If Miyazaki Prefecture (宮崎県) is on your itinerary, you will get the chance to discover much more than its superb surf beaches and subtropical landscapes. Some villages inland are worth the visit and Aya (綾町) is undoubtedly one of them. Located 20km west of Miyazaki city, it is the perfect destination for a day trip, discovering the handicrafts and the primitive forest of the region.
You can get there by bus from the main stations in the city, but I strongly recommend that you prefer the car for maximum mobility on the spot! However, cycling is also a great option if you feel like it. A cycle path runs along the Oyodo and Honjo rivers and will take you to Aya in less than 2 hours. Here are the top things to see and do in Miyazaki’s charming Aya town:
- Aya: A village in harmony with nature
- The Teruha suspension bridge and a stunning view of the biosphere
- The castle of Aya-jo, a house of craftsmanship and history
- Where to Eat Lunch in Aya Town
- Organic, natural, and local products at Aya’s central market
- How to get to Aya by bus
- Bicycle rental in Miyazaki and Aya
Aya: A village in harmony with nature
Arriving in the town, it seems like time has stood still. But this unique little town is very much alive. Over 60 years ago, the people of Aya rejected the revitalizing projects flourishing around Japan at the time. Since then, protecting their natural resources, and passing them on to future generations, has always been a priority. The most precious element of the region is its forest, which spreads over 2,000 hectares. It is home to various plant species that have almost disappeared from the rest of the archipelago and equally rich fauna. In 2012, the forest became a UNESCO-listed biosphere.
With such values deeply rooted among the population, we can easily understand why Aya was one of the first villages to convert to organic farming. Furthermore, in the 1980s, the Aya Craftsmen’s Association decided to rebuild the old village castle to attract visitors who could discover local crafts and participate in workshops with the artisans.
The Teruha suspension bridge and a stunning view of the biosphere
Whenever I visit Aya, I like to start at the Teruha suspension bridge for its stunning view of the biosphere before heading downtown. From the top of its 142-meter-high bridge, it offers a superb view of the Honjo river, which crosses the biosphere forest. Moreover, one of the peculiarities of the forest is that it is evergreen. In other words, whatever the season of your visit, you will be able to appreciate the immense expanse of green (many shades of green, actually) that stretches out on the horizon.
Past the entrance, on the left-hand side, a building houses a small museum so you can learn more about the biosphere ecosystem with some instructions in English. Once you have crossed the bridge, you can venture down the path crossing into the forest to the river. Allow 40 minutes to complete the loop that will bring you back to the same place.
|Teruha suspension bridge (綾の照葉大吊橋, Aya no teruha otsuri hashi)|
|Hours: Open all year round|
|Entrance fee: 350 yen (including access to the museum)|
The castle of Aya-jo, a house of craftsmanship and history
Aya’s castle is perched on top of a hill just minutes from the centre of the town. The original castle was destroyed in the 19th century and rebuilt during the early 1980s based on records of the castle. The International Handicraft Center in the castle’s courtyard exhibits and sells pieces made by local artisans and hosts pottery, weaving and indigo dyeing workshops.
The International Handicraft Center houses the vats of aizome Japanese indigo and offers dyeing workshops for the public.
Some organizers can speak a little English, but not all of them. Therefore, making an appointment by phone before coming is best to ensure English assistance will be there during your visit. However, regardless of English ability, the available staff are always keen to start a workshop spontaneously if there is not one already underway.
You arrive in front of an old house with a well in the courtyard past the second gate. This shop features pottery, wooden objects, bamboo, natural indigo-dyed fabrics and silk scarves, among other items. All items are produced with local resources, including silk!
A little further into the courtyard is an old wooden schoolhouse with interesting old objects, mainly agricultural and household tools from the 19th century. Finally, at the end of the path, the castle houses ancient samurai armour, clothing, swords and other items. A balcony circles around the building on the fourth floor and offers a panoramic view over the entire valley.
|Aya Castle (綾城, Aya-jo)|
|Open all year round, except during the New Year holidays|
|Business hours: 9:00 to 17:30 from April to September, 9:00 to 17:00 from October to March|
|Entrance fee: 350 yen|
|Workshops at the International Craft Center: 10:00 to 16:00, access from the Castle entrance|
|Pottery Classes: 30 to 40 minutes. 1,500-2,800 yen. Reservation by phone at 0985-77-0910.|
|Weaving Classes: from 30 minutes to a full day. 1,200-19,000 yen depending on the object. Reservation by phone at 0985-77-1223.|
|Indigo Classes: 40 to 50 minutes. 1,350-2,250 yen depending on the object created. Reservation by phone at 0985-77-1841. Closed on Thursdays. If Thursday is a national holiday, the workshop will be open and closed the following day. Soraai Website (in Japanese).|
Where to Eat Lunch in Aya Town
There’s no shortage of gastronomical options when lunchtime rolls around. I have a soft spot for the Sobadokoro Maru house, making delicate and delicious soba on site. Several cafes have also opened in recent years, installed in old homes, offering organic menus and vegan and vegetarian options. This is an excellent chance to try the vegetables grown on Aya soil in a warm, relaxed setting. Most cafes offer Japanese curries, vegetable platters (brown rice accompanied by several recipes of raw and cooked vegetables) or vegetarian burgers at the enigmatically named That’s Bock Ring.
You will also find good coffee and western pastries outside the lunch hours. As for lunchtime, keep an eye on the time as most places might stop serving lunch after 2 pm.
Organic, natural, and local products at Aya’s central market
In the main square is the Tedzukuri Honmono Center (綾手づくりほんものセンター), a kind of cooperative where you can find organic vegetables, honey, herbal teas, sweets, and other products of the village. This market is well known to the people of Miyazaki for offering local vegetables and natural products which are hard to find elsewhere. While the town is typically quiet, the square comes alive on weekends with small stands around the fountain. Don’t hesitate to fill your bottle with water as it is a natural mineral source. Opposite the square, a shop offers all everyday imaginable objects in bamboo and wood, from delicately carved combs to bamboo bento boxes. The neighbouring shop belongs to the same dyer you have met at the castle and offers clothes dyed with natural indigo.
All these aspects make Aya a popular place in the region, but one which remains relatively unknown to the general public. As we reconsider the way we travel, Aya seems to be a hidden gem that is worth visiting.
How to get to Aya by bus
From JR Minami-Miyazaki station, take the bus bound for Aya Machiaijyo (綾待合所), a 5-minute walk from the Miyako City bus stop #3. From JR Miyazaki station, take the bus bound for Shusen no Mori (酒泉の杜) at bus stop #2. It takes about 60 minutes.
Bicycle rental in Miyazaki and Aya
Bikes are available for rental at the Aya Tourist Office. In addition, a map of cycle paths is available in PDF (in Japanese).
It is also possible to rent one at the tourist information centre in JR Miyazaki station to go to Aya by bicycle. You will find more information on the Miyazaki city tourism page (in Japanese). Expect less than 2 hours via the cycle path.
All these aspects make Aya a unique and popular village in the region, but it remains largely unknown to the general public. As we reconsider our ways of travelling, Aya seems to be a real gem, far from the crowds and in symbiosis with its natural environment worth visiting!