Harima Happenings: Shiso

Shiso – the biggest little city in Harima region

Literally, that is. On a map, Shiso looks like a massive entity, and on the ground, like the west end of nowhere. Famous for its lack of trains and its zealous JETs (right? RIGHT?), this sprawling countryside retreat actually means you are just a bus ride away from leagues upon leagues of awesome.

Shiso awesome?

I really shouldn’t be so surprised when I meet strangers from Osaka out to take in some countryside in Shiso, but it does feel like a total reversal. I occasionally go to Osaka to get into a real city, but they come to Shiso to get out of it. So what’s drawing these travelers? Well…

Special buses run for season offerings, especially to the shrine housing the 千年藤, sen-nen fuji (thousand-year-old wisteria) in early May, just around Golden Week, when the plant is dangling its millions of purple blossoms in all its scented glory.

June is the time for the Iris Garden, where scores of variously colored iris plants stand through the rainy season, along with hydrangeas. The garden has other attractions during other months, but I think the iris bloom is the most spectacular.

In the dead of summer, you can swim in the clear waters of the Ibogawa river at a few different points along its northern banks. There are a few places for taking in the nighttime sight of the hotaru, Japanese fireflies, which only live near clean rivers. Seeing them is a truly magical experience impossible to capture on film.

Once the fall rolls around, Shiso’s got its share of momiji. Less famous (see: less crowded) than Kyoto, the fire-red leaves of the Momiji-yama mountainside do not disappoint.

In the winter, Shiso sports two ski-jou locations, in Haga and Chikusa, for your snowsporting pleasure.

Shiso has several onsen areas, the nicest of which is the somewhat remote Mahoroba of Ichinomiya, but Yoi is pretty..よい, and Isawa-no-rin and Haga’s Forest Station are not to be sneezed at. There’s also Haga’s picturesque waterfalls, and the tiny Haga Castle to see!

Shiso also has monkeys! Well, okay, it’s technically not part of Shiso, but located just off the edge of the map in Sayo you’ll find Ruri-ji Temple and its adjacent Monkey Park (I think this is the only place in Hyogo outside of Awaji where you can visit a monkey park!), where you can sit and watch the primates play against the backdrop of.. whatever season it happens to be.. or you can buy a little can of beans and feed them.

Shiso also has a decent selection of restaurants and coffee shops of various sizes, cuteness levels, English friendliness, and price ranges. Lots of establishments are open late or 24-hours along route 29, owing to the fact that it connects the north and south coasts and lots of trucks roll through late; this means you can get your Mickey-Dees (or MaxValu) on any time of day or night.

Getting to Shiso is easier than you think! There are direct buses from both Kobe and Himeji, and if you happen to live along the route from Tsuyama to Osaka, you can snag any highway bus that has a stop at Yamasaki interstate (山崎インター). From Himeji station on the north side, buses 31, 32, 33, and 41 all run to the Yamasaki bus station in Shiso (from where you can catch buses to other Shiso locations, or meet up with one of the many Shiso JETs) about once every half hour or so.

Shiso is easier for those who have a car, or know someone with a car, as the further north you want to go, the sparser the bus schedule tends to become (dwindling to once and hour midway, and almost only once every two in the upper reaches).

Come play with us in the biggest little town in Harima! MAP IT: check out this annotated map of Shiso! http://g.co/maps/5cwdp

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