Climbing Mt. Tsubakuro

September 1st, 2017 by
Category: Information, Outdoor Activities

The final stretch of trail to the peak of Mt. Tsubakuro is incredibly picturesque.

Mt. Tsubakuro (2,763m) is a very popular destination in the Northern Japanese Alps due to its unique appearance and beautiful alpine flora. Its well-maintained trails, convenient rest areas and lodges, and beautiful scenery make it a must-hike spot in Nagano.

The trailhead begins from Nakabusa Onsen at an altitude of 1,462m. The trail continues through the forest for a majority of the climb before breaking through the tree line for the last hour or so. Rest areas are spaced evenly throughout the hike, with four bench areas in the woods followed by the Kassen-goya hut and the Enzanso mountain lodge above the tree line. From the lodge, the peak is approximately 40 minutes.

The trailhead starts from Nakabusa Onsen at 1,462m.

Roundtrip, the hike takes about 9.5 hours (6 hours up, 3.5 hours down), with an altitude difference of 1,300m. Most people stay at the night at the Enzanso lodge, but it is possible to hike in a single day with the proper level of fitness.

In the distance you can make out the conical shape of Mt. Fuji and the Yatsugatake mountains to its right.

This hike’s amazing views begin around the fourth bench. From here, you can see the Yatsugatake mountain range and Mt. Fuji standing proudly in the distance. From higher still, you can see the Hakuba mountains and Mt. Tsurugi as well. Once you reach Enzanso, the landscape opens up and you can enjoy panoramic views of the Northern Alps as well as Mt. Tsubakuro’s magnificent features.

Most striking is the peak’s vivid collage of grey, green and white. The ridgeline is covered in granite outcroppings, verdant shrubbery and swaths of bleached gravel. Viewed closer, the rocks take on unique and recognizable shapes. Along the trail you can find a lounging gorilla, a breaching dolphin, and a pair of glasses pointed at Mt. Yari. At your feet, small, pink komakusa flowers.

Mt. Tsubakuro’s famous dolphin rock, breaching in front of Mt. Yari.

And from the top of Mt. Tsubakuro, one can see the most beautiful view of all: the tan ridgeline of Omote-Ginza zigzagging along towards the rest of the Northern Alps. On the right day, the clouds lap the gravelly slopes of the mountains, curling and twisting like the great waves off Kanagawa, and the distant Enzanso lodge appears to float in the sky.

The Omote-Ginza ridge is breathtaking on a clear day

Mt. Tsubakuro’s scenery is breathtaking and is a must-hike peak for any climbing enthusiast. Its safe trails, convenient rest areas, and fully-stocked mountain lodge make it a great climb for families as well. Enjoy unparalleled views atop the Roof of Japan!

Access to Tsubakuro

Nakabusa Onsen can be reached by bus or taxi from JR Hotaka Station on the Oito line. From the Station, the ride to Nakabusa is approximately 60 minutes long. One-way bus fare is 1,700 yen, and one-way taxi fare 7,500 yen. You can see the bus schedule in Japanese here.

For drivers, there are three parking lots in the vicinity of the trailhead as well, and they have a total capacity of 120 cars. Because they fill up very quickly, you may want to park at the Miyashiro parking lot (next to the Yama-no-Takahei hotel and hot spring) and take a taxi from there instead (approximately 5,000 yen).

Accommodation and Hot Springs

Nakabusa Onsen

Nakabusa’s hot springs are rich sources of minerals and bubble out from the ground at a scalding 90&degC. The waters are natural cooled without the addition of water and pumped into the baths at a comfortable temperature. Guests can spend the night in the hotel and make use of a variety of hot spring baths. Day-users can enjoy separate indoor and outdoor baths for 700 yen. Open from late April to late November

Half Board: 9,500 to 21,000 Yen
Day-use hot spring hours: 9:30 to 16:00
Day-use entrance fee: 700 Yen


Enzanso Lodge

The Enzanso mountain lodge is one of the oldest lodges in the Northern Japanese Alps, originally built in 1921. It has since been renovated and can hold a capacity of 650 climbers with space for 30 tents. They have free bathrooms, plentiful benches, and food and drink for guests and passersby. Reservations can be made online here or via telephone. Open from late April to late November

Half board: 10,000 Yen
Room only: 6,400 Yen
Tent space: 1,000 Yen


Yama-no-Takahei

The Yama-no-Takahei hotel and hot spring is located about halfway between Hotaka Station and the Tsubakuro trailhead. The day-use hot spring is open late, so people making their way down the mountain in the early evening can still take a dip. The hot spring water here comes from the same mineral spring as Nakabusa.

Drivers may also want to park their car at the Miyashiro parking lot next to Yama-no-Takahei and take a taxi to the trailhead, as parking spaces near the trailhead fill up quickly.

Half board: 10,000 to 15,000 Yen
Day-use hot spring hours: 10:00-21:00
Day-use entrance fee: 500 Yen


More Hikes in Nagano!

If you’d like to learn about more hikes in Nagano, check out some of the links below.

Canyoning in Hakuba

August 8th, 2017 by
Category: Information, Outdoor Activities
Sliding down a canyon in Hakuba

About to drop into some seriously refreshing fun

There’s no better way to cool off during summer than taking a nice, long dip. Swimming, kayaking, rafting, and SUP are all popular ways to enjoy the water, but recently, canyoning has come into its own as a thrilling and refreshing summertime activity.

What is canyoning, you ask? Think of it as a series of natural water slides, zip-lines, and cannonball jumps. It’s a water park for adults, but with crystal clear streams, verdant forests and exciting vertical drops.

The Evergreen Outdoor Center in Hakuba offers several canyoning tours, so my friends and I signed up for a day of adventure.

A Full Day of Canyoning in Hakuba

Cannonball dive into the river

About to make a splash!

We arrived at Evergreen’s base center, Roots Café, just before 9 a.m. to sign in for our tour. From there, we met our guides for the day, Mitsu and Luke. They passed out our gear and showed us how to put on our wetsuits. It was my first time wearing one and oh boy was it snug. Next, we jumped into a pair of vans and headed up a winding gravel road towards our starting point.

Start of the canyoning tour

Walking through a shallow bed of rocks before reaching the first waterfall

The river was a 15 minute hike from where we were dropped off, giving us a chance to warm up and sweat a bit before jumping into the water. Aside from a few climbing pitons and ropes there were no other signs of civilization. We waded into the river and opened up our wetsuits to let in “refreshingly” cold water. Mitsu and Luke then taught us a few important hand signals for our adventure, and off we went!

The first zip-line along the canyon

There were a number of cliffs and waterfalls to descend that day, and depending on the height, we slid, jumped or zip-lined down them. The flow of water had carved out many impressive and comfortable slides in this valley, and there were a number of deep pools that were perfect for cannonballing into (or doing backflips if you were Luke).

Floating lazily in the water

Taking a break in one of the many clear pools along the ravine.

Despite the 36°C weather in the city, our shady canyon felt like paradise. We leisurely floated in clear pools of water while waiting for everyone to finish, and enjoyed splashing about and taking showers under the falls. All in all, it was a perfect mix of excitement and relaxation for hot summer’s day in Nagano.

Additional Information

The Evergreen Outdoor Center in Hakuba offers canyoning tours from May through October. You can learn more about them on their English website.

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Japanese Summer Festivals and Fireworks in Nagano

July 21st, 2017 by
Category: Events, Information, Seasonal Topics

An archer in the Nyakuichi Oji Festival in Omachi City.

The vibrant, lively atmosphere of summer festivals is one of the most memorable parts of Japan. The streets are filled with the bright colors of yatai stalls, yukata robes, and paper lanterns, and the sky lights up with brilliant fireworks. Musicians play traditional flute and drum songs as performers entertain festival-goers with dances and theater.

As summer approaches its peak, Nagano gears up for exciting festivals of its own. Enjoy traditional Japanese summer festivals along with events that are unique to Nagano.
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Hot Springs and Waterfalls in Matsukawa Gorge

June 29th, 2017 by
Category: Information, Onsens (Hot Springs), Outdoor Activities

The Matsukawa Gorge is especially beautiful during autumn.

The Matsukawa Gorge is a secluded area behind Takayama Village in Northern Nagano, and is a great stop for a day outdoors in nature. The steep walls of the valley hide a number of hot springs and waterfalls that are fed by mountain streams and volcanic activity, and the high altitude keeps the area cool even in summer.
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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.
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Summer Mountain Biking in Nagano

August 19th, 2016 by
Category: Outdoor Activities, Seasonal Topics

Suzushii naaa!

When I tell people that I live in Nagano, they always respond with an envious, “Suzushii naaaaa (How Refreshing)!” But while they’re imagining all of the grassy highland fields gently undulating in the cool breeze, I’m sitting in my apartment in Nagano city sweating profusely on my couch. I’ve been doing my best recently to get out of the city and into the cooler parts of Nagano, and this weekend I visited Hakuba for some outdoor adventures.
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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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Nagano’s Quiet Samurai Town

June 21st, 2016 by
Category: Accomodations, Experience, Sightseeing

Matsushiro castle in spring.

Matsushiro was once the domain of the Sanada clan, the samurai family starring in NHK’s newest historical drama, Sanada Maru. The Matsushiro domain covered the largest area of the Shinano province and thrived as a castle town during the Edo period. Now the Matsushiro area is a sleepy, undeveloped town with pristine artifacts of its Samurai history.

A group of us visited Matsushiro recently to learn more about its history and enjoy some cultural activities and local food.

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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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