Hozoji Temple and Isesha Shrine in Nagano

Japan boasts many famous shrines and temples that most first time visitors will learn about while planning their trip. But japan may have hundreds or thousands of thousand of such historical sites if not more. Each neighborhood generally has its own, where locals will celebrate many traditional rituals throughout the year. The Hozonji Temple and Isesha Shrine located in Nagano, located side-by-side, are beautiful examples.

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Beauty of Nagano’s countryside

Away from the popular touristic attractions, one may find great beauty in the common Japanese lifestyle. This beauty will be seen by the one who ventures away from the beaten path. I will collect over time in this post photos that feature the beautiful Japanese countryside I had the chance to witness by walking in rural areas of Nagano city.

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Stone church of Naka-Karuizawa (Uchimura Kanzo Memorial Hall)

This peculiar stone church was built as a memorial of Uchimura Kanzo, the founder of a Japanese Christian movement. The church was built by the American architect Kendrick Kellogg in harmony with the surrounding nature. The church’s structure is unique with multiple stone arches and rows of windows allowing plenty of natural light in the stone building. The design is also striking by its unusual asymmetry.

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Harunire Terrace in Naka-Karuizawa

The Harunire terrace, located in Naka-Karuizawa, boasts a great selection of restaurants and specialty shops in a natural setting. Whether you are looking for a delicious coffee or locally-made ice-cream, you’ll enjoy a relaxing time on the river-side terrace.

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Karuizawa

Karuizawa is a resort town along the Hokuriku Shinkansen in Nagano prefecture. It is particularly popular among Tokyo residents who wish to escape the summer heat. It is a great place to eat at the many restaurants, cafes, and bakeries and to shop at the many fashion outlets located near the Shinkansen station.

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Hotel Chikurakutei

Hotel Chikurakutei is a hot spring resort located in the town of Minamiaso. The hotel features many cottages each having a small private garden and outdoor hot bath. Various sections of the hotel are linked together by covered outdoor walkways surrounded by trees and flowers. The hotel also features a large main public Onsen with indoor and outdoor baths. The restaurant serves delicious food and the personnel of the hotel offered us a very warm welcome. I highly recommend this hotel.

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Mount Aso (Minami-Aso), a day before the earthquake

South Aso (Minamiaso) is one of the prettiest place I’ve seen in Japan, but also happened to be the scene of one of the most terrifying events of my life.

Minamiaso is located to the south of mount Aso, an active volcano. The mountain is surrounded by fertile land due to previous eruptions of mount Aso, which made it particularly suitable for agriculture. The landscape is simply superb with fields and deep rivers surrounding mount Aso (the photos shown here were taken around Choyo station).

On April 17th 2016, in the middle of the night, as we were staying at hotel Chikurakutei in Minami-aso, the ground shook. An earthquake was affecting the region of Aso. Its epicenter was right under us. The ground shook for many minutes at a time, then followed by brief interruptions, and then shook again. The electricity gone, in complete darkness, we protected ourselves with pillows and blankets, occasionally hearing tiles falling from the hotel roof and breaking on the ground. It is hard to tell exactly how long it took between each tremor, but one thing is sure, they were too frequent and too strong to our taste.

An employee of the hotel finally came to help us. We evacuated to the parking lot and were able to spend the rest of the night in the employee’s own car. The hotel lent us blankets to stay warm during the night but we were barely able to sleep since the ground shook repeatedly all night with frequent alarms from the town’s emergency sirens.

In the morning, we were able to hitch a ride to Miyazaki airport with other guests of the hotel and got tickets to fly to Nagoya, cutting short the trip we had planned around Kyushu.

I will forever remember the kindness and hospitality of the staff of hotel Chikurakutei, who stayed up all night to make sure of our safety and comfort throughout the night. Thank you! Despite the scary memories, we will, for sure, return to Minamiaso in a near future.

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