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  • True Japan: A journey to Chino, Nagano

    People & Culture_Story

    True Japan: A journey to Chino, Nagano

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The name 'Chino,' even for the most avid Japan travellers, may not be one thrown around in conversation, but that's the beauty of it. Understated beauty, quiet authenticity, and an opportunity to immerse oneself within the true daily lives of regional Japan's residents – oh and a little countryside luxury – are the reasons that this mountain-flanked Nagano village has every reason to be on your Japan bucket list.


Lake Shirakaba

Location and geography

In a previous lifetime, Chino villages were known colloquially as "Yamaura," a term that translates to "in the mountain's shadow," and a term used offhandedly, almost disparagingly as a way to describe this town tucked right at the base of the mountains. Today the locals embrace the word and have reclaimed it as a sense of pride, a way to represent an area that, while literally may be in shadows of the peaks of the Yatsugatake, have plenty of reason to shine.

Chino is situated on the border of Yamanashi and Nagano, right in the middle of the prefecture. It's perched on the foothills of the massive Yatsugatake mountain range, surrounded by snow-dusted Yatsugatake, a long-extinct volcano with dozens of peaks, which dip all the way down to where Suwa valley begins.

The body of the mountains curate the climate and natural beauty of the area, keeping the village cool in summer, protecting the towns against calamities, and offering plenty of challenges in the winter, but it's the challenges that build character within the town. One such example of challenge turned charm are the walkways designed into most of Chino houses front yards, passing through the front of the residences; these pathways allow residents to traverse across the town, under the protection of their neighbours' verandas, offering a sense of community and intimacy.



An opportunity to explore a new side of Japan

Yamaura folk are deeply connected with the landscape and proud to showcase to visitors the beauty of their land.

Through community building, research and plenty of hard work, one organization Chino Tabi has created an opportunity for international guests of all backgrounds to embrace the regional life and the area's culture – which is deeply in tune with the land and its seasons – through a series of hands-on experiences.

From walking tours with local historians to cooking classes with the town's kind and insightful grandmas, Chino Tabi is one of very few organizations in Japan that can offer such a localized experience. Thanks to the fact that their team is situated within the village where they tour, offering a level of insight and information much deeper than what one would get signing up for a cookie-cutter tour. Whether you're looking to try picking and cooking some of the area's wild vegetables for a dinner feast or are interested in gaining exclusive access into enigmatic private tea houses of architect Fujimori Terunobu, Chino Tabi has access to a side of Nagano that's simply unparalleled.



Yamaura Stay: Countryside luxury

One of the organization's most recent and ambitious projects to date is Yamaura Stay, a renovation and accommodation project developed under the curation of legendary Japanologist Alex Kerr. Yamaura Stay is a collection of four renovated farmhouses (some built as early as the 1800s) nestled in the heart of the Yamaura area. Surrounded by mountains, sweeping sunset views, and quaint neighbourhood homes with ponds playing host to lazy oversized Japanese koi, it's the embodiment of Japanese zen and tranquillity but perhaps just the way you did not expect.

The houses embody the rustic elegance of the area, so well-maintained that you can literally read the history of the homes on the walls, from the untouched wooden beams to the equestrian hooks stills hanging off the kitchen walls where the previous owner's houses once stood. Each of the homes is artfully renovated to combine all the high-end luxuries you'd expect with a sense of history and a deep connection to the structure's legacy.

What's so impressive about this contempt as a whole is that the beauty of the experience is how deep you want to take your adventure is up to you. The homes are completely private; you can decide whether to spend time with the locals, engage in some hands-on activities, or relax inside the house and enjoy the rural scenery. It's autonomous luxury with history and purpose.

Chino Tabi website: https://chinotabi.jp/en/
Yamaura Stay website: https://yamaurastay.jp/en/

Photo credit: Yamaura Stay
*These photos were taken in 2019



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