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

Hayashi Castle Ruins Hike in Iriyamabe

We all know the super famous Matsumoto Castle, but did you know that long before Matsumoto Castle was built that there were several castles built on the mountains that surround Matsumoto? (Here you can see a basic map of the major castle locations). Unfortunately, they are mostly in ruins or only barely recognizable by a bump in the earth, but for a couple of the castles you can still see large parts of the stonewalls and climb around on the ruins. I don’t know about you, but I love to explore old ruins like that and imagine what it was like when the castles were actually still in commission!

So, a couple of weeks ago I discovered the Hayashi Castle hiking trail in the Yamabe area where you can not only walk through a beautiful forest trail, but you also get to see the ruins of two castles along the way. The trail only takes 2 to 3 hours to complete so it’s a perfect way to get in some light hiking in the morning or afternoon.

Hayashi Castle ruins

Hayashi Castle ruins (“big castle”)

For just a bit of history, Hayashi Castle actually consists of two separate castles located on two separate, but nearby mountains. They were built sometime around the 15th century by Ogasawara clan which governed the Shinano Province, but it was taken over by Takeda Shingen in the battle of Shiojiri Pass in 1548. There is an excellent overview of the history here for those who want to know more.

There are a couple of entrances to the trail, but the easiest one to find and start at is located right at the base of the mountain at the start of the Iriyamabe area along the Susuki River. It’s marked with a fairly large sign written in Japanese and you’ll find a supply of bamboo hiking sticks that are free to use, as well as a box that contains a map of the trail (assuming they haven’t run out). (I added English translations to the original map to mark the most important points. Click here to see or download)

Bamboo hiking sticks free to borrow! Maps located in the box.

Bamboo hiking sticks free to borrow! Maps located in the box.

Right off the bat, you’ll have to climb up a steep slope for several minutes, but you’ll be rewarded with a great panoramic view of Matsumoto and the Japan Alps along the way. After hiking through a nice pine forest and reaching the top of the mountain, you’ll find the first castle ruins – Hayashi-Ojo (林城(大城), lit. big Hayashi Castle). The basic earthworks and some of the stonewalls are still there, and you’ll find some round stones that have a square carved out of them (I think maybe some kind of post support? See photo).

After that, follow the signs toward Hayashi-Kojo (林小城) and Otsuki (大嵩崎), heading back down the mountain on the other side, where you’ll spot a small “Otsuki Mountain God” shrine before coming out into the small village (called Otsuki). If you check the little altar of the shrine, there will probably be some offerings of snacks and/or sake placed there.

Start of the trail

Start of the trail

In the pine forest

In the pine forest

Nice view of Matsumoto

Nice view of Matsumoto

I think these are old post stones from the castle

Old post stones?

The "mountain god" shrine

The “mountain god” shrine

You’ll walk down the road through the village for a few minutes, keep an eye out for the old metal fire bell that’s hanging from a wooden post along the road. Then look for the sign that points to where the trail continues. Basically you have to turn left into what looks like a road into the fields, but at the foot of the mountain there you’ll see a big fence and gate. This is where the trail continues. It’s okay to open the gate and enter, just make sure you close it properly. Inside the gate and just as you enter the forest, you see one of my favorite spots on the the trail – “Jigoku no Kama” or “Hell’s Cauldron.” This is basically a sinkhole of some sort and on the sign it reads that no one knows if it’s natural or man-made, but apparently a horse got trapped in the sinkhole and died sometime in the past. Or as my colleague theorizes, perhaps it was some kind of trap or protection for guarding the castle!

Walking through the village

Walking through the village

The gate into the mountains

The gate into the mountains

Jigoku no Kama - Hell's Cauldron

Jigoku no Kama – Hell’s Cauldron

After passing Hell’s Cauldron (don’t fall in!), you’ll trek up the second mountain to reach the second castle, Hayashi-kojo (林小城, lit. small Hayashi Castle). This castle is somewhat smaller, but the castles walls and shape are more prominent than the first one. You can see the basic outline/form of the castle and climb around on the top. It wouldn’t be a bad place for a picnic, as you can see a good view of Matsumoto through the trees from the top of the castle. After you’re done frolicking around on the castle, backtrack just a little bit to where there is a split in the trail at the foot of the castle, where there is a sign pointing toward Kotakuji Temple (廣澤寺). Follow the signs toward the temple until you reach the bottom of the mountain on the other side. Once you come out at the bottom (there’s another gate there), you can head back to where you started the trail to grab your bicycle or bus or walk back down the river to the city. (Of course you can optionally visit the temple too, though it’s in the opposite direction).

Hayashi Castle walls at the "small castle"

Hayashi Castle walls at the “small castle”

On top of the "small castle"

On top of the “small castle”

Sign to Kotakuji Temple

Sign to Kotakuji Temple

The rice patties once reaching the bottom of the mountain.

The rice patties once reaching the bottom of the mountain.

Access:
The closest bus stop is Satoyamabe Shutchojo on the Iriyamabe Line. However, the bus runs quite infrequently so you will need to plan well, or even better, use a bicycle. Just ride up the Susuki River until you reach the foot of the mountain. You could even walk from Matsumoto Station in about one hour. There will be a sign marking the start of the trail across the bridge at the edge of the trees. You can also park along the river in some places if you have a car.
See on Google Maps

Trail Map:
I added some English to the original Japanese map to mark the most important spots on the trail. See the PDF below:
Hayashi Castle Ruins Trail Map with English (PDF)

Snow Walls on Mt. Norikuradake

Mt. Norikuradake with some remaining snow.

Mt. Norikuradake with some remaining snow.

I’ve been to Norikura a few times already, but last weekend was my first time at the top of Mt. Norikuradake, and WOW – it was some of the most beautiful scenery I’ve ever seen. In late spring and early summer, there’s still a lot of snow left around the summit of Norikura and a corridor is carved through the snow to open the road to the top. Alpico operates a bus (Haruyama Bus) from the Norikura Kogen Tourist Information Center to the top around the snow gorge and snow walls during this season. If you are a skier, you can also take your skis up with you and freely ski down the mountain! There isn’t a lift, though, so you have to trudge up the mountain on foot (apparently this takes 2 or 3 hours…).

Skiers on the mountain

Skiers on the mountain

Mt. Norikuradake is actually made up of 8 separate peaks grouped together, with the tallest being 3,026 meters. The Haruyama bus dropped us off at just under 2,700 meters and then we were free to frolic among the huge walls of snow and amazing mountainous scenery. The walls of snow gradually melt as summer approaches, but even in mid-June this they were still at least 10 meters high! And though it was quite a warm, sunny day down below in Matsumoto, it was quite cold at 2,700 meters (I’m glad I wore a sweater and brought my knit cap!). You can have an endless snowball fight and climb around on the snow to your heart’s content, assuming of course, that you are properly equipped with proper gear. If you want to take phenomenal photos of mountains and nature, this is your place.

Hotaka Mountain Range as seen from Norikura

Hotaka Mountain Range as seen from Norikura

Huge walls of snow (and an endless supply of snowball ammo)

Huge walls of snow (and an endless supply of snowball ammo)

One of the machines that carves through the snow.

One of the machines that carves through the snow.

The mountains beyond

The mountains beyond

Instead of waiting for next bus to come and take us back to the information center, we opted to walk back down the road to a mountain lodge called Kuraigahara Sanso, which is about a 5 kilometer/1-hour walk down hill that includes more walls of snow and great views. At the Kuraigahara Sanso, we took a break for lunch then waited for the bus to take us back down. There are a lot of people who take the bus from here, so the bus may be crowded, but if there are too many people to fit on one bus, luckily Alpico will bring another one – after all, it can be quite dangerous if anyone gets stuck on the cold mountain at night!

The snow gorge between peaks of Mt. Norikuradake, as seen after walking down a bit.

The snow gorge between peaks of Mt. Norikuradake, as seen after walking down a bit.

Kuraigahara Sanso Hut, which has a bus stop and you can also order food & drinks.

Kuraigahara Sanso Hut, which has a bus stop and you can also order food & drinks.

After hopping on the bus from Kuraigahara Sanso, you can head all the way back to the Norikura Kogen Tourist Information Center, but for us, we decided to get off at a stop called Kyukamura where you can do a mini hike (about 1 hour) to see Ushidome Pond and Zengoro Falls before reaching the information center. Ushidome Pond has a super nice view of Mt. Norikuradake which is reflected on its waters, not to mention a tree that has grown into a loop shape!! (see photo below). Zengoro Falls is definitely worth seeing too – it has a powerful presence and is located in a pretty little river gorge in the forest. I’ll write more about Norikura waterfalls in a later blog post :)

You can get some more info about Norikura on this page, including a multilingual leaflet about the area. To get to the Norikura Highlands area in general, you can take the Kamikochi Line Dentetsu Train from Matsumoto to Shin-Shimashima Station and then a bus from Shin-Shimashima to one of the stops in Norikura. If you have a car, that works too, and you can park at the information center and other places for free.

Ushidome Pond

Ushidome Pond

Loopy tree!!

Loopy tree!!

Zengoro Falls and its mist

Zengoro Falls and its mist

River running down from Zengoro Falls

River running down from Zengoro Falls

35247407145_831d62beba_k

Kamikochi in Early Spring and the 49th Annual Kamikochi Opening Festival

While the emerald green mountains of Kamikochi are surely a beautiful sight to see in the summer, the snow-dusted peaks and crisp air of the early spring are also a wonderful experience. If you plan accordingly, you can catch Kamikochi’s Annual Opening Festival which is held every year in late April after Kamikochi opens in mid-April.

Azusa River

Azusa River

This year, in my first-ever trip to Kamikochi, I was lucky enough to attend the 49th Annual Opening Festival which featured a performance from Swiss Alpenhorn player, a traditional shishimai lion dance, a blessing from Shinto priests and special visitors from Matsumoto’s twin town, Grindelwald, Switzerland. After the ceremony, the ceremony officials broke open huge casks of local sake (rice wine) and doled it out to everyone attending.

A crowd gather on Kappabashi Bridge for the opening ceremony

A crowd gather on Kappabashi Bridge for the opening ceremony

The Alpenhorn musicians

The Alpenhorn musicians

The Alpenhorns up close.

The Alpenhorns up close.

After enjoying my own cup of sake, I took walk around the park to take in the breath-taking scenery and learn about Kamikochi. One of the most famous spots in Kamikochi is Taisho Pond, which I was surprised to learn was only created 100 years ago when Mt. Yakedake erupted in 1915 and caused a section of the Azusa River to be blocked. This eruption occurred in the Taisho Period of Japan, hence the name “Taisho Pond.”

Special wooden sake cups for the ceremony.

Special wooden sake cups for the ceremony.

The mountain-scape

The mountain-scape

The Azusa River is fed not only by the melting snow from the surrounding mountains, but also natural springs in Kamikochi that bubble up pure groundwater. The waters are so clear that you can practically see every pebble at the bottom of the river and streams and water at the source of the natural springs is pure enough to drink (just make sure you don’t drink water from the river or too far downstream).

Crystal clear water from the natural spring

Crystal clear water from the natural spring

Just look at this water!

Just look at this water!

Another interesting fact I learned about Kamikochi is that it is constantly in change. The creation of Taisho Pond is one obvious example, but every day, little by little, the water streaming down from mountains gradually carves out ridges in the steeps slopes, and as the sediment runs down into the Azusa River valley below, it gradually causes the valley to rise up. So even though Kamikochi is a nature “preserve,” the nature will never be preserved like a snapshot in time – it is always dynamically changing itself!

If you’re even thinking about coming to Matsumoto, then Kamikochi is a spot you do not want to miss! If you have the chance, I actually recommended visiting the park at least one time in each of the different seasons (except for winter because the park is closed), as every season will have new scenery, new colors, and new wildlife to enjoy. (Thanks to some lucky circumstances, I got to see a rare horizontal rainbow over the Azusa River. You never know what’s waiting for you in Kamikochi!)

A rare horizontal rainbow over the river!

A rare horizontal rainbow over the river!

Find more information about how to get to Kamikochi in our article here, in the English language Kamikochi Guide (pdf), or learn more on the Japan Alps Kamikochi Website.

Matsumoto and Nakasendo Not Affected by Eruption of Mt. Ontake

As you may know in the news, Mt. Ontake, the 3067-meter volcano, erupted on Sep 27, Saturday.

I want to express my deep sorrow that around 30 climbers climbing on the top of the mountain seem to have died.

You cannot enter ONLY the 4km-radius cautionary zone from the summit of Mt. Ontake. Matsumoto is 60km from Mt. Ontake so does not affect the ordinal life and travel.
Tsumago, Magome, and Narai-juku of Nakasendo, which is a very popular walking course among foreigners, can be also travelled safely.

All trains, buses, roads in Nagano Prefecure except inside the cautionary zone are operating as usual.

The Kiso area and Mt. Ontake that has Ski Resort in the mountain foot are very nice places. I hope the eruption would calm down and missing climbers would be found soon.

See also this blog.

Mt. Ontake, the 4km-radius cautionary zone, and major sightseeing spots:

See a large map.

Stay at Kamikochi – Twilight foggy pond, natural spring river, wild monkeys

I had a chance to stay in Kamikochi, at the foot of the Japan Alps. Kamikochi is popular for a carless resort and for the hiking courses you can enjoy in a national park, but many tourists visit only in the daytime.

But, its natural beauty in the evening and morning is awesome.

Kamikochi is located between Takayama and Matsumoto, two spots popular among foreign travelers and you can visit by bus from both towns.

Taisho Pond and Mt. Yakedake, an active volcano. The pond was created by an eruption of Yakedake in the Taisho era.

Taisho Pond with the backdrop of the Japan Alps

Mysterious foggy pond

Nobody was on the Kappa Bridge, the major and busy spot in Kamikochi.

Shimizu River. Its water is 100% from a natural spring, so the river is never muddy even after a heavy rain.

I met wild monkeys. Kamikochi is also a place you can meet them closely.

Kappa Bridge in the morning

Walking trail in the woods

Five tips to enjoy Matsumoto Craft Fair

Craft Fair Matsumoto is the biggest and oldest craft fair in Japan, attracting 50,000 ~ 70,000 visitors during the event.
This year, celebrating its 30th anniversary with 280 craftsmen from all over Japan, along with many relative events in downtown Matsumoto city.

May 24th (Saturday) & 25th (Sunday) / Free admission

The “Five Tips” to enjoy Matsumoto craft fair even more are….

1) 歩・・・Take a walk

The craft fair venue is at “Agata-no-mori Park“, just 2 kilo meters away from JR. Matsumoto station. It is a nice walking course with lots of natural spring wells (w/ drinkable water) and unique shops. Arriving Agata-no-mori, exploring the buildings of the “Former Matsumoto High School” . The school buildings full of western influences were constructed in 1920, and designated as a national important cultural properties. In the campus, old trees of zelkova and cherry are forming an atmosphere of small forests.

2) 知・・・Expand the knowledge

280 craftsmen including wood carvings, ceramics, lacquer wares, metal works, weaving, dyeing, glass works, leather and food producers will be all over the park. From traditional to modern techniques you can learn various craft art forms all together.

3) 聴・・・Live concerts
As you may already know, Matsumoto is so-called the town of music. Here at the site, live music concerts will be held on Saturday evening (May 24th). Admission Free, can bring your own food and drink, or temporary mini bar is available at the site. It is so relaxing to listen to nice music on live in homey atmosphere.

4) 食・・・Eat
There are always full of booths selling various foods and drinks. Usually they are situated at the north-east side of the park, and so many to choose from: Japanese, Cambodian, Indian, Italian, German,  Macrobiotic and so on. And there are many nice restaurants on the way from the station, too. It’s worth visiting just for experiencing different taste!

5) 買・・・Shopping

Nothing to explain here, I guess!
Hope you are able to find a special piece and take home with other beautiful & unforgettable memories of Matsumoto City.
*The vendors often don’t accept credit cards at the site. Go to International ATM (the main post office on Honmachi St. is closer from the park) before visiting the event if you wish to purchase there.)

Read also an article of Matsumoto Craft Fair by Winifred Bird on The Japan Times

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!

“Heidi a girl of the Alps” Sp Exhibition in Utsukushigahara

One of the most well-known Swiss novel, “Heidi a girl of the Alps” was written by Johanna Spyri in 1880. Heidi became very popular among children in Japan after the first TV animation program released in 1974. To celebrate 40th Anniversary of “Heidi a girl of the Alps” animation, there is an official Heidi Exhibition held at “Utsukushigahara Open Air Museum” up on Mt. Utsukushigahara.

This special exhibition has just started and will last until the 16th of November this year at Utsukushigahara Open Air Museum.

April 26th to November 16th

Admission Fee: Adults 1,000 yen, Students 800 yen, Kids 700 yen
///Important ///Kids w/parents will be Free Admission “every SATURDAY” (Only kids fee, parents have to pay)!!

Plus good news is,  a discount coupon is available through internet. ←Go to the site and print the page out and show at the museum’s ticket office.

Transportation from Matsumoto: Utsukushigahara Kogen Bijutsukan (Utsukushigahara Open Air Museum) Line
There are only two services a day
(one in the morning and the last one in the afternoon) from Matsumoto Bus Terminal, and same as return bus to Matsumoto. Bus Fare is 1,500 yen(2013 summer fare).

Have fun on the Open Air Museum and beautiful Utsukushigahara heights!

“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!


Recent Comments