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A Guide to the Nishi-Harima Area – A Gem Tucked Between Mountains and the Sea, Not Far from Osaka[PR]

The Nishi-Harima area is home to a myriad of charming sightseeing locations. It’s just a short detour from iconic Japanese tourist destinations like Kobe and Osaka, and it has slowly but surely been gaining popularity in recent years. We did some digging to find out exactly why it’s so appealing. Read on for some of the sightseeing staples, hidden gems, and local gourmet specialties of the Nishi-Harima area.

About Nishi-Harima

The Nishi-Harima area consists of four towns (Tatsuno-shi, Shiso-shi, Kamigori-cho, and Sayo-cho) located in Hyogo Prefecture, on the western edge of the Kinki Region. Surrounded by majestic mountains and a calm sea, the area has many spots that are in perfect harmony with nature. You can get to Nishi-Harima from Osaka or Kobe by train in about 1.5-2 hours. It has a great location for a casual day trip, so start planning your visit now!

Tourism site for highlights of the area's history, nature, culture, and food:
http://nishi-harima.net/eng/

Must-See Sightseeing Spots

Each district of the Nishi-Harima area has developed its own distinctive culture. Starting with famous historic sites which have added flair to local history and culture, the area is a collection of all sorts of places that give you a sense of unity with nature, such as flowers, autumn leaves, and the majestic sea. Here are some of the most iconic locations.

Nature

1. Tatsuno Park

The whole mountain base on the western side of Mt. Keirozan is called Tatsuno Park in the Seiban Kyuryo Prefectural Park. This is one of the most notable cherry blossom spots in the prefecture. The cherry blossom trees, of which there are said to be 3,000 in a single glance, are splendid in full bloom. Inside the park there are three walking trails, including a children’s "nursery rhyme path" scattered with stone statues where melodies can be heard, and even a free zoo that is popular with children.

Name: Tatsuno Park Official homepage:
https://www.city.tatsuno.lg.jp/toshikeikaku/toshiseibi/tatsunokoen.html
Address: Naka-kajo, Tatsuno-cho, Tatsuno-shi, Hyogo 兵庫県たつの市龍野町中霞城
Access:
[Train] Around a 25-minute walk from Hon-Tatsuno Station
[Car] Around a 5-minute drive from the Tatsuno Interchange on the Sanyo Expressway / Around a 15-minute drive from the Fukuda Ramp to the Taishi-Tatsuno Bypass on National Route 2

1. Tatsuno Park

2. Kanaji Dam

This dam in Kamigori-cho was completed in 2018 and boasts a total water capacity of 4.7 million cubic meters. Take a drive or a tour on the 5.5km road around the dam, and you’ll be overwhelmed at its grand scale! There is also a botanical garden where rare plants discovered at the time of the dam’s construction have been relocated from the bottom of the lake for conservation. Directly below the dam (approximately 100m downstream), the Kanaji Waterside Park has also been established. In spring, this is a beautiful place for water lovers to enjoy frolicking in the shallows of the river while seeing the cherry blossoms in bloom.

Name: Kanaji Dam
Address: Kanaji, Kamigori-cho, Ako District, Hyogo 兵庫県赤穂郡上郡町金出地
Access: Around a 15-minute drive from the Harima-Shingu Interchange on the Harima Expressway

2. Kanaji Dam

3. Nanko Sunflower Field

The Sunflower Field is widely known as a symbol of Sayo-cho. This spot has an outstandingly Instagrammable scene of more than a million sunflowers in full glory, basking in the summer sun. The sunflowers, which are painstakingly raised by local farmers, are at their best for about one week. To ensure that the blooming sunflowers can be enjoyed for as long as possible, the cultivation has been planned so that there are five different fields within the town whose blooming seasons are staggered. This means that the sunflowers can be enjoyed somewhere in the town from about mid-July to mid-August. Every year from mid- to late July, the Nanko Sunflower Festival is held. During this time, you can enjoy mini-events and shop at the product tenant village (weekends and national holidays only).

Name: Nanko Sunflower Field
Sayo-cho official homepage:
http://www.town.sayo.lg.jp/cms-sypher/www/info/detail.jsp?id=3614
Address: Nanko, Sayo-cho, Sayo-gun, Hyogo (depending on which of the five flower sections is open) 兵庫県佐用郡佐用町南光地区(5つの地区で時期をずらして開園)
Access:
[Train] 5-to-15-minute taxi ride from Harima-Tokusa Station (varies depending on which section is open)
[Car] 10-to-20-minute drive from the Sayo Interchange on the Chugoku Expressway (varies depending on which section is open) / [From Tottori] 15-minute drive from the Sayo-Hirafuku Half-Interchange on the Tottori Expressway

2020 Nanko Sunflower Festival Information
Dates: July 18 (Saturday) - August 2 (Sunday), 2020 Location: Nanko Sports Park (839 Hayashisaki, Sayo-cho)
(there is a free shuttle bus from Harima-Tokusa Station on Saturday, Sunday and national holidays)

History & Culture

1. Shirohata-jo Castle Ruins

This is the site of Shirohata-jo Castle, which was constructed by the military commander Akamatsu Enshin of Harima in 1336. The vast site extends from atop a 440m mountain to ridges and valleys, and it stretches about 560m east to west and about 400m from north to south. Shirohata-jo Castle was an impregnable fortress which was said to have held against an enemy army of 60,000 for over 50 days with just 2,000 soldiers. For this reason, the castle that couldn’t be felled is thought to bring luck for not failing, so the spot has gained popularity as a place to go for luck among students taking exams. The nearest station to the peak of Mt. Shirohata (the castle's inner citadel) and the foot of the mountain trail is Konohara-Enshin Station; there, you can find a place to hang "ema", or wooden tags on which you write a prayer or wish (pictured). Why not go visit and make a wish to pass that test, land that job, or just for success in general?

Name: Shirohata-jo Castle Ruins
Official homepage: none
Address: Akamatsu, Kamigori-cho, Ako-gun, Hyogo 兵庫県赤穂郡上郡町赤松
Access:
[To the trailhead] Around a 20-minute walk from Konohara-Enshin Station / Around a 40-minute drive west from the Tatsuno-Nishi Interchange / Around a 30-minute drive south from the Sayo Interchange / Around a 30-minute drive west from the Harima-Shingu Interchange
[To the summit] Approximately 1-hour hike on the Kinki Nature Trail

1. Shirohata-jo Castle Ruins

2. Yamasaki's Townscape & Sakagura Street

In Yamasaki-cho in Shiso-shi, there is an area known for its old-fashioned streetscape (which is a prefecture-designated historic scenery area). This neighborhood flourished as a castle town in the Edo Period (approximately 400 years ago) and played a vital role in cultural exchange. Even now, much of the area remains unchanged from that time, and it is scattered with charming sake breweries and traditional-style buildings. Part of the area's charm is that there are now cafes, restaurants, and accommodations that operate out of these historical buildings. You can walk around the perimeter of the area in about 30-40 minutes, so it’s perfect for taking a casual stroll and getting some photos that capture the Edo Period mood.

Name: Yamasaki's Townscape & Sakagura Street
Official homepage: none
Address: Yamasaki-cho, Yamasaki, Shiso-shi, Hyogo 兵庫県宍粟市山崎町山崎
Access: Around a 5-minute drive from the Yamasaki Interchange on the Chugoku Expressway

3. Niwata Shrine

This is a shrine located in Ichinomiya in Shiso-shi. Niwata Shrine is known as the birthplace of Japanese sake, as the first-ever mention in an ancient text of Japanese sake brewed with koji is from this area (source: the "Harima no Kuni Fudoki", a fudoki being a record of a region's natural features and legends). The legend goes that the deity Iwa no Okami, who is enshrined at the temple, soaked some rice in the Nukui River that flows through the back of the shrine area. By chance, this had the effect of brewing this rice and produced an especially delicious sake. In late September of recent years, local Shiso sake and choice sake from around Japan are brought together at the Shiso Nihonshu Festival. Snacks that go with sake are sold here as well, so stay tuned for more information (2020 event details are to be announced).

Name: Niwata Shrine
Official homepage: none
Address: 1286 Yokura, Ichinomiya-cho, Shiso-shi, Hyogo 宍粟市一宮町能倉1286
Access: Around a 20-minute drive from the Yamasaki Interchange on the Chugoku Expressway

3. Niwata Shrine

4. The Post Town "Hirafuku" and the Rikan-jo Castle Ruins

During the Edo Period, shukuba were inns that offered accommodations and means of transport for men and horses that flourished along highway routes; "shukuba-machi" or post towns were towns that developed around them. Hirafuku is one such town on the Inaba Kaido route. Today, traditional-style buildings and storehouses that convey the scenery of that time are lined up along the main street of the town. One more famous place in Hirafuku is the Rikan-jo Castle Ruins. This is the site of a castle that was built at the beginning of the Edo Period on top of a 373m tall mountain. Some stone walls remain that reveal the castle's original shape. The stone walls are at risk of collapsing, so while you unfortunately cannot climb them, you can see the majestic shape of the ruins from places like the Hirafuku Road Station.

Name: Hirafuku and Rikan-jo Castle Ruins
Address: 988-1 Hirafuku, Sayo-cho, Sayo-gun, Hyogo (Hirafuku Road Station) 兵庫県佐用郡佐用町平福988-1(道の駅宿場町ひらふく)
Access:
[Train] Around a 5-minute walk from Hirafuku Station
[Car] Around a 5-minute drive from the Sayo Interchange on the Chugoku Expressway / (From Tottori Prefecture) Around a 3-minute drive from the Sayo-Hirafuku Half-Interchange on the Tottori Expressway

4. The Post Town "Hirafuku" and the Rikan-jo Castle Ruins

5. Tatsuno-jo Castle Town

The town surrounding Tatsuno-jo Castle represents the long reign of the Wakisaka family, which dates back to the 16th century and lasted about 200 years. Since the early modern era, it developed into a major production area of soy sauce, and remnants of this industrial heritage can be seen there. The diverse townscape, with remnants from the Edo Period through the beginning of the Showa Period, was chosen by the national government as an Important Preservation District for Groups of Traditional Buildings in December 2019.

Name: Tatsuno-jo Castle Town
Address: Tatsuno-cho, Tatsuno-shi, Hyogo 兵庫県たつの市龍野町(龍野地区)
Access:
[Train] Around a 15-minute walk from Hon-Tatsuno Station
[Car] Around a 5-minute drive from the Tatsuno Interchange on the Sanyo Expressway / Around a 15-minute drive from the Fukuda Ramp on National Route 2 Taishi-Tatsuno Bypass

5. Tatsuno-jo Castle Town

Things to Do

1. Nishi-Harima Astronomical Observatory

This is an observatory located on Mt. Onade in Sayo-cho. The observatory is open to the public and includes one of the largest telescopes in the world, the Nayuta Telescope (with a 2m diameter), through which you can gaze up at the moon, planets, and nebulae. Skygazing gatherings are held every Sunday, so why not come along and participate? It can get cold in the evenings, so it's recommended to dress warmly. In addition to the museum shop where you can buy all kinds of merchandise related to stars and the universe, there are also accommodation facilities, which is a unique addition. There are lodgings for families and lodgings for groups, so choose according to your needs.

Name: University of Hyogo Nishi-Harima Astronomical Observatory
Official homepage: http://www.nhao.jp/
Address: 407-2 Nishigaichi, Sayo-cho, Sayo District, Hyogo 兵庫県佐用郡佐用町西河内407-2
Access: [Car] Around a 15-minute drive from the Sayo Interchange on the Chugoku Expressway / (From Tottori Prefecture) Around a 20-minute drive from the Sayo-Hirafuku Half-Interchange on the Tottori Expressway

1. Nishi-Harima Astronomical Observatory

2. Forest Therapy

In the valleys and forests of Shiso-shi, you can experience a type of “forest therapy”, which is backed by medical science. This is a form of relaxation consisting of walking or exercising in the forest while enjoying nature. Forest therapy is said to promote mental and physical health and be beneficial for relaxing and relieving stress. Nearby, there is a therapy road (the Higashiyama Therapy Road inside Forest Station Haga) with an onsen (hot spring), so after taking in the natural surroundings of the forest, go take a relaxing bath. Disconnect from everyday life, and experience a moment of rejuvenation in nature.

Name: Forest Therapy
Official homepage: http://shiso-therapy.jp
(Akanishi Therapy Road)
Address: Hagachohara, Shiso-shi, Hyogo 兵庫県宍粟市波賀町原
Access: Around a 50-minute drive from the Yamasaki Interchange on the Chugoku Expressway

(Higashiyama Therapy Road)
Address: 1799-6 Ueno, Haga-cho, Shiso-shi, Hyogo (inside Forest Station Haga) 兵庫県宍粟市波賀町上野1799-6(フォレストステーション波賀施設内)
Access: Around a 30-minute drive from the Yamasaki Interchange on the Chugoku Expressway

(Kunimi Forest Therapy Road)
Address: 374 Kamihiji, Yamasaki-cho, Shisho-shi, Hyogo (inside Hyogo Prefectural Kuniminomori Park) 宍粟市山崎町上比地374(兵庫県立国見の森公園施設内)
Access: Around a 10-minute drive from the Yamasaki Interchange on the Chugoku Expressway

3. Forest Station Haga

Forest Station Haga is a resort facility that stretches approximately 330 hectares inside the forest. This is a very diverse complex, with a hotel, onsen, cottages, campground, and barbecue area, as well as the aforementioned Higashiyama Therapy Road. In spring you can see flowers in full bloom, and in summer you can enjoy the water. In autumn you can see the vivid colors of the autumn leaves and in winter, you can ride a sled in the snow. There are so many ways to enjoy the four seasons, making this a great spot to get in touch with nature for both children and adults.

Name: Forest Station Haga
Official homepage: http://www.foreststation-haga.jp
Address: 1799-6 Ueno, Haga-cho, Shiso-shi, Hyogo 兵庫県宍粟市波賀町上野1799-6
Access: Around a 30-minute drive from the Yamasaki Interchange on the Chugoku Expressway

3. Forest Station Haga

Gourmet Food

1. Enshin Morodon

If we’re talking about local gourmet food in Kamigori-cho, Enshin Morodon comes to mind. This is a dish in which nutritious moroheiya leaves grown in the town are added to noodles. The dish is sold at many restaurants within the town, and each restaurant has its own take on the dish. Styles include eating the noodles with warm stock (the classic style), chilled with fresh vegetables, boiled with spicy curry sauce, and more unique styles. Try a few and compare! The price differs between establishments, but average prices are around 1,700 JPY for a bowl. Limited quantities of the dish are provided on the 1st and 3rd Sunday of each month at the Kamigori-cho Tourist Information Center.

Name: Enshin Morodon
Address: Restaurant in Kamigori-cho

1. Enshin Morodon

2. Ibonoito Museum Somen no Sato

Ibonoito are hand-pulled somen noodles that have about 600 years of history behind them. Production developed as a side job for farmers during the off-season. As traditional production methods matured and artisans put their all into their production, the noodles became a masterpiece enjoyed year-round, as chilled somen in summer and as nyumen (somen noodle soup) in winter. Ibonoito Museum Somen no Sato introduces these hand-pulled noodles which originated in Harima. This is a facility where you can learn in detail about their history and production methods and also try your hand at the traditional technique.

Name: Ibonoito Museum Somen no Sato
Official website: http://www.ibonoito.or.jp/soumennosato/
Address: 56 Okumura, Kamioka-cho, Tatsuno-shi, Hyogo 兵庫県たつの市神岡町奥村56番地
Access:
[Train] Around a 15-minute walk from Higashi-Hashisaki Station
[Car] Around a 15-minute drive from the Tatsuno Interchange or Kishin Interchange on the Sanyo Expressway / Around a 15-minute drive from the Fukuda Ramp to the Taishi-Tatsuno Bypass on National Route 2

2. Ibonoito Museum Somen no Sato

3. Mitsu Road Station

This is a great location where you can get a panoramic view of the Seto Inland Sea along the coast of Murotsu. There is an abundant variety of local specialty produce sold here, such as vegetables locally grown in Mitsu-cho and quality fresh seafood caught in the Seto Inland Sea. This is a space that can be enjoyed by people of all ages, with facilities such a restaurant with a splendid view, a barbecue terrace, and a hands-on learning room.

Name: Mitsu Road Station Official homepage: http://www.totonaya.com/
Address: 896-23 Murotsu, Mitsu-cho, Tatsuno-shi, Hyogo 兵庫県たつの市御津町室津896番地23
Access:
[Train] Around a 10-minute drive from Tatsuno Station / Around a 10-minute drive from Sanyo-Aboshi Station
[Car] Around a 20-minute drive from the Tatsuno Interchange on the Sanyo Expressway

3. Mitsu Road Station

So, what do you think? Escape from the hustle and bustle of the city, and come visit the Nishi-Harima area. Relax and unwind amidst nature, or let the traditional townscapes transport you into a historical novel. You're free to choose how you pass the time here! If you’re traveling to the Kansai region, take a step off the beaten path to this charming district.

*Please note that the information in this article is from the time of writing or publication and may differ from the latest information.

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