Hello! I'm "Gan-chan" and I drive all over Japan using Carstay. Have you ever thought about relaxing in the countryside or driving to scenic places on a weekend while everyone endures commuter hell on rush-hour trains?
Recently, I drove an RV to the northern part of Nagano Prefecture to this village called "Ogawa." A true place of respite. It’s one of Japan's Best 100 Villages and listed by a Japanese non-profit organization in The Most Beautiful Villages in Japan. Feel the hidden charm of Ogawa as I lay bare my little adventure-retreat!
Where is Ogawa? ––Sandwiched between two popular tourist destinations
Simply speaking, Ogawa village sits between Nagano City and Hakuba Village in Nagano Prefecture. It's very easily accessible by car from Nagano City's famous national treasure Zenko-ji Temple and the 1998 Winter Olympics site Hakuba Village. So many people from both abroad and inside the country come to this area all throughout the year but simply pass through(!), oblivious to the rich heritage (like the Satoyama Culture) that it preserves. That's why I was completely taken aback when I discovered the fact when I arrived.
Time-preserved Japanese traditional and rural sceneries
After the "Great Heisei Mergers" in 1999, the 3,232 municipalities in Japan shrunk to just 1,820. Ogawa was one of the villages that fought for its independence and protected its identity against government control. In fact, when I visited, I found a lot of people that were self-reliant and self-sufficient. They also have an erosion control council that's apparently been put in place since the Meiji Period (so that’s some 120 years ago) that directs large-scale cooperatives such as putting stone walls or guards in hill slopes and rivers until today. This is just one of the things that make Ogawa the quaint and charming village that it is!
Oyaki that dates back to the Jomon Period?! The birthplace of Shinshu Oyaki
You've probably eaten oyaki before even just once, right? It's actually one of the local foods of Nagano. A Japanese-style steamed or baked bun made from wheat flour, which wraps stuffing such as vegetables—a tradition they say that goes back all the way to the Jomon Period right in Ogawa in the northern part of Nagano. So, eating oyaki here is literally eating food from the Jomon Period. And you can even try baking in earth ovens inside pit dwellings in “Shinshu Ogawa Estate: Oyaki Village” then eat it freshly baked. You should absolutely 101% try this incredible experience!
Is having a main job plus a side job the norm now? And they're still working at what age?!
Nagano is known to have a high life expectancy in Japan. Sure enough, Grandma and Grandpa are still rocking the workforce in Ogawa. Some people working in "Shinshu Ogawa Estate: Oyaki Village" were up to 84 years old! Japan's Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare recently promoted having side jobs, but plenty of people in Ogawa do already. There's also a sharing economy system in the area where communities share produce surplus with each other. This small village seems to be thriving through cooperation and helping each other, and I feel that that's what modern cities are striving towards now, right?
A haven for raising children in Japan
Population is fast declining in Japan and Ogawa is no exception. From 9,500 residents in 1950 down to 2,500 today. But as young adults move towards big cities after they graduate, young families move away from the cities to raise children. Some of the things that couples say they look for are nature and a warm and friendly community. I think I want to raise my children in such a place too.
A beautiful landscape overlooking the magnificent Northern Alps
Ogawa is a place where you can start your every morning greeting with "The Alps look beautiful again today!" At 1,000 meters above sea level, the clouds scatter in all directions. Below that, you can admire cherry blossoms in spring, fresh green leaves in summer, fiery foliage in fall, and white snow in winter all against the backdrop of the Alps. Photographers fall in love with this place time and time again. It's no wonder it also became a mecca for road bicycle racers for its "steep but stunning biking scenery," according to them.
There are only about 2,500 residents in Ogawa, so village officials remember most people's names and faces. It felt as if everyone was one big family there. Ogawa cultural experience tour will usually be available on Carstay, so definitely and absolutely check it out!
Let's drive an RV to Ogawa!
I just told you about one of the most amazing road trip destinations in Japan. What do you think? Ogawa has such a tight-knit community that I personally felt as if I visited a huge family there. The "Michi no Eki Ogawa" roadside station is currently being renovated and will be ready for you this spring.
The drive to Ogawa itself is perfect for car camping, too. You can book a parking space at the 1,200-year-old Kozan-ji Temple through Carstay. And there's even a hot public bath nearby to ensure you get a good rest!
What are you waiting for? Start an extraordinary journey to one of Japan's best kept secrets: Ogawa Village.