Guest contributor: Dean Newcombe
How do you start off a year of adventure in Japan? Well for me, I embarked on an unforgettable adventure in Japan with my friend John Daub from the YouTube channel ‘ONLY in JAPAN * GO’.
We headed off to Hiruzen, a plateau over 500 meters above sea level in Okayama Prefecture, very often overlooked by tourists in Japan, where we live-streamed seven videos to share our experiences with you.
Hiruzen is a hidden gem not to be missed, with its natural beauty, delicious local food, and warm hospitality. Even in winter, there are plenty of activities to enjoy, such as snowshoeing through beautiful snowy mountains, riding fat-tire bikes over the snow, or skiing at Hiruzen Bear Valley Ski Resort, which offers 2.3 kilometers of slopes.
And if you prefer to stay warm, don’t worry; Hiruzen is just as famous for its delicious foods as it is for its nature. The region is well-known for its Jersey Cows – there are more here than anywhere else in Japan, and where there are Jersey Cows, there are also delicious dairy products.
As we traveled around, we saw Jersey dairy products everywhere. They used it in ice cream, cooked pizza with it, made yogurt with it, baked cakes with it, but it was the cheese that we were most interested in! At a small local farm shop called Latte Bambino, a local man has created what might be Japanese finest cheese, after traveling Europe and learning everything he could about cheese manufacture. We tasted cheese in his shop and then made a selection from his freshly made supply. You can only buy his cheese here, so be sure to grab as much as you can carry home!
Other famous foods in Hiruzen include Yakisoba, the locals’ take on stir-fried noodles in a miso-based sauce, which we had prepared for us by a woman in her 70s, and Genghis Khan, a grilled mutton dish that has become something of a soul food in Hiruzen. We tried it at a BBQ restaurant, where you could also try the local Jersey beef.
After our adventures in nature and great food, it was time for some relaxation. We decided to head south to nearby Yubara Onsen, where we had heard stories of an amazing rotenburo (outdoor bath) situated at the base of a dam. The bath is called Sunayu and is a mixed public bath open 24 hours a day, with free admission. There are several large baths here, surrounded by rocks, in the riverbed of the Asahi River. Locals and visitors alike fearlessly strip off and plop into the natural hot water, which is said to have healing properties. John and I can tell you firsthand just how good this onsen feels, especially when it’s often around 0 degrees Celsius (32 degrees Fahrenheit) in winter!
We recommend renting a car once in Okayama as public transport options in Hiruzen are limited. Cars can be rented easily at Okayama Airport or in Okayama City. Hiruzen’s natural beauty, delicious local food, and warm hospitality made it a truly special place to visit.
We hope you enjoyed our adventures in Hiruzen! If you want to see more, we live-streamed seven videos during our trip. You can watch them all on John’s YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/@onlyinjapanGO/streams