Recently I had the opportunity to visit Shiso, a city full of natural beauty in the Harima region of Hyogo.
Shiso is famous for its wild scenery, especially waterfalls, and it’s popular as a destination for camping, fishing, canoeing, skiing, mountain climbing, and any other outdoor activity you can think of throughout the year.
When I traveled to Shiso recently, I also found that it was an interesting, quirky little town with surprises waiting around every corner.
Whether you travel to Shiso by bus or by car, you’ll probably arrive at the Yamasaki Interchange. This area is the center of town and contains many historical temples and sake breweries, as well as Momiji-yama, a nature reserve covered with 7,000 Japanese maple trees.
There’s also one fantastic spot to have a meal or stay the night right within walking distance of the interchange. I didn’t know what I was getting into when I entered the door of Irori Yumejaya, a traditional handmade soba noodle restaurant connected to a hotel.
Irori Yumejaya offers a variety of soba dishes for lunch and a full menu for dinner.
For lunch I chose to have a typical offering – cold soba noodles with tempura. When my meal arrived, I discovered several things that made this dish above-average.
First of all, our meals came with fresh, genuine wasabi for the noodle sauce. You grate the wasabi root yourself, releasing its flavor. This wasabi had a beautiful fragrance and pure, sharp taste quite unlike anything you usually find at a restaurant or supermarket.
The meal also came with another condiment I’m very fond of – matcha salt. Matcha salt is a mix of high-quality sea salt and matcha green tea powder. Tempura is sometimes served with regular salt as a dipping sauce, and I like that well enough, but matcha salt is a special treat!
The soba noodles themselves were also an entirely different creature than what you find elsewhere. They were firm and juicy, with a rich, nutty flavor.
When we were finished with our meal, the master of the establishment told us he had something special for us to see, and guided us to the second floor.
At the top of the stairs, I was astonished to see something I wasn’t expecting at all – a model railroad museum!
This guy had been lucky enough to use the entire second floor of his business to realize his life’s dream.
The model railroad museum is filled with familiar scenes of Japanese life.
There are models of all kinds of trains, including some familiar to Hyogoites such as the Hanshin, Hankyu, and JR.
I found this farm charming.
And this tiny Japanese house.
I thought this 7-Eleven was hilarious.
This, I believe, is an actual JR train conductor uniform.
There is also a room dedicated to his collection of wood carvings.
To conclude our visit, he gave us each a free bottle of “Koishisoda”, a carbonated drink with a pun for its name. The name means “I think I’m going to fall in love”, but it contains the name of the city “Shiso”. The soda is also flavored like the shiso leaf, a basil-like staple of Japanese cooking.
After our meal at Irori, we headed to our other destination in Shiso, the Ichinomiya area.
Ichinomiya is only a short bus ride away from Yamasaki and is full of Japanese countryside scenery.
The big destination here is Iwa Jinja. A short walk into the woods leads you to this grand and mysterious old Shinto shrine.
Another interesting sight is Nagarebashi – the “wash-away bridge”. It is built out of non-permanent material so that it can be quickly and easily rebuilt if it is washed away by a river flood.
There’s one more thing that this area is famous for – natural spring water. The water in this spot is called Enmeisui – “water of longevity”. People from all over Japan drive here to fill bottles and bottles with the sacred water.
Well, I spent the whole day in Shiso, but I feel like I’ve barely scratched the surface! My ideal next day in Shiso would include a hike to see some of the flowers or autumn leaves in season, a waterfall climbing expedition, a dinner of the famous wild boar, and a soak in the hot springs before bed.
The best time to visit is coming right up! In autumn the “riches of the mountain” are at their most delicious, you can see beautiful displays of Japanese maple trees turning red, and it’s still warm enough to enjoy the outdoors.
Irori Yumejaya and Hotel Nisshin Kaikan
Lunch: 11:30 AM – 2 PM
Dinner: 5:30 PM – 9:30 PM
Address: 161 Sukazawa, Yamasaki-cho, Shiso-shi, Hyogo 671-2553
Website: http://www.irori-nissin.com/index.htm (Japanese)
How To Get There
Hotel Nisshin Kaikan
From Sannomiya: Take the Shinki bus to Yamasaki Interchange (90 minutes). From Yamasaki Interchange, walk east across the river and a short way north.
Take the Shinki bus from Sannomiya to Yamasaki, the last stop (95 minutes). At Yamasaki, change for the local bus bound for Magari and get off at the Ichinomiya Iwa Jinja stop.
*For those in Himeji, you can take the Shinki bus directly from Himeji to Yamasaki Interchange (60 minutes).