More foreign tourists are heading off Japan's beaten path

FURUKAWA, Gifu Pref. - Tourists to Japan are getting a little adventurous. Egged on by other netizens, they are off to find some ... well, let's call them out-of-the-ordinary experiences.

On Dec. 25, Stephen Fletcher, a 40 year-old traveler from the UK, found himself checking out some wa rosoku. The traditional Japanese candles were made by Junji Mishima, 68, the seventh generation owner of the Mishima Candle Shop. Yes, Fletcher was in a candle shop in central Japan on Christmas. But the shop has 240 years of history behind it.

Furukawa, part of the city of Hida, is a picturesque town with well-preserved traditional houses. It even conjures romantic images for Japanese and was praised for its "splendid elegance and class" in "Kaido wo Iku" (On the Old Highways), a series of travel essays by Ryotaro Shiba, a celebrated author best known for his historical novels.

The houses -- with latticed windows and kumo, the sculpted, white-washed ends of roofing beams -- stand side by side in the centre of the small town, which is surrounded by stretches of rice paddies. "Kumo," by the way, is also Japanese for "cloud."

While Takayama has long been popular with overseas tourists, Furukawa, some 30 minutes away by train, always seemed to be one step off the beaten path. But that has changed, as evidenced by all the foreigners who can be seen walking and biking around the town and its surroundings every day.

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