Towns like Katsuyama and Ono, places so long governed by the rhythms of agrarian life, get going early. Whether you’re simply headed to a Kissaten for a morning set and a blast of ice coffee, or, more ambitiously, heading out to stroll the old town or venturing out to one of the town’s famous sites, you might as well get up early. If you’re feeling a bit aimless at dawn, here are three great ways to get your morning started.
Stroll the grounds of Heisenji Hakusan Shrine
Get up early and head down to Heisenji. The stairs up to the complex start down in a village alley and head up past the viridescent Mitarashinoike Pond and into a still, green forest dotted with shrines. In the early morning, the hinoki perfume of the forest is intensified by the dank scent of dewy moss and wet stone.
On most mornings, there will be no living soul around to disturb the intense stillness of the complex; on a particularly busy morning, you might encounter a few photographers stalking the forest for better angles. There is no better way to set the mood for the day to come than to spend a few hours strolling the shrine complex and the surrounding area.
Experience living history at Ono’s Shichiken Morning Market
Once the main street of a bustling castle town, Shichiken is slightly less hectic than it was in previous centuries, but the vendors that convene every morning between March and December are carrying on a tradition that dates back to Ono’s glory days.
Produce from market gardens is picked as the sun is just coming up and delivered to the market in Ono shortly after. The colors of the market seem to change each morning, as the season shifts. The vegetables and fruit in the market are nothing like the lacquered produce at a Tokyo supermarket—this is the real deal.
As the population ages, traditions like this are in danger of fading. The market is the perfect place to experience the history of Ono while also taking the pulse of the day-to-day life as it is now. Make sure you get their early: the market is only open for a few hours in the morning.
Survey your kingdom at Echizen Ono Castle
The castle that anchors Ono is sits on a forested mound in a valley ringed by mountains. Photographers climb to the remains of Inuyama Castle for the best views of the fortress, a hike up a sometimes-treacherous trail that leads to a perfect vantage point on Echizen Ono Castle.
A peculiar feature of the valley that Ono sits at the bottom of is the phenomenon of clouds rolling down from the mountains, filling the basin with cottony cirrus. When the clouds fill the valley, the castle seems to float on a sea of down. The cloudy view of the valley is not guaranteed, by any means, and it usually fades shortly after dawn, but it’s worth taking the chance to climb to Inuyama Castle to capture the once-in-a-lifetime view.