Kansai Scene Magazine


Tanba Sasayama

Wild boar stew, traditional streets and ancient castles. Bean there, done that?

Fresh is good. It’s the discovery of a new place; somewhere you can dazzle friends with stories of newfound lands. For me, it’s Japan’s last frontier of exploration–finding something less than a couple of million people know about. Tanba Sasayama is one such place. Situated in Hyogo Prefecture, it has been referred to as the “New-old-Kyoto”, and is attracting more weekend tourists, bargain-hunters and artists wanting to escape to the countryside for the weekend.

The town is about an hour’s drive from Kansai’s big three (Kyoto, Kobe and Osaka), and is the perfect place for a day tripper or overnighter. The pleasant streets are lined with lively store vendors selling their wares, and the traditional entranceways beckon walkers into quaint gardens and secret cafes. Sasayama is alive and kicking, and you can feel it.
Many of the traditional houses here have been converted into galleries. Lacquer ware and pottery are most prevalent, but there are many handicrafts and trinkets to be found by popping your head through the different noren (Japanese curtain). An old toyshop in the centre of town was my Japanese friend’s favorite, its various goodies inducing screams of natsukashii! (that takes me back!). There were also many girls pouring through piles of second hand kimono at one of the many shops, and plenty of people on the lookout for curiosities at the antique stores dotted around town.

Sasayama is littered with small museums that were once family houses. There is a pottery museum, brewery
museum, the museum of history and art, a Noh museum, and an historical village museum. The jewel in the crown is the site of the former Sasayama Castle, situated on the top of a small hillock that affords a great view of the city and surrounding mountains. Encircled by a charming moat, most of the castle was destroyed in the Meiji restoration period, but the main hall was rebuilt in 2000.

The kuromame (black bean) is one of the biggest toasts of the town. They celebrate the little pulse in an annual festival in October, and it is available in just about any foodstuff in Sasayama: cakes, rice dishes, tea, and even ice cream. The inoshishi (wild boar) is not far behind in the “this town is famous for…” rankings. It is usually served as botan nabe (wild boar stew), but is sometimes fried. If it is done properly, you might find yourself denouncing the kuromame and declaring the pig the best thing Sasayama has to offer. Roasted chestnuts are another popular snack sold along the streets, and Sasayama beef, yam, and matsutake mushrooms are other delicacies of the region that warrant checking out.

If you’re more adventurous it is easy to rent a bicycle from the tourist information centre and get out to the surrounding villages. Unlike many other Japanese cities, there is an abundance of public toilets, and the streets are wide, with little or no traffic, lots of cheap parking space, and best of all, clean and fresh air!
For a weekend away and a stroll though a picturesque Japanese village, be sure to check out this rising star in the domestic tourism market.

Getting there:
From Osaka: Take the JR Takurazuka line from JR Osaka station, get off at Sasayamaguchi station and take a bus to the town center.

From Kyoto: Take the JR Sagano line from Kyoto station to Sonobe, then take a JR bus to Sasayama.

From Kobe: Take the Hankyu line to Takarazuka, change to the JR line and get off at Sasayamguchi station, then take a bus to the town center. Alternatively, take a Shinki bus (http://www.shinkibus.co.jp/) to Sanda, and then to Sasayama.

See www.city.sasayama.hyogo.jp/eindex.html for more information.

Text and photos by Luke Hunter

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