At the northern edge of the Nobi Plain that extends from the washi town of Mino to Owari in Aichi Prefecture, sits the wild territory known as Seki; it is virtually unknown outside of the archipelago but boasts some of the most stunning natural wonders in the country.
The Kaore Gorge is where ice cold streams of mineral-rich water empty, trickling down from lush green mountains that form the ravine’s steep walls. The gorge can be reached, with a bit of work, by bus, but most traveling up to the region go by car, heading for a soak in the many onsens, a night in a village ryokan, camping in the foothills, or fishing trout in the Itadori River.
In the summer, the streams fall low and seem to gleam milky emerald in the sun; once the autumn comes, visitors to the Kaore Gorge double, as citydwellers from Nagoya and beyond rush to see the leaves turn crimson. In the winter, these hills will be abandoned again, the villagers hunkered down for the season, waiting for the snow to fall again. While others rush to the Kiso Valley in Nagano or further north to Tohoku, the valleys, ravines and mountains of Seki remain almost unknown. There is a sense of discovery, arriving in the Kaore Gorge.
A quarter of an hour drive south from the Kaore Valley, the Kabusugi Forest’s cedar trees are a cathedral in the mountains. The standard cedar loom over the kabusugi, the peculiar breed that could perhaps be translated as “stump cedar.” The forest first appears to be completely natural, but the multi-trunked kabusugi are the product of now-ancient intervention by villagers.
The kabusugi stand like pieces of avant-garde sculpture in the lobby of an office building. These trees, and the cedar that stand around them, are hundreds of years old. The forest survived for centuries, and is protected now as a preserve. Here and there, shrines are concealed at the base of these strange trees, evidence of the sanctity of this place. The forest feels both desolate and unquestionably rich with life; birdsong and the trilling of insects fills the emptiness.
- 岐阜県関市板取2340-5 21世紀の森公園内
Another quarter hour drive south from the Kabusugi Forest is a crystal clear alpine pool—marked on most maps as “Nameless Pond,” some have dubbed it “Monet’s Pond” for its resemblance to the Impressionist painter’s work. Perhaps it’s fitting, given that Claude Monet was such a connoisseur of Japanese art and gardens, that nature has created in the these hills a pond to recall the painter’s garden at Giverny. A wooden bridge, slightly less impressive than the one from Giverny, spans a corner of the pond, the perfect place to take in the clear waters and darting koi.
A further brief cruise south lies the Koga Ravine and its stunning falls. The viridescent waters splash down smooth rocks, cutting through untouched forest. A hike up into the hills takes visitors to the remote Koga Shrine, a testament to the local belief that the forests are inhabited by spirits and gods. The wilderness of Seki feels like another world.