Travel outdoors in Nagano
Kamikochi in a nutshell
Closer down to earth, cities like Nagano and Matsumoto offer different charms. The former is home to Zenkoji Temple which is an important Buddhist temple in the country, and the latter is a castle town and has Matsumoto Castle, an original castle that has remained and been preserved since it was constructed.
For this early summer Solo Female Travel report, I headed to Nagano Prefecture on an overnight trip. I knew that I wanted to do some hiking as the prefecture is pretty much one huge hiking wonderland with all those mountains as well as visit some cultural sights in the cities. My two-day itinerary started in Nagano city where I visited Zenkoji Temple, then headed to Togakushi Shrine about an hour away at the base of the Togakushi mountain range. On the second day, the first half was spent in Kamikochi, and the second half in Matsumoto.
Draw us like two frightened monkeys in a hot spring bath
Looking down the shop-lined approach from the Sanmon gate
Pagoda and history museum in the basement
To the right side of the main hall, there were a flight of steps going down into the darkness. This step into absolute darkness leads directly under the main statues of worship, and along the way there is a lock which symbolises the doorway to paradise and connects those who find it with the enshrined Buddha.
Zenkoji Temple's main hall
Felt like I walked into a music video
Where temple approach meets main shopping street
Main street where I caught the bus to Togakushi
Hurtling very slowly past a small village
People seem to like stacking stones in spiritual places
Green's the word
Just when I was starting to think that it was taking forever to get to the Okusha, I spied the final flight of stairs to the shrine building. It was definitely a welcome sight, and I took some time to rest and check out the simple shrine buildings. A hiking trail continues from the shrine office into the Togakushi mountain range, but I decided that it was not for today.
The start of the approach to Okusha is not far from the bus stop
Still feeling pretty fresh at this point
Plenty of people, even the old ones, do this walk
Starting to feel the burn here
Hurrah! The stairs that lead to the two shrines: Okusha on the right and Kuzuryusha on the left
The interior of Okusha was very sparse
Keeping it historical and true with my oyaki, while watching others enjoy delicious ice cream from the shop nearby
This was the local nozawana pickled vegetable filling
Togakushi mountain range. I've seen pictures of a hike here that look pretty epic, and I want to try that next time
Sacred water flows here
This sacred tree is over 800 years old.
Visitors waiting for the bus
The trail waits for no one
Hinomikosha seemed like the least visited shrine out of the five
Into the green
Hokosha in all its carved glory
Look at all those carved animals
Would not recommend running down these steps when they're wet
One of Nagano's fanciest and prestigious hotel on the left
Yawataya Isogoro shichimi pepper store
My curry rice set behind the pepper line up
Note to self: do not ever mix all together again unless I want to start a fire
Celebratory drink of local cider from St Cousair (Nagano is one of the largest apple producers in Japan) to end what I thought was a highly successful day out
Train to Shin-shimashima
Rice fields and mountain view along the way
A walk in the national park
There was a bear in the area
Bet this would look ethereal when it's foggy
Myojin Bridge and Mt Myojin in the background
Myojin Pond stands at the base of the Mt. Myojin, and it has been recognised as a spiritual place for centuries
Rest house that offers tea and light refreshments
Preview of what Solo Female Travel will be like in 10 years
Retirement goals: sitting with you by the river in Kamikochi when the weather's beautiful
There is also a campground for those on longer hikes
Kamikochi Bus Terminal
Leandro Erlich's Tunnel artwork in real life
Dam that's nice
Train back to Matsumoto
Needless to say, the castle did not disappoint, and I had the opportunity to enter one of the twelve remaining original castles and a national treasure in Japan. Inside the wooden structure, there were displays of armour and weapons as well as explanations about the castle history and the different parts of castle architecture. Being an original castle, be aware that the stairs are typically steep, narrow and with low beams in some places.
Matsumoto Castle up close with its keeps and turrets
Dark secret floor in the castle which cannot be seen from the outside
Looking down from the top floor of the castle
Matsumoto Castle is a popular cherry blossom viewing spot in Matsumoto, but unfortunately the sakura season was long over when I was there. However, it was still worth walking around the castle grounds to get different views of the place.
Curved window in the turrent
Pretty sure they were spies exchanging intel while pretending to be tourists
Last meal of soba shochu, soba with shichimi from Nagano, and dashimaki eggroll in Matsumoto
This nature thing can be really cool and scary at the same time
Cedar trees at Togakushi Shrine that tower over everyone
Getting There and Around
Nagano and Togakushi
Nagano Station is a stop on the Hokuriku Shinkansen, and the one way journey from Tokyo takes about 100 minutes and costs around 8000 yen. Zenkoji Temple is about a 30-minute walk from Nagano Station, or a 10-minute walk from Zenkojishita Station on the Nagaden Railway (5 minutes, 170 yen one way from Nagano Station).
Alpico Kotsu operates hourly buses between Nagano Station or Zenkoji Temple (善光寺大門, Zenkoji Daimon) and Togakushi Highland. The one way journey to the topmost shrine, Togakushi Okusha (戸隠奥社) takes about an hour and costs 1350 yen.
Nagano and MatsumotoTake the JR Shinanoi Line from Nagano Station to Matsumoto Station. The direct train takes about 80 minutes and costs 1140 yen one way. Limited express Wide View Shinano trains shorten the travel time to about 50 minutes and cost around 2500 yen one way.
Matsumoto and KamikochiTake the Matsumoto Railway from Matsumoto to Shin-shimashima Station (30 minutes), followed by a bus ride to Kamikochi (60 minutes). The one way journey between Matsumoto and Kamikochi costs 2450 yen, and a return ticket that is valid for seven days is available for 4550 yen.
Matsumoto Castle can be reached in about a 15-minute walk from Matsumoto Station. Alternatively, take the Town Sneaker Bus (north course) from Matsumoto Station and get off at Matsumoto Castle (松本城, Matsumotojo). The one way bus ride takes about 8 minutes and costs 200 yen.