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.

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/

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

Shimotsuki — The festival where gods gather to bathe.

December 20th, 2018 by
Category: Events, Experience, Seasonal Topics, Sightseeing

Deep in the foothills of the Southern Japanese Alps, you’ll find the tiny hamlet of around 100 souls called Shimoguri no Sato.   Or maybe you won’t, as Shimoguri is considered a ‘hidden village’.  Perched precariously on a steep hill, the area is also known as the “Tyrol of Japan”, although “Japan’s Machu Picchu” may be more applicable.  Not short of nicknames, Shimoguri is also thought to be a ‘tenku’ (天空) for the way it seemingly floats above the clouds.

Matchu Picchu-like Shimoguri no Sato (Photo courtesy of Katsumasa Furusawa)

Due to its harsh geography with its hillside location averaging a steep 38 degree slope ranging from 800 to 1100 meters above sea level, practically the only thing that can be grown is potato.  And the elderly farmers, mostly by hand, produce a variety called shimoguri, named after their land.

Many moons ago, I helped with the text for Nagano Prefecture’s official “Go-Nagano” website.  I tried to do as much research as possible for each entry including physically visiting many of the sites.  Due to its remote location, I never made it to Shimoguri.  But I have been enchanted by it’s storybook-like setting ever since writing the Shimoguri entry.

However, I recently finally got the chance to visit.  A colleague of mine had spent time there on many occasions including for the mystical Shimotsuki Festival.  10 shrines in the Toyama District hold the ceremony every December, including Shimoguri’s Gojusha Daimyoujin Shrine where it takes place annually on December 13th.  The highlight of the festival is a ritual where water is splashed from a boiling cauldron with a bare hand.  I was to find out that the festival, a nationally designated Important Intangible Cultural Property, is much more complex than just that ritual.

After what seemed like an endless drive into the deep unknown, we finally arrived at Shimoguri around 10pm.  After tea at the house of an acquaintance of my colleague, we headed up to the shrine reaching there just past 11pm to find the evening’s events just getting underway.  We passed through the brand new stone torii gate and slid open the door to the main hall and ducked in.

A bonfire was burning in the center, heating two cauldrons of water.  Visitors give a little donation and then stand along the edge of the crowded hall craning to get a look through the smoke at the various dances and proceedings centered on the fire.

Names of the people who donated.

The main theme of the Shimotsuki Festival is gods come from all across to Japan to have a bath, hence the afore-mentioned splashing of the boiling water.  If that sounds familiar, you may have seen “Spirited Away”.  The animator, Hayao Miyazaki, got his inspiration from Shimoguri’s festival.

One after another, different gods and characters dance around the fire in a hypnotic rhythm, sometimes alone, sometimes in pairs, often in groups of 8.

Preparing the bonfire

When we first arrived, 8 people slowly circled around the fire with a ‘sensu’ fan in one hand and ‘suzu’ bell in the other other.

Then they switched to a katana sword and continued their mesmerizing movements.

Various gods represented by people wearing unique masks then took their turns.

Some interacted with the people watching, such as the ‘mother’ god carrying a ‘baby’ that some tried to touch for good fortune.

A couple red foxes performed an intricate dance.

At one point, a real 3-year old child battled a dragon.

Punctuating the festivities were some younger participants whose dance grew wilder, culminating in what can only be described as stage diving but without the stage.

At intervals, the bonfire was built up and the flute and taiko music reached a crescendo

for the men wearing tengu masks

to perform the ritual of splashing the boiling water with their bare hands.

I took a direct hit a couple of times and the water was painfully hot — I can’t imagine the courage it took to stick their hands in the scalding hot water.

We wound up leaving around 3:30 in the morning with still a few more gods to come.  The locals apparently end things with a banquet at 4am.  Their stamina is incredible!  And it all the more amazing considering one other nickname for Shimoguri — ‘genkai shuraku’, literally, a hamlet faced with extinction.  Currently there are only 6 school-aged children in Shimoguri and in all likelihood they will move away for high school and not come back.

In some ways, Shimoguri and its Shimotsuki Festival have a primordial, almost timeless feel.  But time is not working in Shimoguri’s favor.  The village and its festival need to be treasured now.

Momiji-Lake: red maple leaf tunnel

November 4th, 2018 by
Category: Events, Information, Seasonal Topics, Sightseeing

Are you looking for a new red leaf spot in Nagano?Then you should come check out Minowa town!

The best time to visit is around mid Oct to Early Nov.

Location on google map: https://goo.gl/maps/YWJW9JFN25J2

This place is called “momiji no tunnel.” A lot of tourists and locals come to visit during this time of year. In the evening, the maple trees are lit up and they look really fantastic.

Before the tunnel, you drive around Lake momiji (momiji ko) after seeing the Minowa Dam. The maple trees around the lake are also beautiful!

 

On November 3rd, there is an festival of Momiji Lake at the event square of Minowa town. There are lots of food stalls and some fun activities to take part in. Also, a walking event is held in the morning so you can walk 8km around the whole lake and enjoy the autumn colors at a relaxed pace.

For more info, please visit Minowa town tourism association.

https://www.town-minowa.jp/ (in Japanese)

Nagano Day Trip to Obuse and Togakushi

October 4th, 2018 by
Category: Information, Report, Sightseeing

Early autumn colors on Togakushi’s Okusha Shrine trail

Nagano City is surrounded by idyllic, countryside spots with a wealth of culture and nature.
Bountiful fields grow along the Chikuma River, ancient shrines lay in the shadow of great mountains, and sleepy towns embrace historical sites tied to some of Japan’s greatest warrior clans—there is so much to see but often too little time!

Some of Nagano City’s most popular sightseeing spots include National Treasure Zenkoji Temple, the shrines of Togakushi, and the museums and cafes in the charming town of Obuse. It just so happens that a new sightseeing bus visits all of these, making sightseeing around Nagano City easier than ever.
Read the rest of this entry »

“Akasoba no Sato” Red buckwheat field

September 25th, 2018 by
Category: Information, Seasonal Topics, Sightseeing

Buckwheat flowers are generally known to be white but there is very unusual field of red buckwheat flowers in Minowa town, Kamiina gun, Nagano. It’s called “Aka soba no Sato” in Japanese, and since the field is the biggest in Japan, a lot of TV media and magazines are reporting about this area these days.

 

The history of this red buckwheat started in the 1970’s. A professor of Shinshu University heard about the red buckwheat flower in the Himalayas so he visited and needed to travel 4000 meters high up into the mountains. There he found the field and wanted to bring the beautiful flowers back to Japan. After years and years of breeding he succeeded in making this red buckwheat flower.

 

This place used to be corn, chesnuts, wheat, and buckwheat fields. In 1997, the buckwheat association in Minowa started to sow red buckwheat. Then in 2006, The red buckwheat group started in Kami-furuta district. They have a lot of “Omotenashi” hospitality spirit.

From 15th Sep to 7th Oct they open a seasonal Soba restaurant (Only open during this time of year!) and you can enjoy “Red soba noodles” and also white soba noodles. They are very popular. Watch out though, it’s first come first served!

On 29th and 30th September there is “The Akasoba flower festival.”

You can enjoy soba noodles freshly made in front of you and buy local vegetables and products.

Info:https://www.minowa-town.jp/赤そばの里/

( in Japanese)

Accsess by train: JR Iida line, Ina-matsushima station.

From station, 20mins by taxi.(0265-79-2455 Minowa taxi)

Highway bus stop: Chuo-expressway  Minowa.

From bus stop, 10mins by taxi.(0265-79-2455 Minowa taxi)

Google map:https://goo.gl/maps/ByCFRH1So2N2

Car park: Available nearby (Free of charge)

Arato-jo Fortress overlooking the golden rice fields

September 23rd, 2018 by
Category: Information, Seasonal Topics, Sightseeing

Arato-jo is a mountaintop fortress overlooking the Chikuma River Valley and present-day Onsen Town Togura-Kamiyamada.  The rice fields down in the valley are in their golden glory, just a couple of weeks away from harvest.  Just one of the beautiful scenes awaiting you if you visit Nagano in the fall.

Info on Arato-jo Fortress:  http://www.onsentown.net/interests/arato-jo-castle  The castle is a 30-minute walk uphill from the onsen town.  The trailhead is reachable by bus from Togura Station on the Shinano Railway line.

Two Days of Driving Around the Roof of Japan

August 16th, 2018 by
Category: Accomodations, Culture Art, Information, Sightseeing

Driving among the clouds
Surrounded by the 3,000-meter-high mountains of the Japanese Alps, Nagano Prefecture is called “the Roof of Japan.” Its gorgeous alpine scenery and breezy highlands attract visitors year-round.

In Central Nagano, several highland areas extend from the base of the Yatsugatake mountains past Lake Suwa towards Matsumoto. Ranging in heights from 1,400 to 2,200 meters, the lofty plains here have panoramic views of the Northern, Central and Southern Alps. They’re the perfect place to escape the summer heat and enjoy a scenic drive. On these roads, you’re at eye level with the clouds—like you’re driving through the sky.
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