Japan’s Three Star Road: what not to miss

Enjoy the Star Road of Japan

Japan’s Three Star Road is a scenic route that takes you through some of the country’s most breathtaking landscapes, historic towns, and cultural hotspots. This enchanting journey connects Kanazawa, Gokayama, Shirakawa-go, and Takayama, each with its unique charm and allure. Whether you’re a history buff, nature lover, or cultural enthusiast, this route offers something for everyone. Here’s a guide to what you absolutely shouldn’t miss when traveling along Japan’s Three Star Road.

Kanazawa: A Blend of Tradition and Modernity

1. Kenroku-en Garden

Kenroku-en is often considered one of the three most beautiful gardens in Japan. This Edo-period garden boasts a perfect blend of the six attributes of a great garden: spaciousness, seclusion, artificiality, antiquity, abundant water, and broad views. Strolling through its meticulously designed landscapes, with its tranquil ponds, flowing streams, and elegant teahouses, is an experience you won’t forget.

2. Kanazawa Castle

Just a short walk from Kenroku-en, Kanazawa Castle is a must-visit for history enthusiasts. This well-preserved castle offers a glimpse into Japan’s feudal past. Explore the impressive gates, sturdy walls, and the beautiful castle park that surrounds it.

3. Higashi Chaya District

Step back in time as you wander through the narrow streets of Higashi Chaya District. Known for its traditional teahouses, this area provides a glimpse into Kanazawa’s rich cultural heritage. Don’t miss the chance to enjoy a cup of matcha while listening to the enchanting sounds of the shamisen (a traditional Japanese instrument).

Shirakawa-go: A UNESCO World Heritage Site

4. Ogimachi Village

The iconic gassho-zukuri farmhouses in Ogimachi Village are a sight to behold. These thatched-roof houses, designed to withstand heavy snowfall, are a testament to the ingenuity of the villagers. Some of these farmhouses have been converted into museums, offering a peek into the region’s history and culture. A visit to Shirakawa-go in winter, when the village is blanketed in snow, is particularly magical.

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5. Wada House

Among the gassho-zukuri houses, Wada House stands out. It is one of the largest and best-preserved farmhouses in Shirakawa-go. The house is still inhabited by the Wada family, but parts of it are open to the public. Inside, you’ll find displays of traditional tools and artifacts, giving you a sense of life in this remote village.

Gokayama: Hidden Gem of Japan

6. Ainokura Village

Ainokura Village is smaller and less touristy than Shirakawa-go, offering a more intimate experience. The village is home to several gassho-zukuri houses, some of which are over 300 years old. The peaceful atmosphere and stunning mountain backdrop make Ainokura a perfect spot for those seeking tranquility.

7. Gokayama Washi Paper Making

Gokayama is renowned for its washi (Japanese paper) making. Visit a local workshop to see how this traditional craft is done. You can even try your hand at making your own washi paper. The intricate process and the delicate beauty of the finished product will leave you with a deeper appreciation for this ancient art form.

Takayama: A Step Back in Time

8. Sanmachi Suji

The heart of Takayama’s old town, Sanmachi Suji, is a beautifully preserved area with Edo-period buildings. Wander through the streets lined with sake breweries, merchant houses, and shops selling traditional crafts. The aroma of freshly brewed sake and the sight of traditional architecture make Sanmachi Suji a delightful sensory experience.

9. Takayama Jinya

This historic government building offers insight into Japan’s feudal administration. Takayama Jinya served as the local government office during the Edo period and is the only one of its kind remaining in Japan. The well-preserved rooms and artifacts provide a fascinating look at the bureaucratic life of the past.

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10. Hida Folk Village

A short drive from Takayama’s city center, Hida Folk Village is an open-air museum that showcases traditional houses from the Hida region. The houses have been relocated and reconstructed to preserve their original state. As you explore the village, you’ll encounter various exhibits that depict the daily life and culture of the region’s inhabitants.

Bonus Tips for Travelers

11. Savor Local Cuisine

Each stop along the Three Star Road offers unique culinary delights. In Kanazawa, don’t miss out on kaiseki (traditional multi-course meal) and fresh seafood from Omicho Market. In Takayama, try the famous Hida beef and local sake. The mountain villages of Shirakawa-go and Gokayama offer hearty regional dishes like soba noodles and gohei mochi (grilled rice cake).

12. Experience Local Festivals

If your travel dates coincide, make sure to experience the local festivals. The Takayama Festival, held in spring and autumn, is considered one of Japan’s most beautiful festivals. The Shirakawa-go Doburoku Festival celebrates the new sake brewing season in October with traditional performances and sake tastings.

Japan’s Three Star Road is a journey through time and beauty, offering a unique blend of natural splendor, historical richness, and cultural depth. From the serene gardens of Kanazawa to the rustic charm of Shirakawa-go and the historic streets of Takayama, each destination offers its own unique experience. So pack your bags, set your itinerary, and get ready to explore this enchanting route.