Traveling Around the Japanese Alps by Bus

August 9th, 2019 by
Category: Accomodations, Information, Outdoor Activities, Sightseeing


The village of Shirakawa-go
The Hida Mountains straddle the borders of Toyama, Gifu, Nagano, and Niigata prefectures. Also known as the Northern Japanese Alps, these mountains rise to 3,000-meter heights.

These precipitous, natural barriers have separated the geographic center of Japan from cities like Kyoto and Edo, allowing unique rural communities and cultures to develop. Even today, you can see the remnants of small farming villages tucked away in steep valleys and old trade towns that retain their Edo period atmosphere.

Famous sights such as Matsumoto Castle, Takayama City, and Shirakawa-go are all within reach of the Japanese Alps. And who would want to miss the majestic scenery of the mountains from Kamikochi and Mt. Norikura?

Take a 3-Day trip to the Japanese Alps to enjoy the best it has to offer.

Table of Contents

Day 1: Matsumoto, Kamikochi, and Shirahone
Day 2: Norikura Kogen and Takayama
Day 3: Takayama and Shirakawa-go
Access around the Japanese Alps

Day 1: Matsumoto, Kamikochi and Shirahone

Matsumoto

Counter-clockwise from top: Matsumoto Castle, Nakamachi-dori street, the Matsumoto City Museum of Art, the Yayoi Kusama exhibition

Matsumoto City, located in the middle of Nagano Prefecture, is famous for Matsumoto Castle. One of five national treasure castles in Japan, it fascinates visitors with its unique architecture and stunning black and white contrast.

Along the river just south of the castle are several streets which retain an atmosphere of times gone by, like the Showa-retro Nakamise-dori, sometimes called “Frog Street,” and the Edo period-like Nakamachi-dori, lined with rows of white, earthen-walled storehouses. There are many souvenir shops selling Matsumoto crafts and stylish cafes and bakeries where you can relax and enjoy the scenery.

Before heading into the great outdoors, visit the Matsumoto City Museum of Art’s permanent exhibition of the works of Kusama Yayoi, a native of the city. You’ll see her characteristic polka dots many places throughout town, on flowers, on posters, and even on the city’s buses.

If you love traditional Japanese woodblock prints, you may also want to check out the Japan Ukiyo-e Museum, a museum that features the largest single collection of Ukiyo-e prints in the world—the exhibitions, however, are admittedly small.

Getting to Kamikochi from Matsumoto

After taking in the castle and culture of Nagano’s most creative city, begin your adventure into the heart of the Japanese Alps.

Take the Kamikochi line train from Matusmoto Station to Shinshimashima Station, then take the Kamikochi line bus to Kamikochi from there.

Kamikochi

Counter-clockwise from top: views from Kappa Bridge, tranquil Myojin Pond, Dakesawa Marsh, and Myojin Bridge.
Kamikochi is a 1,500-meter-high basin that sits at the foot of the Japanese Alps. The views of the Hotaka mountains from the Kappa Bridge, with their palettes of verdant green, cerulean blue and glistening white, are simply stunning.

The flat basin is easy to walk, allowing almost anyone to enjoy the unspoiled nature of Chubu Sangaku National Park. Routes around the park start at just about an hour and can reach five hours or more, depending on how far up the river you want to go. There are also numerous mountain climbing routes to the alps’ highest peaks, which range from single day to multi-day treks.

Some of Kamikochi’s most scenic points include Taisho Pond, the Kappa Bridge, Myojin Pond, and Dakesawa Marsh. You can start at Taisho Pond and loop around them all in just about 4 to 4.5 hours.

After you’ve enjoyed trekking in Kamikochi, you can stay in nearby Shirahone Onsen.

Getting from Kamikochi to Shirahone

One direct bus to Shirahone departs from Kamikochi every day at 15:35, reaching Shirahone at 16:19. To reach Shirahone at different time, take the Shinshimashima—Kamikochi line bus to Oyakidaki, then change to the Shirahone line bus from there.

Staying in Shirahone Onsen

Counter-clockwise from top: Shirahone’s famous konyoku hot spring: Awa no Yu, the entrance to Shirahone Onsen, Yumoto Saito Ryokan, and Shirahone’s quiet wooded street.
Shirahone Onsen, or “White Bone Hot Spring,” is a secluded hot spring area known for its milky blue waters with powerful healing properties. People say that if you soak in the springs here for three days, you won’t catch a cold for a whole year.

There are many hot spring hotels and traditional Japanese ryokan inns where you can relax the night away. The peaceful surroundings and healing waters will be a memorable and rejuvenating experience. Popular hotels include: Shirafune Grand Hotel, Yumoto Saito Ryokan, Awa no Yu, and Sansuikan Yugawaso.

Hot spring therapy, called touji, was once a common treatment for a variety of ills. Patients would bathe—and even drink—hot spring water, improving their circulation from both inside and out. For an authentic experience of Japan’s hot springs, why not do the same? You can drink fresh hot spring water from several fountains around Shirahone, and the ryokan here even prepare their meals utilizing Shirahone’s mineral-rich spring water. Delicious!

Day 2: Norikura and Takayama

In the morning, take the Kamikochi—Norikura—Shirahone line bus from Shirahone to the Norikura Kogen Tourism Information Center.

Norikura Kogen


Top: Zengoro Falls, bottom middle: Azami Pond

Norikura Kogen is a highland area at the base of Mt. Norikura, not far from Shirahone and Kamikochi.

The highest peak of Norikura, Kengamine, is 3,206 meters high and is the 19th tallest mountain in Japan. It is also the easiest three-thousander to climb in the country, as the Tatamidaira line bus takes you all the way up to an altitude of 2,716 meters. From Tatamidaira, you can make a round-trip hike to the top in just three hours.

There are also plenty of trails in the highlands below Mt. Norikura. From the Norikura Information Center, you can take a trail around many of the area’s waterfalls and ponds. Zengoro Falls, a 21.5-meter-high and 8-meter-wide waterfall, is just a 30-minute walk from the center. (See Zengoro Falls in winter)

The trail is well maintained with many wooden bridges spanning the running rivers and staircases on steeper sections. Continuing on to Ushidome and Azami ponds, the trail lasts about 3 hours in total, ending back at the Norikura tourism center.

Getting to Takayama from Norikura

There are two ways to get to Takayama from Norikura.

One: from the Norikura Kogen Tourism Center, take the Norikura bus towards Shinshimashima/Kamikochi and get off at Oyako-daki. From there, cross the street and board the next bus heading towards Takayama.

Two: from Tatamidaira, take the Norikura—Hirayu bus to Honoki Daira, then switch to the Shinhotaka—Takayama bus headed to Takayama.

Takayama


Scenes from Takayama’s old town

Takayama is located in modern day Gifu Prefecture to the west of the Japanese Alps. Thanks to the plentiful lumber in the area, Takayama prospered in woodworking and become famous throughout Japan for its skilled craftsmen and elegant products. Now, slices of Takayama’s old Edo Period townscape can still be seen to the east of the Miyagawa River, where many shops and sake breweries still stand today.

The Takayama Festival (held in April and October) is one of Japan’s most famous festivals, where extravagant wooden floats are paraded through the streets of old town. Showcasing the impeccable craftsmanship of Takayama’s carpenters and woodworkers, some of the floats are even decorated with mechanical puppets called karakuri ningyo, which you can see performing during the festival.

If not visiting during the festival, you can still see some of its parade floats at the Yatai Kaikan exhibition hall next to Sakurayama Hachiman Shrine.

Stay in Takayama

Hanaougi Bettei Iiyama in Takayama City
There are many ryokan inns and western-style hotels around Takayama City and its old town from which to choose. You can see some of Tayakama’s most highly recommended ryokans and hotels here.

If you’d like the full Japanese experience with delicious kaiseki meals and soothing hot springs, we recommend visiting Hanaougi Bettei Iiyama—a cozy and elegant inn just outside of town. The interior decor is reminiscent of a Japanese countryside home, with exposed wooden beams, fresh tatami floors and a traditional irori hearth. The rooms share a similar design and are equipped with modern comforts such as TV, Wifi, and soft, raised-off-the-floor beds. Dinner, of course, features the area’s famous Hida Beef.

Day 3: Takayama and Shirakawa-go

Take a morning shuttle to Takayama Bus Terminal and from there board the bus to Shirakawa-go. The trip takes just about 50 minutes.

Shirakawa-go


Counter-clockwise from top: Shirakawa-go seen from the castle observation deck, butsudan altar inside a gassho-zukuri house, rafters, and the Minka-en Heritage Museum
Shirakawa-go is a Unesco World Heritage site, easily recognized by the tall a-frame houses with thatched rooves. This style, called gassho-zukuri in Japanese, is said to resemble the hands of monks in prayer. The steep rooves were important in the Hida region due to the heavy snowfall in winter.

Many of the gassho-zukuri houses remain here in this rural village, still occupied by locals. You can even see inside some of the houses, which, having been abandoned, are now open to the public as museums (see the Wada House, Nagase House, and Kanda House). You can see traditional fixtures of Japanese houses, like irori hearths and butsudan altars, as well as the construction of the houses themselves. The tall a-frame afforded these houses three stories, the second and third of which were usually used to cultivate silk worms.

The best views of the village are from the observation deck atop a nearby mountain ridge. A shuttle bus runs regularly from town. You can also walk up yourself if you’d like a bit of a workout (20 min. from Shirakawa-go Bus Terminal).

The Minka-en Heritage Museum has many gassho-zukuri houses that were abandoned and relocated, showcasing a traditional village from a bygone era. You can walk inside all of the buildings and learn more about their construction, how they were used, and the lifestyles of the people who lived in them.

From Shirakawa-go Onward

Around the Japanese Alps are many ancient villages, idyllic basins and highlands to explore. And thanks to their location near the center of Japan, they are also conveniently close to many other popular sightseeing areas. Kanazawa and Toyama are just a bus ride away from Shirakawa-go and Takayama, and the post towns of the Nakasendo and the Daio Wasabi Farm are just a train ride away from Matsumoto, with Jigokudani Yaen Koen just a few hours away. Depending on what else you’d like to see during your visit, you can make your trip from Matsumoto to Takayama or the other way around.

Access around the Japanese Alps

Train and Bus

Japanese Alps Access MapShinshimashimaStationMatsumotoStationNorikuraKogenShirahoneOnsenKamikochiSawandoHirayuOnsenShinhotakaRopewayTakayama Nohi Bus CenterHonokiDairaTatamidaira12356410AsamaOnsenUtsukushigaharaOnsenOyakodaki1112Shirakawa-go987

Matsumoto and Takayama cities are your main gateways to the Japanese Alps. Access to the alps is covered by the Alpico and Nohi bus companies, as well as the Kamikochi train line, which connects Matsumoto and Shinshimashima Station.

You can see timetables for each of the bus lines at the links below.

Buses and Trains around the Japanese Alps

  1. Kamikochi Train (check timetables via Hyperdia)
  2. Shinshimashima—Kamikochi Bus
  3. Matsumoto—Hirayu-Takayama Bus
  4. Shinshimashima—Norikura Bus
  5. Shinshimashima—Shirahone Onsen Bus
  6. Norikura—Tatamidaira Bus
  7. Tatamidaira—Honoki Daira Bus
  8. Takayama Bus Center—Hirayu Onsen–Shin-hotaka Ropeway Bus
  9. Takayama—Shirakawa-go Bus
  10. Hirayu—Kamikochi Bus
  11. Asama Onsen Bus (timetable in Japanese)
  12. Utuskushigahara Onsen Bus (timetable in Japanese)

The Alps Wide Free Passport

The Alps Wide Free Passport covers all of the buses included in the access map above for a period of four consecutive days. If you plan to spend several days around the alps visiting areas like Kamikochi, Takayama, Matsumoto and Shirakawa-go, then this pass may be beneficial to you.

In addition to the regular 4-day pass, a 4-day pass that includes round-trip fare along the Shin-hotaka Ropeway is also available.

Price

Ticket type 4-Day 4-Day + Shin-hotaka Ropeway
Season Apr. to Nov. Dec. to Mar. Apr. to Nov. Dec. to Mar.
Adults 10,290 8,800 12,000 9,800
Children 5,150 4,400 6,000 4,900

Access by Car

Those with cars should be aware that access to Kamikochi and Norikura are restricted. If you’re planning to visit Kamikochi, park your car at Sawando Bus Terminal and take a bus from there to the park. If you’re planning to visit Tatamidaira at the top of Norikura, you can park your car at the Norikura Kogen Tourism Information Center and take a bus from there.

Full of Fun at Obuse Half Marathon

July 12th, 2019 by
Category: Events, Experience, Information, Outdoor Activities

It’s that time of the year again—the fun and wacky half marathon in Obuse town is on this Sunday 14th July. In it’s 17th year, it’s sure to amuse and entertain the runners, walkers and bystanders alike. 

Whether you’re a committed competitor or a weekend warrior, the Obuse Mini Marathon is a fun-filled family event held every summer in Nagano prefecture.

If you’re new to marathons in Japan and you want to witness one then you can’t go past the Obuse Mini Marathon, a 21.0975km race around Japan’s chestnut capital. It’s not your average marathon—participants are encouraged to run in colourful costumes and characters. The race held every summer on the second Sunday of July is well-known among locals and competitors with local celebrities and guest runners lending support. Don’t miss out on the spectacle throughout the day and award ceremonies such as the Best Costume Award. Here are photo highlights from the 16th Obuse Mini Marathon—just a preview of what to expect this Sunday.

Spectators hang around the starting line hoping to catch the elite runners set off at 6 a.m.

Obuse Town’s huggable mascots will be on the side of the road to cheer you on or simply make you say “kawaii”.

Look it’s Brook from One Piece minus his partners in crime.

Anpanman’s Melonpanna is pushing his trusty car Gou instead of riding it.

Recognise this character from Ghibli’s Porco Rosso (Kurenai no Buta)?

Japan’s well-known robot, Gundam, warms up his gun … and legs.

Colours and creativity is the aim of the game … race in this case.

Lace them up real tight for maximum grip and minimum slip.

Obuse’s fire brigade trumpet corp rehearses along Obuse Station, the point where runners have been gathering since 5:20 a.m.

It’s almost 6 a.m. and Group A runners are getting ready at the starting line, a couple of metres behind the Obuse electric cars.

And they’re off! Runners participate in the marathon to share the fun with friends, families and co-workers.

Now that costume is jaw-dropping!

The Obuse marathon is a well-established and organised event and as part of its safety-first rule, doctors are on run-by.

How far do you think the Swedish character Moomin went in last year’s half marathon?

The last man to begin!

Along with refreshment stations, expect to see entertainment along the course like the all-women gospel group who raised every runner’s spirits.

Superman prepares to fly through the finishing line which is just 50m away.

Adults, school kids or adult school kids can enter the race.

Spiderman relies on his legs this time and not his web to finish the race.

Wait for your families and friends cross the finish line at Obuse Park.

Hundreds of volunteers make the spectacular marathon possible.

Group A runners are expected to finish the race under one and a half hour—so they should be done by 7:30 a.m!

Whether you come first or last, the Obuse half marathon is all about fun with the f a.m.ily.

For some laughs and entertainment on a Sunday, wake up early and bring the family along to the 17th Obuse Mini Marathon!

Details:

Opening ceremony begins at 5:40 a.m. Start time is at 6 a.m. near Obuse Station. Finish area is Obuse Park so be there just after 7 a.m. to catch the winners. Award ceremony is at 8 a.m. Costume award ceremony is at 9:30 a.m. Closing session is at 10:30 a.m.

Shuttle buses will operate from 4 a.m. No convenient parking lot available around the marathon area.

For more details, visit the Obuse Marathon Official Website.

Japanese Culture Experience Days in Castle Town Matsumoto

July 5th, 2019 by
Category: Information

Join us for an immersive experience in Matsumoto City! Back by popular demand, there will be 3 chances to try a wide range of different cultural activities this summer and early fall. A full day of traditional Japanese cultural activities await you along Nakamachi Street. Learn more about some cool crafts and get to know the locals!

Located in the heart of Matsumoto, Nakamchi’s lively history dates back hundreds of years to its days as a merchant storehouse district. The kura or storehouses have been well preserved and continue to hold wares, now in the form of chic shops and cafés.

Where: Nakamachi Street, Matsumoto City, Nagano Prefecture
Dates: August 5 (Mon), September 10 (Tue), September 24 (Tue)
Time: 10 A.M. to 5 P.M.
What: Make your own unique items to take home, try wearing traditional Japanese clothing, and experience other Japanese traditions like tea ceremony and flower arrangement.
Price: Varies by activity

For specific details on the activities being offered, including max. participants and prices, please see the program flier PDF or the official Cool Craft Town Nakamachi Street website.

Summer in the Japanese Alps – Mount Norikura

June 26th, 2019 by
Category: Experience, Information, Outdoor Activities, Seasonal Topics, Sightseeing

Mount Norikura (乗鞍岳 Norikura-dake “Mount Riding Saddle”) 3,026m. (9,928ft.) is the southern-most mountain of the Northern Japanese Alps. It is located on the borders of Gifu and Nagano Prefecture. After Mount Fuji and Mount Ontake, Mount Norikura is the third tallest volcano in Japan. It is also on the 100 Famous Japanese Mountains list and is considered the easiest to climb among the mountains in Japan that are above 3000-meters. It includes 23 peaks, 12 crater lakes, and 8 plains. 

Here are a few photos from my day on the mountain.

The Norikura Skyline road which goes up and over the mountain is the tallest road in Japan. Although it is closed to private vehicles in order to protect the beautiful natural environment, it can be accessed by public transportation (Alpico Bus or Nohi Bus) and bicycles mid-May – October. It is popular among road bikers interested in hill-climb training. You can access Mount Norikura – Tatamidaira from the Gifu side through from the Matsumoto / Nagano side through Norikura Kogen of Hoonoki bus terminal on the Gifu / Takayama side. 

Lots of great Accommodations can be found in Norikura Kogen, Shirahone Onsen, Sawando Onsen, and Kamikochi.

Attractions in this area

• Norikura’s Great Snow Wall
• Tatamidaira
• Hiking
• High Alpine Plantlife

The Moss Forest (+ info on guide tour in English)

June 25th, 2019 by
Category: Experience, Information, Outdoor Activities, Sightseeing

If you happen to be in the Yatsugatake area in summer, you don’t want to miss the Moss Forest. This little gem, still pretty much unknown among international travelers, is a small Yakushima up in the mountains.

Mononoke Forest

The fairytale-like forest which looks like it just came out of Hayao Miyazaki’s anime world is located on the Northern side of the Yatsugatake Mountains, a massive range originated from a long-extinct volcano. Here, all around the quiet pool of Shirakoma Pond, a fluffy carpet of moss envelopes everything in sight from the gnarly roots of the conifer trees to the scattered igneous rocks, as an almost sacred atmosphere pervades the woods.

Shirakoma Pond

Despite its elevation (2200m), this spot can easily be reached by car or local bus, which means you don’t have to be a trekker to visit it. The trails which winds through the forest while all around Shirakoma Pond is quite flat and, albeit slippery at times, is easy to walk- it takes about 45 min to complete-.

Hiking through the forest on your own is pleasing enough, but if you’d like to look discover its secrets or simply enjoy the company and knowledge of a guide, we offer a guide tour in English.

A closer look to one type of moss

… and to another type of moss

The “macro” forest made of gnarly trees cloaked in green is lovely indeed, but why don’t we take a closer look? Just here under our noses there is another forest, a “micro” forest that many people pass by without realizing. The green layer of moss which extends over the entire length of the forest is made up of hundreds different species as varied as the plants in a botanical garden. Our guide will introduce to both forests and the way they interact. You will discover what makes this place so special, how it came to be and how it’s changing.

Observation with a loupe

Moss details through the loupe

Like any explorer worthy of the name, you will have your tools to help you in this adventure. In this case, it will be a loupe so you can take a good look at the moss leaves and see for yourself how complex and varied the “micro” forest really is.
Of course, this is not a science lesson and we want to keep our exploration fun. That’s why halfway through we will take the time to take some cute or silly pics of moss using mall-scale model figures of animals and anime characters. We have an on-going challenge among participants on who can take the best pic.

Guide tour details:

Period: June to mid-November
Duration: 3h
No. of participants: Min. 2 persons Max. 15 persons
Price: Adults-JPY 3,000~5,000 (tax excl.)
Children- JPY 1,500~3,000 (tax excl.)
Included in the price: Guide service, Coffee break, Insurance
Access: 60 min by bus from JR Chino station
(Schedule:https://navi.chinotabi.jp/assets/uploads/2019/06/Mugikusa-Touge-Line.pdf )
50 min by car from Suwa IC
*Free transfer available for small groups on the days the bus is not running
*The activity may be cancelled in case of severe bad weather
For reservations visit our website: https://chinotabi.jp/en/activity/93/

Snowy Spring in the Ina Valley: Senjojiki Cirque, Weeping Cherry Blossoms, and Strawberry-Picking

April 30th, 2019 by
Category: Information

Spring is one of the most beautiful seasons to visit Japan. At the end of a long winter, colorful flowers burst forth from underneath the snow, and fluffy clouds of cherry blossoms fill its parks and hillsides.

In Nagano, cherry blossoms cover the prefecture from the beginning to the end of April, while snow still covers the mountains and ski resorts are still open for business. It’s a perfect place to see the changing of the seasons, whether you are visiting the ski resorts and parks around Hakuba or taking in the views of the Northern Alps and cherry blossoms at Matsumoto Castle.

While not yet well known among international visitors, the Ina Valley is a great place to enjoy Nagano’s spring and snow. Tucked between the Central and Southern Japanese Alps, it has majestic mountainous views, plentiful cherry blossom spots, and many spring activities. Here, you can take ropeways to incredible heights and enjoy snowshoeing in spring, visit beautiful cherry blossom spots in ancient temples and castles, and pick fresh strawberries in its warm greenhouses.

Below is our two-day trip to the Ina Valley.
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Day Trips from Hakuba to Matsumoto

February 1st, 2019 by
Category: Information

JR and Alpico bring you direct access to Matsumoto from Hakuba. Whether you would like to visit for the whole day, or just spend the evening there, train services run until 21:08, giving you time to head to the city even after you hit the slopes.
Check out the flyer below or download it here for ideas of things to do and to plan your schedule.

Three-Day Trip in Matsumoto

January 25th, 2019 by
Category: Information


Japan’s major cities are great places to visit but can be packed to the brim with tourists and at times overwhelming. If you step out of the urban sprawl, you can see a completely different side of Japan filled with magnificent mountains, solemn historical sites, and delicious local cuisine.

Matsumoto is perfectly located for a long trip into Central Japan’s history and nature. With the Japanese Alps to the West, the Kiso Valley to the East, and one of Japan’s most popular castles smack dab in the middle of the city, Matsumoto has incredible sightseeing at its fingertips.

To get the most out of your stay in Matsumoto, we’ve put together a three-day trip to one of Nagano’s most cultured and happening cities.
Read the rest of this entry »

Minowa town’s promotion video on Youtube

January 23rd, 2019 by
Category: Information

Hello everyone! Minowa town tourism association have made some promotional videos recently. They are about Minowa town in the Spring, Summer and Autumn. (This time we didn’t film Winter.) It’s filmed and edited by PINTO. Hiroki Oguchi. His video using a drone is so cool!

Please enjoy!

Spring in Minowa

Summer in Minowa

Autumn in Minowa

I hope everyone knows that the Ina valley is a very attractive area.

There are lots of places to explore!

Banzai for Shinano Railway’s new Banzai Pass!

January 9th, 2019 by
Category: Information

Two recent guests from España made good use of Shinano Railway’s new Banzai Pass which provides 2 days of travel all the way from Karuizawa to Myoko Kogen. They spent 2 nights here at Onsen Town Togura-Kamiyamada and used the pass for a day trip to Karuizawa yesterday and are using it today to go to Nagano for a side trip to see the snow monkeys.
The pass is 2000 yen and can be purchased by people with a foreign passport. Skiiers staying at Akakura / Myoko Kogen could use the pass for a day trip to Zenkoji Temple (Nagano Station) and/or our Onsen Town (Togura Station).

Banzai Pass details: http://banzai-pass.com/