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!

Autumn Colors in Nagano’s Golden Season

October 24th, 2016 by
Category: Information, Seasonal Topics, Sightseeing

Beatiful autumn colors from Togakushi over the weekend.

While some of the mountaintops are already experiencing a spell of winter, Nagano’s valleys are finally enjoying the sights of autumn. Red, yellow and golden hues are descending from the highlands and a cool wind is blowing through the valleys.
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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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Summer Fun Around Lake Suwa

May 27th, 2016 by
Category: Experience, Information, Onsens (Hot Springs), Seasonal Topics, Sightseeing

A view of the lake from the rooftop of the Clasuwa restaurant.

In a land-locked prefecture, the Suwa area is surprisingly blessed with water. The surface of lake Suwa offers beautiful, reflective views of the surrounding mountains and sky. Hot springs bubble up from the grounds of Kami and Shimosuwa and feed over 150 public bathing facilities in the area. And, fresh water from the highlands helps brew Suwa’s many award-winning rice wines.

Visitors to the area have been increasing in advent of the 2016 Onbashira festival, so I thought I’d take a closer look at Suwa’s activities and sights.

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Nothing But Flowers

March 14th, 2016 by
Category: Events, Information, Seasonal Topics, Sightseeing
Wild white flowers bloom above the green leafy brush of a mountain clearing

Cherry blossoms aren’t the only thing to see in Nagano, whose wide variety of climate and terrain is suitable for all sorts of beautiful flowers and plants. During Spring, fields bloom in dazzling shades of yellow, red, pink and purple as the white-capped Japanese Alps stand majestically in the distance. It’s a great time to visit Nagano’s sightseeing spots and enjoy its natural beauty.

Below are some of Nagano’s best and most beautiful orchards and gardens to visit during the Spring months. See some of Japan’s largest apricot orchards, azalea parks and more!

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Little Secrets of Kiso Fukushima

February 12th, 2016 by
Category: Cuisine, Outdoor Activities, Sightseeing
Latticed wood buildings form a long alleyway to the gate of a buddhist temple.

A picturesque alleyway that leads to Daitsu-ji in Kiso Fukushima.

The Kiso Valley is a very popular destination in Nagano prefecture, especially for backpackers and history buffs who enjoy its beautiful forests and undisturbed post towns. Most visitors head straight for Narai, Tsumago or Magome-juku, but there are eight other historical towns in this forest valley with their own secrets waiting to be uncovered by adventurous travelers.

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