of Emperor Tenmu, and was the object of regular imperial patronage through the early Heian period as one of the highest-ranked Shinto shrines in the country. Part of its importance for the country's rulers was that it enshrined the deity of water, Mizuhanome no Kami, to whom aristocrats and farmers alike offered rainmaking or rain-stopping prayers.



In those days, the amount of rainfall through a particular season had a profound impact on society. Not enough and the crops wilted, too much and the valleys flooded. When the imperial court would attend the shrine and pray for rain, a black horse was used as part of the ritual. To pray for the rain to stop and especially if flooding was a concern, prayers were conducted with a white horse as part of the ceremony.



It is believed that plaques developed over time to represent these basic facets of prayer and further came to be used as a way for the layman to leave his wishes at the shrine for priests to pray for on his behalf. Nowadays, they make up a fun and somewhat frivolous part of a visit to a shrine or temple, but the fact they still remain in use today is a testament to their symbolic power and the realization that one's dreams may after all lie in the lap of the gods.




Access:






Address: 968 Omura, Higashi-Yoshino Village, Yoshino District, Nara

Tel: 0746-42-0032

Website: https://niukawakami-jinja.jp/

Hours: 8:30am – 4:30pm everyday




Yumebuchi Abyss

On the east side of Niukawakami-jinja Shrine Nakasha, there is a deep pool (abyss) called “Yumebuchi” or "Dream Abyss." This is where the three rivers of Takami, Shigo and Hiura meet. When Emperor Jinmu subjugated Yamato, he sank a bottle of sake into Yumebuchi, and if a drunken fish floated to the surface the next morning, it was said to be a sign of victory.


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Himukashi-no-taki Waterfall

Less than a 5-minute walk from the Niukawakami-jinja Shrine Nakasha, located just behind Yumebuchi is a sacred waterfall called "Himukashi-no-taki Waterfall."




To access it, you must first cross a small yet majestic red suspension bridge known as "The Bridge of Dreams (Yumehashi). This will lead you down a small mountain path to the tiny red bridge you can see in the picture above. This tiny bridge crosses just in front of the plunge pool.



This sacred waterfall is demarcated with a shimenawa (Shinto wreath) and is said to be home to a dragon god. It is here where pilgrims throw a Ryūtama Ball (龍玉) into the whirlpool below the waterfall in hope of receiving good luck from the dragon.


The area is also popular with hikers, campers, fishermen, and those in search of the ultimate autumn foliage shot.



Access:





Address: Omura, Higashi-Yoshino, Yoshino District, Nara 633-2431, Japan



 

Furusato-mura Restaurant Ichie

(ふるさと村食堂 いちえ)



Restaurant Ichie is located in the former Yahata Elementary School building, built in the Meiji period, nestled in the mountains of Higashi-Yoshino Village and Miyoshino area. Inside the classic school building, you'll find the restaurant Ichie, a visitor center, and a bouldering facility.


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The restaurant is popular for its local cuisine of fresh river fish and mountain vegetable dishes.


On the premises, there is a large accommodation facility catering to up to 80 people called “Furusato Mura,” Yahata Onsen hot spring, a rest house, tent sites, a small suspension bridge, a safe place to play in the river and BBQ sites.



You can enjoy the richness of nature by staying overnight or on a day trip.




Address: 739 Mameo, Higashi-Yoshino Village, Yoshino District, Nara

Tel: 0746-43-0413

Hours: [Weekdays] 11:00 - 5:00pm (L.O.4:30pm) [Weekends] 11:00am - 6:00pm (L.O.5:30pm)

Closed: Tuesday, Jan 1st , Dec 29th -31st




 


Cafe Little Oven

(カフェ Little oven)



On the banks of the Yoshino River in Higashi-Yoshino Village, lies a unique hybrid shop incorporating a chic cafe called "Little Oven" and a boutique order-made furniture workshop called MINE. The shared space is actually run by a charming husband and wife team who moved to the area a few years ago to realize their dreams.



Little Oven serves mouthwatering desserts which taste all the more sweeter as you take in the murmurings of the Yoshino river down below and the natural scenery out the window.


What makes Little Oven fascinating is the adjacent furniture workshop, MINE. One side of the cafe is made up of ceiling-to-floor glass which allows you to see inside the workshop and watch husband Wataru do his thing.



The furniture and fittings of Little Oven are also made by MINE, so you can experience first hand the level of style, quality and comfort that embodies Wataru's work.

Take-out is also available, as are baked sweets for mail order via their online shop.



Access:





Address: 72−1 Kogurisu, Higashi-Yoshino Village, Yoshino District, Nara

Tel: 090-4305-1968

Hours: [Thu, Fri, Sat] 11:00am - 4:30pm

Closed: Irregular holidays



Official website for Little Oven



For part 3, click here


 

Author: NARA Visitor Center & Inn


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