This hauntingly beautiful town, tucked into a narrow north–south valley at the foot of conical Aono-yama and its attendant dormant volcanic mountain friends, may be the most picturesque hamlet in all Japan. If you catch it on a clear day, the view from the old castle ruins simply takes your breath away. Even when it's cloudy, the mist hangs romantically among the trees and ridges. The stucco-and-tile walls harken back to ancient times, like those in Hagi and Kurashiki, and the clear, carp-filled streams running beside the streets can induce even tired, jaded travelers to take a leisurely stroll or bike ride backward through time.

It's easy to see why Tsuwano has come to be known as "Little Kyoto," and it's easier still to imagine how a gifted spirit and intellect could soar here. The towering Japanese literary figure Ogai Mori, novelist and poet, was born (in 1862) and lived here, until, at the age of 12, he went off and enrolled at Tokyo University's preparatory program in medicine.

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