Owase is a serene fishing town nestled comfortably in southern Mie prefecture on Japan’s eastern coast, surrounded by towering mountains and twisting rivers. Although Owase is the rainiest place in all of Japan, its small town charms and lovely scenery offer an incredible perspective on rural Japan.
The hardest part may just be getting there. Although new highways are in construction, many of the roads are still local, winding through seaside cliffs and small villages alike. Trains are an easy route, though visitors may want to plan for at least a half day of travel if coming from anywhere farther than Shingu. Once in Owase, the train station offers a great place to start exploring Owase, as it is located conveniently in the middle of town. Among the restaurants to stop by, there is a small pasta shop, a delicious sushi bar located just down the block from the train station, and a number of izakayas for a selection of traditional Japanese foods. A specialty of Owase is yakitori (fried bird –usually sparrow- on a stick). If all that sounds a bit too much, stop by the Kumano Kodo Center (made completely of local cypress wood) to pick up information of the area in English and explore the history of the Kumano Kodo – a pilgrimage road stretching from Kyoto to Ise along the Kii HantÅ, the largest peninsula of Japan.
The easiest (and certainly the most scenic) way to discover Owase is through biking. This way, you can maneuver through allies and up hills in a timely manner. Depending on the season, Owase offers different activities. The mild winter offers mountain climbing (which is available any time of year) and some of the largest festivals of the area, including New Years and the Ya Ya Festival, in which men jump into the sea in the middle of February. Spring and autumn offer pleasant weather, with pink cherry blossoms to cheer up the spring and roasting sweet potatoes among fallen orange leaves in the autumn. Summer can be a bit rainy and humid, especially June, but nearby crystal-clear rivers and sandy Mikisato Beach, twenty five minutes away, offer wonderful getaways. Summer also brings festivals such as Tanabata (the star-crossed lovers) and Obon (a weeklong ceremony dedicated to the deceased) which often include as much celebration and dancing as they do ceremony.
For me, Owase is my home. The smell of fresh fish rising from the port market, the hidden playground atop the central hill, and the breathtaking views of the city from Mt. Tengura are all distinct memories of my childhood. I’ve gone to school there, I play with my little cousin in the river, I run into old friends on the street, I dance and laugh and pray during festivals, and I can listen to mixed Japanese-English conversations for hours. The people truly make this town all that it is. Owase may be small, but it has heart enough for all who find themselves in this comfortable town.
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