East Nagano Grand Trek—Volcanic ranges, prehistory and spirituality in the middle of Japan (10 DAYS)

DETAILED ITINERARY

 

DAY 1—TRAVEL NAGANO–BESSHO-ONSEN & BESSHO-ONSEN TOWN STROLL: Meet at JR Nagano Station (easy direct rail access from Tōkyō, Kanazawa, Nagoya and Matsumoto) in the early afternoon and travel to Bessho-Onsen, an atmospheric onsen town in the heart of eastern Nagano’s volcanic region. Upon arrival, enjoy a late afternoon stroll through the narrow streets visiting the town’s famous temples, each with their fascinatingly unique architecture. Accommodation at a traditional onsen ryokan with Japanese-style futon bedding, and shared public and private onsen baths with a Showa-period ‘retro’ atmosphere.

 

DAY 2—SHIODA PLAINS COUNTRY TEMPLES, ART AND CRAFT WALK & HISTORIC TOWNHOUSE STAY: Explore the rural landscapes of Shioda Plains on foot, a treasure trove of temples and shrines dating back to the 9th century referred to as Nagano’s Kamakura. Along the way, sample delicious apples from roadside stalls freshly picked from the local orchards, enjoy a lunch of farm-fresh soba (buckwheat) noodles and oyaki (filled buckwheat and wheat buns), contemplate art and history at a gallery devoted to the works of war victims, and visit a small studio producing the renowned Ueda-Tsumugi fine textile. In the late afternoon, travel to your private accommodation in the Tōmi area, located in a superbly restored Edo-period traditional townhouse in the middle of the historic town. Enjoy a dinner course showcasing the best of Nagano’s fresh produce at your accommodation.

 

DAY 3—TOMI HISTORIC TOWN STROLL & HISHINO-ONSEN RELAXATION: Spend a relaxing morning exploring the small historic town, taking in the quiet, old-world atmosphere that reflects the local residents’ resolve to preserve their cultural heritage for future generations, not mass tourism. After lunch, travel to your accommodation at Hishino-Onsen on the footslopes of the Mt Asama volcano, a modernised onsen ryokan with a choice of Japanese-style futon or Western-style bedding, and private room-attached baths and shared public onsen baths.  Spend the late afternoon enjoying a soak in the (shared public) outdoor onsen baths commanding a view of the valley below and distant volcanoes as far away as Mt Fuji, followed by a gourmet Japanese-European fusion dinner course.

 

DAY 4—MT ASAMA VOLCANIC RIM HIKE: After breakfast, travel to Takamine-Kōgen for a day-hike on the caldera rim of Mt Asama. The moderate-grade walk will traverse forests, scree and rocky slopes. Weather permitting, you will be treated to a dynamic view of the steaming volcanic cone across the caldera, with the woodlands inside the caldera glowing in autumn colour. Return to Takamine-Kōgen for a late lunch, followed perhaps by an afternoon tea or drink while admiring the panoramic view. Travel to Komoro in the late afternoon to your accommodation at a modern onsen-ryokan with Japanese-style futon bedding, and shared public onsen baths.

 

DAY 5—TRAVEL KOMORO–YATSUGATAKE, YATSUGATAKE TREK PART 1 (ALPINE LAKE AND MOSS FOREST WALK): Spend a relaxing morning that might include a warming pre-breakfast dip in the ryokan’s outdoor bath with a panoramic view to Mt Asama. Travel to Yachiho area on the eastern flanks of the Yatsugatake Mountains for lunch, then continue your travel into the northern Yatsugatake wilderness to Lake Shirakoma at over 2100 m elevation. Enjoy a late-afternoon walk around the lake on a volcanic plateau, fringed with dense, mossy subarctic forests that takes you into the realm of The Lord of the Rings. Accommodation at a classic Japanese-style alpine lodge with well-maintained, but basic facilities (shared sleeping quarters and facilities, no hot water taps, no flushing toilets, and no bathing facilities during cold weather). Set (non-negotiable) times for dinner, ‘lights out’ and breakfast apply.

 

DAY 6—YATSUGATAKE TREK PART 2 (NORTHERN YATSUGATAKE FOREST WILDERNESS TRAVERSE): Explore the forest wilderness of the northern Yatsugatake Mountains through a long day of moderate-grade trekking. You will traverse vast subarctic forests on a volcanic plateau, and ascend peaks rising above the tree-line that command extensive vistas of the central Japanese mountains (some rock scrambling and steep ascents will be involved). Experience the forest environments that nurtured the prehistoric Jōmon culture, and learn about the dramatic environmental changes over time that the Jōmon people witnessed and adapted to. In the afternoon, descend from the ridgeline through the forests to your accommodation, a classic Japanese-style alpine lodge with well-maintained, but basic facilities (shared sleeping quarters and facilities, no hot water taps, and no flushing toilets). Small, shared public onsen baths are available at the lodge, including a tiny, fully exposed outdoor onsen set in the middle of the wilderness for the adventurous. Set (non-negotiable) times for dinner, ‘lights out’ and breakfast apply.

 

DAY 7—YATSUGATAKE TREK PART 3 (SOUTHERN YATSUGATAKE ALPINE PANORAMA TRAVERSE): Continue your traverse of the Yatsugatake Mountains and enjoy the changing scenery as you enter the alpine southern areas. After the initially steep climb back to the ridgeline, you will soon be rewarded with dramatic views of the rugged peaks of southern Yatsugatake, and the distant peaks of the Japan Alps. Descend back into forested country for a lunch stop at your accommodation for the night, another classic Japanese-style alpine lodge, then take a walk to a lookout commanding a spectacular view of Yatsugatake’s sheer western flanks glowing in the late afternoon light. Return to your accommodation in the late afternoon, a very well-maintained lodge with basic facilities (shared sleeping quarters and facilities, no hot water taps, and no flushing toilets), and a small, shared public bath fed by mineral springs (may not be available if temperatures are low). Set (non-negotiable) times for dinner, ‘lights out’ and breakfast apply.

 

DAY 8—YATSUGATAKE TREK PART 4 (DESCENT) & TOGARI’ISHI PREHISTORIC SITE: After breakfast, make your descent from the mountains, enjoying the forest scenery that continually changes with elevation. Indulge in a gourmet European-style lunch at a small boutique restaurant near the trailhead. In the afternoon, visit the Togari’ishi Jōmon archaeological site and museum for a comprehensive review of Yatsugatake area’s prehistory, including a collection of elaborate artwork. Contemplate the relationship between humans and the natural environment that has underpinned the Japanese culture since antiquity.  In the late afternoon, travel to the Hokuto area (Yamanashi Prefecture) in the southern foothills of Yatsugatake Mountains to your accommodation, a private, elegantly restored early-20th century country house in a peaceful village setting. Note that you will be required to use a shared public onsen facility in the village for your bathing (no private baths).

 

DAY 9—YATSUGATAKE FOOTHILLS VILLAGE AND ARCHAEOLOGY WALK: Enjoy a breakfast based on organic farm-fresh produce, then spend the day walking the countryside of the southern Yatsugatake foothills. Visit a Jōmon-period archaeological site and a medieval castle ruin that illustrate the significance of Yatsugatake Mountains to humans since prehistory. Enjoy an amble through the fields in their autumnal hues with distant views to Mt Fuji. Drop in at a picturesque country temple with a dramatic ink-brush ceiling painting of a dragon, and hear fascinating facts on local history from the friendly and knowledgeable abbot. Return to accommodation in the late afternoon for a country-style dinner showcasing the best of local produce. Accommodation as per Day 8.

 

DAY 10—IKUO HIRAYAMA ART MUSEUM, TRAVEL KIYOSATO–TOKYO: After a relaxing start to the morning, visit a local art gallery dedicated to the world-renowned 20th-century painter Ikuo Hirayama, whose works were influenced by the culture of the Silk Road. Enjoy lunch in the neighbouring Kiyosato district before travelling by rail to Tōkyō. The tour concludes upon arrival at JR Shinjuku Station in the evening.

 

TOUR THEMES:

  • Mountain hiking

  • Natural environment

  • Country walking

  • Prehistory and history

  • Spirituality

  • Onsen

  • Rural scenery

  • Townscapes

  • Art

  • Regional foods

  • Crafts

 

ACCOMMODATION:

  • 3 nights in Japanese-style alpine lodges with Japanese-style futon bedding and basic, shared facilities (sleeping quarters, toilet and bathing facilities)—N.B. bathing facilities may not always be available

  • 2 nights in a restored traditional Japanese 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 nights in a mid-range traditional onsen-ryokan with Japanese-style futon bedding and public and private onsen baths in a town setting

  • 1 night in a mid-range modernised traditional onsen ryokan with Japanese-style futon or Western-style bedding, and private 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

  • 1 night in a private boutique hotel within a restored traditional Japanese townhouse house with Western-style bedding for up to 2 persons and Japanese-style futon bedding for up to 2 persons, in a historic town setting

 

DEPARTURE DATE: Friday 19 October 2018; itinerary subject to change depending on, but not limited to, accommodation availability, transport timetabling and weather conditions.

 

BOOKING REQUIRED BEFORE: Saturday 21 July 2018

 

MAXIMUM GROUP SIZE: 6 persons

 

COST: from AUD $5000­ per person (4 persons); from AUD$5500 per person (3 persons); from AUD$6000 per person (2 persons); POA for 1 person.

 

FINAL PAYMENT DATE: Tuesday 4 September 2018

 

INCLUSIONS:

  • Full tour planning and guiding—10 days

  • Accommodation—9 nights

  • Breakfast—9 days

  • Lunch—9 days

  • Dinner—9 days

  • Ground transport (rail, bus, taxi)—10 days, departing from Nagano, returning to Tōkyō (Shinjuku)

  • Admissions and fees for all attractions and activities listed in itinerary

  • Relevant information material

 

PHYSICAL FITNESS REQUIREMENT—VERY HIGH: involves 5 days of mountain hiking including 3–4 consecutive days of moderate-grade alpine trekking at elevations of 2100 to 2700 m. You must be a confident mountain hiker who can walk for up to 15 km per day, and continuously for 3 km at a time, on moderate to steep gradients. You must be able to carry all your own gear (including food and water to be consumed along the way) required for the entire duration of the hike in a backpack that may weigh 10 kg or more. 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 higher sections of the walking track are fully exposed to the weather, which may include extremely strong winds, rain, snow, thunder and low temperatures, that may potentially create dangerous conditions. In alpine areas, the tracks may be icy or snow-covered in places. Protection against strong UV rays and glare, such as sunscreen, sunglasses and a hat, is essential. 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. Participants must be able to walk for up to 10 km per day, and continuously for up to 5 km at a time, on gentle to moderate gradients. There may be short sections of steep, uneven or slippery terrain, including stone steps.

 

CULTURAL TOLERANCE REQUIREMENT—VERY HIGH: accommodation on most nights feature Japanese-style futon bedding. Many meals will be traditional Japanese style served as a set menu, with alternative food options unavailable. Many of the accommodation choices feature shared public baths (requires nudity in presence of strangers). Facilities at alpine lodges are basic and may be considered inconvenient by modern Western standards; there are no hot-water taps, bathing facilities may not be available, and strong odours may be associated with the composting or chemical toilets. In alpine lodges, you may be required to share your sleeping quarters with other (predominantly Japanese) guests. Due to logistical difficulties, meals at mountain lodges may be simple and unable to cater for specific dietary requirements. Set times for dinner, ‘lights out’ and breakfast apply in mountain lodges; non-compliance may result in the lodge refusing service to you.

Takehiko Hashimoto trading as

Deeply Regional Japan Tours ABN 17594801316

Postal address:

PO Box 238, Mawson ACT 2607 AUSTRALIA

E-mail:

hashimoto@grapevine.com.au

Web:

www.deeplyregionaljapan.com

www.deeplyregionaljapan.com.au

© 2019 by Takehiko Hashimoto

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