Nagano City’s Matsushiro area is known as a samurai town with several Edo-era temples and samurai estates open for viewing. There’s also a recently restored castle, one of Nagano’s first school houses, a cool onsen with rust-colored water (high iron content), and a WWII-era underground headquarters complex, all within an easy bike ride from Matsushiro Station. (Free ‘rental’ bikes available there; NOTE: the station is on the Nagaden Yashiro Line which is scheduled to be terminated later in 2011. Regular bus service from Nagano Station also available.)
Besides the samurai and historical sides, Matsushiro has a mysterious side as well. On the outskirts of town is a stand-alone mountain called Minakami-yama. It was recently featured in the anime ‘Occult Accademy’. But even before it’s anime stardom, it had been rumored to be a type of power vortex. With it’s pyramid-like shape and unusual geological composition, some people say it was moved here by UFO’s.
The family and I took a drive to check it out — and look for UFO’s. After winding up the road through a thick forest, the top flattens out to a small plateau with a handful of houses and rice fields and even a golf course. Minakami-jinja, the cool shrine at the top, dates back to the 15th/16th centuries and the building features a fascinating carved wood decoration at the entrance.
We didn’t spot any UFO’s while there, but we did catch a glimpse of some of the salamenders growing in the marshy ponds near the shrine. These salamenders normally grow in marshes at much higher elevations, not down here at the Zenkoji Plain. All part of the mystery of Minakami-yama.
Access: Prefectural Route #35 from Matsushiro. Or Hirabayashi bus stop (30 minute walk to the top from there).
Recommended Nearby Restaurants: ‘Otokogi Ramen’ on Rt. #35 at the base, one of the many soba shops in Matsushiro central, or the charming ‘Koen no Bench’ Italian restaurant (tel 026-278-7411) 10 minutes away by car.
Recommended Nearby Onsens: Matsushiro-sou (rusty water, modern facilities, tel 026-278-2596), Ichiyou-kan (rusty water, rustic facilities, mixed bathing outdoor bath, tel 026-278-2016), or Omuro Onsen (salty water, wood beam construction, outdoor baths overlook the Zenkoji Plain, tel 026-278-5687)