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2018 Sakura (Cherry Blossom) Forecast

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With cherry-blossom-flavored everything emerging across the country, we bring you the projected dates for the area and details of the major hanami (cherry blossom viewing) spots in Matsumoto. Grab your tarp and stake out your spot (don’t take someone else’s spot!) or enjoy the flowers as you stroll along.

WHEN can I see the cherry blossoms?

As of Feb 8, 2018, the sakura are projected to begin blooming in Nagano City (temperature similar to Matsumoto’s) from Apr 14 while places further south are expected to begin blooming a few days to a week sooner. These dates are of course subject to change. The flowers typically last about two weeks, but can start falling sooner depending on the weather. In previous years, the first blooms at Matsumoto Castle have been as follows:

Year Month & Day
2017 4/10
2016 4/1
2015 4/4
2014 4/9
2013 4/3

WHERE can I see the cherry blossoms?

The following locations can also be found on the downloadable Matsumoto Concierge Map.

Matsumoto Castle

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The castle’s inner grounds offer splendid views of pearly pink cherry blossoms against a backdrop of the dark crow castle. Do be aware that drinking and eating is typically prohibited in the Honmaru Garden.

Illuminated Cherry Trees
Both inner and outer areas of the castle, including the trees along the eastern moat, are also spectacularly lit.  At night, the fairy-tale like illuminated cherry blossoms are free to view.

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Hours & Admission

8:30 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. (last entry 4:30 p.m.) Regular entry to the inner area is ¥610 for adults, ¥300 for elementary and middle school students.

5:30 p.m. – 9:00 p.m. FREE

Access from Matsumoto Station

Bus: Town Sneaker Northern Course, Matsumotojo/Shiyakushomae stop; 5 min (¥200)

Walking: 15 min

Bicycle: Free rental bicycles are available at the bike parking area in front of the Matsumoto Station Oshiro (Castle) Exit. See our Local Transportation page for more information including other rental locations.

Mt. Kobo – Koboyama Tumulus

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This hill – the top of which once served as a tomb – is covered in over 4,000 cherry trees with blossoms of various shades of pink. You can observe the trees from below or walk to the top of the hill for an expansive view of the snow-capped Japan Alps.

Illuminated Cherry Trees

Lanterns are strung through the trees and lit up at night.

Hours & Admission

The park is open 24-hours and is free to enter.

Access from Matsumoto Station Area

Bus: Namiyanagidanchi Line, Koboyama Iriguchi stop; 15 min (¥260); 6 buses per day (times subject to change): 7:20, 9:05, 11:05, 14:05, 16:05, 18:55

Walking (from Minami-Matsumoto Station): 30 min

Susuki River, Just South-East of Agatanomori Park

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Cherry blossom trees line the raised embankments of the Susuki River, and there are wide-open spaces to sit along the water. Also near one of the Orange (anime/manga) locations!

Access from Matsumoto Station

Depending on what part of the river you would like to get to, their are a few different methods you can use.

Quick Access

Take the Town Sneaker Southern Course bus and get off at stops such as Aizawa Hospital.

Bicycle: just 5−10 min by free rental bicycle from the station

Upstream

Bus & Walking: Town Sneaker Eastern Course, 10 min (¥200). The closest drop-off point brings you to Agatanomori Park. From Agatanomori Park, it is about a 10-minute walk to the river.

Joyama Park

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Located near a temple, you’ll also find a zoo, playgrounds, and an art museum in and around the premises.

Hours & Admission

The park is open 24-hours and is free to enter.

Access from Matsumoto Station Area

Bus: 100 Kita-Shinai Line (western route 西まわり) bus bound for Jidosha Gakko, Joyama Koenguchi(城山公園口) stop; 20 min (¥210)
OR 41 Okada Line bus bound for Yamashiroguchi(山城口), Joyama Koenguchi(城山公園口) stop; 20 min (¥200)
OR 45 Alps Koen Line bus bound for Matsumoto Bus Terminal, Hokoji(放光寺) stop; 13 min (¥260); only 2 buses per day

Alps Park

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Less crowded than some of the other flower-viewing spots, there are trails for exploring and areas for picnicking under the blossoms. You’ll also find a look-out area with a full view of the Japan Alps. Cherry trees in Alps Park bloom a little later than those in downtown areas such as the castle.

Hours & Admission

9:00 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. FREE

Access from Matsumoto Station Area

Bus: 45 Alps Koen Line , Alps Koen(アルプス公園, the terminal) stop; 20 min (¥340); only 2 buses per day

 

A Matsumoto New Year

Happy New Year from Matsumoto! Hopefully everyone had a great beginning and end of the year ^^

Matsumoto was bustling with activity as people flocked to the local Buddhist temples and Shinto Shrines to ring in the New Year. The New Year’s festivities and rituals at temples and shrines begin just before midnight on December 31st, as many people want to make their first visit right as the clock strikes twelve (even in the freezing cold!).

On their visit, temple- and shrine-goers will usually line up before the main hall of the temple or shrine, make a small offering and prayer for the New Year, and then draw a paper “o-mikuji” (おみくじ) fortune which gives insights into how the year is going to play out for you regarding general luck, family, childbirth, marriage/love, travel, and other life events (they kind of remind me of a horoscopes…). Many people also get new “o-mamori” (お守り: blessed personal amulets for good fortune, health, etc.) for themselves or their homes for the new year.

Paper fortunes from Tosenji Temple

Paper fortunes from Tosenji Temple

I also paid a visit to a few temples and shrines around Matsumoto to see what was going on, so I’ll share some photos and insights here :)

Just before midnight, I visited Tosenji Temple in the Yamabe area. According to my Japanese neighbor, it’s good fortune to do a “ni-nen mairi” (二年参り), which translates to a “2-year visit to a shrine/temple” — that is, by doing a double visit (including small offering and prayer) just before midnight and then right after midnight, you are in a way paying your respects to the shrine/temple over two separate years on the same day!

Upon arriving at Tosenji, they had a huge bonfire going, which not only helps keep people warm, but is also where you can “return” your old o-mamori amulets from the previous year by tossing them in the fire (you certainly wouldn’t want to toss an amulet blessed by a priest into the regular trash!).

Giant bofire at Tosenji

Giant bonfire at Tosenji

The temple was also decorated with lit paper lanterns, colorful drapes, and there was a multicolored streamer attached to a huge pole so it would fly in the wind above the temple.

Tosenji lit up in red paper lanterns

Tosenji lit up in red paper lanterns

Colorful streamer flying above the temple in the moonlight

Colorful streamer flying above the temple in the moonlight

To bring in some extra good fortune, some people (including me) did their “ni-nen mairi” double visit, but in general, it seemed like most people showed up just after midnight.

People lining up before Tosenji

People lining up before Tosenji Temple

The next day, New Year’s Day, I visited two of the main shrines in central Matsumoto: Fukashi Shrine and Yohashira Shrine.

Visitors at Fukashi Shrine

Visitors at Fukashi Shrine

Fukashi Shrine was fairly busy, but nothing compared to Yohashira Shrine—here, hundreds of people were lined up all the way to the main street waiting to pay their first visit to the shrine. To help keep people warm while waiting, the shrine was selling cups of hot amazake, a traditional sweet drink made sake lees (sakekasu) or koji, and steamed rice. Amazake is one of my favorite things about New Year shrine visits!

Hundreds of people lined up before Yohashira Shrine

Hundreds of people lined up before Yohashira Shrine

People doing prayers once they reach the shrine hall.

People doing prayers once they reach the shrine hall.

A cup of hot amazake, yum!

A cup of hot amazake, yum!

My last stop was the quirky Kasamori Inari Shrine dedicated to the white “inari” foxes. Here, you could buy pieces of fried tofu and place them at the shrine altar or at the base of the fox statues as an offering (because the white foxes apparently love eating fried tofu!).

A visitor at Kasamori Inari Shrine.

A visitor at Kasamori Inari Shrine.

The shrine also sold bundles of incense sticks which you could light and place in the stone incense bowl in front of the shrine building. Some people actually like to douse themselves in the smoke from the incense. Inside the shrine, a priest was selling small protection amulets, inari fox statues, and other items.

Offerings of fried tofu before the shrine altar

Offerings of fried tofu before the shrine altar

Someone dousing themselves in incense smoke.

Someone dousing themselves in incense smoke.

Did you spend New Year’s in Matsumoto? If so, feel free to share any photos or experiences on our Facebook page!

Again, happy New Year, and keep tuned in for more blog posts in 2018 <3

The Japan Alps Turn White With Snow

Last month, the Japan Alps got its first coat of snow. During the last couple of weeks, the snow has been gradually creeping down the mountains.

The mountains in the morning, after the sun has risen completely

The mountains in the morning, after the sun has risen completely

Because the air during the wintertime is much clearer than in the summer, you’ll get one of the best views of the mountains during this season. As for the best time of day, I’d say the Japan Alps are their prettiest in the early morning, as the sunrise often casts a beautiful pink glow across the mountains. If you’re staying overnight in Matsumoto during the fall or winter, I highly recommend setting your alarm clock for just before the sunrise so you can catch a glimpse of this gorgeous view!

The Japan Alps just before the sun rises

The Japan Alps just before the sun rises

The sunset can offer just as much of a breathtaking view, as well. The mountains themselves will appear as dark silhouettes, but on certain days when the weather is just right, the sky will turn brilliant orange, pink, and purple hues.

An especially beautifully sunset in Matsumoto

An especially beautifully sunset in Matsumoto

But really, anytime of day when the sky is clear, you’re still going to have an amazing view!

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Catching the End of Fall in Norikura Highlands

After almost every October weekend was thwarted by typhoons and rainy weather during what is supposed to be the best season to see the fall colors in Norikura, I finally made it on the last week of the month! Though the leaves up in the highlands are pretty much brown by now, I can at least share the photos :)

Wonderful view of Norikura from one of the ponds in the Ichinose area

Wonderful view of Norikura from one of the ponds in the Ichinose area

The weather still turned out to be cloudy and drizzly, but the mountains of Norikura did not fail to impress. I decided to go to the Ichinose area since it’s one of the most famous spots to see the fall leaves. There are several laid-back walking trails where not only did I get to see amazing colors, but I also found several natural ponds and marshes, saw the beautifully white-patterned bark of the birch trees, and got a panoramic view of a now-snowy Mt. Norikuradake. If I had made it to Ichinose about one week earlier, I could’ve seen the famous fire-red maple tree as well, but the typhoon winds had swept most of its leaves off (though admittedly they were still pretty on the ground).

One of the pretty ponds in the Ichinose area

One of the pretty ponds in the Ichinose area

The famous fire-red leaves of Ichinose's giant maple tree making a brilliant carpet on the ground.

The famous fire-red leaves of Ichinose’s giant maple tree making a brilliant carpet on the ground.

White-barked birches

White-barked birches

Colorful fall leaves with the snowy peaks of Mt. Norikuradake in the background

Colorful fall leaves with the snowy peaks of Mt. Norikuradake in the background

Next stop was the short trail that goes between Sengenbuchi Falls and Bandokoro Waterfall. This trail is a wooded path through the forest along a rocky stream, so instead of seeing broad views of the colorful trees across the mountainsides, here I got to see autumn from the within the canopy: pretty fallen leaves crunching under my boots with the brilliant colors of fall directly above. The fun parts about this trail are the suspended bridges that cross over the stream and the roaring waterfalls you encounter along the way. Just one little tip: be careful walking on the bridges because they get slippery when wet (I almost wiped out crossing the bridge in the photo below, but caught myself on the ropes!).

Bridge along the forest trail near Sengenbuchi Falls

Bridge along the forest trail near Sengenbuchi Falls

Brilliantly colored leaves from underneath the trees

Brilliantly colored leaves from underneath the trees

Sengenbuchi Falls <3

Sengenbuchi Falls

Again, for this year, the leaves are pretty brown or gone by now in Norikura, but just in case, here is the access info in case you’re looking at this at a later time.

Access Info:

To get to the Ichinose area, take the Norikura Highlands bus to the Norikura Visitors Center (map) and walk from there, or if you have a car, there are also several places to park within the Ichinose area itself (for example here).

For the Sengenbuchi Falls trail, take the Norikura Highlands bus to the Path to Otaki (Falls) bus stop, or if you have a car, you can park at the Otaki Falls parking lot (map) or at the JA building (map) further up the road (which is nearer to Sengenbuchi Falls).

P.S. For more info on the waterfalls of Norikura including a map of locations, check out this blog article.

Autumn Leaves around Matsumoto City

Last time I wrote about the fall leaves at Matsumoto Castle, but there are plenty of other places you can enjoy autumn around the city right now! Some of the best spots to go are shrines and temples, where you’re almost guaranteed to find trees that turn brilliant colors in the fall, not to mention the beauty of the autumn leaves in combination with traditional Japanese architecture. Two recommended spots are Yohashira Shrine (map) on the way to the castle/along Nawate street and Fukashi Shrine (map) near the Matsumoto Museum of Art.

The torii gate of Fukashi Shrine

The torii gate of Fukashi Shrine

Fukashi Shrine

Fukashi Shrine

Walking into Yohashira Shrine

Walking into Yohashira Shrine

Trees at Yohashira Shrine

Trees at Yohashira Shrine

The main building of Yohashira Shrine behind the trees

The main building of Yohashira Shrine behind the trees

Another great spot is Agatanomori Park, where you can take a long stroll around the park grounds and sit and relax in the gazebo at the pond while enjoying the fall trees. You can even spot some cute turtles warming themselves in the pond’s rocks and catch a glimpse of the mountains of Utsukushigahara rising in the background. The park is just a 10 minute walk from the art museum. (see Google map)

Turtles and pretty trees :)

Turtles and pretty trees :)

A brilliant yellow tree by the old school

A brilliant yellow tree by the old school

Gazebo at Agatanomori Park

Gazebo at Agatanomori Park

Enjoy the fall colors while they last—soon the scenery might just be covered in snow 😉

First Snow on the Japan Alps!

The Japan Alps glowing in the early morning sun

The Japan Alps glowing in the early morning sun

With all the rain and chilly temperatures earlier this week, the tallest mountains of the Japan Alps got their first blanket of snow! Although the Alps are best for climbing in the summer, I have to say that they are best for viewing when the peaks have a nice cap of snow on top.

The lower mountains up front are still snow free

The lower mountains up front are still snow free

The two photos are from the Satoyamabe area on the east side of Matsumoto, but you can also get a decent view of the mountains right from Matsumoto Castle, or there’s a nice panoramic rooftop viewing point at the Matsumoto Performing Arts Centre (map – just take the elevator near the main entrance to the top floor. It’s free to go in).

The Japan Alps from the castle (most of the snow melted in the sun though...)

The Japan Alps from the castle (most of the snow melted in the sun though…)

The view from the theater's rooftop

The view from the theater’s rooftop

And a bonus photo below from the Japanese version of the Matsumoto tourism website blog :)

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Fall Colors Starting to Show Up at Matsumoto Castle

One of the prettiest times of the year at Matsumoto Castle is finally here: at the end of October the trees start to paint the castle garden in the colors of autumn! So if you’re eager for some perfect photos at the castle, now is a great time.

Colorful trees as seen from inside the castle tower

Colorful trees as seen from inside the castle tower

As of yesterday (Oct. 24), some of the trees were already red and yellow, but many of them are still just showing the first hints of color, so I’m betting the castle park is going to grow more and more beautiful over the next several days.

Fall colors peaking over the castle walls

Fall colors peaking over the castle walls

Still quite green near the castle itself, but hopefully that will change in the next few days!

Still quite green near the castle itself, but hopefully that will change in the next few days!

As a little bonus, there is also a special Japanese doll display in the castle garden until November 5th. Every year, the large display depicts a historical/cultural scene from Matsumoto Castle’s past.

Special doll display in the castle garden. Looks like they are pounding some mochi!

Special doll display in the castle garden. Looks like they are pounding some mochi!

Peak Autumn Colors in the Mountains of Matsumoto!

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Despite a sudden return to warm weather, autumn leaves have reached their peak in the following areas!

Kamikochi (open until Nov. 15)

View from Taisho Pond (Photo credit: Kamikochi.org)

View from Taisho Pond (Photo credit: Kamikochi.org)


Differing from the typical multi-color autumn foliage, the central area of Kamikochi turns a brilliant gold thanks to the large number of birch trees.

Karasawa area of Kamikochi

Karasawa area of Kamikochi (Photo credit: kamikochi.org)

Karasawa area of Kamikochi (Photo credit: kamikochi.org)


Karasawa is perhaps one of the most famous spots for seeing the fall colors in Nagano. Here the mountains are said to be “on fire” in the autumn. It requires a long hike from central kamikochi and an overnight stay at the Karasawa Hut, but it will be worth ever step. The leaves will fade soon, so now is the time to go! Check out this post on the Kamikochi site for more info and photos.

Norikura Highlands and Mt. Norikuradake

Fall leaves on Mt. Norikuradake (Photo credit: Norikura Highlands tourism website -  norikurakogen.info)

Fall leaves on Mt. Norikuradake (Photo credit: Norikura Highlands tourism website –
norikurakogen.info)


Another famous spot for seeing fall leaves in Nagano! The highlands are easy to access by bus from Matsumoto and there are several laid-back trails to walk. From there you can take another bus up to the summit of Mt. Norikuradake (though, the colors are starting to fade here). See more info on our Norikura page here. Also, see autumn photos of Norikura Highlands and Mt. Norikuradake on the Japanese Norikura tourism website.

Tengu no Taki (Waterfall)

Located in the Nagawa area of Matsumoto, off the beaten path, and a beautiful sight with the waterfall among the colorful leaves! Unfortunately, you need a car (or taxi) to get there. (See map)

Other areas currently good to see now (mid-Oct.)

Will start changing colors soon (end of Oct)

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Japan Alps Kamikochi – A Serene Summer’s Day in the National Park

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Whether you’re an avid hiker or just looking to take in the world-famous scenery on a stroll at the base of the mountains, Kamikochi is an unforgettable outdoor experience. Even on a hot summer’s day, like the one I visited on, I was treated to a cool breeze, icy-cold water, and plenty of shade on well-maintained paths. Unless you hire a guide, you cannot access the park in the winter, but spring, summer, and fall give you a unique landscape depending on when you visit. The green season offers a barrage of colors including vibrant greens and other colors from the various foliage and sediment.

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Taisho Pond

Even before entering the heart of the park, you are treated to a expansive reflection of the mountains on Taisho Pond.

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Shimizu River

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Some of the clearest water you’ve ever seen.

In order to preserve the environment of the park, there are strict regulations including not allowing cars into the area. The regulations, higher altitude, and natural springs make for fresh air and stunningly clear water.

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Kappa Bashi (Kappa Bridge)

The view of the Kappa Bridge overlaid on Mt. Hotaka is one of the most famous images of the park. Crossing the suspension bridge, you can gaze out over the pristine water of the Azusa River.

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Kamonjigoya

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This century-old mountain hut now serves as a restaurant as well lodgings and makes for a great place to rest before visiting the nearby Hotaka Shrine and Myojin Pond. Try a classic summer dish, grilled ayu.

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Raised in the nearby river, this sweet-fish is fresh and juicy. Grilled over an open fire, the salted skin makes for a delicate crust while the meat is kept moist. You can eat the entire fish from head to tail!

Replenish your salt levels after your trek!

If eating fish heads isn’t your thing, not to worry, there is other food such as soba (buckwheat noodles) and cake available for you to enjoy.

Myojin Pond

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This area is said to be sacred to the gods and thus known as a place where the gods come down.

Myojin Pond has two areas: Ichino Pond and Nino Pond. The Hotaka Shrine sits just in front of Ichino Pond.

Although you cannot ride in them, two boats float on the pond and are used during a local festival.

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Hotaka Shrine

Ichino Pond

Ichino Pond

Nino Pond

Nino Pond

Tashiro Pond and Wetlands

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Although it has been steadily filled in by natural decay and sediment buildup, water still flows through this area, creating a stark contrast between the orange sand and the surrounding greenery.

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Mt. Yakedake

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Signs of the eruption that occurred 100 years ago still remain.

Mt. Yakedake is still an active volcano. It’s activity is constantly monitored and the current level is level 1.

Access and Accommodations

Details on how to get to the park and more information such as hotel and campsite information are available on the official English website here.

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

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