Sunday 16 August 2015

Nagano - Togakushi - Part 4

This is the 4th and final post of a recent trip to Nagano.  You can find part 1 here, part 2 here and part 3 here.

The village of Togakushi is famous for a number of things.  It is famous for it's high quality soba (with over 30 soba restaurants in the village), ninjitsu (there is a school of nijitsu there that was founded over 800 years ago.  There is also a ninja museum and village to visit), and it's Shrines.  There are 3 main shrines in the area, Hokosha Shrine (the lower shrine), Chusha Shrine (the middle shrine) and Okusha Shrine (the upper one).  The village is nestled among 900 year old cedar trees (anyone with hay fever should stay away in the spring months!) and sits at the foot of Mount Togakushi (which, like so many mountains in Japan is a volcano).  Our goal for the day was to wander around each of the three main shrines.

After breakfast on day 3, Yuuki, Miwa and her Dad, Yuji and her Mum, Reiko.  We piled into the car and drove off toward the highest of the three Shrines.  Being that it was a weekend day, so many cars were out and about and it proved a challenge just to find a place to park.  We eventually did and walked off towards the start of the short, but (in some places) steep hike to the upper Shrine.  A few people had taken the opportunity at the start of the climb to refresh with an ice cream.  

It seemed like a good idea we each grabbed one (mine was soba flavoured!)

We then set off on the walk to the top.  The Shrine gate signalled the start of the walk.

It was a hot and humid day, a typical Japanese summer day, and the sweat soon started dripping, but it was nice to be in the outdoors getting some good exercise!  The area we were walking through was beautiful and green, rugged and forested.

Pretty soon, we saw signs that we were at the entrance to the Shrine (although the Shrine itself was still about one kilometre away!)

You might be wondering what the stones at the base of the statues are for.  I sure was.  During the hike I saw quite a few examples of this.

Yuuki explained that they are placed there by mountain climbers and it represents their hopes and prayers for a safe return.  I figured our climb today was not terribly dangerous so I didn't worry about adding to them.

We stepped thought the gate and the view on the other side was stunning!

I have read that these cedar trees lining the walkway to the shrine are anywhere from 100 to 400 years old.  However old they are, they are certainly majestic

although this one had seen better days!

All of a sudden, the path turned into steps and the going got a little tougher (and more crowded)!

About halfway up the steps I saw a small stairway leading off to the left which required checking out!

I love little discoveries like this!

Now these ladies had made a discovery so they beckoned me down

so I walked down the steps and found a cold mountain stream!

My head certainly thanked me after I dipped my cap in it and put it back on!

Finally we were at the top!

After a brief rest and a zen moment with the local wildlife

we set off back down the path again.  Going down was much easier than coming up!

We got back into the car and drove over to nearby Kagami ike, or mirror pond for a look. 

There were not so many people here and I can imagine that early in the morning, when the lake surface is calm it must be spectacular.  It was amazing when we were there!

Stomachs had started rumbling by this time so we headed off to one of the many soba restaurants around.  We chose one of the more popular ones, so after a 30 minute wait, we were finally inside and eating!

After lunch, everyone went off to the middle shrine.  I looked up and saw steps, many, many steps 

and thinking about my poor lungs which had just been through a bout of pneumonia, I decided to skip these ones so I went off for a walk around the area at the foot of the stairs.  Look what I found!  Nestled uncomfortably in the middle of soba territory was a 

ramen shop!  I didn't go too near for fear of getting run out of town!

Meeting up with everyone else, we drove back down to the lower Shrine which had more steps, many more steps!

218 to be precise!  

I decided to climb these ones and was rewarded with a beautiful old wooden shrine at the top.

It also meant, however, that I had to walk back down the steps.  It had started raining a little so I gingerly navigated the steps being careful not to slip.  

While that would have made the trip back down the steps a lot quicker, it would also have been a whole lot more painful too!

With the rain steadily falling now, we decided to call it a day at that point and saying goodbye to Yuuki, Miwa, Yuji and Reiko, I went back to my ryokan.  I slept very well that night!

The next day I went back to Nagano and after booking my train ticket back to Tokyo, I jumped on a bus and went to check out Zenkoji Temple which Miwa had told me not to miss!

Zenkoji Temple dates back to 642 AD (!) and has been designated as a National Treasure.  The structure was rebuilt in 1707 and is one of the largest wood structures in Japan.  It was well worth a look!

There are signs all around the Temple with explanations of the various parts of the Temple grounds in both Japanese and English, so it is very tourist friendly.

There is one part of the temple where you pay 500 yen and you can go inside the temple (no photos allowed though) and also into a pitch black passage under the altar where you must find your way to the other end of the passage.  It is dark, you are completely unable to see anything and you don't know how far away the end of the passage is!  When I started walking along it, suddenly, from somewhere in front of me, I heard a child start crying.......then I heard the mother talking to it (okay, so it wasn't a ghost!).  I still didn't know how far in front of me they were so I continued inching forward until I eventually bumped into them.  I'm sure they got much more of a shock than I did!!

It was all too soon time to return to the station and make my way back to Tokyo.  I had enjoyed the 4 days that I had spent in Nagano, and despite not being able to do the main thing I had wanted to do (walk along the Nakasendo) I had had a great time.  Nagano is becoming one of my favourite areas to visit in Japan and I thoroughly recommend a visit to Nagano when you come to Japan or when you have some free time (if you live in Japan).

Thanks again for reading.  Please leave me a comment below and a suggestion for a place for me to visit that you would like to see.

See you next time!


  1. Hello Jason,
    Another set of beautiful photos!The food platter looked inviting.Regional in season food in the country is superior in flavour I feel to that which you find in the cities.I think too, that not only the food is better tasting,the surroundings add to the flavour as well.
    I really enjoyed my walks in the the country side of Japan.Surrounded by nature of all kinds and visiting temples/shrines etc is sheer delight.
    Having friends there that can guide you to places in a relaxing way,is so much more enjoyable,than tramping around with a tour guide from a bus company,holding a flag for you to follow amongst the crowds.
    I remember such a tour on my first visit to Nara and found it to be not that satisfying and eventually parted company and returned in time to to the bus(which I only just found in time..amongst numerous others all jam parked next to each other).
    Another advantage being with friends who speak the lingo,you are never going to get lost!
    Saw Essendon suffer a massive defeat against the Crows.Hird maintains he is still the man for the job.One would have to think his time is up.There seemed to be a very poor home crowd at the stadium...I suspect the supporters are voting with their feet.Dewa mata...all the best..Noel.

    1. HI Noel,

      walking in the countryside in Japan is a pleasure that a lot of people don't expect. Most people imagine Japan is just a concrete jungle, but that is far from the truth! There are so many amazingly beautiful places in Japan that I haven't even scraped the surface of!

      I agree with you regarding the guided tour thing. I hate guided tours. I so much prefer to do my own research before I go and then just spend time enjoying whichever place I visit at my own pace.

      I saw the news of the big loss to the Crows and I am starting to agree with you. Obviously for whatever reason, Hirdy's message ius just not getting through. Something has to change......

      Take care,


  2. Possibly Jason, by time you read this comment,you will know that Hirdy stepped down today(Tuesday).I believe he would have been given this choice,rather than face the axe/sack.I always had the feeling he would do the necessary and honourable thing.At least he will regain some of the prestige he had lost and he and his family, can resume a normal life.
    It will be interesting to see if the players can start performing again with fire in their bellies and who will become the coach for next season.Rome was not built in a day,so we it is going to be a few years yet I feel,before the Dons can be a force to be reckoned with again.

  3. Hi Noel,
    yes I have heard the news about Hirdy. It is a shame and I think he is a victim of circumstance based on the supplements scandal. Who knows how whether or not he was involved on that, but it is sad to see a loyal servant of the club leave like this.

    I guess we now wait and see who the next senior coach is. I personally think that it needs to be a very experienced coach who is able to take the spotlight off of the players during the remnants of the supplements scandal. Fingers crossed that they get it right.