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Akanejuku in Gakenoyu Hot Springs – Amazing View of the Japan Alps!

Front entrance to Akanejuku

Front entrance to Akanejuku

Last week I paid a visit to Akanejuku, a traditional Japanese inn/ryokan in Gakenoyu Hot Springs located in the southern part of Matsumoto. Akanejuku sits on the side of the mountains underneath Takabocchi Highlands and overlooks the Japan Alps to the west. With the panoramic outlook of the Japan Alps and city of Shiojiri and Matsumoto below, it probably offers some of the best views you can find from a ryokan in Matsumoto! Akanejuku gets its name from the deep red color (akane in Japanese) of the sunset sky and the panoramic outlook from ryokan is painted in a beautiful rosy hue as the sunsets over the mountains. You can see this breathtaking view from the huge windows in Akanejuku’s cozy lounge and best of all, directly from the hot spring bath!

Akanejuku, main building

Akanejuku, main building

View from Akanejuku's lounge

View from Akanejuku’s lounge

View of the sunset from Akanejuku (photo courtesy of Akanejuku)

View of the sunset from Akanejuku (photo courtesy of Akanejuku)

Besides the amazing scenery, the buildings of Akanejuku themselves are just as impressive. The buildings, some of them over 100 years old, are traditional examples of old-style, Meji Era architecture from around Matsumoto. For example, one distinctive characteristic of such buildings are the three-pronged roof ornaments called suzume odori or suzume odoshi that you’ll find above the entrance of Akanejuku (photo below). On the inside, Akanejuku’s rooms are furnished with traditional wooden folk art furniture and various Japanese antiques like the open hearth (“irori”) in the lobby, paintings, an intricately painted kite, and other crafts.

The "suzume odori" or "suzume odoshi" roof ornament of Akanejuku's main building.

The “suzume odori” or “suzume odoshi” roof ornament of Akanejuku’s main building.

An open hearth in Akanejuku's lobby

An open hearth in Akanejuku’s lobby

Painted kite hanging in the dining hall

Painted kite hanging in the dining hall

Painting of the Japan Alps

Painting of the Japan Alps

Stained glass lamp at Akanejuku's enterance

Stained glass lamp at Akanejuku’s enterance

One of Akanejuku's antiques

One of Akanejuku’s antiques

Of course, a trip to Akanejuku wouldn’t be complete without experiencing the hot spring! The hot spring baths are situated right on the west side of the mountain so you have a phenomenal view of the Japan Alps and the city below. The open-air bath has no walls blocking any part of the view so the sky and mountains stretch out right before your eyes. If you go at sunset, you might be able to see the scenery turn a beautiful deep red. If you go at night, you’ll have an unobstructed view of the starry sky above and sparkling city lights below. Go in the winter or early spring to get the clearest view of the Japan Alps covered in a blanket of snow.

You don’t need to be an overnight guest to enjoy the hot spring at Akanejuku. You can also stop by just for a dip in the bath, which is what I did this time. The indoor bath was constructed from stone tiles and has a lot of space. Since the indoor bath has huge windows, you can still see the panoramic view from there. The outdoor bath is smaller and is partially constructed from wood, but what I really liked about it was the temperature – it’s not as hot as the typical hot spring, so you can take extra time to soak in the water and enjoy the scenery before getting too hot and having to leave. And with the smaller space, I got to have a fun conversation with a couple of the regular visitors to the hot spring.

For day visitors at Akanejuku, the bath is available from 11 am – 7 pm (last entrance at 6 pm) on weekdays and Sunday. Be careful on Saturdays, on days before a holiday, and long holidays like O-bon and New Year’s because the bath is only open to day visitors from 11 am to 2 pm (last entrance at 1 pm). Price is 700 yen for adults.

Open-air bath at Akanejuku

Open-air bath at Akanejuku (photo courtesy of Akanejuku)

Indoor bath with stone tiles

Indoor bath with stone tiles

If you stay to eat at Akanejuku, you get to enjoy a traditional-style Japanese meal with local dishes in a beautifully constructed dining hall with thick, wooden beams and darkly stained wooden folk furniture. I also liked seeing the display of all the homemade fruit liquors made at the ryokan. When you enter the dining hall, make sure you look up to see the amazing wooden beam structure of the roof!

Akanejuku's dining hall

Akanejuku’s dining hall

Homemade liquors on display in the dining hall

Homemade liquors on display in the dining hall

Amazing wooden beam construction of the dining hall's roof.

Amazing wooden beam construction of the dining hall’s roof.

Gakenoyu Hot Springs would be a great place to stay if you’re visiting Matsumoto or even if you’re a resident and want to spend a special day away from home. There are also hiking trails you can access from Gakenoyu Hot Springs to the top of Takabocchi Highlands. Overnight stays at Akanejuku start from 10,000 yen, or there are also options to have the full course dinner (including the hot spring) without staying overnight.

Yamashichi Ryokan and Yamajo Ryokan two other Japanese inns that are nestled in the quite forest around Gakenoyu Hot Springs. Both inns also offer indoor hot spring baths for day trippers. At Yamajo Ryokan, you’ll get a great view of the Japan Alps like at Akanejuku and enjoy easy access to the hiking trails to Takabocchi Highlands and Mt. Hachibuse, while at Yamashichi Ryokan you can also enjoy a more laid back walking trail around the inn and even pay a visit to their farm!

See access information for Gakenoyu Hot Springs on our page here.
Akanjuku’s Japanese website is here.
Yamajo Ryokan’s Japanese website is here.
Yamashichi’s Japanese website is here.

Asama Hot Springs and Fujinoyu Ryokan

Last month I had a wonderful opportunity to visit the family-owned, traditional-style Japanese inn, Fujinoyu Ryokan, in the Asama Onsen (Hot Springs) area of Matsumoto. This particular ryokan is almost 200 years old (it’s been open since the 1830s!!) and has its own natural hot spring baths in the building.

There are few special things about Fujinoyu. First is its collection of antiques that include authentic samurai armor and formal wear, samurai swords, paintings and calligraphy by one of the Matsumoto Castle lords, and paintings by Kogetsu Saigo, who was one of the four most famous painters at the end of the 19th century. Kogetsu Saigo was born in the Matsumoto area and was one of the first students to attend the Tokyo School of the Arts in the late 1800s. The inside of the ryokan feels very much like a mini museum and some of the items were gifted to the family by the lords of Matsumoto Castle themselves!

Samurai armor displayed at the entrance of the ryokan

Samurai armor displayed at the entrance of the ryokan

Samurai formal wear

Samurai formal wear

Paintings by Kogetsu Saigo

Paintings by Kogetsu Saigo

Of course, one of the best reasons to stay at a traditional ryokan are the elaborate “kaiseki ryori” meals that consist of several painstakingly prepared, small dishes which could possibly be mistaken for tiny works of art. The food is usually served on equally beautiful plates, trays and dishes. The best ryokan will make everything from scratch and use local ingredients (Fujinoyu is no exception). Here is just some of the food that we got served at Fujinoyu and the amazing table presentation:

The table settings in our (private) dining room

The table settings in our (private) dining room

A set of small appetizers

A set of small appetizers

Smoked duck

Smoked duck

A delicate soup with clams and red & white somen noodles

A delicate soup with clams and red & white somen noodles

After the meal, we got to enjoy Fujinoyu’s hot spring. There are two large baths (one for men and one for women) and there is one special private bath that can be used by couples, families or individuals. This bath is unique in that instead of tiles around the bath, they used tatami mats! Also, the hot water comes directly from the hot spring (as opposed to being heated or being mixed with regular water to adjust the temperature).

The private bath with a tatami floor and direct line from the natural hot spring.

The private bath with a tatami floor and direct line from the natural hot spring.

Fujinoyu is just one of many hot springs and ryokan in the Asama Hot Springs area, each with their own characteristic atmosphere, baths, and food. The area has a long history dating back hundreds and hundreds of years and during the Edo Period (1603-1867), one of the lords of Matsumoto Castle built his own bathhouse here, so even back then it was known as a resort area to go and relax. Needless to say, it’s a great area to stay if you’re coming to Matsumoto and want to literally soak in its long history.

Here is a list of the ryokans and hot springs in Asama Onsen:

To learn more about the Fujinoyu Ryokan that I wrote about in this article, check out their website here:

Japanese-Style Illumination at Asama Hot Spring Has Started!

In Japan, the winter is a season of “illumination”. There are some beautiful illumination spots lighted up by LEDs. In Nagano, Karuizawa, Azumino, and Suzaka’s illumination events are famous.

This winter, not large but unique illumination has started at Asama Hot Springs in Matsumoto. It is Japanese taste design lighting in front of Hot Plaza Asama, a day trip hot spring facility. You can watch the “healing illumination” while soaking your feet in the free foot hot spring.

Japanese-style illumination of origami cranes and Matsumoto temari balls, made and played in the castle in Edo period.

Japanese-style illumination of origami cranes and Matsumoto temari balls, made and played in the castle in Edo period.

The lights on trees are designed to twinkle by natural wind, like stars in the sky.

Because of the M 6.7 earthquake that occurred on 22nd November and damaged some portions in Hakuba and Northern Nagano, even hotels in Asama Hot Springs suffered from cancellations, even though Matsumoto is in the center of Nagano Prefecture and didn’t have any direct damage.

Now, there are no problems at all sightseeing spots and ski resorts in Nagano, including transportation.

Kick-off ceremony of illumination

People in Asama Onsen hope this beautiful illumination will overcome the quake.?

Asama Hot Spring is located in a convenient place in Matsumoto, Nagano. It is just a ten minute bus ride from Matsumoto Castle. It also has a very long history, 1,300 years or more and feudal lords of the Castle visited there in the Edo period (17th century).

All the lights are LEDs using small amounts of electricity

The illumination is shining 5pm to 0am until April 19.

More than twenty traditional Japanese ryokans in Asama Onsen and the illumination are wating for you.

Plum Blossoms Festival in Norikura

The 43rd Plum Blossoms Festival(sumomo-matsuri) will be held at Ichinose Ranch(一の瀬牧場)in Norikura Highlands on May 18th Sunday.

The ceremony starts from 10:30 a.m., admission is “free”. Live music with Alpine Horns, Taiko(Japanese drums), Yodel Chorus and Japanese traditional dance are offered to the visitors along with “Sake”, “soba” and “Miso soup” services.

Sumomo(Japanese plum) trees grow naturally in Norikura Highlands, they usually start blooming from mid- May and last until Mid June.

Sumomo jam, wine and ice ream are on sale at the shop in Ichinose ranch.

And don’t forget about famous Norikura Onsen(hot springs)! There are several inns and public bathhouse for day trip visitors.

Yukemurikan(湯けむり館)opens from 9:30~20:00, admission fee is 720 yen for adults, 300 yen for kids.
There are many small inns and hotels with onsen in Norikura area. ⇒Norikura accomodations

To reach Norikura highlands, Haruyama bus(春山バス) services are available until June 30th.
The bus departs from Shinshimashima bus terminal in Matsumoto, and takes visitors to the snowy corridors on Mt. Kuraigahara.
Haruyama bus info

2 Days Free Bus Passport (& 4 days also available)

Good news for the tourists who wish to visit Kamikochi, Norikura, Matsumoto and Utsukushigahara all at once.

Very reasonable 2 Days Free Bus Passport is now available at ALPICO bus terminals in Matsumoto and Shinshimashima.

This 2 days free passport is 5,150 yen for adults (half price for kids (including tax)), available at ALPICO counter in Matsumoto Bus Terninal and Shinshimashima Bus Terminal. It is handy to use and perfect for touring Matsumoto area! Just to show this passport to the driver before get off the bus (except for Kamikochi line). For Kamikochi line, you need to get a “Numbered ticket (determining order of service)”at Kamikochi Bus Terminal in addition to this 2 days passport for boarding.

With this amazing open ticket, all bus services including Kamikochi line(train), Utsukushigahara line and of course Matsumoto city zone lines become free within 2 days after the purchasing.

In addition to this, by paying double the price of 2 days pass, you can get 4 days free ticket called “Shinshu – Hida Wide Free Passport“.
With this 4 days pass, you can even visit Takayama and Shirakawa village and come back to Matsumoto. The pass is available at ALPICO counter in Matsumoto and Shinshimashima bus terminals, Takayama Nohi Bus Center and Gero Bus Center in Gifu.

Have fun!

“Matsumoto Concierge Map” will be distributed

“Matsumoto Concierge” is a civic volunteer group guiding tourists from JR Matsumoto Station and the downtown tourist information booth.
The Castle Town: Matsumoto Concierge Map” was created by “Matsumoto Concierge” members after numerous discussions, and the most useful, often unwritten, tourist information has been selected.

Recommended restaurants with price range, availabilities of credit cards, free wi-fi and English menus, and the locations for  free bicycle pick-up, convenience stores, drug stores, banks, coin lockers, camera equipment stores are addressed on the map.  Since all the spots, shops and restaurants introduced on the map are selected by the locos (Matsumotorian),  the short comments tell real stories of Matsumoto.

This unique and very useful map is provided at the major hotels and inns in the downtown area, and will be distributed at the “Matsumoto Concierge” booth which is located in front of the wicket gate of JR Matsumoto station during tourist season starting from this golden week.

However, the number of the map is very limited, it may not be available to every tourist who will visit Matsumoto in this year.

Please download the map image from ⇒ “Matsumoto Concierge Map“, so you can install in the tablets of yours and use them while strolling the town.

Have lots of fun along with this handy information!

Nagawa “Soba Festa” Oct 20th

Nagawa is a small village located on the western mountain range, about one hour away from JR Matsumoto Station by both train and local bus.
There, “Soba Festa” has been held until November 4th. During the festival, various Soba restaurants are serving this year’s first cropped soba and having stamp rally. Collect stamps by trying at different soba restaurants during this season, guests will get some prize.  But forget about prize and such, Soba in Nagawa is already rewarding!!

This Sunday the 20th, they are serving “Nagawa Soba” which only use this region’s buckwheat for 500 yen at Sansai kan.  After having wonderful meal, travelers can relax at the local inn’s natural hot spring “Onsen”. Enjoy autumn’s breath taking colorful foliage on the mountain and delicious local soba in Matsumoto’s back yard!

Festival² in Matsumto!

Oct 1st ~ 3rd,  we have two local shrine festivals here in Matsumoto.

Yohashira Shrine・・・・1st to 3rd, downtown near the castle

Asama Hot Spring・・・the night of Oct 3rd!

↑ Shinto-sai at Yohashira Shrine ↓

At night, fireworks display the river Metoba.

↓ Taimatsu-matsuri (Fire Festival in Asama Hot Spring)

Have fun!!

Snowmobile, snowshoeing & cross-country ski at Utsukushigahara 王ヶ頭ホテル

Ougatou Hotel (Ohgatou Hotel)  王ヶ頭ホテル is located on the crest of the Utsukushigahara Heights (美ヶ原高原), an elevation of 2,000 meters.

In this time of the year, they offer very attractive outdoor activities for the guests.  Until the end of March,  guests can sign up for the snowmobile tour which leaves the hotel every morning.

They also provide a “Snowshoeing Plan,  snowshoes rental fee is included in the hotel charges.

Of course, you can enjoy cross-country skiing while staying there.  (Rental ski gears are available)

And the most of all, what is so distinctive about this hotel is its open-air bath and indoor bath with magnificent view.

There are no obstacles, in the 100 % wild and natural settings, visitors of this mountain lodge can be fully relaxed.

Please enjoy a fantastic view of 360 degrees from Utsukushigahara Heights.  This will surely become one of  the unforgettable experiences  in Japan.

Reservation・・・・・Ougatou Hotel (Rakuten Travel) or see “tripadvisor”

*Ougatou Hotel has selected as a Japan’s No.1 hotel for family use in Tripadvisor’s TRAVELERS’ CHOICE 2013 Award!!

*Note*  You can’t take your own car to the hotel during the winter( November 25th to April 20th) due to closedown of the road.  You need to make a hotel reservation, a ” shuttle bus”  will be there to pick you up from JR Matsumoto station.

Before snow melts, better hurry to see their greatest view!!

Koshin sama (お庚申さま)Festival in Asama & Azusagawa on 22nd

At the night of Koshin (庚申), traditional Japanese conduct a special ritual.  The 22nd of February, Koshin festivals will be held at Koshin – do (庚申堂) in both Asama Hot Spring and Azusagawa Ueno district.

←(photo taken by Fujinoyu)

Koshin (庚申) is a name of a day which comes to 57th of the sexagenary cycle of Japanese lunar calendar (traditional calendar with Chinese zodiac signs).   According to Taoism, the night of “Koshin”, the “three worms (三尸・さんし)” the spiritual figures which believed to live in our body will come out from the human while the owner of the body is sleeping,  and these three bugs will go to heaven to make a report on humans ill deeds to Tentei (天帝), the god.   The heavenly god will make a judgement  for each people’s life span after hearing from these three worms reports.   In order to prevent from “three worms’ declaration to god”,  Japanese folks had made a ritual to stay awake on the night on Koshin.   That was a beginning of Koshin Festival.   In “Makurano soshi (枕草子)” (very early essay book written by a noble lady in A.D. 996), there are some descriptions about the night of Koshin,  therefore this festival has been held for more than a thousand years by Japanese folks.

image of three worms                        ↑ Symbol of Koshin with three monkeys

Shinkoji Temple in Azusagawa Ueno, the western foothill region of Matsumoto

To find the temple, just follow the red flags.  The color red is a symbol of Koshin so as monkeys.

← Three monkeys in Shinkoji temple

At Hot Plaza Asama (communal onsen) ,  there will be a welcome service hosted by local ladies.

Inside of the temple, monks are reciting sutras all night long, locals are selling lucky Daruma figures.

Asama Hot Spring ← click to open the map

Shinkoji Temple ← Map

Hope you have a chance to eyewitness this ancient ritual here in Matsumoto.

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