A mountain retreat north of Kyoto, the rural area of Miyama (美山) is made up of small villages and hamlets scattered along winding valleys and heavily forested hills. The area is famous for its traditional thatch-roofed houses (kayabuki) of which the village of Kayabuki-no-Sato is the most well known. Unlike most other cultural heritage sites in Japan, the majority of the carefully preserved houses in Miyama still serve as residential dwellings where regular people still live and work. Built in the traditional gassho zukuri or praying hands style, a walk among these houses transports you back in time to feudal Japan.
While only 50 kilometres from the city centre, getting to Kayabuki-no-Sato with public transportation takes a bit of planning, requiring several transfers on train and local buses. Best is to explore the area by rental car, or as we did a few weeks ago, book a half-day tourist bus excursion from downtown Kyoto. The journey itself takes about 90 minutes, with a brief rest at a local dairy producer famous for its ice cream.
Miyama is a popular summer destination with lots of outdoor activities in and around the village. During winter, the annual Snow Festival is held, a weeklong celebration of all things snow. The festival is capped off on the last day with making snow lanterns, traditional dancing at the local shrine, and a small fireworks display over the vilage. We arrived just in time for the lighting of the lanterns, and fortunately there was a light snowfall the night prior – otherwise it would have been a snow-free event. In fact, many of the typical Snow Festival activities were cancelled in 2019 due to the unusually warm weather.