The Heart of Japan, Between the Kanto and Kansai Regions
Chubu is the central region of the main island Honshu, crowned by the Japanese Alps, with Mt Fuji as the dominant summit. It includes nine prefectures and its largest cities are Niigata and Nagano in the North, Nagoya in the South and Kanazawa on the North-Western coast.
The Chubu area is sandwiched between Japan’s most famous regions: Kanto (Tokyo) and Kansai (Kyoto, Osaka). It also extends from the Pacific Ocean in the south to the Sea of Japan in the north. Globally lesser known, the region is nonetheless home to many of the archipelago’s sites and iconic landmarks, such as the paramount Fuji-san, and offers wonderful stays-over in a trip to Japan.
How to travel in the area?
Chubu is mainly constituted of the Japanese Alps, bordered in the south by a narrow coastal plain and in the north by Niigata’s agricultural plain. Consequently, Nagoya is the major hub of the area, with the Chubu International Airport in Ise Bay, and almost the only way by train from Tokyo or Kyoto, thanks to the JR Pass especially. The Hokuriku Shinkansen 🚅 line connects Tokyo to Kanazawa via Nagano and Toyama, and will be connecting Kyoto and Shin-Osaka via Fukui in a near future.
Moreover, some places in the mountains are only accessible by road, such as Shirakawa-go served by a bus, and renting a car 🚙 is usually recommended for a more flexible travel. Sado Island is connected to the mainland by ferries. Some places, such as the Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route, are only accessible from spring to autumn 🍁.
Why explore the Chubu area?
This mountainous region gathers many historical and natural sites, scattered throughout its territory. It is well-know for its ski resorts, especially around Nagano, and its hiking trails and onsen ♨️.
Tourists tend to disregard the side on the Sea of Japan as it is off the beaten tracks, but it preserves a large part of traditional Japan and is nicknamed the "Snow Country" due to the heavy snowfalls occurring every year in winter. Many sites such as Kanazawa City or Matsumoto Castle 🏯 are considered remarkable places of preservation of Japan’s feudal history.
Gastronomy is extremely rich and varied with an emphasis on seafood, sake 🍶, whiskey, various kinds of Wagyu beefs and a large agricultural production, including koshihikari rice.
The region is composed of 9 prefectures : Shizuoka, Yamanashi, Aichi, Gifu, Nagano, Ishikawa, Fukui, Niigata and Toyama.
Hugging the Pacific Ocean coast, it is bordered in the north by Yamanashi prefecture, with which it jointly manages Mount Fuji 🗻, culminating in the Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park, the most visited national park in Japan. The cities of importance are Fuji, for its view on the holy volcano 🌋 and its tea production, Odawara for its historical significance. The capital Shizuoka has been marked by shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu with the Kunozan Toshogu shrine and Sunpu Castle. The prefecture is also renowned for wasabi cultivation and produces 80 % of this green gold nationwide.
The Izu Peninsula, on its eastern side, is a popular seaside destination, especially the city of Atami. Beaches 🏖 and aquatic parks are also available in Hamamatsu, with Bentenjima’s floating torii ⛩️ gate offering particularly beautiful pictures at sunset in December.
The other prefecture of Mount Fuji, it spreads inland on the south of the Japanese Alps. Fujiyoshida City is home to the starting point of the Yoshida Trail, the busiest walking path to climb the sacred volcano, and offers one of the most famous view on it, from the Chureito Pagoda. While it is more contemporary, Fuji-Q Highland themed park will please thrill-seekers and amateurs of stunning views.
The Fuji Five Lakes Area (Fujigoko) displays wonderful sceneries in spring, especially during the Fuji Shibazakura Matsuri festival, and in autumn around Lake Kawaguchiko. Mount Fuji is the permanent background of the landscape, and natural onsen hot springs are plentiful.
Kofu, its capital, is renowned for the production of Japanese white wine from the koshu grape, a variety with a characteristically thick pink skin and white pulp.
Nagoya, its capital, is the industrial center of the region and the 4th most populated city of Japan. Its quasi central location between Kyoto (about 40 minutes by Shinkansen) and Tokyo (about 1h30) make it a transport hub to reach the heart of the Japanese Alps.
The prefecture tries to bolster its touristic attractiveness by supporting several attractions:
- The reconstruction of Nagoya Castle, destroyed during WWII, with an emphasis on the ninja and samurai historical heritage;
- The staging of the World Cosplay Summit;
- From November 2022, the opening of the Ghibli Park, on the former site of the World Expo 2005, where it is already possible to visit Satsuki and Mei's house.
The prefecture can also boast its own great Buddha, characterized by its green color, sheltered at the discreet Togan-ji temple. Technophiles will love one of the few operating MAGLEV magnetic trains, and can visit Toyota, the city of the car manufacturer.
Among the prefecture’s remarkable landmarks, one can mention Inuyama Castle and Toyokawa Inari shrine, one of the largest sanctuaries in Japan dedicated to Inari. Sakushima Island in Mikawa Bay is a small fisherman island converted into an outdoor contemporary art museum and a counterpart to Naoshima in the Seto Inland Sea.
Far less known than the others, it spreads inland in the north of Nagoya and is the location of a major event of the Japanese history: the Battle of Sekigahara (1600). Its economy relies on aerospace engineering and also on tourism and services. Several famous places are indeed located in Gifu prefecture:
- The Nakasendo Trail, on the former road connecting Tokyo to Kyoto through the Japanese Alps (accessible from Nagoya);
- The traditional village Shirakawa-go and its typical thatched-roof houses; and,
- Takayama, a feudal city nicknamed the "Little Kyoto" and famous for its biannual festival. In the south-west of the city, Hida Folk Village displays traditional farms.
Moreover, it is home to 35 renown ski resorts, often completed by onsen. Traveling by car is advisable as the places to visit are scattered throughout the prefecture.
Nagano prefecture is located in the heart of the Japanese Alps and focuses on outdoor activities all year round, as well as on its history with the samurai. Its eponymous capital hosted the 1998 Winter Olympic Games 🏅, taking advantage of its renowned ski area. The city is also home to Zenko-ji, one of oldest Buddhist temples of Japan.
Other remarkable landmarks are:
- Karuizawa, the historical summer resort of the Japanese elites, located 1h by train from Tokyo;
- Matsumoto Castle, an authentic fortress in the heart of the mountains in the south of Nagano;
- Kamikochi, a valley with hiking trails very popular in autumn;
- Jigokudani in the north of the prefecture, where wild macaques enjoy the natural onsen in winter.
The prefectures below are part of the Hokuriku area, Honshu’s north-western side.
A small territory hugging the Sea of Japan in the north of Fukui and in the west of Toyama, its capital Kanazawa is nicknamed "Little Kyoto" and a major attraction thanks to its three touristic and historic sites : its castle, Kenroku-en one of the three most beautiful gardens of Japan, and The 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art. Moreover, it is easily accessible by the Hokuriku Shinkansen from Tokyo, and other JR trains from the Kansai area and Nagoya.
Once one of the wealthiest feudal domains, the prefecture preserves its traditional arts such as ceramics and lacquer. Rural tourism is also encouraged in the Noto Peninsula showing beautiful landscapes of terraces paddies.
The former Echizen province, renowned for its Japanese paper production, extends on the shore of the Sea of Japan, between Kyoto and Ishikawa prefectures, and borders the north of Lake Biwa. The Hokuriku Shinkansen is expected to connect Tokyo to its capital Fukui from 2023.
In early April, the banks of the Asuwa River in Fukui are covered by a tunnel of blooming cherry trees 🌸. The city is also home to the Yokokan Garden, typical of a residence of the feudal times’ nobility. In its suburb, the Prefectural Dinosaur Museum is one of the most renowned in the world. In the south, the site of Ichijodani Asakura reconstitutes a medieval fortified city.
In Eihei-ji temple, located in a mountain forest, one can experience the life of the Zen monks in a shukubo stay.
Its eponymous capital is the largest port city on the coast of the Sea of Japan and has been an international hub since 1858. The prefecture is mainly agricultural, but there are also winter sports resorts in the onsen towns of Myoko and Yuzawa.
Sado Island, the sixth largest of Japan, is a conservatory of Noh theater and gold mines have been exploited for a long time.
Moreover, the prefecture is home to the more than 2,400 years old Yahiko-jinja shrine, and Murakami City is famous for its lacquer craftsmanship and salmon fishing.
Toyama is nestled between Ishikawa and Niigata and backed by the Tateyama Mountain Range. Its eponymous capital is on the shore of the Toyama Bay and is of a convenient access from Tokyo to visit the north of the Japanese Alps, especially the traditional village Gokayama-Ainokura, the Tateyama-Kurobe Alpine Route and its impressive Kurobe Dam and steep landscape. The city is renowned for its castle, glass craftsmanship and its Museum of Art and Design.