AROUND MATSUMOTO (ATT.JAPAN ISSUE 53)
Nagano Prefecture is geographically in the center of the Japanese archipelago. The western to the southeastern area of the prefecture is surrounded by precipitous mountains and abounds in beautiful natural scenery, hot springs and historical towns, and can also boast of delicious cuisine. Let’s go on a trip that will stimulate all five of our senses!
As one of the most famous mountain resorts in Japan, Kamikochi offers breathtaking views created by the steep Hotaka mountain range, whose peaks are about 3,000 meters in height. A mountain fuming white smoke is the 2,455-meter Mount Yake-dake. It is the only active volcano in the Northern Japanese Alps. There is walkable promenade from Taisho-ike Pond, which was formed by the eruption of Mount Yake-dake in 1915, to Yokoo, and places where you can enjoy beautiful scenery such as Tashiro Moor and Tashiro-ike Pond are along it.
When walking on the left side of the Azusa-gawa River from Kappa-bashi Bridge, which spans the river, you will soon arrive at Kamikochi Visitor Center, and then at Myojinkan (ryokan) after a while. At the back of Myojinkan, there is Myojin-ike Pond. A further one-hour walk from here will take you to Tokusawa and one more hour to Yokoo, home to Yokoo Sanso (lodge). It is a base of mountain climbing of Mount Yariga-take and Mount Hotaka-dake, which are two of the highest and steepest mountains in Japan that most serious climbers aspire to climb, and from here proper mountaineering equipment and experience is necessary. You can see splendid views of the Hotaka mountain range in every season. After a short summer, leaves of broad-leaf trees change to orange and red, and larches change to gold.
The suspension-bridge-style Kappa-bashi was constructed 100 years ago, and a trekking tour commemorating the 100th anniversary will be held on October 3 (Sun), 2010.
Norikura Kogen Plateau
Norikura Kogen, stretching east of Mount Norikura-dake, is a plateau some 1,200-1,900 meters in elevation. Mount Norikura-dake has a gentle slope to the top and the huge plateau at the foot is dotted with dynamic waterfalls and lovely lakes and ponds. Buses to the summit, Tatamidaira, start from in front of Kanko Center (Tourism Center). Yukemurikan nearby the center has an open-air bath offering a view of Mount Norikura-dake. On a day-trip you can enjoy soaking in milky white hot water for a few hours. On the plateau, there are many other hot springs.
Zengoro no Taki Waterfall is one-hour bus ride from Kyukamura (Vacation Village) bus stop via Ushidome-ike Pond. Ichinose-enchi features extensive grasslands and you can tour around small lakes and marshes along the trail. An about 25-minute walk from Sanbondaki bus stop will take you to Sanbondaki (Three Stream Falls), which is at an elevation of 800 meters.
When you go up Tatamidaira (2,700 meters) by shuttle bus, you will be quickly enveloped in a high mountain atmosphere. Splendid flower fields can be seen here from July to August. There are several walking or trekking routes, and you can choose and enjoy a hike depending on your physical strength. However, if you want to hike, appropriate equipment such as trekking shoes, a long-sleeve shirt, a hat, and rain apparel is necessary since the altitude is about 3,000 meters. For those who want to enjoy casual walking, a 30-minute route around the flower field in Tatamidaira is recommended.
In spring, a huge corridor created by snow removal is alluring. It can be enjoyed from May 1 to around the end of May. Leaves around the top of Mount Norikura-dake begin to turn red in September, and autumn leaves are at their best at the foot of the mountain in early October. Snowshoe hiking on the blanket of snow or seeing frozen waterfalls is enjoyable in winter.
Shirahone Onsen is a hot spring resort whose water is said to be highly efficacious for health, and it is said that you won’t catch a cold for three years if you soak for three days.
Matsumoto, a town that prospered as a castle town, is surrounded by the northern Japanese Alps mountain ranges to the west and Utsukushigahara Plateau to the east. From any place in the city, you can see beautiful scenery of the mountains. In the town, touring historical buildings and eating tasty foods at well-established shops is enjoyable. Matsumoto Castle, a national treasure, has a wooden castle tower of five stories and six floors inside. It is the oldest castle of such type in Japan. You can see inside the castle tower and enjoy the panoramic view of the city from the top of the tower.
Former Kaichi School is a quasi-Western style building that carpenters built in the past by eclectically imitating other gWesternh buildings. Elaborate carvings decorate the facade. It is Japan’s oldest extent quasi-Western style building mixing building styles of West and East. Details such as exotic stained glass, a dragon motif carving, and karahafu, or traditional entrance roof style, are interesting to see. There are many other buildings of historical interest in Matsumoto.
Nakamachi-dori Street is lined with storehouses with white and black walls. The street is part of the old Zenkoji-Kaido, the Edo-era road between Matsumoto and Zenkoji Temple in Nagano City. You can enjoy visiting folk craft shops, galleries, and cafes. Matsuoto Clock and Watch Museum is home to a collection of old clocks and watches. Japan-design clocks, and classical and beautiful clocks and watches from other countries of the world are exhibited.
Nawate-dori Street is a shopping street with row houses. Venerable soba (buckwheat) noodle shops, taiyaki snack shops, and variety stores line the sides of the street.
A 15-minute drive from Matsumoto Castle will take you to Asama Onsen, a favorite place of the lords of Matsumoto domain. Another famous spa, Utsukushigahara Onsen is also quite close by.
Walking around the town is enjoyable, but if you want to give your legs some rest using Matsumoto Tour Bus (Matsumoto Sneaker Bus) is also a good way to see the sights. A day ticket (500 yen) includes discount of the admission fee of some facilities, so it is both convenient and economical.
Utsukushigahara Kogen Plateau
Located east of Matsumoto, this plateau is the largest and highest (2,000 meters) plateau in Japan. It commands striking 360-degree views, including views of the Northern Alps and even Mount Fuji. In the season, the plateau is covered by carpets of azaleas or alpine plants. There is large stock farm where cows enjoy leisurely meals of grass against a picturesque background of the northern Alps. You can get information on nature and the plateau at Utsukushigahara Shizen Hogo Center (Nature Conservation Center) in front of Utsukushigara Kogen bus stop. After walking along a broad trail sandwiched between fields of grass, you will arrive at Ogato, the highest point of the plateau, 2,034 meters in altitude. The trail is a gentle slope, so even those who are unfamiliar with hiking can easily enjoy it. There is a 6.6 meter tower in the center of the plateau, called Utsukushi no To. On foggy days, climbers ring the bell inside to guide other climbers on their way. If you walk on, you will arrive at Yamamoto-goya (lodge). From Yamamoto-goya bus stop, you can go to Matsumoto by bus.
The Utsukushigahara Open-Air Museum is at the end of Venus Line, a drive route, and 350 modern sculptures are exhibited outside. (Open: Apr 24-Nov 15)
Suwa is a hot spring resort with a 400-year history. Flourishing originally as a castle town, it has many historical sites and remains.
Let’s start at Shimo-Suwa Station! The northern side of Lake Suwa is a place of scenic beauty and retains some of the atmosphere of an old post-station town. Suwa Taisha shrine complex consists of four shrines, and Kamisha (gUpper Shrine,h consisting of Harumiya and Akimiya) and Shimosha (gLower Shrine,h consisting of Honmiya and Maemiya) are located on opposite sides of Lake Suwa. First, go to calm and quiet Harumiya of Shimosha, and then to Akimiya of Shimosha where the number of visitors is the largest among the four shrines of Suwa Taisha. The huge shimenawa, or stylized sacred straw rope, is very impressive. Log pillars (onbashira) of the four corners of the shrine building are hewed from gigantic trees cut during the Onbashira Festival.
From Kami-Suwa Station on the east side of Lake Suwa, go to Lake Suwa. Suwa-ko Kanketsusen Center (Lake Suwa Geyser Center) is near the lake. The geyser that shoots water up to a height of 50 meters every one hour is a must see. You can go round the lake in about 30 minutes by car. There are some unique museums including Kitazawa Museum of Art. And, why not try sake tasting at the shop of Miyasaka Jozo Brewery, which is famous for the “Masumi” brand of sake? Lake Suwa is also famous for fireworks in summer.?
An amphibious bus tour around Lake Suwa started in May 2009. A bus which runs on land enters the water without modification, which is quite an experience for the passengers! The scheduled operation is from April to January. (Nihon Suiriku Kanko, 0266-75-2650)
Onbashira Festival is a major festival held once every seven years. Teams of local men drag and slide huge logs down to the village, The logs are cut from gigantic trees on the mountainside and are regarded as gstand-insh for the gods of the Taisha shrines, and they are set on end at the four corners of the shrines. ?The exciting spectacle of the large (and dangerous) logs and the men, sometimes riding on the logs, sliding down steep slopes in the dynamic Kiotoshi ceremony attracts many tourists. The festival took place in spring 2010, and next will be held in 2017.
Komiya Onbashira Festivals takes place at many places in Suwa from late summer to autumn in the same year of the Onbashira Festival, and some of them welcome touristsf participation.
Swan Bus offers a day ticket. (Suwa Bus, 0266-72-7141, and JR Bus Kanto, 0266-27-8673)
Karinchan Bus also offers a day ticket. (Suwa Bus, 0266-72-7141)
Tateshina Plateau spreads along the western foot of the Yatsuga-take mountain range and has been known as a resort area with high-end villas. Beautiful Lake Tateshina, Lake Megami Lake Shirakaba, and other lakes and the surrounding mountains make picturesque landscapes. You can enjoy appreciating art and strolling in nature at Open-Air Museum & Artland and Musee Marie Laurencin, as well as at Barakura English Garden.
Pilatus Tateshina Rope Way will easily take you to the 2,237 meter top. You can see panoramic views of dynamic Northern Yatsuga-take from a trail which you can go around in about 30 minutes. Tateshina Onsen and Oku-Tateshina Onsen both enjoy reputation as excellent spas.
For touring the very extensive Tatesina Plateau, Tateshina Kogen Round Bus is convenient. It stops at major sightseeing places including Lake Tateshina, Pilatus Tateshina Rope Way, Lake Shirakaba and Kuruyama Kogen Plateau. (Suwa Bus, 0266-72-7141)
In early November, a film festival commemorating director Ozu Yasuhiro is annually held at venues around Tateshina Plateau, a place he loved.
Kirigamine Plateau is well known for fog. The difference of elevation between Lake Suwa and Kirigamine is 1,000 meters, and the temperature difference is six degrees. When a southern wind near Lake Suwa suddenly blows up toward Kirigamine, it cools very quickly, producing fog. Scenes created by dense fog and light fog are quite fantastic, but on clear days a sweeping view of the Japan Alps which can be seen from 1,600-1,800m hills is also breathtaking. The plateau has a gentle slope and is covered by flowers in summer. Trekking while seeing pretty ponds and as many as 300 kinds of alpine plants from well-organized boardwalks and trails is enjoyable. You can go up to the top of Mount Kuruma-yama by lift Sky Liner. Grasses on the moors turn to autumn colors at the end of September and a bit later leaves of trees begin to turn red.
A place where water is delicious produces delicious soba buckwheat noodles and Shinshu (the traditional name for the Nagano region) is no exception. Why not compare a number of soba restaurants including famous ones and gundiscoveredh ones? The fine water also contributes to creating tasty sake and wine. Many local breweries compete on taste. Tasty miso and soy sauce are also produced thanks to the good water. Oyaki is a bun stuffed with vegetables and wrapped in a flour-based dough wrapper. Sanzoku-yaki is a local dish in which chicken marinated in special sauce with garlic is coated with starch and deep-fried.
Clear water and fruitful land nurture fresh agricultural produce. Thanks to the temperature difference between day and night, which is peculiar to a basin, watermelons, apples, grapes, blueberries and other sweet fruits and good vegetables are produced. Some vegetables are traditional types and have been produced since time out of memory. Pickles are produced as a preserved food to make up for shortages in the long winter. Suwa, Tateshina Plateau and the foot of Yatsuga-take are famous for highland vegetables. Pond smelts are caught at Lake Suwa from September to early April.