Central attractions

JAPAN - Mention Chubu, and you're likely to draw blank looks.

But most people are very familiar with the Unesco heritage site of Shirakawa-go houses with their unique gassho-zukuri thatched roofs (reminiscent of the hands of Buddhist monks in prayers); the "snow corridors" of Takayama (where you can pass through a passage flanked by walls of 20m high snow); as well as the almost comical sight at the Jigokudani Yaen Koen (where monkeys behave most human-like enjoying hot spring or onsen).

To be sure, the Chubu region has plenty to offer. Chubu - which literally means the central part -sits in the centre of the main island of Honshu. It consists of nine prefectures.

Scenic wasabi farm

Any lover of Japanese food would be familiar with the sinus-clearing horseradish (wasabi). How about visiting the Daio Wasabi Farm in the Nagano Prefecture, which is about 2.5 hours by train from Tokyo's Shinjuku Station?

There, you can find a wide variety of wasabi-related products - from fresh wasabi to wasabi paste, wasabi soba noodles, wasabi-flavoured curry, wasabi juice, wasabi chocolate and even wasabi ice cream.

Established in 1915, the Daio Wasabi Farm is popular even among those allergic to the stinging root, as it has the picturesque scenery of beautiful watermills against a backdrop of the Japanese Alps.

The filming of famed Japanese director Akira Kurosawa's Dreams (1989) saw the construction of a wooden water wheel, reminiscent of the old world, which has been left standing on the farm. You can take short tours on inflatable boats to enjoy the scenery from late April to late October.

Rustic teahouses

Higashi Chaya Street in Kanazawa is another place in Chubu where you can enjoy a nostalgic walk down memory lane.

From Kanazawa Station, the Kanazawa Loop Bus will take you to most of the attractions there including the Higashi Chaya Street. Get a day pass as you can hop on and hop off the bus without worrying about the fare. It works out cheaper too.

Higashi Chaya is one of the three preserved "chaya" districts in Kanazawa. It is the largest and most interesting site to visit, if you have time for just one.

Chaya refers to a teahouse or restaurant in the Edo Period where a geisha performs for the guests. During the Edo Period, there was a ban on two-storey houses except for chaya. Each chaya is adorned by a lattice on the outer side of its first floor and houses Japanese-style guestrooms on its second floor.

Together with Kyoto's Gion and Kanazawa's Kazue-machi, Higashi Chaya's historical rows of teahouses have been designated as Japan's cultural assets.

Besides admiring these wooden buildings and paved streets that are preserved to take you back to a bygone era, you can also peek into the interior of a chaya that was built 180 years ago.

Some of the other buildings have been repurposed into restaurants, teahouses and souvenir shops. You can even catch a geisha performance show if you're lucky.

Best garden

The Japanese are proud of their wellmanicured gardens, and some of the best examples can be seen in the Chubu region.

One of these is the Kenrokuen Garden, which is another stop on the Kanazawa Loop Bus route. Enjoy the beautiful artificial pond that has been compared to an open sea, as well as the many flowers that bloom in the different seasons such as plum and cherry blossoms (sakura) in spring, azaleas and irises in early summer, and the autumn colours of yellow and red leaves.

Located next to the Kanazawa Castle, Kenrokuen literally hails to be the perfect garden. After all, its name refers to the six attributes of the perfect landscape for a garden - spaciousness, tranquillity, artifice, antiquity, water courses and magnificent view.

Take this checklist when you visit Kenrokuen Garden that spreads over 11.4ha and see for yourself why this deserves to be quite literally the best garden.

Onsen with a view

How could a trip to Japan be complete without visiting the onsen?

For a hot spring bath with a view, head to Okuhida (above) in Gifu Prefecture. There are five onsen towns in Okuhida: Hirayu Onsen, Fukuji Onsen, Shin-Hirayu Onsen, Tochio Onsen and Shin-Hotaka Onsen.

You can get a two-day pass that allows unlimited bus travels between Hirayu and Shin-Hotaka (with stops at the other towns along the way).

It might seem excessive to take so many baths in just two days, but each town offers a different type of onsen because the water source is different. Hence, the minerals found in the hot spring differ too.

Also, you get to enjoy different sceneries in the different towns, but mostly with majestic views of the Japanese Alps. To get your full onsen experience, opt to stay in a ryokan (traditional Japanese inn), which usually comes complete with a kaiseki dinner and breakfast. You can opt to have one or both meals served in your room on tatami mats.

Otherwise, you can also head for the public bathhouses and the ryokan that open up their bath facilities to everyone.

Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.