On Saturday we set out for a tour of Kirigamine Kogen, one of Nagano’s central highland areas connected by the Venus Line. The name Kirigamine means “the misty peak,” because the warm airs of Suwa regularly rise up here and condense into fog. On clear days, however, you can enjoy an amazing view from the top of Kurumayama, the tallest point of the Kirigamine area.
The Northern, Central and Southern alps, the Yatsugatake mountain range, Mt. Ontake and even Mt. Fuji can all be seen from here. A shrine sits atop Kurumayama, and its torii shrine gate frames Mt. Fuji perfectly.
The top of Kurumayama can be easily reached in an hour or so walk or a 10-minute ride by ski lift, making it a very flexible hike. Small children and the elderly should have no trouble reaching the peak, and there are a variety of easy trails around for those who’d like to stretch their legs a bit more. You could spend just a half-hour taking in the panoramic landscape, or walk through the gently swaying meadows for hours on end. It’s all up to you.
We visited just as the day lilies began to bloom but were still somewhat early to the show. In mid to late July, areas of Kirigamine become completely carpeted in fields of yellow flowers. As it moves into August, you can find other flowers of all shapes and sizes.
An Afternoon in Suwa
After walking for a couple hours from the top of Kurumayama through the meadows and marshlands, we rode back down towards the city of Suwa. In the afternoon we planned to visit Suwa’s famous sake breweries and hot springs. During the Onbashira festival I had a chance to visit some of these sites before and wrote about them here. But one of our fellow Nagano ambassadors, Lianne, offered her perspective on the rest of our trip:
Driving back down the Venus Line towards Suwa, we weren’t so much footsore after our gentle ramble in the highlands, as pleasantly sleepy. I wonder why? Fresh air perhaps, or the calming effects of the lush green scenery. Nonetheless, everyone in the group perked up once we reached the town and the Reijin Sake Brewery.
Reijin is one of Suwa’s Gokura, five sake breweries in beautifully kept old kura storehouses. They offer a stamp-rally tasting course of all five, which are all conveniently located within a short walking distance of the station. A “Suwa Five Set” can be purchased at any of the breweries. Collecting a special stamp from each of the breweries, tasting free samples as you go, (hic!) can earn you a chance to win a special prize. Sadly it was too late in the day for us to visit all 5 of them, but it’s definitely something I’d come back for.
Our last stop on the tour was the Katakurakan hot springs, near the shore of Lake Suwa. What a gem of an onsen! Built in 1928, and impeccably maintained, the onsen building reminded me of a Harry Potter set on approach. Inside, the bathhouse walls and the bath itself are made from marble, with statues, artwork and stained glass of the period. Even more surprising was the depth of the bath itself, at 1.1m, with a floor of smooth blue pebbles. The bath is designed for standing and walking, to relieve sore feet and soothe the muscles. It is almost pool-sized too, they claim it can hold up to 100 people, but luckily for me, there were just a few other visitors and I could relax, soak, and imagine myself as an Empress, partaking of a Roman bath. Bliss! It was definitely a one-of-a-kind experience.
Finally, with the sun setting over the lake, it was time for us to bid farewell to this charming resort town.
We had a great time exploring Suwa together on Saturday. The views of Mt. Fuji and the Japanese Alps were incredible, and the highland breezes kept us nice and cool as we trekked through the meadows. For more information about the Suwa area’s sights, see my previous blog here. Anyone who loves fireworks will want to visit Suwa during August and September for some of the best fireworks performances in Japan!
Northbound: From Suwa IC exit, turn right onto Route 20. Continue straight and turn left onto Route 152 at Arai (新井). When you reach the Gozaishi Jinja intersection (御座石神社), turn left. Now you’re on the Venus line!
Southbound: The route begins from Utsukushigahara Kogen, which can be reached from the Matsumoto or Ueda areas. If you have GPS, type 0268-86-2331 into your device and it will take you to the Utsukushigahara Open Air Museum. You can continue southward along the Venus line from there.
People with Japanese proficiency may find this map useful in planning their trip.
Kurumayama Sky Lift
During the green season, the Kurumayama ski resort runs its ski lifts to the top of the mountain so visitors can enjoy its amazing panaromic views.
Season: April 23rd to November 16th
Access: From Chino station (茅野駅), take the bus bound for Kirigamine (West exit, platfrom #3). Get off at the Kurumayama Kogen stop (車山高原). A Japanese bus schedule can be found here.
Maihime, Reijin, Honkin, Yokobue and Masumi breweries are a short distance from Kamisuwa station, lining route 20. Sake-tasting is free at four of the breweries, and costs 320 yen per person at Masumi. Beers can be sampled at Reijin for 100 yen each. More information can be found on the Go-Kura Japanese website.
Hours: 9:00~17:00/18:00 (Depending on brewery)
Price: Free (Excepting Masumi, 320 yen)
Holidays: Honkin is closed on Sundays
Access: A short walk from Kamisuwa station, along Route 20. See above links for exact locations.
Price: Adults/ 650 yen Kids/ 450 yen
Holidays: Closed 2nd and 4th Tuesdays
Access: 8 minute walk from Kamisuwa station. Google Maps link.