I live in the busy city of Nagoya, and sometimes I feel like traveling a bit more to the countryside for fresh air and a peaceful retreat. My latest short trip was to the city of Ena in Gifu Prefecture, which is probably not a well-known travel spot for foreigners. Despite this, there are a lot of interesting things to do in the area. Here are five of them!
You cannot visit Ena without taking in the breathtaking view of the gorge, which is just a short bus ride from the JR Ena Station. Even on a rainy day, like on the day I visited, you can still enjoy the boat tour. The jetboat is sheltered and has heating and air-conditioning to make your ride comfortable for the 30-minute cruise. It only costs 1,280 yen and departs every half hour.
During the cruise, you’ll be introduced to different rocks (that have been given specific names) along the gorge, but even if you do not have an interest in that, it is still a view that shows off how beautiful Japan’s countryside can be.
Once you get off the boat, make your way up to the lookout if you haven’t already. It will give you a chance to breathe in clean air and take some memorable photos.
There are lots of little souvenir shops around the boarding point for the boat cruise, but I suggest taking the walking path in that area that runs right by the water. Here you’ll find another picture-perfect spot.
For a different experience, hop on the Akechi Railway, a retro one-car train, from Ena Station. It takes about 30 minutes to reach Iwamura Station where you will find the castle town close by.
The historical street is lined with shops and houses preserving the samurai and merchant residences. They were turned into restaurants or cafes, souvenir shops, one of them is now a sake distillery, and a few were kept as is, so you can get a feel of how people used to live.
Although Ena is well known for their kurikinton, sweets made from chestnut paste (you’ll find chestnut trees are in abundance in this city), I took a short rest at a mochi (sticky rice ball filled with red bean paste) shop called Kankaraya.
The mochi here was unlike any other mochi I’ve had thus far. It was so soft that it almost melted in my mouth, and the sesame and kinako (powder made from soybeans) toppings were sweetened with just the right amount of sugar. The botamochi (the reverse version, red bean paste on the outside and mochi on the inside) provided a nice contrast to the powdered toppings.
If you like nature and hiking, make your way to the end of the historical street. Here you’ll find the entrance to the Iwamura Castle Ruins. Although the castle is not actually standing anymore, there are numerous signs along the way with interesting facts about the castle (written in both Japanese and English).
At the top, you’ll find some stone walls giving you an idea of where the castle stood and how they may have been made. It is quite an uphill hike; I found it kind of tough, but I was also pregnant at the time. You may want to see the ruins first then take a rest at various places along the castle town.
If you’re interested in history, you may want to walk along Nakasendo, a street that was used in the Edo period for many travelers of the time. You probably won’t have time to walk the whole way, but a part of it does run through the city near Ena Station. You can pick up a map highlighting museums and historical places along the road.
If you have more than a couple of days, there are even more things to see and do in Ena. Some places may require a car to get to, but you could hop on and off the Akechi Railway at different points to do some sightseeing. You can also enjoy onsen at various ryokans throughout the city (very relaxing if you’ve done a hike during the day). It’s a quiet city filled with both history and nature – a nice getaway from the busy city life.