Sunny Saturday on the Nakasendo Trail

February 9th, 2017 by
Category: Information, Outdoor Activities, Sightseeing

Last weekend, a few of us traveled from the Northern area of Nagano into the Kiso Valley to walk part of the Nakasendo trail. It was one of five major roads used during the Edo era and connected the former capital of Kyoto to the new capital of Edo (now Tokyo). While it may take weeks to travel the whole thing, we just walked between two post towns: Magome and Tsumago.

Saturday was a beautiful day so I’d like to share some of the photographs we took along the way!

The Post Town of Magome.

We started from Magome, which is technically in Gifu prefecture just below the border. It can be reached from Nakatsugawa station via the Magome line bus (about 30 min.). The morning was quiet and cool with a few tourist groups passing in and out of the souvenir and food shops.

Mountains beyond Mountains.

Just above Magome is a wide viewing platform that faces the Ena mountain range. Saturday was the perfect day to visit.

Is he dancing or trying not to slip?

The trail wanders through the woods of the Kiso Valley and occasionally pops out onto quiet roads. Since we were traveling in winter we also had to be careful of the ice and snow! Here Jamie is posing next to some discrete, well-placed bathrooms.

A short rest between post towns.

At one point the woods open up into a small field with a beautiful old Japanese house. The owner greets us warmly and lets us in for tea and snacks. Lots of people stop here on the way between Magome and Tsumago, and it’s a nice chance to chat with other travelers.

Owner of the Teahouse chatting with us about the differences of Japanese & English.

An old wood stove keeps the house warm and smoky, and light filters in through the wooden slots in solid, sharp beams.

Otsumago in the Kiso Valley.

Shortly before Tsumago is another small cluster of buildings with a beautiful view of the mountains. Even more so than Tsumago or Magome, these scattered buildings made me feel like I had stepped back into another time.

Quiet during the winter months.

Finally we reached Tsumago, a long lane of 200-year-old inns and restaurants.

A must-try snack in Kiso.

Soba is one of Kiso’s most popular dishes, but Gohei Mochi is my favorite. The rice is lightly pounded, basted and grilled. The sauce may contain miso, walnuts or egoma seeds depending on the area and has a salty-sweet flavor.

It was almost 3 pm at this point, so we took a cab to Nagiso Station to catch the next train (buses also run between Tsumago and the station). Several of our group headed directly home, but Jamie and I stopped in Kiso Fukushima to catch the Kiso Ice Lantern festival. It’s held during late Jan. to early Feb. of every year, slowly making its way down the Kiso portion of the Nakasendo from north to south.



The river at dusk. Notice the houses which hang precipitously over the stone wall.

The motion blur, granularity and bad composition are all on purpose.

I, like the group of 10 or so other photographers squeezed in front of this picturesque street, tried my best to get a good shot. My wobbly tripod and patience, however, were not up to the challenge.

The ice lanterns are fragile but clean up easily!

Hundreds of lanterns decorated the streets, bridges and riverside of Kiso Fukushima. The warm lights and hot sake (of which Kiso Fukushima’s two makers, Nanawarai and Nakanorisan, are especially delicious) kept the cold at bay. After walking through town and relaxing in the foot bath for awhile, we headed back to the station and made our way to Nagano.

Dog steals the show with killer pose.

For people who are interested in experiencing a lesser known side of Japan and enjoying its beautiful nature, I highly recommend the Kiso Valley and Nakasendo. Come during Spring and Autumn for cherry blossoms or fall foliage, or come in summer or winter to beat the crowds.

The locals are friendly and you’re sure to meet some interesting people along the way!

Additional Information

There are plenty of other blogs and resources about the Nakasendo if you’re interested in learning more. Check out some of these pages below!

“Madapow” at Madarao Kogen and Tangram

January 27th, 2017 by
Category: Information, Outdoor Activities, Report, Seasonal Topics

The Northern Nagano valley opens up behind the Madarao Kogen hotel.

The Madarao and Tangram ski resorts sit between Iiyama City and Shinano-machi in Northern Nagano prefecture on opposite faces of Mt. Madarao. They are interconnected and you can ride both resorts in the same day with the 5,000 yen “Mountain Pass.” They resorts are medium-sized with well-rounded courses that suit all levels of skiers and snowboarders. Smooth pistes, moguls, and terrain parks are all available, but these resorts’ specialties are trees and powder, often referred to locally as “Madapow.”

Tangram’s resort has several steep sections, but plenty of wide-open terrain for beginner/intermediate riders.

Mt. Madarao’s proximity to the Sea of Japan, which you can see from the summit on a clear day, blesses it with plentiful powder snow which is left ungroomed on over half of its courses. A number of tree runs are open throughout both resorts, and the overall geography of the area prevents anyone from getting helplessly lost in the side country. Courses such as Crystal Bowl in Madarao and Anzu in Tangram are quite wide, making it easy to find powder even into late morning and early afternoon. Both resorts have also introduced entry level tree runs for intermediate level skiers/boarders and families.

One of Tangram’s tree run courses, “Momo,” with emergency contact information dispersed throughout.

Park rats can enjoy beginner to intermediate level jibs and kickers here as well, with ride-on and jump-on rails and boxes, and jumps from 3 to 8 meters in length. The sidewall of the park has also been pruned into a gentle (but powdery) quarter pipe. Those looking for more extreme or natural features may be interested in the Ninja course, which begins with a sizeable drop off of a log into the valley below.

Granted the biggest part of the burger is definitely the bun, it’s still delicious (and really messy).

For lunch, there are plenty of restaurants on the Madarao side to try, and Tangram offers delicious Japanese standards at their Hotel cafeteria. At Madarao, my personal recommendation is the Big Burger from Restaurant Tirol (1,400 yen). In Tangram, try the Tarekatsu-don (1,100 yen). If you would like a view, grab a window seat at Restaurant Heidi to watch as people wipe out in the park.

If you’d like to take a break from skiing, you can also try snowshoeing, snow rafting or snowmobiling while you’re here. Snowmobiling runs from 2,000 to 6,000 yen depending on the course. Snow rafting is 500 yen. Kids can enjoy sledding in the kid’s park area for 500 yen.

Our first time riding together and we already had matching outfits.

Madarao and Tangram have something for everyone, which is why you can find me there almost every weekend. The range of terrain and tree courses can keep you entertained for days and the mountain pass is a great value. With increasing English language service, good public transportation, and activities for kids and non-riders too, this is a highly recommended area for any ski trip. Hope to see you there!

Access

The closest station to Mt. Madarao is Iiyama Station, and from there you can reach Madarao and Tangram ski resorts by bus or car. See here for the bus timetable.

Additional Information

See the resorts’ English webpages for more detailed information: Madarao Kogen, Tangram.

Madarao 1 Day ticket: 4,500 yen
Tangram 1 Day ticket: 4,200 yen
1 Day Mountain Pass: 5,000 yen

Beating the Summer Heat in Shigakogen

August 26th, 2016 by
Category: Information, Outdoor Activities, Seasonal Topics

One of Shigakogen’s many jewels in summer.

In another attempt to beat the summer heat, I headed up to Shigakogen with a group of friends to enjoy the highland weather and the area’s unspoilt nature. There are a total of 19 trails around Shigakogen that climb its many peaks, wander its marshlands and cut through its forests. In addition to its beautiful ponds and mountains, the views of the Nagano Plain below are stunning.

We drove up Shigakogen separately and met in the Kuma-no-yu area by the Sanzen Ski lifts. There is plenty of parking next to the ski lift and by the hotels across the street. A bus stop is also nearby, so those without a car can use the Shigakogen line bus from Nagano or Yudanaka station to get here.

One of Shiga’s many marshes.

Our course for the day was the Ikemeguri Trail (#6 on Shigakogen’s list here) which passes through Shiga’s marshlands and ponds before reaching Onuma-ike. The whole course takes about four hours total. You can either walk straight through the course and ride a bus back from the ending point, or double back from Onumaike to Kuma-no-yu. If you do the latter you can enjoy a dip in the local Kuma-no-yu hot springs[1] .

The weather was great and Shigakogen was a pleasant 27°C. A few clouds hung high in the sky and a gentle breeze blew over the fields below. The trail was shaded by birch and pine forests and interposed with sections of man-made boardwalks across delicate marshes.

The beautiful waters of Onuma Pond.

About 2 hours into our hike, we came to a clearing above the striking, cerulean-blue waters of Onuma-ike. As we descended towards the shore the water changed colors, becoming more vibrant and green one moment, calm and clear the next. When we finally reached the shore we walked out towards the bright torii gate in front of the pond’s Shinto shrine. The contrast of the lacquered wood and water made for a great photo op.

Gnarly forests.

The rest of the trail continued through shaded woods, lasting about another hour and a half. When we resurfaced on the main road we took a friend’s car back to our starting point. As a reward for our outdoorsiness we planned to take a dip in the hot spring there but it was inundated with high schoolers on vacation. Instead, we headed down the mountain and got gelato at one of my favorite places in Nakano City[2], then parted ways to our separate air-conditioned apartments.

Additional Information

Thanks for reading! If you’d like to visit Shigakogen yourself but don’t have your own vehicle, check our Shigakogen line bus timetable.

Shigakogen Trails list

See this page for a list of all of Shigakogen’s hiking trails (Japanese only).


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Kuma-no-yu Hotel

This hotel at the base of the Kumanoyu ski resort is known for its jade-colored hot springs. The water contains a variety of minerals and a relatively neutral pH. A great place to soak after a long day on the slopes or in the mountains.

Entrance Fee: 1000 yen for Adults
Hours: 12:30 to 15:30 (Weekdays), 12:30 to 15:00 (Weekends)
Website: http://www.kumanoyu.co.jp/hotel/english/


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Fiore Gelato Shop

This small shop in front of the Tsuruya in Nakano City is conveniently located on the main road towards Shigakogen. They have a rotating selection of flavors including local specialties Nagano Purple (Grape) and Shinshu Ringo (Apple).

Holidays: Closed on Wednesdays
Hours: 10:00 to 18:00
Location: See Google Maps

Fantastic Views from Mt. Chougatake

July 22nd, 2016 by
Category: Outdoor Activities, Seasonal Topics

The Chougatake mountain hut facing Kamikochi and the Northern Alps.

The rainy season has ended and the time for hiking is officially here. Monday’s weather was perfect, so a couple of us decided to climb Chougatake, a 2,677 meter high mountain in Azumino. Bordering Kamikochi to the Southeast, it has splendid views of the Northern Japanese Alps.

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Highland Trekking in Kirigamine Kogen

July 6th, 2016 by
Category: Outdoor Activities, Report, Sightseeing

Our guide Uchino-san points out distant blue mountains.

On Saturday we set out for a tour of Kirigamine Kogen, one of Nagano’s central highland areas connected by the Venus Line[1]. 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.

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Kiso Route Hiking

March 21st, 2015 by
Category: Information

waterfall along Nakasendo

watermill along the way no more in use

accommodation still in business

The temperature has become much warmer recently, and we ventured to go on a hike along an ancient Nakasendo lane.

 

Nakasendo Lane is now paralleled to the state route 19, and some parts of it are preserved as they were during the ancient times from the Samurai Period.

In the Edo Period, this lane was one of the main official routes which ran between Tokyo and Kyoto al the way for more than 600km.

All through the route, there used to be altogether 69 post station towns to cater for travelers.
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Hiking in Japan

October 21st, 2014 by
Category: Information, Outdoor Activities
Hakuba
Spectacular views at Happo Ike

Hakuba’s main attraction during the warmer months is the hiking and the most popular day hike would be Happo Ike ( Happo Pond). Each day hundreds of people of all ages ascend up into the mountains to this spectacular viewing platform. I would rate it on a world scale at “as good as it gets”.  The journey starts with a Gondola ride and then 2 chairlifts that are lowered after the winter which brings you closer to the natural foliage. The top of the resort by itself has some amazing views for those not up to the hiking and is certainly worth the trip. For the more adventurous the 45 minute hike along some rocky pathways and boardwalk steps will offer up some breathtaking vistas along the way. The route follows the ridgeline so there are many vantage spots for photos and even the most novice of photographers will be taking professional shots here. The rocky step sections along the way can be a little difficult to manoeuvre so take your time on the hike and absorb the environment. Once you reach the pond the views will amaze you with the stunning back drop of 3000 meter peaks. This is truly a special place.

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New Walking and Hiking Guide for Karuizawa

November 2nd, 2013 by
Category: Information, Outdoor Activities

Aussie expat and fellow Go-Nagano ambassador has been at it again. He just published his 3rd book in his Hiking, Walking & Biking Nagano Guide — the Karuizawa edition. Joining the Chikuma City and Ueda City editions, Peter’s guide gives detailed information on lots of well-researched courses from walks around town to vigourous hikes in the nearby mountains.

New Guide Book for Karuizawa


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The Shin-etsu Trail 信越トレイル

August 19th, 2013 by
Category: Experience, Outdoor Activities, Seasonal Topics, Sightseeing

The Shin-etsu Trail 信越トレイル

Nestled along the Sekida Ridge (about 1,000m above sea level) on the border of Nagano and Niigata Prefectures, the 80km Shin-etsu trail served as an important link from the coast into the interior areas. The rich beech forests give away to beautiful mountain vistas on this lush trail. The trail is open from roughly mid-April until mid-November.

This route helped transport salt and sea products from Niigata to Nagano. And, mustard seed oil and Uchiyama paper from Nagano to Niigata. During the Warring States period, the famous warlord Uesugi Kenshin reportedly led tens of thousands of men to fight the Battle of Kawanakajima around the mid 1500`s. The trail is divided into 6 sections and can be easily accessed by any of the 5 visitors’ centers. Camping is available along the trail.

Access: For the southern part of the trail via Madarao Kogen:

20 minutes drive from IC Toyota/Iiyama

or 20 minute taxi ride from JR Iiyama Station on the Iiyama Line

Link: Shin-etsu Trail Club

http://www.s-trail.net/english/trail.html#01

Guided tours are available: TEL: 0269-69-2888     office@s-trail.net