Experience the mindful lifestyle of Kyoto's 'Satoyama' — villages tucked between mountains and fertile flatlands! Join the elderly locals there and learn to make traditional rice cakes and crackers or trek through a forest-shrouded pilgrimage route.
The center of Kyoto, Japan’s ancient capital of traditional arts and craft, attracts massive crowds of local and international visitors every year. While it rightfully takes the spotlight, there is so much more of the prefecture to be explored and marveled at beyond the popular tourist sights. A particular region worthy of mention is Kyoto’s ‘Satoyama’ — the bordering region between mountain foothills and fertile flatland. What makes these areas so special is the combination of rich nature and traditional village life, creating a spirit of mindfulness that has fully imbued into the lifestyle of locals. Explore the treasures of Kyoto’s Satoyama lifestyle and join two unique experiences with locals! Just an hour away from Kyoto Station is Ayabe city in the northern mountains. Ayabe’s rich history — a city once ruled by an ancient clan who were renowned as skilled weavers — can be seen from its charming historical buildings, ancient hiking trails, national treasures, and a collection of temples and shrines. Its abundant nature boats giant trees, forest-strewn mountains, displays of fireflies and flowers, and staggering gorges. The first satoyama experience in Ayabe is in Kyoto’s smallest village — populated by a total of 4 people with an average age of 92. Accompanied by a certified English-speaking guide, you will first explore a local area in the midst of beautiful Japanese woodlands. Find yourself at peace among the verdant trees, trickling rivers, and traditional Japanese houses, some of which still have thatched roofs. After that, meet the elderly locals and visit one of their homes to start making your own ‘mochi’ (traditional rice cakes) and ‘senbei’ (rice crackers)! Before you do, join them in preparing a delicious local bento lunch using fresh ingredients and traditional cooking methods. While you have fun cooking, you’ll find it easy to chat with the grandmothers and listen to their life experiences and unique stories. When you are done, enjoy your lunch and then prepare to make mochi from scratch! Learn how to pound the rice into a sticky form, roll it into rice balls, then layer them onto bamboo trays. Before you indulge in them, you can also learn how to make traditional senbei with chestnuts. Learning these centuries-old traditions with locals and experiencing their harmonious lifestyle is a truly special experience that you are bound not to forget. The second satoyama experience is a hike through the Saigoku Sanjūsan-sho pilgrimage route. A knowledgeable local guide will take you up Mt Kimino-o — a fairytale-like world of giant evergreen trees, winding mountain paths, and ancient stone carvings. As you trek through the mystical forests, stop to marvel at a breathtaking, 2,000-year-old Japanese horse-chestnut tree. Standing at 23 meters tall, it is considered to be the largest tree in Kyoto. Another highlight along the way is the national treasure of Nioh Mon, the gate of Komyo-ji Temple that was built in 599 AD. The double gates were a rare design when they were built in the 13th century during the Kamakura era. When you are done soaking in the history and nature of Mt Kimino-o, end your long day of trekking at Ayabe Onsen. As you wind down and relax in the natural hot onsen, gaze out of the window at stunning views of Kyoto’s lush forests and mountains. Whether you choose to make traditional Japanese confectionery with village locals or hike a mystical pilgrimage route, or even both, join these activities to have an insight into the mindful lifestyle of Kyoto’s satoyama. Book now!