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Nagano Trip

February 11, 2011
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This past week has been insanely busy and full of adventure. I enjoyed the trip overall with an exception of a few stressful moments.

3 days in the Japan Alps:

It all started out with an early Saturday morning  ride to Nagano by Shinkansen (took an hour an a half). It did not stop there, however, immediately upon arrival , a regular JR (Japan Railways) train took me to Matsumoto city. I only had an hour to check out the famous Matsumoto castle (Japan’s National Treasure, completed in 1614) and didn’t get a chance to see the interiors. It’s also known as the “Crow Castle” because of its black walls. On a side note, there are a lot of crows in Japan, my area has bunches that are quite disturbing sometimes.

Here’s a little piece of history I found coming back to the train station:

From Matsumoto I took a bus to Takayama town. It was a beautiful route in the valleys of snow-covered Hida mountains with a blue-green river / stream running along the sides of the road. On the bus I met a fellow tourist from Australia. He liked to chat and has traveled half the world on his own. He gave me some useful tips, such as which travel company to choose when I’m in Laos.

The “old town” dates back to the Edo period (1600-1868) and has been preserved. It is very touristy and there are lot of shops selling overpriced items. The old houses are now either privately-owned shops specializing in a particular craft, such as sake brewing (my favorite!) or wood carving, or they are museums.

I didn’t go to any museums but wondered around the outskirts of the town with many temples instead. I never seem to follow the beaten path.

Heavy load

to carry.









The temple trail led me into a foresty park, which is one hill.

By following this map:








I found a control! 

This curious and huge building below intrigued me from the start. It is not advertised on the tourist maps and I desperately wanted to know what it was.









But I stopped to admire the sake drinking capabilities of Japanese people first:

All empty.

The traditional Ryoken that I stayed in was an antique museum in itself.

The ghost in a yukata (robe):

The food was absolutely amazing. It was a traditional Japanese ‘kaiseki’ or multi-course meal.

And just to make you salivate even more, this was my breakfast:

After my wonderful dinner I took a bus to Hida Folk Village, which is very famous for its ‘gassho-zukuri’ or “praying hands” farmhouses.











I walked back to Takayama but stopped to check out that building I saw earlier and this is what it is:

Origin of the Soul, eh? Very interesting… No wonder they don’t advertise it. Another village up north claims this. I don’t think I’ll be going there.

So on the following morning I went to see the Hida Folk Village again in daylight. Quite stunning architecture of 18th-19th centuries.

The roofs of these houses are held by wooden beams in a 60-degree angle to prevent snow from piling up. No nails were used in making the houses but strips of hazel brenches were used to tie the beams. The interiors are very open. There are no actual windows but the shoji screens serve their purpose.

They had no nails but they had developed these machines to mill their grains (Fodor’s guide says the houses were made without nails to keep them flexible  to sway in the wind, mmmkay..)

Either way, it was very interesting and I spent a little too much time here.

Leading me to miss the bus in Takayama going to Matsumoto. And the adventure begins!

To get to Yudanaka onsen town in time to get dinner at my reserved ryoken meant that I had to get out of this village fast. It didn’t turn out that fast though. I took three trains, first heading south, then east to catch another train going north to Nagano. I missed the earlier bus and so had to take the next available option, which meant I would arrive in Yudanaka at 6 pm. Now this would fine anywhere else  except this is a mountainous region and it gets very dark here. From the bus stop I had to walk 2 kms on a narrow trail in the forest that had wild monkeys and wild boar. Thankfully I brought a flashlight and didn’t stop to read the signs showing which snow prints indicated which animal. But, I arrived alive and with a slight nervous twitch.  Stressful voyage led me to my somewhat cold dinner and an onsen bath, which I thoroughly enjoyed, especially the one located outside.

Here’s my ryoken following morning

And here are the wild beasts coming after me:

I’m of course exaggerating. These snow monkeys are quite domesticated. Each morning they come to the onsen baths to eat and bathe, and to pose for pictures.

And oh, so cute, they are! All the dozens of them that flocked to these feeding grounds.

This guy was very amusing. Cleaning himself in public.








I think this one liked me.








Long post but mostly pictures, so no excuse to stop here.

Adventure continues to my spontaneous decision to check out the Shiga Cogen ski resort nearby. I was getting antsy from no exercise; hauling a large backpack doesn’t count. And so I went snowboarding, the last time was five years ago.









Half day was enough for me and I headed back to Nagano by bus. There’s nothing major to see in Nagano city except for one temple and Olympic museums. I’m not particularly enthralled by Olympic sports paraphernalia, so I opted out of that but did see the Zenko-ji temple.

On the way back to the train station I stopped by a restaurant, called Sakura. It has a sake brewery on site and a small museum. I had an amazing meal with o-sake (‘o’ symbolizes respect and is a common prefix to Japanese nouns, not only sake 🙂 and miso ice cream. And I was almost late for my Shinkansen.

The day doesn’t stop here though, after I got back to my apartment I switched bags real quick and headed to Kawasaki for work, which is south of Tokyo.

To countdown the transportation of past three days: a total of 12 trains and 6 buses. One adventure, check!

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