【Nagano-Hida-Kanazawa】A getaway in the land of snows, the beauty of snowy sceneries
You don’t know where you could travel in winter ?
Experience a journey into the land of snows and enjoy 100% of winter in Japan. If you wish to go to Kyoto through mountainous areas, it could be interesting to cross Gifu and Nagano which are regions full of sites of interest. The cherry blossoms and the snow that is not already melt in spring; hiking in summer; Koyo (autumn leaves) in autumn and the snowy landscape in winter. Let’s visit villages between mountains, enjoy onsen (japanese hot springs); and stroll in fortified town to feel the presence of history.
We will end the journey in the traditional and cultural town of Kanazawa.
From Kanazawa, it is possible to extend the trip to Kyoto, or to go back to Tokyo by shinkansen. (The trip to Tokyo is about 2h40 and about 2h15 if you choose a non-stop train to Kyoto). You have the possibility to go to Kyoto by the limited express “Thunderbird” train in about 2h. It could be interesting to head for Kyoto and enjoy some interest sites located on the way.
Where to Go
Ideas of activities to enjoy before the day of departure.
Only 30 minutes from Tokyo, the small town “Kawagoe” is the perfect place to pass one pleasant day and learning about the architecture of the old capital of Japan having the name of Edo (from 1603 to 1867). One of the very representative streets in the ancient atmosphere is the street of warehouses, “Kurazukuri no machinami” in Japanese, a lane of the traditional buildings, of which the solid construction being fire proof (there was a big fire in Kawagoe a few centuries ago). You would see the old bell tower in wood “Toki no kane”, “the bell of the time”, and you might go to the famous “Kashiya Yokocho”, the street of sweets. In order to know further about the interior of the traditional Japanese houses, it is recommended to make a visit to the Honmaru Goten of Kawagoe castle surrounded by magnificent gardens.
★Nagatoro in Chichibu area
The little town of Nagatoro is located in the Chichibu district, in the centre of the prefecture of Saitama, in the north of Tokyo. It is easily accessible from Tokyo and you could find the beauty of nature in Japanese countryside, along the bank of Arakawa river, surrounded by mountains and forests. Being beautiful in each season, but it is especially appreciated in autumn, as we say in Japanese, “Kôyô”, the autumn coloured foliage. In spring time, around mid-April, it is fantastic to visit Nagatoro which has been classed among top 100 best sites of Japan for cherry blossoms.
★Yayoi Kusama Museum
Yayoi Kusama has been the leading runner of the Japanese contemporary art as her famous work:"Infinity Mirror Room - Phalli's Field" and "pumpkin sculptures". If you want to appreciate her works, "YAYOI KUSAMA MUSEUM" in Shinjuku is the place to visit.
Not only her works are on permanent exhibit, but also rotating exhibits are held several times in a year. The museum provides an opportunity that visitors can feel the breeze of the represented artist of the Japanese contemporary art.
Tickets are not available on the door, all tickets must be purchased in advance only through the museum’s website.
Entry is timed and only valid for a specific 90 minute time-slot.
Day 1 : Tokyo
Overnight in Tokyo
Day 2 : Tokyo - Obuse - Shibuonsen
The Kanazawa Hokuriku Shinkansen, introduced in 2015, is designed on the connection between the ancient traditional culture and the future, the “Wa future” project.
Its appearance is a combination between two important designed structures, the ancient traditional japanese colour in harmony with the landscape along the railroad, and the high speed operation while having a comfortable and elegant motion.
The steadiness of the train is remarkable, and although the train crosses mountainous areas to a speed of 260 k.p.h, it reduces vibrations and makes the travel be as relaxed as possible.
~ The town loved by Hokusai ~
Obuse is located north of the Nagano Prefecture and the smallest town of the region with a population of 11,000 inhabitants. However, more than 1.2 millions of visitors come to visit it each year.
There are many museums, ancient temples and shrines, little shops selling local pastries and the town is surrounded by a quiet and wonderful scenery. In this traditional town you feel a true wellbeing. Formerly, it was a farming village which was witnessing increasing rural exodus.
In order to revitalize its streets, the Hokusai Katsushika (famous japanese painter known for the art of ukiyo-e) museum was established.
Hokusai will therefore be remembered as the painter who lived in Obuse for several years since he had 83.
At this age, it was the first time he came to Obuse to visit his old friend, Kozan Takai, a wealthy farmer settled in the town for a long time. Takai established a workshop in his house for Hokusai. Hokusai came back to Obuse in 1844 until 1848. He passed away in Edo, age 90.
Hokusai was very famous and renowned for its remarkable work but also for his very particular personality, and many people though he was crazy, and totally uncaring on money. However, Hokusai was completely serene when he lived in Obuse.
Hokusai is well-known for his beautiful engravings “Ukiyoe”, and he was also a great painter. You could admire in Obuse, among his most beautiful works. The best known in this small town are “Ryu” (the dragon), “Houou” the phoenix and “Do-to” (the furious wave), and you would not miss it. You would visit the Gansho-in temple to see the ceiling that Hokusai painted. This painting is the “Happo-Nirami no Houou” (the phoenix staring in 8 directions). This remarkable painting is 191cm x 95.5 cm, the size of 12 tatamis mats. The works of Hokusai contribute to promote the town in addition to the efforts which have either been completed to develop Obuse as we know today.
Many architects play an important part in harmonizing modern life with ancient traditional buildings. Obuse spotlights its speciality, the chestnut cooked in several ways (pastries, ice creams, and a wide range of other delicious recipes). In addition, the infrastructures and tourism are widely developed in comparison to other small touristic towns of the same kind.
Shibu onsen (Shibu Hot springs)
Nowadays, this kind of isolated places mostly falls into disuse, but Yudanaka remains popular. There is a wide range of accommodations type like hotels, or ryokan (traditional Japanese hostel), and Shibu onsen always reflects the ancient and the typical atmosphere of old japan, with its paved roads and wooden buildings standing into a perfect harmony.
Shibu Onsen has rich spring water resources. Indeed, it broads 37 water sources for 35 hotels and ryokans. It is one of the most important and rich hot springs in entire Japan. Indeed, it says that if you dig a hole somewhere in Shibu onsen, water should emerge instantly. You could enjoy a rest in one of the high quality onsen called “kake Nagashi” where the water emerges directly from the spring. As the other hot springs in Japan, you could enjoy onsen situated inside or outside of the hotels. It stands 9 different public baths that you could try. It is called in japanese “9(Kyu) tou meguri.” All the 9 onsens are free, and with no employees so the onsen are equipped with automatic locking doors. If you stay in an accommodation in Shibu Onsen, you could borrow the key at the hotel front desk. You and only the Shibu onsen inhabitants possess the key.
In conclusion, the 9 baths are a privilege that you would not miss ! (the onsen number 9 is the biggest and also open to public for 500 yens).
You could find also many other onsen located few miles around Shibu onsen. In Yudanaka, you could buy a special ticket called “Yumeguri Tegata” (a pass that allow you to enjoy 3 different onsen)
~Ryokan listed in the Japan cultural heritage ~
The ryokan count 8 baths - 3 large and 5 smaller (private bath)
*Room upgrade : you have a possibility to upgrade your room with additional fee ・・・+10,000yen
Japanese style standard room → "Kanaguya" craftman style superior room
Day 3 : Shibu-onsen ~ Jigokudani wild snow monkey park (optional) ~ Zenkoji
(Guided visit is optional, prepaid supplements are required)
Into the heart of Yudanaka onsen is the wild snow monkey park. It is the only park where you could observe wild monkeys taking their bath. Consequently, it attracts many visitors, notably from abroad. This picture of these animals taking their bath quietly is well known in the entire world and many tourists aim to visit it. In Asia, many countries with high concentration of wild monkeys are facing different issues regarding the aggressive behaviour that monkeys have against tourists. In this park, it is strictly forbidden to feed animals and there is a lot of other rules set in order to prevent that kind of issues. Therefore, monkeys are not concerned with visitors and live peacefully in their natural habitat. The park warden carries for wild monkeys who use to come into the park where they are admired by visitors. (they are wild animals who used to live in the mountain and although a lot of them come in the park, it could be possible not to have the chance of seeing them). Many of them love to come in the park during winter but it could be unusual to see them relaxing in hot springs during summer, except maybe during the coolest early mornings. This park is quite isolated and it takes about 30 minutes walk from the car park. In winter, the path could be covered with snow and it is advisable to take the right footwear to avoid slipping and to wear warm clothes.
A guided visit in the park is optional. If you would rather not to participate, please enjoy free time in Shibu Onsen until departure time.
Pilgrimage to Zenkoji temple
This temple is located north of Nagano Prefecture, and was founded at the 7th century. It was already established before the separation of buddhism in Japan. This temple accepts everyone without any distinction, including women, unlike least recent temples. Consequently, this temple has always been visited for centuries.
During the Edo period, local roads have been constructed and traveling has become easier than before. People began to travel into the heart of mountains in Nagano. At the end of the Edo period, Zenko-ji was a highly visited temple which allowed the city of Nagano to grow and become nowadays, the prefectural city. Into the main part of Zenkoji temple stands the statue of Amida-sanzon-zo. This is the oldest statue of Japan, and a true national treasure. Once every 7 years, during the “Gokaicho” time, a replica is shown to public because the original statue is kept preciously and even the priests of Zenko-ji are not allowed to contemplate it.
Tourism in Zenko-ji is also popular due to “Okaidan-meguri” road, where visitors walk under the Ruri-dan with heads bent down, into total darkness. While they are moving along the wall, visitors are heading for the “Gokuraku no Jo-mae” (The paradise keyhole) which is under the Buddha statue. It says that if you touch it, you could place yourself in relation with Buddha to Paradise. This experience has a true connection with buddhism.
Usually, people are skeptical about how this experience could have any interest, but thanks to it, we learn all the secrets of meditation and concentration. After touching the keyhole, we move into darkness, completely lost, but helped by concentration and the desire to reach the light as we wish to reach the awakening. And when we finally make it, we are dazzled by the light, relieved, and delighted by the wonders of the world around us. We realize how lucky we are to live in this world and grateful to our daylife. That is why these little road is synonymous of “Dojo”, a space for immersive learning and meditation.
When you are visiting Zenko-ji temple, we highly recommend you to spend the night in a temple called in Japanese, “Shukubo”.
Formerly, a Shukubo was part of a temple that welcomed pilgrims came from far away, and these people aimed for a modest meal and for spending the night in the same place where monks lived. They purified their souls and their body. Nowadays, in the same way, Shukubo welcome tourists who enjoy to spend the night in a comfortable place, the facilities and the service being improved. It is quite different from the ascetic life pilgrims used to experience before but it keeps the willingness to share the buddhist culture to visitors who stay here.
There is also the opportunity to experience the Sha-Kyo (a soutra transcription) and the Sha-Butsiu. But above all, O-asa-ji is highly recommended. It means the reading of the soutra aloud by the monks in the main part of the temple. It starts between 5 am and 6:30 am. Visitors are down on their knees while receiving the benediction from the main monks, a man and a woman (no discrimination in this temple). While the monks are heading for the main part of the temple, they are praying aloud and visitors are listening to them.
Il y a aussi la possibilité de faire l'expérience de Sha-kyo (transcription de soutra) et de Sha-butsu (réplication de Bouddha). Mais avant tout, l’“O-asa-ji” est très recommandé. "O-asa-ji" signifie la lecture d’un soutra à voix haute par tous les moines dans le bâtiment principal de Zenko-ji. Il commence entre 5 heures et demi et 6 heures et demi du matin. Les visiteurs en chemin vers le temple s’agenouillent et reçoivent la bénédiction un à un du moine principal homme et du moine principal femme (n’ayant aucune discrimination de sexe) s'avançant doucement vers eux.
Pendant que le moines, hommes et femmes se dirigent en priant à voix haute vers le bâtiment principal, les visiteurs en chemin les écoutent.
Si vous séjourner dans un temple, le guide du shukubo vous y conduira.
Apres "O-asa-ji", et "O-kaidan-meguri", vous pouvez prendre votre petit-déjeuner.
La participation à "O-asa-ji" n'est pas obligatoire, mais pour une fois, nous vous recommandons d'assister à cette expérience de bon matin.
Day 4 : Zenkoji - Matsumoto
~ historic town with a black castle ~
《Matsumoto-jo》 (Matsumoto castle)
In Japan, there are 12 castles which maintain their original appearances whose 5 are registered as national treasures. Among these are Himeji, Hinoke, Inuyama, Matsue and Matsumoto castles.
The dungeon and the moats surrounding the castle are beautiful and could be compared to those of Himeji Castle. Unlike Himeji castle and many castles in Japan, Matsumoto castle is painted in black that is why it is called “Karasu jo” (The crow castle). A red bridge beautifies the 6 floors high dungeon, surrounded by the moats. If you visit the interior of the castle, you will see the impressive defensive structure and ancient arsenal.
《Nakamachi dori》(Nakamachi street)
Nakamachi street is well known for its black and white wall called “Namako-kabe” and keeps the ancient Edo atmosphere. Formerly, sake brewers and kimono weavers created this walls and warehouses to avoid fires. Nowadays, the warehouses became folk art items shops, and coffee shops preserving the ancient ambiance.
Like Nakamachi street (Nakamachi-dori), the ancient Edo appearance of Nawate attracts many visitors. You will find many items in relation to the frog, the emblem of Matsumoto for more than 40 years. There are also many antique shops, bakeries and restaurants. Also stands Yohashira Shrine, known as a true spiritual sanctuary where it is possible to make wishes.
《Matsumoto-shi Bijutsukan》( Matsumoto art museum)
Matsumoto is the birthplace of the artist Yayoi Kusama, known for his “Naoshima pumpkins” and many others works of art kept in Matsumoto museum. In front of the museum stands the big “Maboroshi no Hana” work of art. You will certainly notice that many of Kusama works are exposed but you will also have the opportunity to admire the work of many other artists who was born in Matsumoto.
Day 5 : Matsumoto - Takayama
~ The little Kyoto of Hida
The superficie of Takayama is large as Tokyo but most of the land is mountainous so the inhabitable area is limited and the town counts about 90 000 inhabitants. A large section of the population is located in the center of the city not far from Takayama station. The place is situated west of Hida mountain chain (Northern japanese alps) including the city of Hida, Gero and Shirakawa-go. Into this wide area, the center of Takayama is called “Hida-Takayama”. Takayama developed being a transit of the route from Nagoya to Hokuriku, but snow falls and a lack of infrastructures have limited modern life. Consequently, the town preserved the old atmosphere of Edo period with its ancient merchant houses. It is registered in the area of conservation of traditional building. Formerly, Takayama was the starting point for mountaineer who headed for different trails and summits, but its beauty became well-known by word of mouth and it is today a great tourist site. Takayama is a provincial town but it was also a former land that belonged to the shogun Tokugawa, so the cultural asset regarding Edo period is important. The city is adorned with elegance, adding a touch of grace to the landscape. It is also called “little Kyoto” and is nowadays a well-visited site.
Tradition and Culture in Hida Takayama
As mentioned above, Takayama preserves the Edo period traditions, having been spared from modern life. Thanks to the rich natural resources, the Hida region developed the wood processing industry. The craftsmen are named “Hida no Takumi” (Hida’s craftsmen) due to their virtue of technical excellence. They were very pleased and popular in all fields and everytime. Hida pieces of furniture are today well-known worldwide. Pieces of art as “Ichi-i-itto-bori” sculptures and lacquered furnitures named “Shunkei-nuri”confirm their exceptional skills.
“Hida Takayama Matsuri” festival takes place in spring and summer. You will find plenty of carpentry woodworking demonstration and the making of parade floats (Yatai). Takayama-matsuri is one of the 3 great festivals of Hikiyama including Gion-Matsuri (Kyoto) and Chichibu-Yomatsuri (Saitama). In 2016, it had been registered in the UNESCO immaterial and cultural heritage in the Yama Hoko Gyoji section (japanese festival that includes float parade to pray the god and protect people from natural disaster. These are made thanks to the effort of communities in each town where the parade takes place). A dozen of those parade 2 times a year, and they are all different. Each one has its unique appearance and a very detailed framework. Mechanical dolls are also placed on the float. Because of their beauty and their sharpness, these are called “Ugoku Yomeimon” (beautiful moving Yomei gate). The old floats are preserved in the Takayama matsuri kaikan (Takayama festival center) and it really worth a visit.
Jour 6 : Takayama - Shirakawago
Departure for Shirakawa-go early in the afternoon.
In the region of Hida, Shirakawa-go Ogimachi village in Gifu prefecture, Gokayama Ainokura village and Suganuma village in Toyama prefecture are registered as a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage site.
Shirakawa-go is the biggest village among those 3 villages, and it is 2/3 of the World Heritage part, and there are 60 houses in total.
In Japanese, it is not simply "the village of the World Heritage", but it is registered under the name of "the village of Gassho style". The "Gassho" is the very unique thatched roofs of this region of World Heritage site.
Gassho style is one of the Japanese construction style and it is used for heavy snowfall region, and it is built by the combination of the logs alternately, steeply sloaped, thatched roofs that meet a high roof, which looks that "bringing the hands together to pray to the gods" which is "Gassho" in Japanese.
The design of the steaply sloaped roof is for that the snow piled up on the roof would easily sliding down.
The large garret created by those roofs was used for the shelves to raise silkworms. The sericultural industry is the principal industry in this region.
By the development of the sericultural industry, the roof was made higher and steeper to increase the space.
The roof is made without one single nail, and it is fixed by ropes but tough and flexible structure. The exposure of the house and the position of the window are fully calculated. This rational style of architecture is made by wisdom of ancestors.
The thatched roof maintains for 30-40years, but it is damaged by wind, rain and snow, so it is necessary to repair one or twice per year.
Changing the thatched roof is a great task so that all residents used to come to work together.
In the end of the 19th century, there were around 2,000 houses of Gassho style, but nevertheless, this style of architecture was exceptional and rare in Japan.
By the depopulation and by the constructions of the dams, many people left the villages, but as this region is located in the heavy snowfall area and
without the sufficient transportation facilities, the villages have been isolated from cities, and for this reason, some part of the villages were being maintained until today.
In due course, the actions of concerving the original and unique villages and rural landscape are started inside and outside of the villages, and finally, in 1994, they are registered as the 4th World Cultural Heritage site in Japan.
Today, it became a famed tourist spot but as the number of the souvenir stores and restaurants are increased, it is concerned that the original scenery of pastoral and calm mountain villages is vanishing.
Jour 7 : Shirakawa-go - Kanazawa
Free time in Kanazawa after having left your bag.
Known as "Kaga Hyakuman koku" (the wealthy Kaga Domain with a net worth of 1 million koku of rice), people and feudal lords admired its prosperity and even though the city is out from principal roades, the original graceful city has been founded.
Kaga has not been involved and damaged by wars, and by the Second World War, the classic and charming beauty remains.
Moreover, successive lords of the Domain encouraged the cultural activities, various traditional cultures are succeded until today.
Kenroku-en is known as one of the 3 best parks in Japan, a circuit style garden classed 3-star in the Michelin guide.
In each season, the park shows beautiful various beauty; the cherry blossom in spring, fresh green leaves in summer, red and yellow leaves in autumn, and Yukitsuri in winter (the technique for the protection of the trees for avoiding snow damage) and off course, a variety of flowers are worth to see in the garden.
Kenroku-en belongs to the Kanazawa castle, and it is located in a low hill, but there are many ponds and the warterways, trees and objets d'art make a magnificent harmony in the garden.
《21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art》
This museum features the contemporary arts after 1980 and the up-and coming artists' artworks are on exhibition.
As they are contemporary arts, perhaps the name of artists are not yet famous, but they will be well known, so that this is the investiments for the future.
For example, the unit of the architects SAANA who won the Golden Lion prize for the most significant work in the international architecture exhibition of the Venice Biennale constructed the unique circular design and elegant galleries one floor under ground and one floor above ground.
Now SANAA is in charge of the design for the renovation of the old department store in Paris, La Samaritaine de Paris.
Myoryuji is the official name of this temple, but it is called as the Ninja Temple because of many trap doors and secret passageways inside.
The temple has no relation with the historical ninja who spies and assasins, but this architecture has been made because of the history of the domain of Kaga.
The domain of Kaga was called as "Kaga Hyakuman koku" (the wealthy Kaga Domain with a net worth of 1 million koku of rice), and the very wealthy and powerful feudral clan so that they have been watched out by the central gouvernment the Tokugawa Shogunate.
However, they could not officialy protect them by the gouvernement, so that they built the temple with fully function of protection secretly for the emergency of atacks.
The visit tour must be pre-booked in advance, and the guide will show you the traps inside of the temple.
《Higashi & Nishi Chaya District, Kazue-machi & Naga-machi Chaya District and Samurai residence》
Without beein involved into the wars, this region maintains classic and peaceful streets of Edo period unti today.
They have been influenced by the elegant culture of Kyoto because of the location, and the entertainment district with luxury restaurants with Maiko and Geisha was developped along the river Saigawa.
Especially, Higashi Chaya District and Kazue-machi Chaya District are designated as the Nation's Preservation District for Groups of Historic Buildings.
And in Nagamachi, the beautiful earthen walls of upper and middle classes samurai's residences and pavements will drive you in the ancient classical period.
Seison-kaku is specified in the Nation's Important Cultural Properties and built in 1863, in the transition period from Edo to Meiji, very turbulent time of Japan.
It is built by the lord of Kaga for the retirement of his mother, so that we can find his careful attention for the parent in the elegance of the construction.
The ground floor is buit in Shoinzukuri style (the traditional style of Japanese residential architecture) of feudal lord, and the 1st flor is in the style of Sukiyazukuri which is based of a Japanese tea ceremony building. Each room has been decorated in own theme.
We can find the modern oxidental touch which was very modern at that time into the traditional construction and these aspects make the special charm of the building.
《The park of Kanazawa castle》
The Kanazawa castle is the residence of Kaga Domain "Kaga Hyakuman koku" (the wealthy Kaga Domain with a net worth of 1 million koku of rice), the family of Maeda.
What we see today is the renovated one in the end of 20th century, and the most of the original part of the castle has been burnt in the end of 18th century. In 19th century, it was used as military facilities of the army, and it was used as the campus of the university after the Second World War.
The main building of the castle is not restored, but the central raised platform and the main gate, and positions and constructions of the facilities are historicaly re-produced.
Especially the technique of stone walls are very high and you can find the stone walls of different style and different period, so that this castle is also called as "the museum of stone walls".
Jour 8 : Kanazawa
Ideas of activities to enjoy after the tour
Time for the freshy delicious seafood. Since Toyama bay is refer as natural fishpond, variety of fish are available in the bay. In particular, Japanese glass shrimps, watasenia scintillans, and yellowtails captured in the bay are well known. Eating a slice of fatty yellowtail in winter will be your unforgettable taste.
A canal flows in Uchikawa area of Toyama Shinko, there are residential houses stand along the canal as well as fishing boats anchorage that is the reason why Uchikawa area is called as "Japanese Venice".
You can see the grand view of Tateyama mountain range if the weather is permitted.
In addition, Toyama bay became a member of the World's Most Beautiful Bays Club in 2014 due to its beauty and mirages appeared in springs and autumns. Time required from Kanazawa to Toyama Shinko is approx. 90 minutes.
Kaga hot springs area is only 30 minutes away from Kanazawa. Yamanaka and Yamashiro hot springs that represent of Kaga onsen are best place to warm and heal your body. You will be freshen up from coldness and tiredness.
Kaga onsen has long history, it has been told that it opened about 1300 years ago and used be the busy port of call of Kitamae sen (cargo ships that sailed Japan Sea) shuttled between Hokkaido and Osaka during the Edo period.
As you are freshen up by Kaga onsen, local food may give you refreshness since Ishikawa prefecture is rich rice-producing region.
★Fukui Prefectural Dinosaur Museum
The rare dinosaur museum in the world, Fukui Prefectural Dinosaur Museum, is located in Katsuyama city of Fukui prefecture, and it takes about 2 hours from Kanazawa station via train and bus. You will be welcomed by spectacularly displayed skeletons and samples of the dinosaurs crammed in the museum. Inside the museum, there is "Dino Lab" where there are touchable fossils, quiz boxes about fossils and more. It may help you to feel the primitive life near you.
Also the museum put on themed exhibitions irregularly other than the permanent exhibition.
|Important to know|
Température moyenne (en degrés Celsius)
*Please ask us for the extra nights before or/and after the tour.