Kobayashi city, a place suspended in a mythological time
Temples and flowers
I didn't really know what to expect from a trip to Kobayashi city. I've lived in Tokyo for the most part of my 10-year stay here, and while I did my research on the city, I could not quite grasp the mood of the place until I set foot there. If you are one who loves their wi-fi connection and bustling cities, then I am definitely not recommending this place to you. But if you are - like me - someone who craves the peaceful joys of nature and simple interactions in life, this is the place for you. People are kind and welcoming and the nature is simply stunning.
Kirishimamine Jinja （霧島峰神社） - a peaceful retreat
My welcome to this place was the peaceful and understated Kirishimamine Jinja, which is only a short walk away from Kannogo Onsen and is surrounded by nature. If you want to stay off the beaten track, this would be the first place I'd recommend. Unlike other bigger Kirishimamine shrines (there are 6 in the area!), this one is less popularized, so you can enjoy your nice solitary walk up the stone staircase leading to the main hall, where the rice god is enshrined. I arrived here during the golden hour, and the walk up the stairs felt nothing short of magical, like I was ascending into a mythical space.
I was the only one visiting the shrine at the time, so the kannushi (Shintō priest) was kind enough to let me enter the inner hall and see the intricately sculpted gate inside, while he gave me details about the sculptures and the history of the place. When I left, he even offered me a small gift bag, which included an omamori (a lucky charm), a small sake bottle and sweets. It was an experience so humbling and different from the many times I’ve visited shrines in Tokyo!
Ikoma kōgen （生駒高原） - cosmos flowers and a fireworks festival
From there I went to Ikoma kōgen, where the cosmos flowers were in full bloom and the park was already filled with people who had come to enjoy the cosmos light-up that evening. I didn’t stay too long during the day, but all the while I was there, the people at the kiosks lured me with their warm smiles and delicious food, while a group was performing music on stage. The wind was quite strong that day, and the flowers looked just beautiful against the surrounding mountains and the moody blue-and-dark-grey sky. The light-up in the night was also quite spectacular. There were candles flowing in a river of light throughout the plateau, and the flowers lit up in thousands of colors every time the fireworks exploded in the sky.
Top that with a lovely hot soak in one of the private baths at Kannogo Onsen, and you've got yourself just a taste of Kobayashi city!
Ceramics artistry and a dreamland
Youzangama （鷹山窯） was by far the highlight of my first day in Kobayashi city. This small pottery workshop deep in the mountains is a small treasure. The artist is very talented and kind. He trained in Arita (one of the most famous pottery towns in Japan) and now lives here, in Kobayashi, with his parents and a few horses. He has a considerable collection of pottery tools and colours, so you can try your hand at drawing on a varied selection of tableware and then sit down on the porch and enjoy a cup of fresh coffee before you head out for your next adventure.
Sukimurando, a retreat for the writer in you
My next adventure was Sukimurando, where I stayed in a traditional thatched-roof house overlooking a beautiful lake. This is definitely the place to stay at in Kobayashi city, but only if you can arrange your own transportation to and from the camp-site. There is a 45-minute walk from the thatched-rood huts (the Karukaya camp) to the reception (and the camp onsen), but rest assured it's well worth it. The view over the lake and mountains is spectacular, and the huts are wonderfully unique. If you don't feel like cooking on the irori (hearth) in the hut, know that there is also a restaurant on the Karukaya camp, where they serve a simple, traditional Japanese menu. I definitely recommend this place if you're trying to get away from the city and muster up some creativity. It's so peaceful and charming you might never want to leave.
I'm going to leave you with these two images from the Sannnomiya Gorge, although they hardly do it justice. If you have a chance to go there, do so around the golden hour, when the light seeps through the rocks and gives a magic touch to the entire place. The walk through dozens of small tunnels seems outright otherworldly, as every single landscape that meets your eyes along the way is different and breathtaking. It's also not as crowded as so many other scenic spots around Japan, so rest assured you will thoroughly enjoy your time here, even if you don't do anything else.
I never really expected this small town to charm me as thoroughly as it did; and I guarantee that reading blog posts won't tell you enough about it, either. But if you're in two minds about going there, do give it a try. It might surprise and win you over, too.