Quaint Kyoto farming community gears up for influx of tourists seeking a less-beaten path



Miyama in the city of Nantan, Kyoto Prefecture, has been noted in recent years as a farming community worth visiting, yet it is just beginning to adapt to a steep increase in Asian tourists who are tired of conventional sightseeing spots in Japan.

Chen Xiang-jun, a 32-year-old Taiwanese company employee from Tainan who visited the town on Dec. 1, was fascinated by water arches created over traditional farmhouses in the Kayabuki no Sato “thatched-roof village” during an event held by local volunteer firefighters twice a year.

“The scene was a different world unseen in daily life. I had a wonderful time,” Chen said.

Thirty-eight thatched farmhouses dot the foot of a mountain in the northern part of town, many of which were built during the Edo Period (1603-1868). The area is often compared to Shirakawa-go, Gifu Prefecture, and neighboring Gokayama, Toyama Prefecture, which was chosen as a UNESCO world heritage site in 1995, and also to Ouchi-juku, Fukushima Prefecture, due to the many thatched houses.

In all, 127.5 hectares of land, including rice paddies and forests, were designated by the Japanese government in 1993 as an area with great historical value to be preserved.

Lured by photos on the Internet of Miyama’s beautiful sights, Chen traveled to the town by train and bus. “The poor access didn’t bother me,” she said.

Chen has visited many popular temples and shrines in Kyoto and Nara during her 10 or so trips to Japan. “I wanted to visit a quiet place in the countryside but saw lots of tourists today as always,” she laughed.

Miyama is in a remote mountain area 90 minutes by car north of Kyoto Station. While nearly 300,000 tourists per year visit the town, local residents still live in most of the old thatched-roof houses, so many are not open to the public. But a number of inns and cafes now occupy some farmhouses.

Although the number of foreign visitors to Miyama began to rapidly increase four to five years ago, the town has yet to take measures to cope with its booming popularity. Local bus services, for example, are geared purely to local residents, with only one operating every two hours, and there is no rest station equipped to store luggage for tourists. But preparations to make the town friendlier to tourists are starting by stages, including a multilanguage information board to be set up soon by the Nantan Municipal Government at the entry to the village.

“While most Asian visitors to the town are now from Taiwan, we expect tourists from China down the road,” said Mamoru Koda, 61, of the Kyoto Miyama Tourism Association. “We will promote tours designed for tourists to stay for a number of days and enjoy the scenery here at leisure.”