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Mossy Rocks in Wakasugi Primeval Forest

Nishiawakura (西粟倉村 Nishiawakura-son) is the northeasternmost village in Okayama Prefecture.

Understand

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Nishiawakura was established as a shoen, a privately-owned and governed estate, called the Awakura-so (粟倉荘). Nishiawakura was the western estate (nishi means "west"), and at the time there was a Higashiawakura (higashi meaning "east"), as well. Nishiawakura chose to remain its own village while Higashiawakura was incorporated into modern Mimasaka. There are no records of there ever being a united "Awakura".

With 95% of the village being forested, it's unsurprising that Nishiawakura is known for its scenic mountains and forests. Much of the forests (84%) were planted as artificial forests after World War II in order to help rebuild the war-torn country. Cedar and cypress are fast-growing trees that produce good wood for building. Over time, demand decreased as domestic woods became less preferable to imports which devastated the local economy. In 2008, Mori no Gakko (森の学校) was established to revitalize the lumber industry (and by extension the town itself) by selling affordable wooden tiles, called Yukahari Tiles, that is used in flooring. Their wood can also be used to make furniture and other products. Awakura Onsen's Motoyu uses local wood to heat the onsen, as well as using cypress wood to scent the hot spring water. The town is also at the forefront of Sustainable Development in Japan as they work to thin out forests to keep them healthy when they harvest lumber so that the forest can replenish itself. The Mori wo Taberu Project (森を食べるプロジェクト), which translates to the "Forest-eating Project", is another local group with the goal of incorporating local wood into edible products. They introduced Hinoki Beer in September of 2020 as a unique beer that was fermented with bits of cypress, which is said to add a fruity flavor. They also make smoked ham and breads using cypress yeast. Their products can be found at Awakurando and Awakura Onsen's Motoyu.

Tourist information site

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The village has a Japanese-only tourism section.

Get in

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Nishiawakura is served by the Chizu Express Line via two stations, Nishiawakura Station and Awakura-Onsen Station. Although it is a private railway, they have a deal with JR West, so there are express trains from Okayama and Kamigori that will take you as far as Ohara Station where you can transfer (or take a taxi) to reach Nishiawakura. From Tottori, travel to Chizu where you can transfer. At certain times of the day, it may be faster to go past Nishiawakura to transfer and backtrack (ex: From Tottori/Chizu, taking an Express Train to Ohara Station to transfer rather than waiting for a direct train from Chizu Station).

Get around

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From Awakura-Onsen Station, Awakura Onsen can be reached in about 15 minutes on foot. There is no public transportation to the town's numerous hiking areas and all of them are located in the mountains, so visitors arriving by train who plan to do any of these hikes should call a taxi. There are no taxi companies in Nishiawakura however, Ohara Taxi (大原タクシー) in Mimasaka also serves Nishiawakura (086-878-2399). The wait is about 20 minutes to Awakura-Onsen Station.

See

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Ogaya Shibazakura Park
  • 1 Wakasugi Primeval Forest (若杉天然林). Spring-Autumn (toilets and parking lot are closed in winter). A protected forest that outlines Okayama's border with Tottori. It's home to around 200 different species of trees, including large beech trees and maple trees that make it a popular autumn leaf destination. Moss-covered rocks, numerous waterfalls, and the coolness of the mountains also make a great place to enjoy nature and beat the heat in the summertime. There are three hiking courses through the forest that range from 2.6 km to 5 km.
  • 2 Kagekiyo Shrine (景清神社). This shrine was built on the spot where Taira no Kagekiyo was born. Kagekiyo was featured in The Tales of the Heike (Heike Monogatari). He was present at the famous Battle of Yashima and it is said that he was captured at the Battle of Dan-no-Ura and taken to Kamakura, the capital at the time, where he starved himself to death. He has been featured in ukiyoe and video games. The shrine features a large rock said to have been created by Kagekiyo. The shrine is also dedicated to eye ailments.
  • 3 Ogaya Shibazakura Park (おおがや芝桜公園). A popular place to enjoy shibazakura (moss phlox/pink moss) annually around Golden Week (late April to mid-May).
  • 4 Awakura Stone Circles (ストーンサークル). These stone circles stand on a steep slope, with many fallen stones below. It is unknown who built them or why. There is a sign from the road pointing down a path that leads by the spires. The stones are located on the slope, a bit off the path, and the path continues past them, so you need to look for them. The fallen stones are the best indicator to stop walking and look up the hill. You can walk up by them, but watch your footing.
  • 5 Mount Komano (駒の尾山). From the trailhead by the road, it takes about an hour to reach the summit. In May, you can see the Japanese Enkianthus perulatis (ドウダンツツジ) along the trail. From the summit, on a clear day, you can see Mount Daisen to the west and the Seto Inland Sea to the south.
  • 6 Iwakura Temple (岩倉寺). Hosts the Iwakura Eyo, a local "Naked Festival" like the larger one at Saidaiji Temple in Okayama.
  • 7 Awakura Shrine (粟倉神社). The shrine was built at the behest of Nakayama Shrine, the top shrine (Ichinomiya) of Mimasaka Province. The large cypress tree standing in the shrine precincts is over 800 years old and at 6.2 meters in diameter and 35 meters tall, it is said to be the largest tree in the prefecture.
  • 8 Do Yashiki (堂屋敷), +81 868-79-2333. 10:00-17:00, Opening days are irregular. It's best to call in advance.. A preserved Edo Period house built in the 18th century with a traditional thatched roof and well. Inside there are artifacts and documents on display. ¥500.

Do

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  • 1 Ogaya Ski Resort (大茅スキー場). Dec-Mar: 08:00-17:00.
  • 2 Nishiawakura Dandan Berry Farm (にしあわくらだんだんベリー畑). A berry farm where visitors can come to pick blueberries, Juneberries, raspberries, and more from June to July. They also sell berry jams and other goods. Entry for picking berries ¥700.

Awakura Onsen

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Statues of tanuki enjoying Awakura Onsen

Awakura Onsen (あわくら温泉) is said to have been discovered by a tanuki (raccoon dog). According to legend, a tanuki was shot by a hunter in the mountains. He hobbled down the valley towards the river. A few days went by until he was spotted again walking back up the mountain without injury, as if nothing had happened to him. When the people saw this, they followed the river to the place where they saw the tanuki go and discovered a spring of hot water bubbling up from the ground. This is said to be the origin of Awakura Onsen. That is why you'll see tanuki statues outside Awakura Onsen Station, tanuki on the town's manhole covers, and other tanuki motifs around the onsen area.

The water in Awakura Onsen contains radium. The radium is said to stimulate radium hormesis, which can activate metabolism, boost the immune system, and decrease cancer mortality. The following are places that allow day visitors to soak in the hot spring. Yu~Topia Ogonsen is a day visitor onsen, while the others can also be booked as accommodation.

  • 3 Yu~topia Ogonsen (湯~とぴあ 黄金泉). A hot spring for day visitors. There is an indoor onsen with a sauna, as well as an open-air onsen with nice views of the forest and river. ¥700.
  • Awakura Onsen Motoyu (あわくら温泉元湯). 9:00-20:00. This onsen is said to be where the tanuki bathed and where the first onsen site was established. It features a small indoor onsen with pieces of local Japanese cypress that help scent the water. If it pleases you, you can buy your own wood in the front restaurant area. See "Ikoi no Ie Motoyu" listing in "Sleep" for the location and information about staying overnight. ¥500.
  • Awakura-So (あわくら荘). 11:00-20:00. Has a spacious indoor onsen and a small outdoor onsen. ¥500.

Buy

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ablabo is a locally-made olive oil that can be purchased at Awakurando, the Motoyu, and the Former Kageishi Elementary School.

  • 1 Awakurando (あわくらんど). Awakurando (a combination of Awakura and Land) is a rest stop where you can buy local souvenirs, such as products made from Awakura's Japanese cypress, Hinoki Beer, and foodstuffs. They also sell souvenirs from Tottori. There is a restaurant inside, as well, serving curries, donburi (meat over rice), tenpura, and other dishes. Many of their meals feature Daisen chicken from Daisen.
  • 2 Former Kageishi Elementary School (旧影石小学校). Each shop has its own days and hours. Sake Urara is typically open on Saturdays and some Sundays. A schoolhouse-turned-multipurpose building, it houses Hat Shop UKIYO (帽子屋UKIYO), selling trendy and cute locally-made hats, Sake Urara (酒うらら) selling local nihonshu, and the Fureru Shokudo restaurant (see "Eat"), which also sells souvenirs, such as local wood products and the local Someya Suzuki organic cotton bags, as well as goods from Tottori and Shimane.

Eat

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The Awakura Deai Burger (あわくらDe愛バーガー), a play on words meaning "Awakura Meeting Burger", is a burger made from fried flying fish from Tottori, Momotaro tomatoes from Okayama, and local spinach and rice flour (used in making the buns), along with a tangy tartar sauce. The "Meeting" (deai) part of the name comes from Nishiawakura's position as the place where Okayama and Tottori meet, which is reflected in the ingredients, which also showcase a meeting of foods from both prefectures. You can try it outside the entrance of Awakurando (see "Buy") for ¥450.

  • 1 Log M (ログ M). Weekends only 09:00-16:00. A cafe located in a log cabin serving drinks and desserts.
  • Aru no Mori Kominka Cafe (あるの森古民家カフェ). Lunch 11:00-16:00 (reservation not required), dinner 18:00-22:00 (reservation required). An authentic Thai restaurant in a traditional Japanese farmhouse. See Aru no Mori (Sleep) for location.
  • 2 Taigu (大愚), +81 86-879-2588. A local soba restaurant.
  • 3 Motoyu Cafe and Restaurant (元湯カフェ&レストラン). Located in the front of the Motoyu, the restaurant open to the public serving a variety of dishes with locally harvested mushrooms and vegetables. They're most known for their meals containing local venison, a rarity in Japan. In addition, they have an alcohol menu and desserts.
  • 4 Awakura Shun no Sato (あわくら旬の里). A buffet restaurant with a variety of options, such as beef curry, croquettes, fried chicken, pork cutlets, basil chicken, and goya champloo to name a few. They also have desserts, such as ice cream, lemon and honey pound cake, and puddings. ¥1200 middle school and up, ¥800 elementary school, ¥500 age 4-elementary, 3 and under free.
  • Fureru Shokudo (フレル食堂). 11:00-17:00 (closed Tu W). A restaurant with lunch sets, sandwiches, and desserts that change daily. Some typical sets include curry and donburi (meat over rice). Sandwiches typically feature some meat, such as bacon or venison, with lettuce and some kind of complimentary condiments. There is not much seating available, so they recommend making a reservation if you wish to dine in with a group.
  • 5 Kunchiden (くんちでん). A small cafe offering a brunch set (pizza toast or a hot sandwich) from 09:00-11:00 and lunch sets (pad thai udon, green curry, or "food plate") from 11:00-14:00. All brunch and lunch sets cost ¥500.
  • 6 Hugo et Léo (ユゴ エ レオ). Sa only, 10:00-14:00. An "organic, vegetarian, vegan" French bakery selling various breads, whole quiches, and carmelized onion pizza, along with sweets, such as muffins, brioche, custards, etc.

Drink

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Hinoki Beer (ヒノキビール) is a locally-made ale which uses actual hinoki (cypress) wood in the fermentation process, which adds a tinge of flavor to the beer. It is created by the Mori wo Taberu Project (森を食べるプロジェクト) whose goal is to incorporate different parts of the forest into consumable products, as the project name suggests. They have a few different kinds of beers. All of which can be purchased at Awakurando and Awakura Onsen's Motoyu for ¥800 a bottle.

Sleep

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  • 1 Aru no Mori (あるの森). A traditional Japanese farmhouse serving traditional Japanese food. They also have a Thai restaurant. Without meal from ¥4000/night, with meals from ¥5000–10,000, outdoor "Glamping" ¥15,000.
  • 2 Nokishita Toshokan B&B (軒下図書館B&B). A bed and breakfast in an attractive historic building owned by an international family who understand English and can arrange tours with local artisans if you inquire when booking. They have discount coupons for Awakura Onsen and offer bike rentals for staying guests. Singles ¥8500 weekdays, ¥11,000 weekends. Rates go down for multiple people and multiple nights.
  • 3 Awakura-So (国民宿舎 あわくら荘). Check-in: 15:00, check-out: 10:00. A ryokan with Japanese tatami rooms. Visitors can also enjoy access to their onsen. Day visitors to the onsen are also welcome.
  • 4 Ikoi no Ie Motoyu (いこいの家 元湯). Check-in: 15:00, check-out: 10:00. A guesthouse with private Japanese-style rooms, as well as cheaper communal rooms. Both males and females share the communal room, but each sleeping area has a privacy curtain. The name "Motoyu" (元湯) literally means "origin of the hot water", which is apt as this is where the water for Awakura Onsen was first drawn. Guests can enjoy relaxing in Motoyu's onsen with pieces of local Nishiawakura wood pieces. Day visitors can come just for the onsen, and there is also a restaurant with a chalk board wall that kids enjoy (but anyone can draw on). Private rooms ¥6500 for one person or ¥5500 each for two people, communal room for ¥3800.
  • 5 Ogaya Camp Ground (大茅キャンプ場), +81 86-879-2330. Check-in: 14:00-17:00, check-out: 13:00. Located in the same area as the Ski Resort, from around Golden Week (late April) to fall, the area serves as a camp ground. You must reserve your spot by calling Awakura Green Resort. Overnight camping: auto camp with sink ¥4500, auto camp without sink ¥3500, camp site ¥1500, day camping auto camp ¥1500, camp site ¥1200.

Go next

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