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.

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/

June 14th, 2019 by
Category: Outdoor Activities, Seasonal Topics

Nagano Prefecture’s Chikuma City is Japan’s #1 apricot growing region.
The fruit on our apricot tree here at Kamesei Ryokan’s is almost ripe. For 2019, apricot picking season should start around 22-June and continue to early July.


Have you ever had the pleasure of eating a tart, freshly picked apricot? Come to Chikuma City and visit an apricot orchard and experience eating a fresh apricot yourself.  And/or stay at one of the many inns or hotels here in Onsen Town Togura-Kamiyamada and we’ll gladly arrange an orchard visit for you.

In Japanese, apricot is called “Anzu” (杏).  The heritage varieties are especially tart and are best used for making jam or dried apricots.  But some of the newer varieties such as ‘harcot’ are sweeter and are perfect for eating right off the tree.  Apricots don’t store well, so it’s best to eat them fresh!

Suwa Taisha Spiritual Cycling

June 11th, 2019 by
Category: Culture Art, Experience, Outdoor Activities, Report

Suwa Taisha is one of Japan’s oldest sanctuaries, so old that nobody knows when it first came to be. Its origins are object to much speculation and some say the history of the shrine goes back thousands of years. What we do know is that it’s mentioned in the Kojiki, Japan’s oldest written text to date, so well… pretty old.

Suwa Taisha has always had a big influence in the local community, so we got the idea to create a guide tour to the two upper shrines of Homniya and Maemiya which would shed light on the most interesting points of Suwa’s history and culture.
To make it more fun we decided to use bikes!

Here’s a report from this spring:
(Skip to the end of the articles for the tour details)

The meeting point for the tour is the Tourist Information Center at Chino Station, where the tourism bureau has started renting bikes, pedalecs to be precise (*bikes where the pedaling is assisted by a small electrical motor). Get your bike, make a few adjustments and you’re ready to go. The guide will take you through back alleys and less trafficked roads to your first destination. The highlight of the cycling course is the tract along Miyagawa river which is lined with dozens cherry trees and has a great view on the Yatsugatake Mountains.

Before heading for Suwa Taisha shrine, stop by a kanten shop selling agar agar, the local specialty. You can taste raw agar and get a few explanations on how it’s produced. We’ll see more of kanten later on, but for now let’s move to Maemiya.

Suwa Taisha is made up of 4 complexes, two upper shrines on the Eastern side of Lake Suwa and two lower shrines on the Western side. This tour will take you to the upper shrines, Maemiya and Honmiya. Maemiya is considered the most ancient and that is reflected in its eclectic layout which sets no definite boundaries between the shrine spaces, the nature spaces and the human spaces. The prayer hall is positioned uphill at the border of the woods, but no sweat, with the pedalecs getting there will be a piece of cake!

I have a strict no spoiler policy, so I’m not going to give out the juicy bits, but Suwa Taisha is a unique place where the Shinto of modern Japan and the animism of ancient Japan coexist. And there is no better place than Maemiya to show that: massive centenarian trees stands behind every shrine, no matter how small, the chozuya where you wash hands and purify your body is a natural pool of water fed by a mountain stream and the towering wooden pillars erected during the primeval festival of Onbashira protect the shrine.

After uncovering the millenary secrets of Suwa Taisha, we’ll proceed toward Moriya Jinchokan Historical Museum and a quirky teahouse cluster. The museum which contains some of Japan’s oldest scriptures is the first building designed by the local architect Fujimori Terunobu, famous worldwide for his fantastical architecture which seems to melt into the surrounding nature. The teahouses are works by Fujimori as well, the oldest -Takasugi-an (“The too-high teahouse”) has been listed by The Time’s among the world’s 10 most precarious buildings.

 

 

 

 

We’re close to our final stop for the day, but you must be thirsty by now so why don’t we take a break? There is a local café right next to Honmiya run by a local stonemason’s wife with a delightful Japanese garden. The owner will serve some delicious traditional food such as home-made Japanese pickles and colorful agar cakes (you remember agar?) with a nice cup of tea.

Our tour will end at Honmiya, the biggest of Suwa Taisha’s shrines. Wash your hands with fuming hot spring water, admire the detailed carvings decorating the shrine and pay your respect once more to the gods. Then, hop on your bike one last time and follow the guide back to the station while enjoying the scenery.

Tour details
Period: From April to late November
Duration: 3h
No. of participants: Min. 2 persons Max. 6 persons
Price: JPY 5,000 (tax excl.)/ person
Included in the price: Guide, Bike rental, Tea break, Insurance
Access: 1 min on foot from JR Chino station
(*Chino station is 30 min from Matsumoto by special express)
Reservations: https://chinotabi.jp/en/activity/111/

Gorgeous Gorge of Takase

December 21st, 2018 by
Category: Experience, Onsens (Hot Springs), Outdoor Activities, Seasonal Topics, Sightseeing

Looking to do some annual leaf peeping in fall? With a pile of leafy spots vying for attention, Takase Valley with its postcard-perfect photos is up there with Nagano’s best.

The remnants of autumn mixed with the coming winter chill  filled the air in Takase Valley, making it the perfect place to hike in October.

In a last attempt to catch the leftover of the year’s fall foliage, I drove to Nanakura Dam in Omachi, the gateway to Takase Valley, Takase Dam, and Mt. Kitakuzudake (2,551m). Omachi is two hours west of Nagano city and sits 700m above sea level against the 3000m-high peaks of Hida Mountains.

I parked at the free parking lot, zipped up my down jacket and laced up my waterproof boots. Walking past the dozens of taxis queuing, I entered Nanakura Hot Springs where avid hikers were getting their last minute snacks and coffee before heading up to Takase Dam, the base of two trails.

Nanakura Hot Springs (left) is the spot to soothe muscles especially after a hike. It is open from 8am to 7:30pm and costs 650 yen for adults, 300 yen for children. It is closed in winter, December to April. Photo Courtesy of Kahori Doi.

Hoping to carpool a taxi – the only vehicles allowed to go up to the valley – and split the ¥2,200 for the one-way ride, I hung around at the taxi stand for several minutes but to no avail.

“It takes an hour to reach the dam on foot but with a taxi, only 15 minutes,” said the female taxi driver / tour guide as we leisurely snaked our way up via narrow roads and tunnels while I listened to her anecdotes about the area. Just before zigzagging to the top, I was treated to the magnificent sight of the 125m-high rockfill dam.

If you hike on a clear day, walk up the side stairs of the Fudo Tunnel entrance to see the peak of Mt. Yari, the 5th highest mountain in Japan.

My chatty taxi driver and I arrived at the base where two hiking trails begin. Before parting ways, she said to me, “The last taxi is at 4:40pm so don’t miss it!”

The usual route, Nigorisawa trail, is via Fudo Tunnel, a 30-minute hike (3km) through the forest filled with red leaves, and after crossing Fudosawa suspension bridge, you’ll reach the base of Nigorisawa waterfalls. Not wanting to do the touristy route, I opted for the Yumata Onsen (hot spring) trail which starts at the opposite end of Fudo Tunnel.

Passing clouds over the peaks create a stage for light to dance on the river’s surface. Silent as the leaves, wide as the space, Takase is a hiker’s dream valley.

After emerging from the one kilometre unlit tunnel, the sunlight rewarded me with a view that was equally breath-taking and surreal, as not a single hiker could be seen. Perfect. My own private planet in a season when many people head to the forest to “hunt” for autumn leaves. I’ve been to many, more than I could count with fingers and toes, but a handful deserve a worthy mention like Takase Valley.

Put the boots away as the trainers will do the job on the flat paths covered with crisp golden leaves.

 

After one and a half hour, I took a breather here at my favourite part of the trail. The therapeutic effect of sitting still with nature can’t be overstated enough.

 

Bid farewell to this panoramic scenery before you venture to the next chapter filled with more tunnels and bridges. Note, going off trail here is not permitted. Photo Courtesy of Kahori Doi..

 

Don’t lose your grip nor balance when you cross the bridge as the two wires had snapped from the recent storm (#25). Photo Courtesy of Kahori Doi.

 

After 30 minutes from the bridge, walk along the river bank and look out for the mound designated as a natural monument, Funtokyu, which was formed by the rich mineral deposit of the surrounding hot springs. Photo Courtesy of Kahori Doi.

 

I finally reached Yumata Onsen after three hours. Due to the underground pockets of hot springs mixing with the cold water, the temperature fluctuates so you can’t cross the river. Photo Courtesy of Kahori Doi.

Some daring hikers dig up a small hole along the riverbank and create a makeshift outdoor hot spring! But beware of the scalding water. If you get injured, it’s a three-hour hike back to the base!

A careful inspection of the moss along the bank suggests high sulfur content. Photo Courtesy of Kahori Doi.

Yumata Onsen is the final spot for hikers doing a day trip and for those wishing to continue on, it serves as a climbing base for the Uraginza route connecting to the Japan Alps and Mt. Yari.

If you miss the last taxi at 4:40p.m. you can still walk back but as the taxi driver said, it’ll take 90 minutes. The moon, I hear, has guided many hikers back. Photo Courtesy of Kahori Doi.

After witnessing the sights and sounds of Yumata Onsen, I made the long hike back to the base via the same route – double the trip, double the fun.

At the taxi stand, I spotted the silhouette of a lone hiker emerging from the tunnel. Sharing a taxi is easier to do when going back to Nanakura dam.

The magnificent autumn spectacle closed for the season on Sunday November 4th and will re-open in April, ready to welcome once again energetic hikers. The best time to view the luscious greenery is around May and June and for the autumn foliage, around mid October.

On the way to Takase Valley, stop by at Omachi Dam to catch the fall foliage sprawled against the emerald green waters of Lake Ryujin, “Dragon God Lake”. Japan’s second highest dam was built after a flood in August 1969.

Tips:
The Last taxi departs at 4:40pm so plan your hiking well. If you miss it, you can ring Alps Daiichi Kotsu on +81 261-22-2121 or Alpico Taxi on +81 261-23-2323. Click here for access information.

A tour for ¥4800 is available which will showcase the best views of Takase and the surrounding area. Apply by phone 050-3775-4727 (Opening Hours 10am – 6pm).

For more info, visit Takase Gorge – Omachi Tourism Guide

What’s Happening in Hakuba for the 2018/19 Season

December 13th, 2018 by
Category: Events, Outdoor Activities

The Ski Season is upon us! While the snow accumulation has been limited thus far this year, The Hakuba Valley season will officially begin this weekend with Goryu opening the Sky 4 chair lift on Saturday. Happo-One will open the gondola but only for sight-seeing. The rest of the resorts will open for business as soon as there is enough snow, which hopefully will be before the Christmas season. Despite the slow start, there is much to look forward to this year in Hakuba. Here are the best events for the 2018/19 season.

First Base Party (January 11th)

Tom Tilley (Triple J presenter and client liaison member) and Hugo Gruzman’s (1/2 of the Flight Facilities duo) are taking a giant powder-packed leap into the pristine Japanese Alps with their “Vintage Après Soiree” First Base party in January 2019!

The First Base parties have become a mainstay during the Australian winter seasons and now the group will visit Japan. The duo frequently enlists great artists to perform with and some recent notable names include Hayden James, Confidence Man, Touch Sensitive, CC:DISCO and more.

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The Free Ride World Tour (January 19-26)

The Free Ride World Tour will come to Hakuba for a second straight year. The Free Ride World Tour is the worldwide circuit of freeride snowboarding and skiing with the best riders in the world competing on five of the most challenging alpine faces in some of the world’s most famous resorts. Happo-One will host the event and with it lots of festivities for free ride fans.

Free Ride World Tour (January 19 – January 26)

 

Burton Qualifiers Jan 26th

The Burton Qualifiers is the premiere amateur snowboard contest series offering local riders of all ability levels and ages the chance to come together for a fun day of riding, cash prizes and the opportunity to go all the way to the finals! Now in its fourth season, the FREE Burton Qualifiers series continues to grow with the addition of two new international stops and a huge increase in the already record prize purse with $30,000 in cash on the line.

Fire Festival February 22nd

The annual Happo Fire Festival will be held on February 22nd and will feature torch wielding ski performances, bonfires, raffles, and lots of FREE sake. This is a great way to take in some Japanese culture during your ski holiday.

Happo Fire Festival, February 22nd

Schoolyard Ice Skate

November 22nd, 2018 by
Category: Experience, Outdoor Activities, Seasonal Topics

Winter is coming…
And we expect another glacial season in Suwa area.
Although Nagano prefecture is widely known as a snow country where you can enjoy fluffy soft snow, this area is a little different, a kingdom of frost with nights as cold as -20 (brr~!).

Schoolyard Ice Skate Rink

Water pipe


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New English Booking Site for Cultural Experiences in Matsumoto

October 4th, 2018 by
Category: Cuisine, Culture Art, Experience, Outdoor Activities

 

What is there to do besides visit the castle? Plenty! It is now easier to find and book Japanese cultural experiences in Matsumoto. The new Matsumoto Experience website was made by locals and introduces hands-on activities in the city and surrounding area. All activities on the site have been tried by foreign residents of Matsumoto. The website is offered in English and provides a direct booking form. Whether this is your first visit to Japan or you live here, you could discover something new to try. The wide variety of activities will satisfy interests in traditional clothing, food, music, or the outdoors. Visit https://matsumotoexp.com/.

Current activities include:
Kimono & Yukata Rental
Samurai Sword Fighting
Taiko Drumming
Miso Brewery Tour and Lunch
Soba Noodle Making
River Cruising by Raft

Bookings are handled by the Experience Information Center in Shinmai Media Garden between Matsumoto Station and the Castle. Feel free to pop in if you are in the area and want to see what is available. You can also find Matsumoto Experience on Facebook @matsumotoexp and Twitter @MatsumotoExper1.

Experience Information Center
Address:
Shinmai Media Garden
2-20-2 Chuo
Matsumoto, Nagano
390-8585 Japan
Tel. 090-3065-7654
Contact form
Hours:
9:00–20:00
Open Wed, Thu, and Fri
* Open Wed–Sun from Oct. 9 through Feb.

Matsumoto is accessible by direct express train from Tokyo, Nagoya, and Nagano City. See the Visit Matsumoto Access page for a comprehensive list of ways to access Matsumoto.