Located in the heart of Japan is a prefecture that is at once forwardly futuristic and richly historic: Aichi.
An innovative hub of Japan’s manufacturing industries, Aichi is famously the home of transport, electric and general machinery production for the nation. At the same time, the prefecture is also known as Japan’s samurai homeland and was the central battle area during the Sengoku Jidai, a period of almost continuous military conflict that lasted from the middle of the 15th to the beginning of the 17th centuries. Aichi is, in fact, the birthplace of many famous samurai heroes such as Oda Nobunaga, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, and Tokugawa Ieyasu.
The vibrant combination of Aichi’s past, present, and future is transparently evident as you travel around the stunning Okumikawa region—because, yes, it’s landscape is absolutely beautiful too.
For our three-day video trip we mainly explored Shinshiro City and Toyota City, historic regions where you can find spectacular natural landscapes and innovative museums. Those staying longer should include a couple of days in Nagoya too.
- How to get to and get around central Japan and Aichi Prefecture
- Things to do in Aichi
- Example three-day itinerary for exploring Aichi
- What to eat in Aichi
- When to go to Aichi
- Where to stay in Shinshiro and Toyota cities
- Resources and guides for traveling in Aichi
We took a plane from Tokyo’s Haneda Airport right into Chubu Centrair International Airport (approx. 1 hour). Flight costs from Haneda usually start at around ¥7,000 one way. Not only is the transport there convenient, affordable and swift; the airport itself is worth a visit as the world’s first airport to be certified with a 5-star rating!
Chubu Centrair International Airport is located just outside of the city of Nagoya in Aichi Prefecture. There are 465 flights per week between central Japan and more than 39 cities including Detroit, Helsinki, Frankfurt, and Abu Dhabi. So if you’re coming from overseas, you can fly to the very heart of Japan directly for around the same price as flying to Tokyo first.
From the airport, it’s easy to access to all the main cities in Japan by public transportation. However, for this trip around Okumikawa and Toyota, it’s recommended to rent a car to get around; Aichi is a large prefecture with many must-visit rural areas that are nonetheless a bit complicated to access with public transport.
Renting a car is a fun and easy way to enjoy the trip! The airport has very clear visual signs that take you right over to the rent-a-car area where you can be serviced in English. Just make sure you have a valid Japanese/international drivers license.
Another option for getting to Aichi Prefecture is to take the bullet train from Tokyo station to Nagoya station on the Tokaido-Sanyo line (approx. 1 hour 40 minutes). The one-way fare is ¥10,360 for a non-reserved seat and around ¥11,000 for a reserved seat.
Try a vegan Buddhist meal at Ioji Temple
Said to have been built as a safe house during the battle of Nagashino in 1575, this Buddhist temple can be enjoyed from both inside and around the gardens. During lunchtime, they serve a vegan Buddhist meal, known as “Shojin Ryori” with ingredients centered around soy-based foods like tofu, along with seasonal vegetables and wild mountain plants.
See a thousand paddies at Yotsuya no Senmaida
At the foot of the 883-meter-high Mt. Kurakake are the terraced rice-growing fields made with walls of rocks, carefully placed in the same way that castle walls were constructed. It’s a truly incredible engineering feat from 400 years ago and an amazing sight to see.
Explore the “seven-layered” waterfall, Atera No Nanataki
The magnificent and mysterious seven-layered waterfall is well-known in Japan as a designated place of scenic beauty. The last Sunday of July is annually celebrated here by the locals with the Atera-no-Nanataki Festival. The festival is a wonderful chance to witness the mysterious spiritual power of the falls through historic special rituals performed by locals. Stroll around the surrounding area and browse the shops for local produce and other goods, too.
Wander through the traditional town of Asuke
A traditional town made up of century-old local stores and buildings kindly invites visitors to enjoy a relaxing stroll along the path of history. During the summer seasons, the streets are lit up by locals with big lanterns, making it a popular date spot at night. In October they celebrate the Asuke Festival, where beautiful floats parade around the streets with young dancers aboard them.
Snap an aesthetic picture at Korankei
This forest by the river, with over 4,000 trees, is famous for beautifully painting the area with bright green leaves in spring and summer, white, snow-covered leaves in winter, and fiery red and yellow leaves in autumn. The latter is the most popular time to visit as the trees along the river are illuminated from sunset to 9 p.m.
As well as walking along the river, over bridges and capturing masterpieces with the camera, another popular activity you can do here is hiking the trails up Mt. Iimori which reaches to a height of around 254 meters.
Take a tour of Toyota Stadium
A free tour of the stadium, scheduled to host a few matches during the upcoming 2019 Rugby World Cup, is led by friendly locals. Wales vs. Georgia, South Africa vs. Namibia, Japan vs. Samoa and New Zealand vs. Italy will be the four matches held at this stadium in September and October.
Unfortunately, the tour is only available in Japanese, however as the tour is more about exploring the stadium (including going down into the professional waiting rooms, wearing the uniforms and visiting the grounds themselves), you don’t necessarily need to understand Japanese to enjoy it.
Get behind the wheel at the Toyota Kaikan Museum
Learn about the ubiquitous car brand Toyota Motor Corporation’s history and values through a free tour of the museum and interactive exhibitions. As one of the most famous companies in the world, Toyota has been churning out cars since its founding in 1937 and is still going strong—9.6 million Toyota vehicles were sold in 2019. You can’t help but marvel at the innovation which is on full and interactive display here.
Stay at The Ninja Mansion
What better way to finish a day full of fun than to stay in a 150-year-old traditional Japanese mansion with just you and your friends. Located 15 minutes away from Asuke Town in Toyota, this is a stay like no other. For dinner, you can enjoy a barbecue just out by the front porch of the house whilst watching the sun go down. And at night, if you organize it beforehand by stopping at a convenience store to buy a firework set (¥1,000), you can enjoy your own personal firework display with sparklers and more! Bedtime is a whole lot of fun where your futon beds get laid out and covered with special bug nets just like in the Studio Ghibli film favorite, Totoro.
As you could probably tell by our video, our three-day trip was very chilled whilst still highlighting Aichi’s beautiful must-dos. Our itinerary is doable by all; whether you’re a family with small children, in a couple, or with a group of friends, you’re guaranteed to have a memorable trip.
From Chubu Centrair International Airport, go directly to the Toyota Rent-A-Car outside the exit. It’s recommended to book in advance but isn’t necessary as long as they have cars available.
The drive from the airport into Shinshiro city takes about one and a half hours. The first stop is at Ioji temple. Take a look around at the beautiful gardens and magnificent interior of the main hall. The “Shojin Ryori” lunch is available here for ¥1,500.
After lunch, get back in the car and drive up north for 20 minutes to the Yotsuya no Senmaida, the thousand rice paddy field. This place is the ultimate photo spot, with the green rice fields running all the way up into the heavens. Take a peaceful walk around the paddies and surround yourself in nature and fresh air.
Continue your retreat to nature by heading over to the Atera No Nanataki waterfall, a 35-minute drive from Yotsuya no Senmaida. This waterfall is comprised of seven smaller waterfalls and is said to be Aichi’s magical scenic spot. The collection of stones found under the waterfall is called the “Kodaki-ishi.” Apparently, the rocks are bestowed with the power to bring children to loving couples who visit.
Finish your day off by staying at Yunokaze Hazu (see below) and soaking in a glorious onsen (hot spring) by the river.
Day 2 of the Aichi trip starts with a one-hour drive over to Asuke Town in Toyota City, from Yunokaze Hazu. Begin by exploring the old streets of Asuke and the main promenade full of local shops which date back centuries. The locals here are all very friendly and love having a chat.
Continue your walk over into Korankei, one of Aichi’s most famous sightseeing locations for autumn leaves. A walk through Korankei by the river will take you on a spectacular journey through the surroundings of beautiful maple trees, traditional bridges, old houses, and families playing along the river.
There are several stops you can take on the way where you can enjoy a meal or experience traditional handicrafts.
For lunch, try the seasonal set menu at Ichinotani for ¥2,500, where you can enjoy a varied spread with a view of the maple forest and river. After lunch, head over to the Sanshu Asuke Yashiki and try out one of the traditional handicraft experiences, or watch how it’s done by the professionals. Experiences include weaving, straw crafts, paper making and more.
Finish the day off at one of the most unique and fulfilling stops of the trip, The Ninja Mansion.
Be woken to the serene sound of local birds and frogs. Breakfast at The Ninja Mansion is the most peaceful way to start the day with a serving of local Gohei Mochi rice cakes and a homemade yuzu citrus drink.
At this point, you may just want to stay at the mansion forever, but the future’s calling! Day 3 is spent in Toyota City, Japan’s leading manufacturing and industrial hub, and the birthplace of the Toyota Motor Corporation.
From the Ninja Mansion, drive 20 minutes over to Toyota Stadium, and enjoy a free tour of the stadium which will be hosting a number of matches during the 2019 Rugby World Cup. The tour is led by a number of local volunteers and takes you in and around the entire stadium.
Just five minutes by car from the stadium is the contemporary Toyota Municipal Museum of Art, designed by world-famous architect, Yoshio Taniguchi—who was also behind the design of MoMa in New York—which presents multiple exhibitions, as well as educational and outreach activities. In addition to the art, the entirety of the museum can be enjoyed through the modern architecture and surrounding gardens.
Enjoy lunch in the city at the Cafe Concession, a prime location for a stylish lunch accompanied by an extensive drink menu with the very best craft beers, café drinks, and cocktails. There are many other restaurant options around the Toyota Station area to choose from as well.
Once you’re refreshed and ready to go, head next to the Toyota Kaikan Museum where you will again be toured around the museum free of charge! At the Toyota Kaikan Museum, you’ll be able to explore Toyota’s approach to vehicles from a variety of perspectives through multiple interactive exhibitions, fun for both adults and children to see and try out.
If you still have time, it might be worth taking a short drive over to Toyota’s Ecoful Town where you can see how Toyota City aims to create a sustainable lifestyle for all by looking ahead 10-50 years in the future and focusing on new initiatives.
The journey comes to an end back at the Centrair International Airport. The airport itself has a number of things to see and do, including a sky deck where you can get a picture-perfect view of the sun setting behind the arriving and departing planes in the late afternoon.
It’s a perfectly peaceful way to finish off the most relaxing and rewarding trip!
Gohei Mochi, unlike regular mochi, is made from white rice which has been smashed into a sticky cake and skewered. Before serving, the rice cake is coated in a sweet miso sauce and aromatically cooked over a flame.
Miso Katsu takes the classic tonkatsu (Japanese style deep-fried pork) and slathers it with an aromatic miso sauce that has a heavenly sweet and salty flavor.
Tebasaki chicken wings
Tebasaki is a local favorite! It’s a Japanese style spicy chicken wing that pairs well with cold beer or sake.
Miso-nikomi udon is a healthy and delicious noodle dish that is served with tender vegetables, thick udon noodles and a rich miso broth that soothes the soul.
Aichi can be enjoyed year-round with a number of seasonal activities all around the prefecture. Choosing when to go may depend on what you want to see, do and eat. Many of the local eateries have seasonal menus which will only be available during that particular season.
If you’re interested in Aichi’s natural surroundings, autumn may be the best time to go in terms of the unique colors of the wilderness and steady temperatures. Many areas are also lit up during this time of year, turning it into a magical wonderland. Spring is also a great way to catch scenic nature vibes.
Summer and winter, despite their extreme temperatures, are still fun times to go thanks to a number of festivals.
Aichi Prefecture has a variety of different accommodations depending on the area, with a range of price points to meet your needs across hotels, guest houses, ryokan (inns) and more.
One place I can recommend is Yunokaze Hazu in the hot spring town of Yuya Onsen where we stayed on our first night.
Lining the banks of the Itajiki River deep in the Horaikyo Valley, Yuya Onsen boasts over 1,000 years of history and is a picture-perfect place to relax after a day exploring nearby Shinshiro City.
Yunokaze Hazu is located just 15 minutes away from the Atera No Nanataki waterfall and is hidden away in the peaceful forest by the Ure river. The ryokan’s onsen, listed in Japan’s top 100 hot springs, is a healing hot spring that cleanses and restores your body and soul. At night, from their outdoor onsen, you can hear and see the Ure river under a platter of stars. And for dinner, you’ll be served an array of seasonal dishes made with fresh local ingredients.
Check flights into the region at the Centrair International Airport website.