Daiza-Hoshi-ike in June

June 15th, 2012 by
Category: Information

Not much to write about, today.  Just a really great photo of Daiza-hoshi-ike pond that I took on the way back to the house after taking the kids to kindergarten yesterday morning.

Daiza-Hoshi-Ike pond in June 2012

For anyone not familiar with where this pond is, it is on the Togakushi Birdline, the main road taking drivers up from Nagano City to Togakushi.  If you take the Nana-Magari road from the Zenkoji area, you’ll see this pond on the left just as you reach the uppermost part of the climb up the mountain.  If you are coming from the Uematsu area of Nagano City, take the Asakawa Loop Line all the way up and turn left when you get to the Iizuna Kogen Ski Area.  Drive past the Arcadia Hotel (currently closed) and at the stop sign, the pond will be across the street in front of you.

If the weather is nice, spend the day here.  There are plenty of spots to take a walk and have a picnic.

May 10th, 2011 by
Category: Events, Information, Onsens (Hot Springs), Outdoor Activities, Report, Seasonal Topics, Sightseeing

As the snow in the highlands starts to melt, Nagano shifts from white season to green season. 

The Kurobe-Tateyama Alpen Route opened on 16-April, the gateway to the Northen Alps, Kamikochi ‘opened’ on 27-April, and Togakushi’s Ninja House opened in time for Golden Week. 

Many train and bus schedules are adjusted for the green season. I have updated the schedules connecting our onsen town, Togura Kamiyamada with Togakushi and Jigokudani for post-white season.

Note: Togakushi has been undergoing a ‘power spot’ boom from last year resulting in overflowing parking lots. If you go, taking the bus from Nagano Station may actually be more convenient. Feel free to use this schedule.

Selected Bus and Train times for Nagano Station to Kanbayashi, trailhead for Jigokudani and the snow monkeys

Selected Bus and Train times for Nagano Station to Kanbayashi, trailhead for Jigokudani and the snow monkeys

Note: Jigokudani’s snow monkeys are cute even when there’s no snow. They still soak in the onsen baths in the summer, and the new babies will be born soon so you’ll be able to enjoy seeing the little fur balls running all over the place. Hopefully this schedule will make sense out of the bus and train options.

Selected bus times between Nagano Station and Togakushi

Selected bus times between Nagano Station and Togakushi

Togakushi Kodo Trail

June 14th, 2010 by
Category: Experience, Information, Outdoor Activities, Report, Sightseeing

There have already been several posts about Togakushi, and with good reason; the area is one of Nagano’s worst-kept secrets, and best-loved attractions. However, the flip side of its popularity has been a rash of cars at peak periods bringing traffic jams and pollution to this sacred site. Although allegations that the line of cars waiting for one famous Soba restaurant stretched all the way back to Zenkoji have been denied, it is clear that something must be done.

Step forward the Togakushi Tourism Association, who in 2007 devised an ingenious way of getting guests out of their automobiles and into the pristine mountain air: the Togakushi Kodo.  This  trail  follows an ancient pilgrim route that loops around 30 dedicated marker posts dotted around the Togakushi Highland area. Having first bought the book, follow the trail to the Okusha (central shrine) stopping off at each marker to fill in the rubbing as you go.


Buy the book for¥500 at tourist information windows in and around Togakushi. It makes a great souvenir and can also be hung on the wall to remind you that you still have another 29 marker posts to go. 28…27…26…  Reccommended for families and Junior Ninjas 🙂

Nagano’s Early Winter: Backpacker Comes for a Night, Stays 3 Days

November 19th, 2009 by
Category: Information, Outdoor Activities, Seasonal Topics
Mark enjoying early winter in Togakushi

Mark enjoying early winter in Togakushi

Mark from the States was one of our recent guests.  He came to Nagano to escape the concrete jungle of Tokyo.  Mark had planned on just spending one night, but when I explained about the snow monkeys of Jigokudani and the spiritual trees of Togakushi, he ended up staying 3 days and making day trips to the monkeys and Togakushi Mountain.  And by the look on his face, I’d say he enjoyed his travels in Nagano. 

Note: Nagano is starting to enter winter mode.  Up at Togakushi Mountain, the path to Okusha Shrine which is lined by impressively huge cedar trees, is starting to get covered in snow. 


Trailhead to Togakushi's Okusha Shrine

Trailhead to Togakushi's Okusha Shrine

 The Ninpo Center across the street from the trailhead will be open for business one last weekend Nov. 21-23 before the ninjas go into hiding (hibernation?) for the winter. 
Togakushi Ninpo Center transitioning to Winter. (Any ninjas hiding?)

Togakushi Ninpo Center transitioning to Winter. (Any ninjas hiding?)

 I just spoke with fellow Nagano Ambassador, Zeno-san in Shibu-Yudanaka.  He said the snow monkeys are now in their snowy element.  I saw the Japanese Alps yesterday when I went to Matsumoto for a workshop — the snow level looks like it’s down to around 1000 meters.  Down here in Togura Kamiyamada Onsen (elevation 370 meters above sea level), our hills are still in orangeish brown autumn leaf mode, quite a contrast with snowy-white Hakuba Mountain in the distance. 

This is a time of transition here in Nagano.  So come up and enjoy it, like Mark did!

Finally, a few more Togakushi Okusha pictures from Mark-san:

pb1601021 pb160110

When is “Shin” (New) Soba

October 22nd, 2009 by
Category: Cuisine, Seasonal Topics

There’s a saying in Japanese that basically translates as, “Wives and tatami mats are best when they are new.”  Here in Nagano, I think there is one more thing that people get excited about when new: soba.  Nagano is proud of its buckwheat noodles, and it seems everywhere you look nowadays, there’s a Soba Festival going on somewhere in Nagano.  Our guests often ask “When does Shin (New) Soba start?”  So I checked with my soba man, Yamaguchi-san of Yamaguchi-ya soba restaurant in Togakushi.  He told me that harvest has already started, but it takes time to process the soba and verify the quality of the crop.  So his restaurant plans on starting New Soba on the first of November.  Other restaurants may have already started serving New Soba, but you might want to verify whether or not they use local buckwheat.

A nagano buckwheat field waiting to be turned into yummy soba noodles

A nagano buckwheat field waiting to be turned into yummy soba noodles

So in order to get New Soba, you have to wait a little while longer.  I promise, though, it will be worth the wait. 

Click here for the website of Yamaguchi-ya soba restaurant in Togakushi

Togakushi– Ground with History and Mystery

August 24th, 2009 by
Category: Cuisine, Culture Art, Sightseeing
Some of you may have heard about the area called Togakushi. It is in the outskirts of Nagano city proper and is famous for its mysterious ninja history.

BUT, ninja up there it is not only in the history but in modern days. You can experience real ninja training up there. I will tell you about this sometime later.

Togakushi will be most associated with its buckwheat noodles, soba. For most Japanese,
the mere name of it ‘Togakushi soba‘ would make their mouth water.
Surely, soba they produce here is something special :buckwheat flour kneaded with some wheat
flour — about 20 percent of the buckwheat flour, and fresh cold mountain water is of the top quality
in Japan.

We, tour guides in Nagano, had a small inspection tour up there, escaping from the summer heat.

Togakushi— a mysterious mountain site with abundant nature and history of hermits, Buddhists, and
We had known it is such a spiritual area with abundant nature and history of hermits, Buddhists, and Shintoists,
that everyone would be struck with its spirituality, but our actual walk took us much further.

After about 15 min walk from our starting point, we came across a small temple with new buildings–which we had paid no attention first, but in its backyard, we stood aghast!

It was a small ground but with several weird stone statues– statues with wings! We guessed they had something to do with the region’s worship, but we could not even figure out whether they belong to Shintoism or Buddhism, or something else. Togakushi has been fringed with so long a history.

Then, we came across this board.

This reads as follows (excerpt) :
Shaku Chomei Kajo-no-tokoro

Shaku Chomei who had been leading a harsh training life as a hermit in Togakushi mountains, in the year of Emperor Murakami in 966 AD, entered Kajo here at this place and went to heaven .
We did not understand the word ‘kajo‘ and so did not pay much attention to this small plaque and continued on our way, wondering what this mysterious place was for. None of us would wish to enter there alone.

It was not until that night when I was looking the word ‘kajo‘ in the dictionary and on theInternet, when I felt a chill run down my spine. I learned what he had done to attain the greatest devotion to his belief, an unbelievable sacrifice — burn himself to death.
I have learned there have been more people, they all seem to be Buddhist priests, who killed themselves this way: apply oil all over his body, sit on/in a pile of firewood, set a fire while chanting sutras (Buddhist scriptures) . It is believed to be the most painful, agonal way of killing oneself. Ah, what great sacrifice they chose to seek after the truth or to save people!
That night, I ruminated over the image again and again — so sad, but would have been so meaningful for them. It is still beyond my understanding.

I have learned anther story of a Buddhist priest who killed himself this way in Ueda, Nagano prefecture. He burned himself to save villages from a fierce epidemic that killed many children.

Our walk went on without much knowing this event in history.

History of Togakushi —–excerpts from the official pamphlet of Togakushi
Togakushi is a major center for Japan’s native religion, Shintoism, as well as for Buddhism. Japanese people have found their peace of mind and spirituality here for more than 1,000 years. Hermits lived an ascetic life of training and meditation far away from the world with earthly desires.They sought after the truth and the enlightenment in a total of 33 caverns discovered in the steep Togakushi mountain range.

Any idea what this gadget is for?

You have to be careful when you go into the woods! It is advised you wear something that makes noises such as bells and radios.

Chusha (Main Hall)
One of the five Shinto shrines of Togakushi, which for many centuries have been a focus of pilgrimage. The surrounding forests is still seen as a sacred treasure.

One of the sacred trees
This creptromeria tree just in front of the shrne is 700 years old.

Soba — buckwheat fields just started to bud.


A Togakushi Father’s Day

June 22nd, 2009 by
Category: Outdoor Activities, Sightseeing

A special Congratulations to all of you Dads out there on this Father’s Day. I hope all of you spent a fun day with your families. We sure did here at the Lynch household — we went for a drive up to Togakushi.
Our Togakushi trips tend to follow this formula:

delicious soba noodles at Yamaguchi-ya,


ninja fun at the Ninja Center,


and feeling the power of mother nature among the massive, ancient cedar trees lining the path to Okusha Shrine.

This time, however, we immersed ourselves a little further into the Togakushi experience (a bit too literally at one point). After ooh-ing and aah-ing at the Okusha cedar trees, we decided to check out the Nature Reserve next to it. We had never been into the actual reserve before. The path towards Okusha isn’t exactly crowded with people, but it was amazing that just leaving the path and entering the reserve brought us to a world of lush greenery and intense stillness. Only the sound of the wind through the leaves and the birds chirping could be heard. The quietness of the woods and marshes was powerful. Once again, we were amazed by Togakushi and became even bigger fans of Nagano.

After stopping for icecream, we drove over to Kagami-ike (Mirror Pond) to watch the sun set over Togakushi Mountain. Togakushi and its western peak seemed like they were playfully streaming their fingers through the high clouds that were drifting by. The scene was beautifully reflected in the lake surface.


My wife and I were just thinking how romantic of a setting it was, when all of the sudden, Splash! Our #2 son, Kenny, had fallen into the pond.
Maybe we should have stopped after the first child. Just kidding!
After that little “happening”, we took bare-bottomed Kenny (who would have thought we’d need an extra pair of pants for an elementary school kid!) and the other kids for a real-life, hard-core Togakushi Ninja training. I will write more about that a later time, but let’s just suffice it to say that it was the real thing, and my entire body is in pain as a result.

Thanks to Togakushi, this was one of the best Father’s Days ever!

Kappa, Ninjas, Tsukeba and Oni — 2009 Starting Dates

April 23rd, 2009 by
Category: Cuisine, Experience, Outdoor Activities, Seasonal Topics, Sightseeing

Now that spring is coming to Nagano, bears aren’t the only creatures that waking up after their winter hibernation.  Here is a list of several areas and their creatures that are starting their 2009 seasons:

Kappa (Kamikochi)
The Kappa (water sprites) of Kamikochi officially come out of their hibernation on the 27th of April every year. This year, the snowfall in the Alps has been less than average, and the road to Kamikochi is already snow-free. Kamikochi will hold its 41st annual official “Opening of the Mountains” festival, complete with Swiss horns, on Monday the 27th.

Click here for info on Kamikochi

River Fish (Tsukeba Fish Shacks)
Even people with the strongest aversion to river fish should be able to appreciate eating just-caught fish served in a Tsukeba river shack along the shores of the Chikuma River. Togura Kamiyamada Onsen’s main Tsukeba, “Shomura”, opened for business this season on the 20th of April, and serves “haya” and “ayu” prepared in various ways in their multi-course meal (prices 2000~3000 yen per person). Shomura will be open from 10am to 10pm until mid summer. You can make reservations through local ryokans (including Kamesei, tel 026-275-1032, English OK).

 Shomura Tsukeba Tel (080)5109-8901

Ninjas (Togakushi)
Togakushi’s ninjas came out of their winter hibernation on the 18th of April. That’s when the Togakushi Ninja Center opened for business for the year. At the Center, there is a ninja artifacts hall, a shuriken range, and a ninja fun house, where you go through the building finding the secret doors from room to room.

Ninja Center Tel(026)254-2395

Oni (Oni Oshi Dashi)
An Oni is a Japanese ogre. On the flanks of Mt. Asama is an area that looks like a bunch of volcanic matter was pushed out of the mountain by an oni, hence the park’s name, “Oni Oshi Dashi”. It is a fascinating example of geological forces at work. The park has been open since March — apparently that’s when the oni hibernation ended.
Easy access from Karuizawa.

Click here for the Oni Oshi Dashi website