Hirugami is a popular hot spring area surrounded by the Japanese Alps in the southern part of Nagano Prefecture. Many Onsen Hotels are located next to a river sourced by the pure mountain streams. You can enjoy a walk along the river before indulging a warm and relaxing bath.
If you have climbed mountains of the Japanese Alps or tall volcanoes like mount Fuji, you know how good it feels to bath in a hot spring after a hard day of hiking. Now imagine you arrive at your campsite with a natural outdoor onsen waiting for you with an amazing scenery. This is the dream waiting for you at Hakubayari Onsen, the highest onsen in Japan.
A mountain hut is built every spring next to the hot spring and disassembled in fall before avalanche season. A tentsite with limited space is also located next to the hot spring (all spaces were filled by noon on the day of our hike). A small cafeteria serves a simple dinner in the evening and staff can prepare cup noodles at lunchtime. More importantly, they sell beer. Yes, Japanese mountain climbing usually involves beer and most guest of Hakubayari onsen can be seen with a beer in hand at some time during their stay.
The hut is actually on the way to Hakuba-Yarigatake, a prominent peak in the region. We started our climb of Yarigatake from the hut at around 6 in the morning and summited at around 10:30. The view was spectacular. We could see mount Shirouma, Mount Tateyama, mount Kashima-Yarigatake, and Kurobe Damm.
The trail we took back and forth to the summit starts from the Sarukura parking lot. We got a ride from familly member but I know that taxis will drive you up there from Hakuba station.
Mount Eboshi is located not too far from the Hokuriku Shinkansen line linking Tokyo to the city of Nagano. Reaching its summit takes about 1-2 hour from the trail-head, depending on your fitness level. The bare summit offers an impressive panoramic view of Ueda city and of mount Asama, a nearby active volcano. I was quite surprised to see a white column of smoke being released from the volcano’s crater during our trip.
The Oykot train is a special scenic train which starts from Nagano station and follows the Iiyama line all the way to Tokamachi station. The Iiyama line follows the Chikuma-gawa river which features truly beautiful rustic scenery featuring rice paddies and small villages that are representative of the beautiful Japanese countryside.
The purpose of the Oykot train is to allow its passengers to enjoy this scenery while having a relaxing time onboard the train. To this end, the train interior is designed to mimic the old rural Japanese home and the trip also includes a serving of locally-made Japanese pickled vegetables. Guests can also bring their favorite food and beverages onboard. This philosophy of the Japanese countryside is reflected in the train’s name, Oykot, which is the reverse of Tokyo, the most populous metropolis of Japan. It is possible for the passengers to explore further the Japanese countryside by stopping at stations along the Iiyama line and taking another Oykot train, or a regular train, for the return trip to Nagano.
I love the quietness and the beauty of the countryside in Nagano Prefecture. These photos were taken in Furuma, not too far from Mount Kurohime and lake Nojiri. Unfortunately I don’t remember the exact location but it should be easy to get similar vistas by walking around Furuma station.
Hanamomo-no-sato is a large garden of peach trees located in the mountains of Nagano Prefecture. The best time to visit the region is at the end of April or at the beginning of May when the trees are in full bloom. At that time, the small village is filled with the white, pink, and red color of the peach flowers. It is a great place to do Ohanami, the Japanese picnic, so bring snacks to eat with your favorite beer or sake.
The Uga Shrine is located on an island in the middle of Lake Nojiri. The only way to access it is by a taking a cruise boat from Nojiri city. The cruise does a brief tour of the lake before stopping on the Island. You can spend as much time as you like visiting the shrine since you can hop on subsequent cruises as well for the return trip.