Akiyamago is an area between Sakae Village in Nagano and Tsunan Town in Niigata of great natural beauty. The road meanders up the gorge along the Nakatsu River with sheer cliffs on either side. Take a relaxed drive for some stunning views, mountain hamlets, forests, suspension bridges, temples and rice terraces. It is a fantastic area with plenty to see and some breathtaking scenery.
We were following the Echigo-Akiyamago Driving Course from the Snow-Country website. The area is supposed to be especially pretty in autumn and has many sites that are highly prized by nature photographers. We were told that our late October trip was at a period when the autumn colors were just past their best, but no complaints from our side as it was still an amazing display.
First stop was the Tsunan Tourist Information Office just off Route 117. After some helpful pointers from the English-speaking staff and receiving the Akiyamago Guide Map in English we were off. Left at the first traffic lights as directed and we were on Route 405. Almost immediately there was a huge cliff on our right topped with orange, yellow and red trees. Almost every turn revealed another spectacular sight and we were constantly stopping to take photos (that never did justice to the views or colors.) The road runs along the side of the gorge and is very narrow in places, requiring good use of the mirrors placed on the blind curves, and tactical use of passing places should cars come the other way.
Midama-fudouson Temple is a peaceful little place just off the road. The temple is accessed by some steep wooden stairs as it is perched on the hillside, and a brook cascades down alongside. Next it was down a small track to drive over a suspension bridge with the wooden slats rattling under the weight of our car. The Ketto stone-walled rice terraces were lovely and so quiet that we saw a serow (a chubby goat/deer-like beast) nibbling on the undergrowth not far off. Jabuchi waterfall was another pretty attraction.
It is a fantastic area and there was lots we did not explore. The area definitely merits another couple of visits and is supposed to offer great displays of color in each season.