Endless fields of wasabi and green tea
what is home to the highest concentration of wasabi and green tea in Japan,
centrally located yet largely unexplored? Go Camper Shizuoka prefecture!
In this article:
- why remote yet close Shizuoka gives you the real Japan feeling
- where to park for the night surrounded by wasabi and green tea
- how you easily include this adventure in your own camper trip
Where is that magical Shizuoka prefecture
Think about it: leaving Tokyo you plan to go for Hakone and Mt. Fuji. Next you aim for the Japanese Alps, the mountains to the north. You are thinking along these lines right? It is no secret, most people and nearly all travel agencies are too. So if you want a unique trip, add some detours. And start with renting a camping car of course 😉
Hiding behind 3,776 meters of Fuji-san, of which it owns half, is the underrated province of Shizuoka. And actually also all the way to the south of Mt. Fuji. Because the beautiful and sort of remote Izu peninsular belongs to it too. Izu is famous for precisely what we talk about today; wasabi and green tea, with plenty hot springs added. Read about that in this article. Today we are discovering the valley of the Abe river, bubbling from high up, feeding countless wasabi plants and green tea bushes on its way to the Suruga Bay and the ocean.
Unlike a time consuming tour of the Izu peninsular, the Abe valley can be a great stop on the way from the Tokyo area towards Nagoya/ Kyoto, or as a detour on the way to the Kiso valley and the Japanese Alps. And you can skip the tourist-factory-wasabi fields near Matsumoto because you will see the real thing here already. You can find this adventure on the Go Camper Japan-map in the sidebar.
‘For which 3 green things is Japan famous?’
Okay, I know, too easy..
Fields of high quality rice, sloping terraces of highly potent wasabi and perfectly manicured rings of green tea bushes. Did you know green tea is the mother of all Asian drinks? From China and Japan, though Vietnam to Indonesia, go visit a local and the first drink offered will be strong, green tea. Hot or iced. Bitter yet refreshing. Nothing quenches your thirst quite like it.
Of all Japanese green tea, about 40% comes from this part of the country. The famous photos of mount Fuji behind rows and rows of tea bushes are from here. Breathtaking. Even if green is not your favourite color! It is mine, so you now understand my fascination with wasabi, green tea and rice a little better 😉 Learn all about the cultivation process here. Next up is wasabi.
Wasabi needs lots of fresh, cool water. Continuously flowing around it. It is a weird plant, sitting on a bed of pebbles in the fast flowing river. Cultivated it still looks like that; narrow terraces, usually roofed over against the sun, that fill the cracks of the forested mountainsides. You can find more commercial farms too, in the plains near Matsumoto for example, but it is Shizuoka prefecture that has the biggest market share of wasabi. And surely the most dramatically situated and least visited.
Valley of the Abe river
I like this valley because it gives you all the great stuff along one, well maintained road. It is hands-down our best spot in the country for wasabi and green tea trips. Granted, it gets very (very) steep and twisty at the top end, but hey, that is part of the fun and it never gets too narrow for your cute little camping car anyway. Besides, now you read this, you know you can u-turn without problems, because I did too! Or you can park just before the last village and walk, skipping the twisty part, because it is one way up, the same way down anyway.
just north of Shizuoka city is were it starts. Drive route 27, up the large river valley. It turns into route 29 to keep going straight north.You will see a very, very long footbridge spanning the river and still quite a bit of other traffic. A small road leads to Utogi, the right and up, into the narrow side valley where it all happens. (GPS location of the junction and all other spots is in the Ride Summary at the end).
Expect plenty of ‘oh and ah’ and many photo stops. Locals working the fields, sometimes with nifty little machines. Perfectly cut and trimmed tea bushes. Lots and lots of wasabi terraces with plants in all stages of growth so you can understand it all. There is a shop cum info centre in the top village Utogi, but it does not really stick to its opening hours. If open, it serves some food and drinks too. Better bring all yourself to be sure because there are no other shops.
There are no (foreign) tourists either. At least they are ‘as scarce as chicken teeth.’ Japanese tourists can make it feel crowded, but that is on weekends and holidays only.
Practicalities: where to sleep
Just south of the exit of the inland toll road (not the sea-side Tomei express way) near Shizuoka city, is a large 7/11 convenience store. There are others too, and gas stations. From then on, no more shops you can rely on, just local mum-and-pop shops. There are 2 rest places with toilets along the road, great stops to park and sleep too, but nothing compared to the real wasabi and green tea view you will have if you sleep higher up. The southern one of these places has a restaurant that is sometimes open.
There is a small 3-spots parking on the left before the mentioned shop. On the river and quite ok. The shop has a toilet that seems always open. Opposite is a link in the chain of tea production; often locals come bring their picked tea leaves here, they will be processed before send onwards down the valley on the way to teapots and teacups in whole of Japan.
In my opinion the best spot is a bit higher still, above the same village. After a sharp curve it is into a steep entree on your left. Opposite the ‘fire station’ if you can recognise it. There is enough space to park and a public toilet. No shower of such. There is a very ingenious washing bassin though! The wasabi grows close by and a short walk uphill gives views across the tea fields and the whole valley below.
Other option is the Umegashima Camp Ground, which is several kilometers further in the main valley (route 29). Not the same views, but you do get closer to hot springs! All details are conveniently packed together at the end in the Go Camper Japan!- Ride Summary. As usual.
Combine your trip
Tip: use the Go Camper Japan!-map on this page for an overview of all destinations in Japan that we have explored and documented.
West/north – Kiso valley. Driving past Nagoya on the east side is the easiest and quickest way around the mountains towards the heart of the Japanese Alps. Matsumoto, Takayama. In the way, stop at the lovely Kiso valley. Here, along mountains streams and through dense forests meanders one of the old postal roads. In the old days, these connected Kyoto and Edo, present day Tokyo. For the travellers to rest there were road stations at a day’s hiking distance from each other. It is really scenic and you can still hike parts of this old trail. Read the article about Hiking the Kiso valley for all details, including where to park your campervan for the night.
West – Nagoya/ Kyoto area. More as a general direction than as great destinations to explore by camper car.
East – the often forgotten coast of Shonan. Best surfing of Japan, at least the most famous for Tokyonites. Kamakura, the first capital of Japan and also called little Kyoto. The Izu peninsula as mentioned in the article also; more great wasibi experiences, and quiet hot springs on stunning locations. And off course Hakone and Mount Fuji. All are within easy driving distance.
All about green tea
All about wasabi cultivation
All about how you can actually do this, exploring Japan by rental camper car, check our How to–pages
Ride Summary: your details about this trip