NAGANO & YAMANASHI WINTER HIKING & SPIRITUALITY
Sacred mountains, vistas and human history in the middle of Japan (8 DAYS)
The mountains of central Japan offer an immense variety of hiking opportunities to suit all tastes and fitness levels. Since prehistoric times, these mountains have sustained human existence through their rich, diverse natural environments, but they have also caused immense hardships through their terrain, climate and natural disasters. It is therefore not surprising that these mountains have long held spiritual significance for the local inhabitants. This tour features a series of day-hikes and walks in bracing winter conditions in the mountains and foothills of northeastern Nagano and northwestern Yamanashi prefectures. You will discover how these mountain environments nurtured one of the most enduring prehistoric cultures of the world, and deep spiritual and cultural connection with mountains that the Japanese have maintained throughout history.
DAY 1—TOGAKUSHI: Meet at JR Nagano Station (easy direct access from Tokyo, Kanazawa, Nagoya and Matsumoto) in the early afternoon and travel to Togakushi, a village in the mountains east of Nagano city famous for the complex of imposing shrines and temples set in the deep forests of the sacred mountain. Take an afternoon stroll in the village with its charming little laneways lined with monk’s lodges. Observe artisans in workshops crafting the renowned Togakushi bambooware, made from the tough canes of a subarctic bamboo. Accommodation at a modernised elegant traditional ryokan with Japanese-style futon bedding (Western-style bedding available on request), and room-attached baths.
DAY 2—TOGAKUSHI SHRINE AND FOREST SNOW HIKE: Spend the day exploring the shrines, temples and deep forests of the sacred mountain in its stark winter beauty. Set off from your accommodation on foot (the use of snowshoes may be required), past the imposing Togakushi-Chūsha (Middle) Shrine and through light deciduous woodlands, to the Togakushi-Okusha (Upper) Shrine. Feel the spirits of the mountain as you walk the long snowy approach to the Okusha Shrine, lined with centuries-old towering Cryptomeria trees. Snow and weather conditions permitting, continue your walk from the shrine through a variety of forest types to the Kagami Pond, a small lake with a superb view toward the craggy, mysterious Togakushi Mountains. Return to the village in the afternoon to warm up over tea and oyaki (filled buckwheat buns). Accommodation as per Day 1, enjoying a Kaiseki dinner course showcasing an amazing number of ways the local buckwheat can be used.
DAY 3— HISHINO-ONSEN: Depart Togakushi in the morning and travel to Komoro for lunch, a former castle town in eastern Nagano Prefecture. After lunch, travel to your accommodation at Hishino-Onsen on the footslopes of Mt Asama volcano for an afternoon of onsen relaxation. Enjoy a soak in the outdoor onsen bath commanding a view of the valley below and distant volcanoes as far away as Mt Fuji, followed by a gourmet fusion Japanese-European dinner showcasing the best of Nagano’s local produce. Accommodation at a recently modernised onsen ryokan with Japanese-style futon or Western-style bedding, and room-attached baths in addition to shared public onsen baths.
DAY 4—MT ASAMA VOLCANIC RIM SNOW HIKE: After breakfast, travel to Takamine-Kōgen for a day-hike on the caldera rim of Mt Asama. The moderate-grade walk will involve traversing forested and rocky terrain with light to moderate depth of snow cover in potentially very low temperatures (minus 10°C or lower). The use of snowshoes or other snow-hiking equipment may be required. Weather permitting, you will be treated to a dynamic view of the steaming volcanic cone across the snow-covered caldera, and an extensive panorama of the distant mountains. Descend to Takamine-Kōgen for a late lunch, and travel to Komoro in the late afternoon to your accommodation at a modern tourist onsen-ryokan with Japanese-style futon bedding, and shared public onsen baths. [Please note that the itinerary may be changed without prior notice if snow and weather conditions on the day are unfavourable.]
DAY 5—KOMORO CLIFF-FACE TEMPLE AND HOKKOKU HIGHWAY HISTORIC TOWN: Enjoy an early morning soak in the outdoor onsen of your accommodation with a panoramic view to Mt Asama. After breakfast, visit the nearby Nunohiki-Kannon temple, a fascinating cliff-face Buddhist temple originating in the 8th century that features in the famous Japanese legend of pilgrimage to the Zenkōji temple in Nagano. Travel to a small historic town nearby on the old Hokkoku Highway. After lunch showcasing the rustic local cuisine, spend quality time in the afternoon to take in the town’s delightful old-world atmosphere that is second to none. Browse the displays of fascinating shops and galleries, including art glass, crafts and traditional Japanese toys. Accommodation at a small, boutique upper-range guesthouse within a superbly restored historic Japanese townhouse, featuring modern comforts; please note Western-style bedding is available for up to 2 guests only, and additional guests will be required to use Japanese-style futon bedding. Enjoy an elegant dinner course featuring the freshest local ingredients in a creative Japanese style.
DAY 6—YATSUGATAKE FOOTHILLS ARCHAEOLOGY WALK: After breakfast, travel on a slow country train along the eastern flanks of the Yatsugatake Mountains to a rural district of Hokuto, Yamanashi Prefecture. On arrival, enjoy lunch at a cosy country café, then spend the remainder of the afternoon exploring the countryside and villages of the southern Yatsugatake footslopes. visiting a Jōmon-period archaeological site and a medieval castle ruin that illustrate the significance of Yatsugatake Mountains to humans since prehistory. End your day with a visit to a village sake brewery crafting unique brews using the mineralised volcanic waters of Yatsugatake. Accommodation at a beautifully restored early-20th century country house in a village with views to the Yatsugatake peaks. Please note that bathing facilities are unavailable at the accommodation; you are required to use a nearby public onsen facility (shared baths only, no private bathing facilities).
DAY 7—YATSUGATAKE FOOTHILLS ALPINE VISTAS HIKE: Spend the day hiking along the base of the southern Yatsugatake Mountains. This moderate-grade hike will traverse a fascinating patchwork of landscapes in their winter tones, including primeval deciduous forests, farmlands and deep ravines, with spectacular vistas toward the sheer alpine peaks of Yatsugatake, and the distant Southern Japan Alps and Mt. Fuji. Experience with your senses the natural environment of Yatsugatake, and imagine the flurry of activity in prehistoric times indicated by the numerous Jōmon settlement sites. Please note that the walking route may have light snow cover that could be icy, and the temperatures may be very low (minus 10°C or lower). Accommodation as per Day 6.
DAY 8—YATSUGATAKE FOOTHILLS VILLAGE AND ART WALK: After a breakfast based on organic farm-fresh produce, continue your exploration of the village, visiting a small archaeological museum for an overview of the district’s history, and atmospheric country temples and shrines. In the afternoon, admire the Silk Road-inspired works of the renowned 20th-century painter Ikuo Hirayama at a local gallery, before commencing your rail travel to Tōkyō (Shinjuku). The tour concludes upon arrival at JR Shinjuku Station in the evening; rail travel to an alternative onward destination can be arranged with prior request.
Prehistory and history
Origins of Japanese culture
2 nights in a mid-range modernised traditional ryokan with Japanese-style futon bedding (Western-style bedding available on request at an additional charge) with a room-attached bath (shared public baths also available) in a village setting
1 night in a mid-range modernised traditional onsen ryokan with Japanese-style futon or Western-style bedding, and room-attached and shared public onsen baths in a rural setting
1 night in a mid-range modern tourist onsen-ryokan with Japanese-style futon bedding, and shared public onsen bath in a semi-rural setting
2 nights in a restored traditional country house (private rental) with Japanese-style futon bedding in a village setting; requires use of a public onsen facility with shared (no private) baths
1 night in a upper-range boutique guesthouse in a restored traditional Japanese townhouse with Western-style bedding for up to 2 persons and Japanese-style futon bedding for up to 2 persons, and a room-attached bath
DEPARTURE DATE: Sunday 10 December 2017; itinerary subject to change depending on, but not limited to, accommodation availability, transport timetabling and weather conditions.
BOOKING REQUIRED BEFORE: Thursday 26 October 2017
MAXIMUM GROUP SIZE: 4 persons
COST: from AUD $5100 per person (3–4 persons); from AUD$5600 per person (2 persons); POA for 1 person.
FINAL PAYMENT DATE: Thursday 26 October 2017.
Full tour planning and guiding—8 days
Ground transport (rail, bus, taxi)—8 days, departing from Nagano, returning to Tōkyō (Shinjuku)
Admissions and fees for all attractions and activities listed in itinerary
Rental of snowshoes if required on Day 2 and Day 4
Relevant information material
PHYSICAL FITNESS REQUIREMENT—HIGH: involves three (3) moderate-grade day-hikes in mountain environments at 1200 to 2400 m elevation. You must be a confident mountain hiker who can walk for up to 12 km per day, and continuously for 2 km at a time, on moderate to steep gradients. You must not suffer from existing health conditions (or have a high risk thereof) that compromises your fitness, mobility, endurance, coordination or navigation skills, including, but not limited to, conditions affecting your heart, blood pressure, brain, nervous system, breathing, movement of your limbs, neck and the back, eyesight and hearing. The walking trail includes steep, rocky, rubbly, swampy or slippery sections, and requires some rock scrambling. The tracks, in places, are narrow and have sheer drop-offs on one side. The tracks are likely to be covered by snow in many places (expected depths of 5 to 50 cm), may be icy, and may require the use of snowshoes (can be rented on the day) or other snow-hiking equipment. The higher sections of the walking tracks are fully exposed to the weather, which may include strong winds, snow, rain and very low temperatures, that may potentially create dangerous conditions. Sun-sensitive people will require protection against strong UV rays and glare at high altitude, such as sunscreen and sunglasses. Altitude sickness may be an issue for some.
On the other days, the tour involves periods of walking on surfaced and unsurfaced roads and footpaths mostly on gentle to moderate gradients. There may be short sections of steep, uneven or slippery terrain, including stone steps and snow-covered or icy paths. The short walk to Nunohiki-Kannon temple on Day 5 is moderately steep, with natural paths that may be rocky, muddy or icy in places.
CULTURAL TOLERANCE REQUIREMENT—HIGH: accommodation on at least (3) nights feature Japanese-style futon bedding. On other nights, the option of Western-style bedding is subject to availability and cannot be guaranteed. Many meals will be traditional Japanese style served as a set menu, with non-Japanese food options unavailable. On Days 4, 6 and 7, accommodation requires the use of shared public baths (requires nudity in presence of strangers) with no private or room-attached baths available.