Where to Go in the Japanese Alps

February 22nd, 2017 by
Category: Information, Outdoor Activities, Sightseeing

Japan is an amazing country to travel. It’s East meets West, tradition meets trends, and culture meets nature.

I spent a month in Japan and one of my favorite areas were the Japanese Alps. I traveled around the Alps for 6 days during which I visited Kanazawa, Shirakawa-go, Takayama, Kamikochi and Matsumoto.

Where to Go in the Japanese Alps



According to Chinese landscape theory a perfect garden should have 6 attributes: spaciousness, seclusion, artificiality, antiquity, abundant water and broad views. The Kenruko-en Garden in Kanazawa has them all and it’s beautiful indeed!

Also visit the old samurai neighborhoods Nagamachi and Katamachi take a stroll along the river bank.



Shirakawa-go is a cute village in the Japanese alps with very special building style. The wooden gassho-zukuri farmhouses have roofs made from thick layers of reed. Some of the houses in the village are more than 250 years old!

You can stroll around the village and hike up to the viewpoint for a great view over the village and the valley.



Takayama historic center is beautiful, with narrow streets lined with wooden houses, food stalls selling delicious snacks and local craft shops.


A little outside the center of Takayama you find the Hida Folk Village. In the village, there is a collection of old houses in building styles typical for the region. The houses were carefully taken apart at their original site and rebuilt in the Hida village, so people can see their unique designs.




Kamikochi is a 1500-meter-high valley of surrounded by mountains over 3000 meters and one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen in my life!

The thing to do in Kamikochi is hiking! There are several hikes (you can buy a map at the tourist center), I recommend hiking to Dakesawa hut (3-4 hours) and the top of Mount Yakedake (5 hours).

The Dakesawa hike is one of the few hikes that opens early in season (May), the trail goes up to the Dakesawa mountain hut (at 2216 meters).

The hike to Mount Yakedake is a very adventurous trail that involves climbing up ladders, steep steps and loose rocks on a very steep slope on the last part to the top (at 2455 meters).



If you are in Matsumoto, you must visit Matsumoto Castle. The wooden castle was built in 1504 and is nicknamed the ‘Crow Castle’, because of the black exterior.

The secret of Matsumoto Castle is the hidden floor between the 2nd and 4th level. From the outside, it looks like Matsumoto Castle has five stories because the hidden 3rd floor doesn’t have any windows. So, there are actually six floors in the castle! The intention behind the secret floor was to mislead enemies about the number of defenders in the castle.

In the castle, there is an interesting museum and if you climb to the top you have a wonderful view over the garden and the city.

Unfortunately, we ran out of time and we had to travel back to Tokyo from Matsumoto to catch our flight. But if you have time, I highly recommend to visit Nagano. Plus I would love to do the Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route one day. I am already plotting another trip to Japan so perhaps I can fit it into our next itinerary…

Budget Information for the Highlights of the Japanese Alps

  • Kenruko-en Garden in Kanazawa costs ¥310 per person.
  • Nagamachi, Katamachi and walking along the river bank in Kanazawa is free!
  • Shirakawa-go village is free!
  • Takayama city center is free!
  • Hida Folk Village in Takayama costs ¥700 per person.
  • Hiking in Kamikochi is free! Do buy a hiking map though, this costs only ¥100. Available at the tourist information.
  • Matsumoto Castle in Matsumoto costs ¥610 per person.
  • In the Japanese Alps the best way to travel around is by bus. Below you can find information about traveling in the Alps and the associated costs.

Transport Information for the Highlights of the Japanese Alps


From To By Costs
Kanazawa station Shirakawago Bus ¥1850 pp
Shirakawago Takayama Bus ¥2470 pp
Takayama Hirayu onsen Bus ¥2600 pp
Hirayu onsen Kamikochi
Kamikochi Shinshimashima train station Bus ¥2450 per person
Shinshimashima train station Matsumoto train station Train
    Total ¥9370

If you want to visit more sites in the Japanese Alps (such as the Shinhotaka Ropeway, the Gero Onsen or the Norikura Higlands) it’s worth to look into getting a travel pass. The Wide Alps Free Passport (¥10,290 per person) gives you 4 days of unlimited bus travel around the region. More information can be found here on the Alpico Group website.


My name is Lotte, born and raised in the Netherlands and trying to explore as much of the world as possible! Up until now I lived in Barcelona, London and Amsterdam and visited 34 countries.

I am a banker turned blogger and write about my adventures on Phenomenal Globe Travel Blog. It’s my mission to inspire other people to travel and help them plan their trips! In 2017 my husband and I are making a round the world trip, we don’t know where we’ll end up yet and how long we’ll be traveling. Probably until the money runs out ;-).

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Sunny Saturday on the Nakasendo Trail

February 9th, 2017 by
Category: Information, Outdoor Activities, Sightseeing

Last weekend, a few of us traveled from the Northern area of Nagano into the Kiso Valley to walk part of the Nakasendo trail. It was one of five major roads used during the Edo era and connected the former capital of Kyoto to the new capital of Edo (now Tokyo). While it may take weeks to travel the whole thing, we just walked between two post towns: Magome and Tsumago.

Saturday was a beautiful day so I’d like to share some of the photographs we took along the way!

The Post Town of Magome.

We started from Magome, which is technically in Gifu prefecture just below the border. It can be reached from Nakatsugawa station via the Magome line bus (about 30 min.). The morning was quiet and cool with a few tourist groups passing in and out of the souvenir and food shops.

Mountains beyond Mountains.

Just above Magome is a wide viewing platform that faces the Ena mountain range. Saturday was the perfect day to visit.

Is he dancing or trying not to slip?

The trail wanders through the woods of the Kiso Valley and occasionally pops out onto quiet roads. Since we were traveling in winter we also had to be careful of the ice and snow! Here Jamie is posing next to some discrete, well-placed bathrooms.

A short rest between post towns.

At one point the woods open up into a small field with a beautiful old Japanese house. The owner greets us warmly and lets us in for tea and snacks. Lots of people stop here on the way between Magome and Tsumago, and it’s a nice chance to chat with other travelers.

Owner of the Teahouse chatting with us about the differences of Japanese & English.

An old wood stove keeps the house warm and smoky, and light filters in through the wooden slots in solid, sharp beams.

Otsumago in the Kiso Valley.

Shortly before Tsumago is another small cluster of buildings with a beautiful view of the mountains. Even more so than Tsumago or Magome, these scattered buildings made me feel like I had stepped back into another time.

Quiet during the winter months.

Finally we reached Tsumago, a long lane of 200-year-old inns and restaurants.

A must-try snack in Kiso.

Soba is one of Kiso’s most popular dishes, but Gohei Mochi is my favorite. The rice is lightly pounded, basted and grilled. The sauce may contain miso, walnuts or egoma seeds depending on the area and has a salty-sweet flavor.

It was almost 3 pm at this point, so we took a cab to Nagiso Station to catch the next train (buses also run between Tsumago and the station). Several of our group headed directly home, but Jamie and I stopped in Kiso Fukushima to catch the Kiso Ice Lantern festival. It’s held during late Jan. to early Feb. of every year, slowly making its way down the Kiso portion of the Nakasendo from north to south.

The river at dusk. Notice the houses which hang precipitously over the stone wall.

The motion blur, granularity and bad composition are all on purpose.

I, like the group of 10 or so other photographers squeezed in front of this picturesque street, tried my best to get a good shot. My wobbly tripod and patience, however, were not up to the challenge.

The ice lanterns are fragile but clean up easily!

Hundreds of lanterns decorated the streets, bridges and riverside of Kiso Fukushima. The warm lights and hot sake (of which Kiso Fukushima’s two makers, Nanawarai and Nakanorisan, are especially delicious) kept the cold at bay. After walking through town and relaxing in the foot bath for awhile, we headed back to the station and made our way to Nagano.

Dog steals the show with killer pose.

For people who are interested in experiencing a lesser known side of Japan and enjoying its beautiful nature, I highly recommend the Kiso Valley and Nakasendo. Come during Spring and Autumn for cherry blossoms or fall foliage, or come in summer or winter to beat the crowds.

The locals are friendly and you’re sure to meet some interesting people along the way!

Additional Information

There are plenty of other blogs and resources about the Nakasendo if you’re interested in learning more. Check out some of these pages below!

“Madapow” at Madarao Kogen and Tangram

January 27th, 2017 by
Category: Information, Outdoor Activities, Report, Seasonal Topics

The Northern Nagano valley opens up behind the Madarao Kogen hotel.

The Madarao and Tangram ski resorts sit between Iiyama City and Shinano-machi in Northern Nagano prefecture on opposite faces of Mt. Madarao. They are interconnected and you can ride both resorts in the same day with the 5,000 yen “Mountain Pass.” They resorts are medium-sized with well-rounded courses that suit all levels of skiers and snowboarders. Smooth pistes, moguls, and terrain parks are all available, but these resorts’ specialties are trees and powder, often referred to locally as “Madapow.”

Tangram’s resort has several steep sections, but plenty of wide-open terrain for beginner/intermediate riders.

Mt. Madarao’s proximity to the Sea of Japan, which you can see from the summit on a clear day, blesses it with plentiful powder snow which is left ungroomed on over half of its courses. A number of tree runs are open throughout both resorts, and the overall geography of the area prevents anyone from getting helplessly lost in the side country. Courses such as Crystal Bowl in Madarao and Anzu in Tangram are quite wide, making it easy to find powder even into late morning and early afternoon. Both resorts have also introduced entry level tree runs for intermediate level skiers/boarders and families.

One of Tangram’s tree run courses, “Momo,” with emergency contact information dispersed throughout.

Park rats can enjoy beginner to intermediate level jibs and kickers here as well, with ride-on and jump-on rails and boxes, and jumps from 3 to 8 meters in length. The sidewall of the park has also been pruned into a gentle (but powdery) quarter pipe. Those looking for more extreme or natural features may be interested in the Ninja course, which begins with a sizeable drop off of a log into the valley below.

Granted the biggest part of the burger is definitely the bun, it’s still delicious (and really messy).

For lunch, there are plenty of restaurants on the Madarao side to try, and Tangram offers delicious Japanese standards at their Hotel cafeteria. At Madarao, my personal recommendation is the Big Burger from Restaurant Tirol (1,400 yen). In Tangram, try the Tarekatsu-don (1,100 yen). If you would like a view, grab a window seat at Restaurant Heidi to watch as people wipe out in the park.

If you’d like to take a break from skiing, you can also try snowshoeing, snow rafting or snowmobiling while you’re here. Snowmobiling runs from 2,000 to 6,000 yen depending on the course. Snow rafting is 500 yen. Kids can enjoy sledding in the kid’s park area for 500 yen.

Our first time riding together and we already had matching outfits.

Madarao and Tangram have something for everyone, which is why you can find me there almost every weekend. The range of terrain and tree courses can keep you entertained for days and the mountain pass is a great value. With increasing English language service, good public transportation, and activities for kids and non-riders too, this is a highly recommended area for any ski trip. Hope to see you there!


The closest station to Mt. Madarao is Iiyama Station, and from there you can reach Madarao and Tangram ski resorts by bus or car. See here for the bus timetable.

Additional Information

See the resorts’ English webpages for more detailed information: Madarao Kogen, Tangram.

Madarao 1 Day ticket: 4,500 yen
Tangram 1 Day ticket: 4,200 yen
1 Day Mountain Pass: 5,000 yen

Happy Splendid New Year from Nagano!

January 2nd, 2017 by
Category: Information

As they say in Japanese, “Akemashite Omedetou Gozaimasu!” (Happy New Year!)

How did you spend your New Years Day?  Here in Nagano, it is common to climb a mountain in the morning to see the first sunrise of the year.  At our onsen town, Togura-Kamiyamada, the fortress at the top of the hill behind our town, Arato-Jo, hot tea was provided as we huddled together to watch the sun rise over the Chikuma River valley.

1st Sunrise of 2017, as seen from Arato-jo Castle (Picture courtesy of Andy Lynch)

This hilltop fortress is a recreation of the Warring States Era castle that was originally situated here.  These types of fortresses were different from the typical Japanese castles mostly seen in Japan today in that they were designed so as not to be visible from down below.  In other words, they were strictly for defensive purposes only.  Arato-jo gives you a unique chance to see and appreciate the hardships of Sengoku-jidai (the Warring States Era).

Another view of the sunrise from Arato-jo Castle (picture courtesy Kazumasa Kodaira)

Arato-Jo Castle

Seharian di Kota Naraijuku (Indonesian)

December 11th, 2016 by
Category: Information

Seharian di Kota Naraijuku
Hari ini saya bersama beberapa teman mengunjungi Kota Naraijuku.
Naraijuku adalah sebuah kota di pusat jalan Nakasendo tua, jalan di zaman Edo yang menghubungkan Kyoto dengan Tokyo. Salah satu kota paling makmur, terdapat bangunan-bangunan kayu sepanjang 1 km, “Narai dari ribuan rumah” adalah julukannya. Dua dari rumah tua dibuka untuk publik, dan yang lain telah menjadi restoran, penginapan, dan toko souvenir (banyak diantaranya merupakan kerajinan tangan kayu yang terkenal).
Bagi pecinta arsitektur kayu zaman Edo, Naraijuku akan membuat anda seakan-akan kembali ke zaman dahulu.
Kebetulan hari ini hujan seharian, kami bisa menikmati suasana hujan di Kota Naraijuku ini yang sangat khas, seperti masuk kedalam jaman edo yang tenang dengan suara tetesan hujan. Banyak orang Jepang suka mengunjungi Kota Naraijuku pada hari hujan untuk menikmati suasana ini.

Restoran kuno Tokuriya
Kami mengunjungi restoran kuno Tokuriya untuk mencicipi makanan khas kota ini `Goheimochi`. Goheimochi dibuat dari nasi, di panggang dan di oles berbagai jenis saus, dari saus yang terbuat dari miso, kecap dan sebagainya.
Konon, dulu restoran ini adalah rumah penginapan dan tidak sedikit penulis-penulis ternama jaman Edo kuno dulu yang menginap di sini

Chosenji merupakan salah satu kuil tertua di daerah Kota Naraijuku ini.
Awalnya di bangun pada jaman perang dulu, dan beberapa kali terbakar. Dan terakhir di bangun kembali pada awal Edo.
Di langit-langit kuil ini terdapat gambar Naga besar dan megah.
Konon, Naga ini bernama `Naga nangis` karena setiap kali pengunjung bertepuk tangan di bawah gambar naga ini, mata naga ini akan bergerak dan mengeluarkan suara.

Di Kuil ini anda bisa mencoba bermeditasi, bagi yang berminat jangan lupa kirim email ke sini ya untuk reservasi.
Selain bermeditasi, anda juga bisa mencoba melukis gambar Buddha. Melukis gambar Buddha ini bisa melatih kesabaran dan menenangkan diri, merupakan satu jenis meditasi juga lo. Bagi yang berminat jangan lupa kirim email ke sini ya untuk reservasi.

Bagi yang tidak punya banyak waktu dan tidak terbiasa memakai kuas, lebih baik pilih gambar yang mudah ya, biar bisa selesai dalam waktu dan di bawa balik ke Indonesia sebagai oleh-oleh.

MOTOYAMA-SHIKKITEN adalah toko kerajinan Japanese lacquer ware yang sangat terkenal di daerah Narai-juku ini.
Di sini kita bisa membuat souvenir sendiri atau beli berbagai macam produk Japanese lacquer ware dari sumpit-sumpit dengan hiyasan menarik, mangkuk, gelas wine, piring, sendok, garpu dan sebagainya sebagai oleh oleh.
Bagi yang tertarik membuat souvenir sendiri, jangan lupa reservasi di link ini ya. Sebaiknya di reservasi paling lambat 2 minggu sebelumnya ya.

Akses ke Naraijuku
Apabila anda datang dengan train(JR pass), Anda bisa datang ke stasiun Narai dari Tokyo, Nagoya dan Nagano. Stasiun Narai hanya beberapa menit jalan dari Narai-juku.

Dari Tokyo, Naik “Super Azusa( Limited Express) JR Chuo Line ke stasiun Shiojiri. Dari stasiun Shiojiri, Narai adalah stasiun ke 5 di Jr Chuohonsen Line. Lama perjalanan sekitar 2 jam dan 45 menit.
Dari stasiun Nagoya anda bisa naik “Wide View Shinano” (Limited Express) ke stasiun Kisofukushima di JR Chuo Line. Lama perjalanan sekitar 1 jam 25menit. Ganti kereta di stasiun Kisofukushima untuk menuju stasiun Narai. Ini adalah kereta lokal memakan waktu sekitar 30 menit.
Dari stasiun Nagano, anda perlu ganti kereta di stasiun Matsumoto atau stasiun Shiojiri.


5 Great Winter Festivals in Nagano

December 9th, 2016 by
Category: Events, Information, Seasonal Topics

Enjoy fire festivals, illuminations and more in this winter wonderland.

Winter is here. Snow is falling steadily up in the mountains and people around Nagano are bringing out their kotatsu tables, kerosene heaters and nabe pots. Once again, it’s that time of year for skiing, hot springs and great winter festivals. Why stay inside when you could warm up in front of a magnificent fire festival or in the company of Japan’s many spirits?

Make some wonderful memories this winter with some of the festivals below!
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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.

From small stone dosojin carvings used to ward off bandits to legacies of the region’s districts and landscape features, Tyler pointed out interesting aspects of history that we would have never noticed on our own. As a lover of traditional Japanese architecture himself, he told us about the significance of different design features, from thatched roofs to decorative tile crowns on various buildings. And occasionally there were some heart-warming discoveries as well, like the preserved lovers’ carvings on old, earthern walls.

The temple gate of Chishiki-ji is made entirely without metal fastenings. Fasten-ating!

Tyler recounts the history of Chishiki-ji temple in Chikuma.

Along the route there were expansive views of the Chikuma valley and surrounding mountains. While past their peak, the autumn leaves still burned vividly and brightly around us and cattails swung in the breeze. As we passed farmers tending their fields they greeted us warmly and occasionally we stopped to chit chat. Groups of school children shouted “Hello!” as we cycled on. It was a much closer inspection of the countryside than I’ve had in most of my time here.

We tasted one of these delicious sun fuji apples from Crown Orchard along the way.

Lovely views from the Crown apple orchard.

After 2 hours touring around the area we were starting to get cold, so headed back to Tyler’s inn, Kamesei Ryokan, to take a dip in the hot springs.

An Evening Geisha Performance

Togura Kamiyamada Onsen is also home to practicing Geisha performers. They usually work at larger banquets, but Tyler sometimes arranges them to visit for 30-minute performances in his own ryokan. Unlike seeing geisha in Kyoto, here it is an interactive experience, playing games and learning dances from them! They danced and sang several songs. One of them, called “Kawanakajima,” was about the great battle between Uesugi Kenshin and Takeda Shingen that happened here. As they danced, their bright fans slashed through the air like swords.

The geisha perform the song and dance “Kawanakajima.”

We learned a coal miner’s dance, and while our hostesses explained it very well in English, the timing and coordination are not as easy as you might expect. After a few revolutions around the table, they kindly told us how good we all were at it (despite actually being quite uncoordinated and clumsy). Finally, we played a simple drinking game against the geisha. As it turns out, they are very, very good at this game and none of us stood a chance against them. They would then hand the loser a glass of beer, and we all cheered in rhythm as they drank it down.

But actually, Tyler himself is a seasoned veteran of the game. Here he upsets the champion in a practice round.

I make my drinking game debut with another guest (and won!)

Additional Information

Cycling through the countryside is one of the best ways to see it up close and personal. Having a local guide to point out interesting features and history makes it even better. For an unforgettable experience of rural Japan, consider visiting Togura Kamiyamada Onsen.

From Nagano Station, take the Shinano line train to Togura station (about 25 minutes). From there, buses run regularly to Kamiyamada Onsen, or you can walk there yourself in 25 minutes.
(Click here to browse the timetable in Japanese. It’s unnecessarily complicated so I apologize in advance.)

Related Links:

Autumn Colors in Nagano’s Golden Season

October 24th, 2016 by
Category: Information, Seasonal Topics, Sightseeing

Beatiful autumn colors from Togakushi over the weekend.

While some of the mountaintops are already experiencing a spell of winter, Nagano’s valleys are finally enjoying the sights of autumn. Red, yellow and golden hues are descending from the highlands and a cool wind is blowing through the valleys.
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Seharian di Sakudaira (Indonesian)

September 28th, 2016 by
Category: Information

Motaiainoshuku merupakan salah satu pusat penginapan(post town) di jalur Nakasendo yang sangat terkenal pada jaman Edo dulu.
Pusat penginapan ini masih berwajah seperti jaman Edo dulu dengan bangunan dan perumahan kuno yang masih sangat terawat.Mengunjungi pusat penginapan ini bagaikan masuk kedalam jaman Edo dulu yang juga terkenal sebagai jaman Samurai.

Di sini juga terdapat Kuil kuno aliran Suwa yang di dirikan tahun 1818.
Di dalam kuil ini dihiasi ukiran-ukiran yang sangat indah dan menarik. Konon, kuil ini dibangun oleh peukir terkenal pada jaman Edo dahulu.

Bagi pecinta Japanese Sake, jangan lupa mengunjungi Takeshige Honke Brewing Corp, salah satu tempat pembuatan sake Jepang tertua di daerah ini. Dan juga merupakan salah satu bangunan Bersejarah di Jepang. Disini anda bisa bebas mencoba berbagai macam Japanese sake local, tapi hati-hati lo, harus tetap sober untuk menikmati perjalanan selanjutnya di kota Saku kuno ini.

Nah, kunjungan ke Sakudaira tidak lengkap apabila kita tidak mencicipi makanan lezat local seperti Sosu-Katsu ini. Sosu-Katsu adalah gorengan pork dengan tepung khas jepang dan di siram saus khusus daerah ini.

Bagi pecinta sejarah Edo Jepang, dan tertarik untuk tau lebih lanjut, jangan lupa mengunjungi Museum Sejarah di Mochizukijuku. Disini anda bisa melihat berbagai macam peninggalan kuno jaman Edo, dan berbagai macam alat musik kuno Jepang.
Apabila anda cukup beruntung, bisa menikmati musik terompet kuno Jepang ini secara langsung.

Kota Saku sangat terkenal dengan Prun. Mungkin tidak banyak orang Indonesia yang pernah mencoba buah ini, karena buah ini jarang bisa di temui di Indonesia. Prun sering di makan sebagai dried fruits. Tetapi di kota Saku ini, anda bisa mencoba buah aslinya yang sangat manis. Musim buah Prun disini adalah dari Juli sampai pertengahan Oktober. Pada musim ini anda bisa memetik Prun langsung dari pohonnya dan makan sepuasnya.

The Night View Train to Obasute

September 28th, 2016 by
Category: Events, Information, Report, Sightseeing

The front of the Night View Obasute train.

Perched several hundred meters above Chikuma City is Obasute Station which boasts beautiful scenery of the Nagano valley. The Shinano line passes through this area on its way between Nagano and Matsumoto cities, and is considered one of Japan’s three best train line views.

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