Walking the ancient Salt Trail

Before the construction of the modern road network, Itoigawa was the start of an important trade route known as the Salt Trail. Men and women carried heavy packs and led oxen over steep mountain passes, taking salt to the thriving castle town of Matsumoto far inland. Our guests enjoy walking a section of this route, up to the scenic Shiroike pond, and picnicking there.

The first stop on the way is the Salt Trail museum, an old farmhouse that has been made into a museum by local residents to preserve the porters’ equipment, agricultural tools, and other artefacts which they donated. In spring and autumn, guests can sit round a fire in the irori, or open hearth. Japanese farmhouses had no chimneys, making them very smoky in winter, but this smoke played a role in preserving the timbers and thatching.

Old, thatched wooden farmhouse
The Salt Road museum
Frames made of wood and rope
Wooden frames for carrying loads – no rucksacks back then…

After learning a bit about the area’s past, it’s time to set off along the Salt Trail! Luckily, there are no heavy loads to carry, although we do bring along delicious lunchboxes for the guests. Along the way, the local outdoor specialist who accompanies us explains all about the trees, plants, and other nature of the area. There are also breaks to look at the views over the rice paddies and down to the coast.

Two walkers look out over rice paddies below
Time for a well-deserved rest!
View of trees, rice paddies, and then sea
The city of Itoigawa and the Sea of Japan in the distance

Our destination, Shiroike pond, is framed by mountains and has beautifully clear water. There is an abundance of nature to observe, including dragonflies, newts, and frogs.

Deep blue pond with mountain range in the background
The clear waters of Shiroike pond
Observing the trees in the local forest
 Looking at the trees in the surrounding forest

And of course, it’s time for the picnic lunch! Local specialties include sasa-zushi (a kind of Japanese version of an open sandwich, served on a young bamboo leaf) and seasonal seafood. The spring water is delicious and cool, and the views are perfect…

Three people use leaf cups to drink from a spring by a pond
Learning how to drink from cups made of leaves

Classical Japanese music, just for you!

Japanese music has a long tradition, dating back to the households of the Emperor and his nobles. Our guests often choose to experience that tradition in the comfort of a private pre-dinner performance at their accommodation.

Two women playing koto harps and singing
Koto duet performing “Sakura, sakura”, a famous song about cherry blossom

Players perform several pieces on the shakuhachi (bamboo flute), shamisen (three-stringed instrument similar to a banjo), and koto (long, horizontal harp). They explain each piece and their instruments.

A man plays the shakuhachi
Playing the shakuhachi flute

After the performance is finished, guests have the opportunity to try out the instruments and talk more with the performers. Sometimes they even sing a traditional song from their country, too! Music really does help to cross international borders.

Guests laugh with their teachers as they try to play the koto harp
Performers and audience share a musical moment after the concert

Make your own sushi lunch!

You have probably eaten sushi before, perhaps many times; but have you ever made it? Our recent guests visited a master sushi chef in his restaurant to discover the basics of the art.

Guest laughing as she makes sushi
Women are not usually considered suitable sushi chefs as their hands are thought to be too warm. Luckily, our sushi making experience is open to everyone!

Professional sushi chefs train for years, but luckily it doesn’t take that long to learn how to make your own lunch! After the guests had carefully patted the balls of vinegared rice into shape, places slices of fish on top, and secured them with strips of seaweed, they sat down to enjoy their handiwork.

Guest holding up tray of sushi, flanked by two sushi chefs
The completed masterpiece!

Since Itoigawa has a thriving fishing industry, most of the fish used for sushi are caught that very morning and come from the local fish market, so this may well turn out to be the freshest sushi you have ever eaten!

Pieces of sushi on a wooden board