The Japanese Alps are an Overlooked Gem

July 17th, 2018 by
Category: Accomodations, Information, Miscellaneous

If you are planning a summer trip to Japan, blocking off time to spend in the Alps is a must!

On a recent two week trip to Japan, my wife and I spent three nights in Nagano prefecture. If your research has gone anything like ours did, very little information online or in travel books is devoted towards this area specifically- besides a mention of the world-class winter sports available during the winter months. As far as the summer, the recommendations are nearly non-existent.

We came to Nagano for a friend’s wedding; knowing little of the area beforehand, we were amazed at the region’s beauty when we first arrived. The green forests and lush mountains, whether set in sunrise or sunset, were striking against the canvas of pinks, purples, yellows, and blues in the sky. We spent much of our time taking in the panoramas of mountains unlike any others we had seen in the past. Aside from the views, we appreciated the mountain life. The slower pace was refreshing after being around the buzz of bustling Kyoto and Tokyo.

Suwa-Shi, Nagano The serene beauty of the lush forested mountains atop smaller towns and roads will take your breath away.

Hoshino Risonare Yatsugatake
Nearly in any direction you looked, glimpses of the multiple mountain ranges were visible.

Kobuchizawa Station, Hokuto
Even the stops at train stations and the interlays of shrines & statues were beautiful.

Hoshino Risonare Yatsugatake
The resort displayed a whimsical appreciation for the seasons with the fun display of colored umbrellas for the rainy season.

We ended up staying at a Risonare Yatsugatake in Yamanashi wine country. This resort was magnificent between phenomenal staff, a plethora of available events/activities, and the quality of the facilities. Whether you want to actually book nights there (which we highly recommend) or just decide to make the day trip, there is plenty to do. The Hoshino resort’s campus holds an array of activities including: shopping, cafes, restaurants, a wave pool, wine tastings, ropes course, horseback riding, bike rentals, arts & crafts, and even a public bath for those staying at the resort. While we were unable to venture out much during our stay, since all the wedding festivities were on campus, we never got bored due to the multitude of options available.

The awe-inspiring sacred mountain continued to warm our hearts and souls at all times of day.

Lastly, the resort and surrounding areas provided ample opportunity to catch glimpses of Fujisan even 75+ miles out. While we only spent slightly more than 48 hours in the Alps (of our 11 day trip), this region now holds some of our fondest memories. We wished we could have done more while there, but now we have even more of a reason to return in the coming months and years.


Bio

My name is Brandon Shell and I currently find refuge amongst the beautiful long leaf pines, lakes, mountains, beaches, and community of North Carolina in the United States. While my wife and I both grew up here, we have always had a passion for changing the trajectory of our families’ legacies through authentic travel experiences. The relationships made while traveling are the most satisfying aspect of our adventures.

We are passionate about leading relationally within our own professions and hobbies all the while blogging our passions on the side. We strive to share with the world how to live intentionally and ethically by seeing daily choices as opportunities for making an impact on communities, both near and far. We document our travels, health, and nutrition choices in a variety of capacities on our blog and on Instagram @wecausewecare. We hope that we can continue to travel for the rest of our lives and leave a legacy that even our grandchildren will one day be proud of!

Social Media:
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Experiencing the Japanese Countryside in Chikuma

November 30th, 2016 by
Category: Accomodations, Culture Art, Experience, Information, Outdoor Activities

Tyler shows our group some Showa era graffiti on a local earthern wall.

On a beautiful fall day, I joined a group of foreigners on a cycling tour of Togura Kamiyamada Onsen south of Chikuma City. The area was once home to several mountain castles and a post town so there is a wealth of history in the area. Our guide, local ryokan owner and area expert Tyler, took us along beautiful mountain roads and pointed out interesting relics and features along the way.
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Nagano’s Quiet Samurai Town

June 21st, 2016 by
Category: Accomodations, Experience, Sightseeing

Matsushiro castle in spring.

Matsushiro was once the domain of the Sanada clan, the samurai family starring in NHK’s newest historical drama, Sanada Maru. The Matsushiro domain covered the largest area of the Shinano province and thrived as a castle town during the Edo period. Now the Matsushiro area is a sleepy, undeveloped town with pristine artifacts of its Samurai history.

A group of us visited Matsushiro recently to learn more about its history and enjoy some cultural activities and local food.

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Norikura Nature Walk, Snowshoe-style

March 7th, 2016 by
Category: Accomodations, Experience, Information, Onsens (Hot Springs), Outdoor Activities, Seasonal Topics

The Japanese Alps are a treasure trove of natural wonder, and knowledgeable guides at Little Peaks in Norikura are just the ones to  reveal the splendor.  Today I had the pleasure of joining in a magical snowshoeing tour of Norikura.

Here is how the adventure went:

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Japanese-Style Illumination Has Started at Asama Hot Spring, Matsumoto

December 26th, 2014 by
Category: Accomodations, Events, Onsens (Hot Springs)

In Japan, the winter is a season of “illumination”. There are some beautiful illumination spots lighted up by LEDs. In Nagano, Karuizawa, Azumino, and Suzaka’s ​illumination events are famous.

This winter, not large but unique illumination has started at Asama Hot Springs in Matsumoto. It is Japanese taste design lighting in front of Hot Plaza Asama, a day trip hot spring​ facility. You can watch the “healing illumination” while soaking your feet in the free foot hot spring.

Japanese-style illumination of origami cranes and Matsumoto temari balls, made and played in the castle in Edo period.

The lights on trees are designed to twinkle by natural wind, like stars in the sky.

Because of the M 6.7 earthquake that occurred on 22nd November and damaged some portions in Hakuba and Northern Nagano, even hotels in Asama Hot Springs suffered from cancellations, even though Matsumoto is in the center of Nagano Prefecture and didn’t have any direct damage.

Now, there are no problems at all sightseeing spots and ski resorts in Nagano, including transportation.

Kick-off ceremony of illumination

People in Asama Onsen hope this beautiful illumination will overcome the quake.​

Asama Hot Spring is located in a convenient place in Matsumoto, Nagano. It is just a ten minute bus ride from Matsumoto Castle. It also has a very long history, 1,300 years or more and feudal lords of the Castle visited there in the Edo period (17th century).

All the lights are LEDs using small amounts of electricity

The illumination​ is shining 5pm to 0am until April 19.

More than twenty traditional Japanese ryokans in Asama Onsen and the illumination​ are wating for you.

Nagano’s Ryokans Recognized by TripAdvisor.com

January 26th, 2013 by
Category: Accomodations, Information

Tripadvisor.com, which features travel reviews from people around the world, announced their Travelers’ Choice 2013 Awards.

For the B&B / Inns category of the Top 25 that received the award, 7 are from here, Nagano Prefecture. That’s the most of any prefecture — more than even Kyoto! That goes to show the high level of customer service provided by ryokans in Nagano.

The 7 ryokans from Nagano that received the award are:

Biyu no Yado, Shimaya Ryokan and Matsuya from Yamanouchi Town by the snow monkeys,

The venerable Hanaya Ryokan in Bessho Onsen,

Historical Fujioto Ryokan in Tsumago, a post town along the old Nakasendo Road,

Friendly Seifuso in Matsumoto in between the castle and Asama Onsen,

and a certain little inn here in our onsen town, Togura-Kamiyamada.

Of the thousands of inns throughout Japan, 7 of the Top 25 as selected by tripadvisor.com‘s reviewers are in Nagano. So when you think about where to experience a stay in a traditional Japanese ryokan, Nagano Prefecture is a great place to consider.

Tripadvisor.com Travelers’ Choice 2013 Top 25 B&Bs and Inns in Japan

Omachi: Onsen and horseback archery

July 4th, 2012 by
Category: Accomodations, Events, Information, Onsens (Hot Springs)

Lately I have been  ‘researching’ Nagano’s top onsens.  One I went to recently was Omachi Onsen in the foothills of the Japanese Alps, north of Matsumoto and south of Hakuba.

Omachi Onsen is relatively new, having come into existence around the construction of the Kurobe Dam and the Tateyama Alpine Route in 1971. It’s a planned onsen resort with spacious, wooded lots (average hotel lot size is 7000m2) and nice, wide lanes. Perfect for walking or cycling, with a tributary to the Takase River to play in and views of the grand Japanese Alps. Besides being the Nagano gateway to the Alpine Route, Omachi is also convenient to Aoki Lake and Azumino (famous for art museums and wasabi fields).

Omachi Onsen’s 14 hotels offer a wide variety of accommodation. From 11-room boutique-like Azumino Kawasho to massive 170-room Tateyama Prince Hotel. In between is the posh Shoen (part of the Hoshino Resort chain), Ryokan Kashiwa-sou with the charismatic Sachie-san charming the guests, the German Alps-themed Kurobe Kanko Hotel, and more. There is also an onsen bathhouse for daytrippers, Yakushi-no-Yu.

The onsen water originates in Kuzu Onsen, 10km upstream where it comes out of the ground at 66.3C. The water is simple mineral water with low alkalidity and low osmotic pressure.
大町温泉郷Omachi Onsen

I’d like to introduce two of the onsen facilities, the daytrippers bathhouse Yakushi-no-Yu and the ryokan where I stayed this time, Hotel Yamada-ya.

Yakushi-no-Yu is Omachi Onsen’s main bathhouse. I went during an off-peak time on a weekday morning, but there were still plenty of bathers. It’s a popular bathhouse. One of the indoor baths is pure onsen water but the temperature was so low, nobody was bathing in it. Instead, everyone was in the larger indoor bath which is heated and recirculated. The outdoor bath was spacious but would have been more enjoyable if it had a view of the Alps. The outdoor bath made of river rocks is apparently only operating in the summer, so unfortunately I wasn’t able to enjoy it.
薬師の湯Yakushi no Yu

Yakushi no Yu's entrance

Hotel Yamada-ya’s owners provide surprisingly friendly service considering its size (51 rooms). The indoor bath was nice and spacious but I always like outdoor baths more.
大町ホテル山田屋 Omachi Hotel Yamadaya

Hotel Yamada-ya's Inviting Outdoor Bath

During my visit, I had the privelege of meeting the mayor of Omachi. It turns out Ushikoshi-san is an avid archery fan. I promised to put the word out about Omachi’s upcoming horse-back archery event, Yabusame. Officially called the Omachi Nyakuichi-Oji Festival, the main event will take place on Sunday 22-July this year (2012) with a procession to start at Omachi Station around 10am, winding up at Nyakuichi Oji Shrine around 3pm for the childrens’ archery demonstration.
Omachi Yabusame Archery Event (English – translation by Yours Truly)

Access to Omachi is via Route 147 from Matsumoto, or via the JR Oito Line from Matsumoto Station.  There is regular bus service from Shinanoomachi Station to Omachi Onsen and continuing on to Ogisawa, the start of the Tateyama-Kurobe Dam Alpine Route.

Resort Inn “Candytuft” in Karuizawa

December 20th, 2011 by
Category: Accomodations, Cuisine, Information, Report
outside_winter
The appearance of the resort inn “Candytuft” in winter. The antique pink building is charming.
 
dining
You enjoy dinner and breakfast in this spacious dining room with a warm wood-burning stove.

If you want to enjoy Karuizawa, a popular highland resort in Japan, to the full extent, what is the ideal type of accommodation?  I think you will need to find a place which provides comfortable rooms, good access to tourist spots, delicious meals, kind staff, the quiet surroundings and relaxing bathrooms.  Today I’d like to introduce an inn called “Candytuft”, which will surely satisfy those needs I mentioned.

Candytuft is located in the quiet area called Minamigaoka, where there are a lot of trees and holiday homes.  If you walk or cycle around the inn, you will soon find the typical beautiful scenery of Karuizawa.  Yet, it is only 1.9 kilometers from Karuziawa Station and has good access to popular sightseeing spots, including Karuizawa Prince Shopping Plaza (famous outlet mall) and Karuizawa Prince Snow Resort (skiing and snowboarding facility).  And to the convenience of tourists using trains, the hotel can pick you up at Karuizawa Station as long as you make a pickup reservation in advance.  That would be helpful especially for visitors from overseas.

Other than its location, I would like to talk about the inn itself.  There are ten nicely decorated Western-style rooms, nine of which with a bath and a toilet, one with a toilet, and all with a washbasin.  Aside from a bathroom within a guest room, the inn has two independent family bathrooms, which can be used privately.  You can relax in a bigger bathroom with artificial hot-spring water.  As for meals, you can enjoy tasty Western-style dinner and breakfast in the beautiful dining room with a lovely wood-burning stove.  At the corner of the dining room, you will find a display of premium shochu (Japanese alcoholic drink) bottles.  You can sip these shochu or other alcoholic beverages during your meal or in your room.

 I’m sure you will have a wonderful time if you stay at Candytuft and explore Karuizawa.

twin_room
A twin room with a bath and a toilet. There are 10 guest rooms in European taste.
 
bathroom_1
Guests can also use a family bathroom with artificial hot-spring water.  Have a private relaxing time!  
sake

You can enjoy drinking from a large collection of alcoholic beverages.

 

breakfast

Fresh breakfast is served in a dining room with a view of the beautiful outside scenery.

 

lounge

There are tourist guidebooks in the lounge.

Name of the facility Candytuft
Description of business Accommodation in Western style with a capacity of 23 guests
Address 1143-10, Karuizawa, Karuizawa-machi, Kitasaku-gun, Nagano-ken, 389-0102
TEL / FAX
  • TEL: 0267-41-1350 (Japan country code: 81)
  • FAX: 0267-41-1353 (Japan country code: 81)
E-mail p-candy@alto.ocn.ne.jp
URL
Access
  • Pickup and sending service available with advanced reservation. Please contact the inn.
  • If you walk, it takes 25 minutes from Karuizawa Station (1.9 km).
  • If you take a taxi, it takes 5 minutes from Norh Exit of Karuizawa Station (about JPY1,100).
Operating dates and hours Closed on Dec 31 and Jan 1. Other irregular closure is possible, so please contact the inn. 
Prices JPY8,000 to JPY13,000 per night per person with breakfast (the price varies seasonally).
How to contact Email only
General information of Karuizawa Contact Karuizawa Tourist Information Offices: TEL: 0267-42-5538 (Old Town) / 0267-42-2491 (Karuizawa Station) / 0267-45-6050 (Naka Karuizawa Station). http://karuizawa-kankokyokai.jp/ (Click “English” button.)

HOTEL CYPRESS KARUIZAWA

December 2nd, 2011 by
Category: Accomodations, Cuisine, Events, Experience, Information, Onsens (Hot Springs), Report, Sightseeing
1_standardtwin1
Standard Twin room (30 square meters). All the guest rooms of HOTEL CYPRESS KARUIZAWA are spacious.
 
2_openbath
Open bath attached to Special Roten Room. You can enjoy a relaxing bath time privately.

HOTEL CYPRESS KARUIZAWA is within a 15-minute walk of Karuizawa Station.  There is no doubt that the convenient location is an advantage, but the hotel’s attractions do not end there. 

The hotel is in the center of Karuizawa, yet it faces a quiet street.  The neighborhood has a lot of greenery, so you can enjoy your holiday surrounded by the refreshing environment.  When you arrive at the hotel and enter your room, you will be pleasantly surprised at its spaciousness.  Even the smallest room has the area of 30 square meters, and the majority of the rooms have the area of 50 or more square meters. 

Another fascination is bath.  There is a large public bath with radium spring water, which is good for your health.  Furthermore, some of the rooms have a private open-air bath attached to the room (the right photo above).  Those baths will surely relax your body and mind.

Cuisine would also be satisfactory.  For dinner, you can choose from French food and Japanese food.  You would enjoy a lot of fresh local ingredients with good wine.  For Japanese food, they offer such food as shabushabu (thinly-sliced beef cooked in a pan on the table), teppan-yaki (hot plate cooking) and hot pot.

I hope you will have a wonderful stay at HOTEL CYPRESS KARUIZAWA.

3_teppan_trimming
Teppan-Yaki (cooked on a hot plate) premium beef is served at the hotel’s Japanese restaurant “Bien”.  
 
4-evening_view
A romantic night view of the courtyard reminiscent of a forest in Karuizawa.
5_publicbath

This large public bath is open exclusively to hotel guests.

 

6_dinner_christmas

An example of French multi-course dinner.

 

7_appearance1

The hotel's entrance. You can walk from Karuizawa Station.

Name of the facility HOTEL CYPRESS KARUIZAWA
Description of business Accommodation (capacity: 355 guests) with tea and bar lounge, French restaurant, Teppan-Yaki restaurant, wedding chapel, spa salon, banquet rooms and public and private baths.  
Address 287-1, Karuizawa-higashi, Karuizawa-machi, Kitasaku-gun, Nagano-ken, 389-0104
TEL / FAX
  • TEL: 0267-42-0011 (Japan country code: 81)
  • FAX: 0267-42-0989 (Japan country code: 81)
E-mail info.karuizawa@urhm-inc.jp
URL http://www.cypresshotels.co.jp/karuizawa/index.html
Access 15 minutes on foot from Karuizawa Station. Go out of North Exit of Karuizawa Station and walk 700 meters toward the direction of Naka-Karuizawa. Map is here: http://www.cypresshotels.co.jp/karuizawa/access/index.html
Operating dates and hours Contact for winter closure (about 10 days). The restaurants are from 18:00 to 22:00 (last orders at 20:30, reservation needed). The lounge is from 10:00 to 22:00 (23:00 on days before holidays).
Prices Minimum rate for a twin room is JPY15,000 per person with dinner and breakfast. Prices are changeable depending on the season, so please contact the hotel.
How to contact Email or contact form below. http://www.cypresshotels.co.jp/karuizawa/contact/index.html
General information of Karuizawa Contact Karuizawa Tourist Information Offices: TEL: 0267-42-5538 (Old Town) / 0267-42-2491 (Karuizawa Station) / 0267-45-6050 (Naka Karuizawa Station). http://karuizawa-kankokyokai.jp/ (Click “English” button.)