Nagano Prefecture (長野県) has always been known as the number one winter paradise in Central Japan. With its position surrounded by the Japanese Alps, Nagano Prefecture has become home to many world-class ski resorts and famous natural hot springs.
The most famous ski resorts area is Hakuba (白馬), a former 1998 Winter Olympics site. But there is another beautiful winter paradise in this area that many people don’t know of: Togakushi (戸隠).
It is located not too far from Nagano City, and much less crowded than Hakuba. Togakushi may not be as popular as Hakuba, but Togakushi offers more than just a ski resort. A lot of other activities that can be done during the holidays are available in the Togakushi area. Besides skiing in winter, this area also offers various activities and destinations throughout the year. Here are six things you can do in Togakushi.
Togakushi village is part of Joshin’etsu National Park (上信越高原国立公園), located north of Nagano City. It can be reached in less than one hour by car from downtown Nagano. The village is located at the base of two volcanoes, Mount Togakushi (戸隠山) and Mount Iizuna (飯綱山), making it a wonderful place for nature lovers.
With an altitude of about 1,200 meters, the village of Togakushi always faces heavy snow during the colder seasons, so it is a perfect destination for your winter vacation. A lot of ancient cedar trees can be found in the woods around the village, creating a wonderful place to do mountain climbing or hiking during the warm seasons, and interesting cross-country skiing during the winter.
If you are a ninja maniac, this could be your dream place! Togakushi Village, formerly known as Togakure, is believed to have been the birthplace of the legendary Togakure Ryu Ninpo (戸隠流), a school of ninjitsu (忍術), ninja martial arts.
Many places with the ninja theme can be found around the village, such as the Togakure-Ryu Ninpo Shiryokan (戸隠流忍法資料館), a museum of ninja. It uses the former ninjitsu building and holds displays of a lot of original ninja items and pictures.
As for children, they will be thrilled with Chibikko Ninja Mura (チビッ子忍者村), a ninja village for kids. It’s an amusement park with an all-about-ninja theme. There is Yashiki Ninja (屋敷忍者), a ninja trick house as one of the places of interest. Children and adults who have some interest in the ninja world will certainly have a lot of fun and can experience the true life of a ninja!
Mt. Togakushi (戸隠山), with its long history, is regarded as a spiritual mountain associated with the myths of Japan, with some famous Shinto shrines dedicated to the mythological gods. Togakushi shrines are situated on the south-eastern slope of Mount Togakushi and have five precincts lying across from the foot to the side of the mountain. These precincts are called Houkou-sha (宝光社; lower temple), Hinomiko-sha (火之御子社), Chu-sha (中社; middle temple), Kuzuryuu-sha (九頭竜社), and Oku-sha (奥社; deep sanctuary). The distance route from Hokou-sha to Oku-sha is about six kilometers.
Chu-sha is the center of five shrines and the administrative offices for the Togakushi Shrines. Chu-sha is very easy to access, as it is located right on the roadside and across from the bus stop. On the Chu-sha grounds, there are sacred cedar trees over 700 years old, known as power spots. There is a small waterfall behind the main building, which is believed to provide strong purification.
Oku-sha is the main shrine, and on approaching it, you have to walk just under two kilometers through a forest of ancient cedar trees. That forest is famous for its natural beauty and serene atmosphere, especially in the wintertime.
Togakushi Snow World (戸隠スキー場), or Togakushi Ski Menou, is a medium-sized ski area on the foot of Mt. Menou. It provides good powdered snow and is generally less crowded than other, more well-known ski resorts around Nagano.
A unique part of this place is that you can learn how to ski from a ninja master! They offer ski practice with a teacher in an interesting ninja outfit. Togakushi ski resort stretches over two peaks with an elevation of 1,549 meters and 1,750 meters, respectively, and descends to around 1,200 meters in height, which makes it a great descend experience for enjoyable skiing and snowboarding. It is suitable for beginners as well as professionals.
As a culinary destination, Togakushi is also famous for handmade soba (buckwheat noodles), and famous within Nagano Prefecture for having the most delicious soba. There are many soba shops lined up along the road to the Togakushi Shrine such as Iwatoya, making this region a destination for soba lovers throughout Japan and overseas. There is even a soba museum (Japanese only) where you can watch an expert making these noodles, or make your own soba noodles with the guidance from the master chef.
Togakushi Botanical Garden is part of Joshin’etsu-Kogen National Park, and covers an area of approximately 71 hectares, features a pristine forest, and is inhabited by more than 100 species of wild birds. Togakushi Kogen is one of Japan’s most renowned areas for wild birds and is visited by many birdwatchers and hikers. Rare species of wildlife and wild flowers are protected here.
Take the shinkansen (bullet train; 新幹線) to Nagano city. It is recommended to base your trip from Nagano City, as Togakushi and many other interesting places are easily accessible from the city, using the bus or local train.
To get to Togakushi from Nagano:
By bus: Take the no. 70 or 71 bus from Nagano Station. It takes about 50 minutes to Houkou-sha, about 60 minutes to Chu-sha, and about 65 minutes to Oku-sha.
By car: From Nagano City, it is about 22km to Houkou-sha, 25km to Chu-sha, and 27km to Oku-sha’s parking lots.
A special Nagano Snow Resort pass is available for tourists during the winter season (December to March). By using this pass, you can easily travel around Nagano to several popular winter destinations around the city, like Togakushi, Hakuba, Nozawa Onsen (野沢温泉), and Jigokudani (地獄谷). Buy a Nagano Snow Resort pass at the Tourist Information Center next to Nagano Station for 5,000 yen, and use this pass to travel around designated areas as many times as you want within two consecutive days.
If you want to go to Togakushi Ski Resort, it is highly recommended that you use a Nagano Snow Resort pass, because the public bus will only reach Chu-sha bus stop as the final destination during wintertime. Togakushi can be done as a one-day trip from Nagano, but it is better to leave early and take the first bus so you will have enough time to leisurely enjoy the whole place.
Why not avoid the crowds at Nagano this winter and explore all there is to see at Togakushi? Or go in the warmer seasons and find some rare wildlife? Whenever you decide to go, there is sure to be something for you to enjoy.
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