As we wound up the mountains roads, I could see terraced lines of green across the valley and assumed they were rice terraces. At lunch, I would learn they weren’t, but Matcha, which was much more than a popular tea here.
With an abundance of Matcha in the prefecture, the health benefits of this ground-up leaf went far beyond your standard cuppa. Innovative locals were using it in all sorts of ways, including in their noodles.
At Asunaro, a cafe which commanded an impeccable view of the terraces, mountains and a vast lake, we braved the outside winter temperatures wrapped in blankets to appreciate the vistas fully. The tasty green both with thick juicy noodles we were served was exquisite, and the high antioxidant, metabolism-boosting, mind-calming Matcha dish went down a treat.
Driving higher into the mountains, the dense forest parted to wide-open lands strewn with rocks. We were close to the border of the prefecture, and parking up at the hotel, I learn quickly that if you stayed here, you would check in to Kochi, but sleep in a different region as it cut right across the border.
I wasn’t here to spend the night, though. I was here to sample the Tengu Highlands Forest Therapy Road. While, on first glance, I found the concept confusing, I had to quickly remind myself that Japanese people are some of the healthiest in the world, so if it was good for them, it was more than excellent for slightly overweight me.
With log cabins to stay in and various hiking routes at the high elevation, the main draw here was to escape the polluted cities and breath in the fresh mountains air. As far as the eye could see in all directions, there was the forest, though being winter, at this height, most of the trees were sadly bare. The therapy road takes you higher and deeper into the woodland, with dedicated places for relaxing and meditating, and a range of flora to help you connect with nature.