Artisan Tours in the Okayama Countryside

 

        - For travellers looking for authentic connections with locals -

 

 

Our country’s aesthetic ideals can be succinctly expressed in the word “yo-no-bi” (beauty found in handmade items for everyday use).  The concept was developed by Muneyoshi Yanagi, leader of the Japanese folk art movement, in reaction to Japan’s rapid industrialisation from the end of the 19th century to the beginning of the 20th century.  

 

Whether it is pottery, weaving, woodwork, or paper making, the ageless rustic beauty can be felt in any of the handmade pieces you will encounter on the tour.  The artisans’ stories will reveal the secrets and the driving forces behind their efforts and dedication to their crafts.  

 

Why do works made of natural materials become more beautiful with use and age? We hope you will come here and find out for yourself.  The old name for our area is Mimasaka, which means, “to create beauty.” It is the perfect place to embark on an artistic and aesthetic journey.

We are happy to tailor-make a tour just for you and your companions.  

The information below shows some of the past tours I have done.

​Prices go from 10,000 yen for 2 people (3 hrs tour)

*  All plans include guide fee and snacks

Plan 1 (Crafts & Nature):  Visit a woodwork&iron artist, a historical area and a picnic up the mountain.

Plan2 (Hands-on activity):  Visit a local potter and have an activity making a piece yourself.  

            *Note: A pottery activity will cost 3,000 yen per person.  Shipping fee is excluded.

Plan3 (Food tour!): Visit an organic farmer and have lunch at Mitaki-en

            *Note: Visit to GG Farm (1 hour) costs 3,000 yen.  Lunch excluded.

​All day (8 hours) anded more than a day tour can be arranged.  Please get in touch to discuss your interests and budget. 
      ​      If you are interested in, I am happy to send you more info.  Please drop me a line!

Hiromi April 9 2019_edited_edited.jpg

Hiromi Charles

 

Licensed tour guide No.EN00117) and the owner of Nokishita Toshokan B&B

Profile:

Returned to Okayama in 2009 after having lived abroad for

18 years studying and working as a school teacher. She has

been leading tours for overseas travellers since 2014.

Passionate about traditional Japanese arts and crafts. Enjoys

cooking, hiking and watching her children play baseball.

Originally from Tsuyama City, now lives in Nishiawakura

Village with her French husband and two sons.

Places to visit around Nishiawakura Village

    If you would like to explore our area by yourself, these are the places I recommend!

Wakasugi virgin forest 若杉原生林

 

A one- hour hike to the view point on the shortest course makes it ideal for a family event and travellers without heavy hiking gear.  Here not only are you able to see the Japanese beech and Mongolian oak (rare in Western Japan), but walking on the stone path used for the last 300 years naturally invites you to cast your thoughts back to old times, stimulating your imagination as to how the journey must have been at that time.  The Giant Japanese Salamander, designated a "natural national treasure" and known to reside only in cool and clear streams, can also be witnessed in our village. 

 

毎回行く度に、鈍っている五感を研ぎすましてくれる森です。最短コース一時間で、頂上まで登れるので家族ハイキングや、気まぐれ登山にはピッタリです。渓流のせせらぎの音に導かれて、不思議な程自然に足が前に進みます。ここはその昔旅人・商人が美作ー因幡を往来していた峠道で、石畳も江戸時代に整備されたそうです。そんな神秘的な場所でもあり、six senseも鍛えられます!

A Walk in the Hikadani "Golden" Valley 引谷地区

 

From late March to early April, the golden paper bushes covering the well-drained slopes of the woods delight the hearts of both local and travellers alike.  Their elegant blossoms reassure us that spring is just around the corner.  The plants are also known for their use in Japanese paper production, especially paper currency because of the plant fibers' resilience.  The paper bush only grows in well-managed woods as it needs a good amount of sunshine.  Enjoy walking in the valley with terraced rice paddies and a fast- flowing stream lit up by the bright yellow oriental paper bush.

 

しなやかで光沢がある和紙の原料として知られるミツマタ。その可憐な花が咲く3月半ば、

薄暗い植林の森に光を灯すように咲き乱れ、私たち村の住民に春の訪れを告げてくれます。

 

Firefly viewing  姫蛍

 

From the beginning to mid-June, we can see the dances of the Genji fireflies along the relatively slow- flowing rivers in the area.  A month later in mid-July, we can see the rare Hime (princess) fireflies up in the woods whose light flickers on and off like Xmas illumination.  With the starlit sky above and a natural light show around us, you can only describe the scene as magical!  We strongly advise you to book early during this season.

 

7月上旬から2週間ほど大芽スキー場付近の森で見られる 姫蛍。夜空のミルキーウエイとゲンジボタルの光の線と共に 幻想的な空間が夏のこの期間だけ体験できます。

 

Youbi Wooden Workshop  ようび木工房
 
日本語はこちらをどうぞ http://youbi.me/ec/

 

Mr Masayuki Oshima who heads the Youbi Wooden Workshop has challenged the norm of the industry head-on and succeeded in making furniture using needle-leaf trees such as Japanese cypress as opposed to the common broad-leaf trees.  He is determined to do something about the vast cedar and cypress plantations left uncared for.  Oshima’s chairs are designed in a way that they are most comfortable when you sit with your back straight.  In this position, your inner organs sit in a more balanced way.  His works blend perfectly into the environment and change the quality of that space.  They are aesthetically pleasing and at the same time health-enhancing. 

Having overcome the ordeal of the fire turning everything into ash in 2015, with the help of 600 volunteers across Japan, the new studio opened in May 2018 utilizing one of the latest architectural techniques, which symbolizes hope and bright future for both the village and the forest industry in Japan.

Nishiawakura Berry Farm  にしあわくらだんだんベリー畑
日本語はこちらをどうぞ http://www.dandan-berry.noen.biz

 

You can pick berries of all types starting around the end of June.  One of our favourite berries is called June berry as the name suggests, in June, they ripen to a dark red wine colour and have a unique sweetness without any bitterness or leaving your mouth sour.  Those who like hiking can walk from the nearest local station "Awakura Onsen (hot spring) Station" all the way up to the farm with the murmur of the river and the chirping of the birds as your company.  On the way back, drop in at a local hot spring, "O-gon sen (the golden hot spring)" and have a good soak admiring the mountain view in an open-air bath.    

Mitaki-En みたき園
日本語はこちらをどうぞ http://ashidumitakien.jp

 

Most of our overseas guests, if not all of them, say that this is one of the most memorable places that they have come to visit.  This is a place where you can get an experience of slipping back in time in a house with a sunken hearth and thatched roof.  After a quiet walk along a clear stream with a waterwall over the mountain top (wait to come here to learn the story behind it), treat yourself to a healthy local traditional meal prepared by the ladies who have worked there for the last 40 years.  Please try to observe their seamless movement, especially how their accustomed feet seem to know just where to place the next step avoiding the bumps on the path as they carry the trays of dishes back and forth between the dining space and the kitchen without ever having to look down!  This is a gem rarely found anywhere else in Japan.  Alternatively the cosy cafe "Quince" on the same ground serves a selection of drinks and desserts.  Have a blissful time up there with the mountain spirits! 

Tottori Sand dune and the Sand Museum 鳥取砂丘と砂の美術館
 
日本語はこちらをどうぞ (also more info in English)  http://www.sand-museum.jp

 

We are only about an hour away from the sand dune and sand museum which are both stunning and well worth a visit.  Every year, the sand museum features a themed exhibition of sculptures based on  a particular country by various international artists. After displays of iconic images from the U.K. and China, the 2014/15 exhibition is of Russia.

 

Ohara Town and Higashi-Awakura Village 旧大原町と東粟倉村
 
 
Ohara is famous as the birthplace of the legendary samurai, Miyamoto Musashi.  Here you can visit the Musashi Budokan, Dojo, a small museum and the Musashi shrine.  Just 5 minutes from Ohara Station, you can stroll down Furumachi, a street in a style depicting a bygone age. Many of the buildings date back hundreds of years, one of which has recently been renovated to become Nambatei, a restaurant/coffee shop featuring a relaxed atmosphere and delicious meals of local produce.  

 

Our sister village, Higashi-Awakura, has a very different landscape to us, featuring  spectacular views from the mountain tops.  A recommended rest-stop is Kobushi An, a small eatery for noodles and rice cakes. 

 

Hands-on Activities 伝統文化体験
 
Taking part in a variety of activities enhances one's understanding of Japanese history and culture.  Please let us know what you are interested in if it is not in the list below.
 

Kimono wearing, fabric dyeing using natural ingredients, wooden musical instrument making, cooking, martial arts (kendo, iaido), cotton weaving, carpentry (wooden utensils), berry picking, etc.  

For more info