The Official Tourism Site of Matsumoto, Nagano, Japan
Weather
Archive by month

Mount Yakedake – Hiking an Active Volcano

Hiking toward Mount Yake's gas plumes.

Hiking toward Mount Yake’s gas plumes.

This last weekend, I enjoyed a hike to the top of an active volcano on the edge of Matsumoto’s mountain region. Mount Yakedake (Yakedake = Burning Mountain) can be most easily accessed from one of two approaches; Kamikochi, which can be reached by bus, and Nakanoyu, which can be reached by car, taxi, or bus, though the trailhead might be hard to find from the Nakanoyu bus stop.

I was lucky enough to catch a ride in my friend’s car so we took the Nakanoyu approach. To find the trailhead, drive up the road a few minutes past Nakanoyu Onsen Ryokan. You’ll know when you find it because there will be other cars parked on the side of the road. Although we left Matsumoto before 5:00 in the morning, we grabbed the last parking spot immediately in front of the trailhead. At the trailhead, you’ll also likely find warning signs explaining the current dangers of the volcano.

Sign explaining the volcanic activity on the mountain just a week earlier.

Sign explaining the volcanic activity on the mountain just a week earlier.

The start of the hike reminded me of hiking back home in Seattle. The mountainous trail, greenery everywhere, the tall trees, and the light rain made me feel comfortable and confident. You’ll find moss-covered logs with new plants sprouting out of them, tangle roots holding pools of water, and bursts of color amongst the sea of green.

Plants growing out of a dying tree.

Plants growing out of a dying tree.

 

Orange fungus growing on a dying tree.

Orange fungus growing on a dying tree.

 

Don't eat strange berries unless you know what you're doing.

Don’t eat strange berries unless you know what you’re doing.

 

Purple Flowers growing in a clearing.

Purple flowers growing in a clearing.

 

These wooden paths keep you out of the mud... some of the time.

These wooden paths keep you out of the mud… some of the time.

 

Be careful of the puddles collecting in the tree roots!

Be careful of the puddles collecting in the tree roots!

Even with the rain and the clouds obstructing the view, it was a beautiful and enchanting hike.

Now and then, the rain slowed and we could see farther up the mountain.

Now and then, the rain slowed and we could see farther up the mountain.

 

Eventually, we made it above the rain.

Eventually, we made it above the rain.

After a couple of hours of hiking, the clouds finally disbursed and we enjoyed the full view Mt. Yakedake had to offer. Looking up, we could see the poisonous gases billowing from vents in the rock. A fast hiker could make it from the trailhead to the top in around 2~3 hours. My hiking buddy and I took our time and finally reached the peak in around 4 hours.

The hiking trail goes past vents spewing poisonous gases. Don't get too close!

The hiking trail goes past vents spewing poisonous gases. Don’t get too close!

 

The trail follows a catwalk toward the gas vents.

The trail follows a catwalk toward the gas vents.

We rested, ate, and took photos at the peak. The weather occasionally offered us some amazing photo opportunities. From the top, you can look down on the large gas vents, a beautiful lake in the center of the volcano’s crater, and the many surrounding mountains and valleys. The constant plumes of gases rising into the air nearby reminds you of the many warnings to be cautious of any activity that feels out of place. All the signs tell you to evacuate immediately if there is any activity you feel is unsafe or abnormal. Apparently, the billowing gas plumes are normal!

We finally reached the top of Mount Yake!

We finally reached the top of Mount Yakedake!

 

Great view of the the vents from above.

Great view of the the vents from above. Can you spot the tiny hiker?

 

A cloudy view of the crater's lake from the peak.

A cloudy view of the crater’s lake from the peak.

 

Great views of the valleys bellow.

Great views of the valleys below.

 

I wasn't brave enough to climb on these precarious rocks.

I wasn’t brave enough to climb on these precarious rocks.

 

There are plenty of great photo opportunities without taking risks.

There are plenty of great photo opportunities without taking risks.

We stayed at the peak for over an hour before heading back down. I noticed steaming vents on the actual trail where we climbed down to the walking path. I recommend not breathing the gases coming from these small vents!

Be careful of the little gas vents on the final climb to the peak!

Be careful of the little gas vents on the final climb to the peak!

The skies had cleared up considerably for our hike down the mountain. We took a small break on a rock to rest and take photos. Lucky for us, this rock was a butterfly magnet! They landed all over our stuff – and on us!

Great views from Butterfly Rock.

Great views from Butterfly Rock.

 

Butterflied were on our bags.

Butterflies landed on our bags.

 

Butterflies even landed on us!

Butterflies even landed on us!

There were plenty of other bugs and animals to spot during the hike. I saw spiders, flies, grasshoppers, birds, and even a snake!

A dragonfly on a branch.

A dragonfly on a branch.

 

Crickets on a moss-covered rock.

Crickets on a moss-covered rock.

 

Fly on a green blade.

Fly on a green blade.

 

A harmless snake winding down the trail.

A harmless snake winding down the trail.

Although this is a relatively simple hike, it is steep. My unconditioned knees were aching on the way down, even with having worn knee braces the entire hike. Yet, I still felt refreshed and satisfied when we reached the car.

We finally made it back to the car!

We finally made it back to the car!

The beauty and power of Mount Yakedake is a memory that will stay with me for a long time. Don’t “blow” your chance to visit this magnificent active volcano! Go check it out!

Beautiful view of the path ahead when you hike Mount Yake.

Beautiful view of the path ahead when you hike Mount Yakedake.


You can see my videos on Matsumoto (and more!) on my Discovery Makes Knowledge Youtube channel!

Baba Family Residence

Baba’s Family Residence is an immaculately preserved late-Edo period home of wealthy farmers. This estate is tucked into a pocket of farmland, giving the farm a surreal view of green fields and mountains from the front gate of the property. As a lover of history, there was a lot more here than I was expecting!

There isn’t much English information about this residence online. I was able to gather some information from knowledgeable people before my visit. I was also lucky enough to arrange a tour by the property’s curator, which isn’t normally done.

My research brought up a lot of important details for understanding and appreciating the residence that I certainly would have missed if I’d simply gone there after a couple of Google searches.

The Baba Family Residence.

The Baba Family Residence.

 

The Baba family descends from the relative of a vassal who served under the famous Japanese warrior, Takeda Shingen. In one of the front rooms, you can see a painting with Takeda at the top and some of the Baba descendants under him.

Takeda stands at the top of a painting of his descendants.

Takeda stands at the top of a painting of his descendants.

A line of 16 Babas extend from the 16th century through today. It was the 12th Baba, Gizaemon, who built most of the buildings you’ll find when visiting. The 16th and current Baba, Taro, donate much of the property to the city of Matsumoto in 1992. Matsumoto City’s renovation efforts go a long way toward making this such an amazing destination.

There was a surprising number of activities that kept me engaged much longer than I was expecting! Some details could be easy to miss, so let me be your tour guide!

The walkway from the street, leading to the inner-gate.

The walkway from the street, leading to the inner-gate.

Surroundings – Riding my bicycle set a relaxing, peaceful mood for my visit. The 40 minute bike trip from Matsumoto Station to the residence winds through small neighborhoods and patches of farmland. The front of the entrance is opposite wide open fields, making the property really pop. There’s a manicured space between the street and the gate with a path, trees, and flowers.

I parked my bike out front and wandered the front garden area before entering the inner-gate. At 10 in the morning, I was the only visitor. This enhanced the beauty of the experience after my relaxing bicycle ride.

The inner-gate, looking out toward farmland.

The inner-gate, looking out toward farmland.

Inner-Gate – Legend has it that the impressive inner-gate was built to welcome the lord of Takashima Castle, in neighboring Suwa. Being close to the family, the lord was known to visit the property. The family’s wealth when the buildings were constructed in the 1850s and their ongoing friendship with the castle lord certainly make this story plausible.

View of the house through the mouth of the inner-gate.

View of the house through the mouth of the inner-gate.

The Home – After entering the gate, I walked straight to the office to begin my tour of the home. The first room is an open area where you should take your shoes off before continuing deeper into the home. In this area, you’ll already see historic photos, art, and model recreations. Almost all of the home is open for visitors. You’re allowed to explore the Lord’s Entrance, the lord’s room (and lord’s bathroom!), the master baba’s room, common rooms, the kitchen, one of the upstairs areas, and more.

It should be obvious which stairs you are allowed to go up because there will be no ropes or blockades. Upstairs is where the house caretaker lived. I enjoyed looking out over the property from the upper windows. The caretaker had a clear view of everyone coming and going through the front gate. There’s also a beautiful painting of the Baba home on display.

The welcoming kitchen made me hungry.

The welcoming kitchen made me hungry.

The Kitchen – The kitchen has the traditional cooking pit surrounded by mats, a cooking stove, a sink, and lots of photos, displays, and decorations. The pot over the cooking pit is suspended by a really cool device that allows the pod to be easily raised and lowered (I should have taken a picture of it!). The kitchen ceiling is high, using the traditional Japanese method of opening windows or the roof vent to get rid of smoke. This gives the kitchen an open, welcoming feel.

I’ve seen a few of these cooking areas in old Japanese homes, but I found this one particularly welcoming. It made me want to sit and eat with friends in a circle around a pot of delicious food!

The entrance reserved for the visiting lord of Takeshima Castle

The entrance reserved for the visiting lord of Takashima Castle

The Lord’s Entrance – The visiting lord of Takashima Castle didn’t enter through the same door as other visitors. You’ll find the lord’s ornate entrance positioned off the courtyard in line with the inner-gate. The room he entered would be closed off to others when he arrived. In this room, the head Baba and the lord would commune. Directly off of this room, toward the garden, you’ll find the room where the lord slept. This is the room where you’ll find the painting of Takeda and his descendants.

This area made my imagination run wild. It made me think of the first episode of Game of Thrones where King Robert was talking to Lord Stark Winterfell. I kept wondering what kind of political intrigue was discussed behind closed doors. What sorts of real-life historical dramas could have been set in this home?

View of the inner-gate from the Lord's Entrance.

View of the inner-gate from the Lord’s Entrance.

 

The Bathroom – Just off of the lord’s room, you’ll find a bathroom! I’ve visited quite a few old Japanese homes and I’d never seen a bathroom built inside a home! There is a wooden sink, a urinal, and a small room with a hole to squat over. Above the sink, you’ll find holes where water would have been piped down. The sink had a slight slope toward a hole in the wall that drained outside. I hope you’re as excited as I am about this (rudimentary, but highly functional) toilet area! But… maybe it’s just me…

View of the garden from inside the home.

View of the garden from inside the home.

The Garden – The gate to the most beautiful garden on the property is closed off to the public. But, don’t worry! The Garden is in full display from the home itself! The garden has a series of ponds, connected by a small creek. I enjoyed sitting on the edge of the home and soaking up the greenery.

The Storehouse – There’s a storehouse directly behind the home that’s open to the public and that I was pretty excited about. I’ve seen so many of these storehouses along Nakamachi Street in downtown Matsumoto, but I’d never been able to explore one in its original condition! The storehouse was set up to showcase a few artifacts related to the storehouse and the home’s architecture.

In the upstairs of the storehouse, you’ll see photos and luggage of a Baba who had travelled the world as a diplomat in the early 20th century. I love exploring this Baba’s adventures through the photos on display!

Farm equipment on display.

Farm equipment on display.

Farm Equipment Showcase – In the courtyard in front of the home, you’ll find a few other buildings to explore, including one dedicated to showing the Babas’ retired farm equipment. There are saws, sickles, carts, and all sorts contraptions I couldn’t identify. My favorite part were the old photos of the Babas’ fields being worked. These photos reminded me of visiting my ancestors’ farms back in western Washington, USA.

Silk Weaving Machines – Another building off the front courtyard showcases silk weaving equipment. The family raised silkworms in layered beds that you can see on display. You can see the many machines used to process the silk.

Neolithic settlement, dating thousands of years before the Babas.

Neolithic settlement, dating thousands of years before the Babas.

Neolithic Artifacts – The last building off the courtyard was my favorite. This was surprising because I hadn’t read anything about this during my research of the property! Apparently, the Baba Family Residence is on the site of Neolithic community, dating back thousands of years. You can see many artifacts excavated from the area. There are tools, arrowheads, 4,000 year old pots, and lots of photos of the excavated homes. There’s even a model recreation of what the homes looked like at the time.

My favorite artifact was the 3,000 year old stone figure. It’s carved on a flat stone, about the size of a doll. It’s cracked in half, but the carved features are still easy to identify.

Stone Figure on display.

Stone Figure on display.

I knew there would be lots of history at the Baba Family Residence, but the Neolithic artifacts really impressed me! I can’t believe this isn’t promoted more!

Baba family shrine, sitting in front of an 800 year old tree.

Baba family shrine, sitting in front of an 800 year old tree.

Baba Family Shrine – On your way out of the property, there’s still one more stop! The Baba family’s shrine is in the middle of a batch of trees in front of the property. It’s hard to miss because the trees are an island in the middle of flat farmland. The shrine is a traditional shrine with a Shinto gate and a little enclosed shrine building. The key feature is the 800 year old tree directly behind it! The trunk is massive!

Walkway to the office.

Walkway to the office.

Overall, the Baba Family Residence has a lot more to offer than you might expect. There were a few pamphlets in English, but expect to be on your own after paying the entrance fee. Although it has such a small presence online, it has jumped high on my list of places I recommend tourists visit. It’s a great place to explore, relax, and soak up the beauty – especially if the weather is clear enough for a bike ride.

For information on opening times, admission fees, etc., please see the Baba Family Residence page.

Tour de Utsukushigahara Heights 2017

Tour de Utsukushigahara - Cyclists

Tour de Utsukushigahara is one of the premiere Japanese bicycle races.

Once a year, thousands of people line the streets to watch and compete in the Tour de Utsukushigahara Heights bicycle race! These bicyclists trek the 21.6 km at a 5.9% average incline. That’s a 1,270 meter altitude difference from start to finish! I was lucky enough to watch this premiere Japanese bicycle race this year.

I woke up at 6:30AM on Sunday, June 25, 2017. I was at the starting line by 7:00AM, just north of the Matsumoto Baseball Stadium. With 30 minutes left before the race kicked off, the area was already full of bicyclists, workers, and spectators.

Participants were practicing their warm-up traditions. Some stretched, some were doing warm-up laps, and some spend the whole time reviewing their bicycle and gear. It was almost time! Workers ran around, keeping people off the course and away from technical equipment, as photographers, cyclists, and spectators crowded the starting line to see the start of the race.

The time-card girls flashed the 1 minute card… then the 30 second card. BANG! With the sound of the gun, the first round of cyclists rushed down the street and around the corner!

Tour de Utsukushigahara - 1 Minute

The time-card girl showing the 1 minute card.

Tour de Utsukushigahara - Start

The race begins!

The course makes its way through the bathhouse district and into hillside neighborhoods. From there, the trees take over as the course winds its way up the mountain side. After enjoying the start of the race, I made my way up the hill along the side of the course. Every time a new round of cyclists started the race, the crowds on the side of the road cheered and made loud noises with make-shift shakers and drums. I stopped to take photos of each wave of cyclists. When the last cyclist of a wave finally turned around the corner, disappearing behind buildings, the spectators would quiet down while waiting for the next batch of cyclists to come by.

Tour de Utsukushigahara - Mountain

The mountain looms menacingly.

If you want to participate in the race, the application period is usually from March to May. To just watch, definitely get there early! The road up the mountain is blocked off starting at 6:00AM. It’s possible to walk up the course a fair distance, but I recommend staying in the city/neighborhood areas to do your cheering. Get there by 7:00AM to claim the spot you want.

Tour de Utsukushigahara - Hill

Cyclists pushing uphill.

I was impressed by the size and intensity of the race. I was even more impressed by the men and women – young to old – who pushed themselves to accomplish this amazing feat! Regardless of if you participate, I highly recommend attending the Tour de Utsukushigahara if you ever have the chance! It’s a very inspiring experience!


You can see my videos on Matsumoto (and more!) on my Discovery Makes Knowledge Youtube channel!


Recent Comments