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Nature Skiing in Norikura’s Ichinose Area

A couple of posts ago, I wrote about snowshoeing to the frozen Zengoro Falls in Norikura. This week, I have another snowy Norikura adventure to tell you about: Nature skiing!

Yay!

Yay!

You can rent a pair of nature skis, boots, and ski poles for just ¥1,500 for half a day or ¥3,000 for a full day at the Little Peaks equipment rental shop located at the Norikura Kogen Tourist Information Center. (Get here by bus or car).

The Ichinose area in Norikura is one of the best places for nature skiing because it’s fairly flat and wide-open. Plus you can head out directly from the Tourist Information Center/Little Peaks without needing to drive anywhere.

Inside of the Little Peaks shop

Inside of the Little Peaks shop

So, you might be wondering what exactly “nature skis” are in the first place. I originally thought it was just another name for cross-country skis, but upon asking at Little Peaks, they are actually a bit different: Nature skis are a hybrid ski that shorter in length compared to cross-country skis and still have an edge on the sides. They are great for ski-walking through snowy forests or fields and don’t require much technique. On the other hand, they are not built for speed and are not ideal for going down slopes.

Whether you have skiing experience or not, nature skis are easy to pick up in just a few minutes. One of the Little Peaks staff members will also help you learn how to use them and give you tips on how to walk through the snow.

Getting taught how to use the skis

Getting taught how to use the skis

Once you got your skis strapped on, you’re ready to head out!

Skis are ready!

Skis are ready!

If it’s windy or extremely cold, I do recommend having some kind of face cover to keep the wind out, as well as earmuffs or a cap that covers your ears.

Stay warm!

Stay warm!

To head for Ichinose, just walk out of Little Peaks and head out to the road. Look to your left and you’ll see two signs with the numbers “20” and “21” on them. It’s mostly in Japanese except for the “NORTHSTAR Outdoor Adventures” text. You’ll want to head right down that road, which will take you directly to Ichinose (if you are not familiar with the area, make sure you grab a map at Little Peaks and have them explain it to you).

Turn right here to head towards Ichinose

Turn right here to head towards Ichinose

And let your snow adventure begin!

So much snow!

So much snow!

It’s a little tricky to get used to how to efficiently walk with the skis right away, but you’ll get it after a few minutes. The skis are very narrow, so it’s easy to lose your balance, but luckily, there is plenty of fluffy snow to break your fall 😉

Fluffy snow will break your fall :)

Fluffy snow will break your fall :)

For going up or down a very steep or rugged step/slope, you may have to turn sideways and “walk” up or down one ski at a time—or an easier option may be to just remove the skis until you get past that area, as they are very easy to clip on and off.

Get up the slope!

Get up the slope!

Anyway, the best part about nature skis is being able to simply glide across the snow and enjoy the beautiful winter scenery! If you find a gentle downhill, it’s super fun to slide down those too.

Winter wonderland

Winter wonderland

We reached the entrance to Ichinose area in about 45 minutes, but I think it took us extra time because of the large amount of snow (and amount of falling down!). Here, you can explore the area, ski across frozen ponds, and on a nice day, see the surrounding mountains. You could even bring a lunch or some coffee (or mulled wine…) and have a mini-winter picnic out in the snow 😉

Entrance to Ichinose, finally!

Entrance to Ichinose, finally!

Enjoy, stay warm, and stay safe!

See more info about winter activities in Matsumoto here, or about Norikura Highlands here.

Snowshoeing to the Frozen Zengoro Falls in Norikura

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During the New Year holiday, I finally checked off another item on my adventure list: snowshoeing to Zengoro Falls in Norikura Highlands to see the waterfall frozen into solid ice. And I’m glad I did, because it was one of the most breathtaking sights I’ve ever seen.

If you’re in Matsumoto in the winter, you should GO!

To see the frozen falls, get yourself to the Norikura Kogen Tourist Information Center (by bus or car), which is converted into a winter sports equipment rental center during the winter called Little Peaks.

The Little Peaks equipment rental shop

The Little Peaks equipment rental shop

If you’re confident to go out and explore by yourself, rent yourself a pair of snowshoes. I also recommend the snowshoeing poles, as they help you on the up- and downhills. If you don’t have good winter boots, you can rent those too! Half-day rental for a set of snowshoes and poles will only set you back 800 yen.

If you don’t have confidence in doing this yourself, there is an option to do a paid guided tour at Little Peaks (2-3 hour tour for 5,000 yen for adults).

Get your snowshoes on!

Get your snowshoes on!

If you don’t know the area, grab a map at Little Peaks. You can start on the trail directly from the rental shop (probably about 1 hour to the Zengoro Falls), or if you have a car, you can go up the road just a few minutes to the Zengoro Falls parking (small area of the side of the road). From the parking area, it’s only about 30 minutes.

The snow can be quite deep, but the trail should be well-trodden so you can find your way easily, even if you’re not on a tour.

Snowshoeing along...

Snowshoeing along…

Though the main attraction is Zengoro Falls, walking through the winter forest is a really beautiful experience in itself: deep, white snow; white birch trees; and on a nice day, Mt. Norikuradake towering above.

Wind blowing the snow from the peaks of Norikuradake

Wind blowing the snow from the peaks of Norikuradake

Right before reaching the waterfall, you also get walk over this snow-blanketed bridge.

The snow-covered bridge just before reaching the waterfall

The snow-covered bridge just before reaching the waterfall

And then, the frozen masterpiece will appear from the midst of the winter forest! Really, the photo doesn’t do the icy waterfall the justice it deserves, but it’s nothing like I’ve ever seen.

This will take your breath away!

This will take your breath away!

Since the water around the falls is frozen and covered in deep snow, as well, you can get right up to the waterfall and touch it. The icicles are enormous!

Huge icicles!

Huge icicles!

When I went to falls at the end of December, a small part of it was still flowing, but as winter goes on, Zengoro Falls will freeze completely. Interestingly, the flowing water was actually encapsulated by an icy shaft that froze around the falling water!

Part of the waterfall still flowing under its partially frozen exterior

Part of the waterfall still flowing under its partially frozen exterior

After snowshoeing to Zengoro Falls, if you have more time/energy, you can continue to Ushidome Pond up by Kyukamura. And, when you’re completely done with your snow adventure, don’t miss going to one of Norikura’s hot springs, either at the Kyukamura facility (map) or Yukemurikan near the Tourist Information Center/Little Peaks.

See more about winter activities in Matsumoto here, or about Norikura Highlands here.

A Great Day of Boarding in Matsumoto at Mt. Norikura Snow Resort

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Not to be confused with Hakuba Norikura Onsen Ski Resort, the Mt. Norikura Snow Resort in Matsumoto City is a medium-sized resort that offers off-piste skiing/boarding, a kid-friendly area, hot spring bathing, and more.

*BEFORE YOU GO*

Norikura Kogen tends to be a very windy area. Make sure the lifts are operating before you go!

Access via Public Transportation

You can take a bus or a combination of train and bus to the resort.

The round-trip ticket is very efficient as it covers both train and bus fare. It costs ¥3,300 and is valid for 7 days. Don’t lose it! Purchase your ticket at the Alpico ticket office across the street from Matsumoto Station’s Castle (Oshiro) Exit.

alpico_plaza_bus_terminal

Only one bus runs directly to the resort, and it leaves in the afternoon. Otherwise, take the Matsumoto Electric Railway from track 7, which is next to track 6. You will not see the track listed on the panels near the ticket gates, but head through to the ticket gates and to your right.

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Last stop: Shin-Shimashima

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Once you arrive at Shin-Shimashima Station, you should have at least 10 minutes to transfer to the bus out front. The transfer is fairly smooth. You can purchase bus tickets there as well. If you do not purchase your tickets in advance, you will need to pay (cash only) when you board the bus.

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Enjoy the scenery

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View the Nagawado Dam along the way!

Get off at stop N31 Ski Resort (also announced “ski-jo mae”). You should see a large dark grey building directly in front of you.

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The last bus bound for Shin-Shimashima Station leaves the resort at 6:22 p.m.

Trails & Facilities

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One of the quad lifts

Rentals

Gear and wear rentals are available at a number of shops.

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Coin Lockers

If you are not driving up or staying at one of the hotels, coins lockers are available in places such as the rental shop located in the dark grey building near the ticket vendor. Other lockers are available in the restaurant nearby, but the restaurant closes at 3:00 p.m. on weekdays, so you will need to get your belongings out before then.

Trails

Many of the beginner trails are wide and slope gently. Beginner snow boarders should note that sections of beginner areas, such as trail 19 and 13/11 will flatten out considerably. There is also a kids’ area near the bottom of trail 9 that can be accessed on your way down the trail or from the nearby parking lot.

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The more advanced can enjoy tree runs, the terrain park, and off-piste skiing/boarding. Mt. Norikura backcountry tours take you from the top of the highest lift into an expanse of mountain peaks and fields of snow.

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Overall the trails were not crowded, and the snow was not packed.

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Restaurants

There a few restaurants along the trails and one at the base of the resort. Be careful though! Many dishes are sold out as early as 1:30 p.m.

Hot Springs

Wind down with a dip in the milky white waters of the local hot springs. Hot springs such as Yukemurikan and Kyukamura Onsen are close to the base of the resort. Yukemurikan is about a 9 minute walk, and you can board the return bus to Matsumoto from the Tourist Center (Kanko Center Mae) bus stop out front.

 

Exciting January Events in Matsumoto (2018)

It might be cold in January, but Matsumoto has several events you don’t want to miss in the first month of the New Year!

New Year’s Celebration at Matsumoto Castle

People awaiting the opening of the castle gates

People awaiting the opening of the castle gates

Celebrate the New Year opening at Matsumoto Castle! Taiko drumming accompanies the opening of the Kuromon Gate, and once inside, you can enjoy hot amazake (a non-alcoholic, sweet drink made with rice koji), the souvenir shop, traditional Japanese games like “hanetsuki” shuttlecock and spinning “koma” tops, traditional kites, Alpenhorn performances, and more! Also the first 1,000 people in the gate will receive a wooden sake cup inscribed with castle family emblems.

Date: Wednesday, January 3 (holiday)
Time: 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Location: Matsumoto Castle’s Honmaru Garden, Kuromon Gate
Admission: Free

Ameichi Candy Festival

Carrying a mikoshi around the streets

Carrying a mikoshi around the streets

A big, lively festival taking place in downtown Matsumoto where portable shrines called “mikoshi” are carried around the streets by the different neighborhood groups of Matsumoto. Enjoy the spectacles, food, stalls selling candy and “daruma” dolls. See our event page for more information.

Date: Weekend of January 13 and 14
Time: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Location: Outside in the streets of downtown Matsumoto

Ice Sculpture Festival

ice_sculptures

Watch artists work with the ice and see the work that goes into producing these intricately carved sculptures. There will also be food stalls open from mid-morning to mid-afternoon on Saturday and Sunday. For kids, don’t miss the big slide carved out of ice! See our event page for more information.

Date: Friday, January 19 (evening) to Sunday, January 21
Location: Matsumoto Castle’s Honmaru Garden and surrounding park
Admission: Free

Schedule (tentative):
Jan 19 (Fri)
Carving from 6 p.m. to 12 midnight
Jan 20 (Sat)
Display from 12 midnight (0:00) to 2 p.m. on January 21
Carving from 5:30 p.m. to 5:30 a.m. of the following day
Jan 21 (Sun)
Display from 5:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.

Firefighter training demo for Cultural Property Fire Safety Day

Watch firefighters practices their skills and techniques (including training on huge fire truck ladders!) at Matsumoto Castle. See more info on the Matsumoto Castle website here.

Date: Friday, January 26
Time: 9:00 to 9:55 a.m. (subject to change)
Location: Matsumoto Castle – Castle tower and Honmaru Garden
Admission: ¥610 for adults, ¥300 for children (includes entrance into the castle)

Ski Resort Access From Matsumoto 2017-2018 Season

Matsumoto–>Mt. Norikura Snow Resort

Located to the west of central Matsumoto, the resort offers over 20 trails that cater to all levels as well as kid’s park and terrain park areas. Both ski and snow schools are available. Day-trip onsen bathing is also available at Yukemurikan!

FREE Alpico Shuttle Bus (Saturdays/Sundays: Jan 13, 20, 27, and 28; Feb 3, 4, 10, 11, 12, 17, 18, 24, and 25; Mar 3, 4, 10, and 17)

*Reservations Required*

Reservations can only be made through Alpico Highland Bus at +81-263-24-1300 Mon-Fri 9 a.m.-5 p.m. (closed Dec 28-Jan 4) until noon of the Friday before. The bus has 45 seats. You cannot reserve or change/cancel your reservation at the Matsumoto Bus Terminal or Shin-Shimashima Station.

Depart Bus Stop Return
7:50 Matsumoto Bus Terminal Boarding Point #9 5:20 p.m.
8:10 Matsumoto Godochosha (Pref. Govt. Office) 5:00 p.m.
8:30 Shin-Shimashima Sta. 4:40 p.m.
8:35 Matsumoto City Hall’s Azumi Branch Office 4:35 p.m.
9:25 Yukemurikan (Onsen) 3:45 p.m.
9:30 Mt. Norikura Skow Resort No. 3 Parking Lot 3:40 p.m.

Norikura_shuttlebus

Regular Alpico Bus Shirahone Line

Take the Matsumoto Dentetsu Line from Matsumoto to Shin-Shimashima (30 minutes), then board a bus bound for Kyukamura or Shirahone Onsen and get off at Ski Resort(Ski-Jo Mae) (50 minutes from Shin-Shimashima). There is also one direct bus from the Matsumoto bus terminal. The English timetable is here.

 Matsumoto–>Hakuba

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Alpico Bus (until Mar 18, 2018)

Fares

One Way

Adult: ¥1,800
Child: ¥900

Round Trip

Adult: ¥2,800
Child: ¥1,400

Timetable

Reservations (not necessary) & Where to Buy

Oito Line Train

The train runs from Matsumoto Station to Hakuba Station.

Winter Light Displays

Christmas Candle Night at the Matsumoto City Museum of Art

Yayoi Kusama's gigantic flower sculpture lit up in candlelight

Yayoi Kusama’s gigantic flower sculpture lit up in candlelight


Enjoy listening to music while strolling around the art museum garden lit up in numerous soft candle lights.

Date: Saturday, December 9
Time: 4:00 p.m.–7:00 p.m.
Location: Matsumoto Museum of Art
 
 
 
 
 
 

Lights Pageant in Daimyocho and on the Chitose Bridge

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Nearly 80,000 lights decorate the trees lining Daimyocho, the road leading up to Matsumoto Castle. After viewing the lit-up trees, you can see the lit-up Matsumoto Castle just down the road.
The lights are up from early December until February 28 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. (on until later Dec. 20 through Jan. 3)20171204_194838

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JR Matsumoto Station

The front of Matsumoto Station is lit up with a festive images on the side of the station building.

Matsumoto Station Illumination

Asama Onsen

Look forward to the warm glow of decorative lights when you visit Asama Onsen’s Hot Plaza. Hot Plaza offers day-trip bathing and a hot spring foot bath, while overnight stays are available at a number of traditional Japanese inns in the area. Find out more about the area here.

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Foot Hot Spring

Forest of Lights Pageant in Azumino

Twin Illlumination
The Alps Azumino National Government Park is holding an illumination event from Nov. 11, 2017 (Sat) to Jan. 8, 2018 (Mon/holiday). The displays tell the story of “The Secret of the Seven Jewels”.

The illumination will be on display in two separate areas: the Horigane-Hotaka area and the Omachi-Matsugawa area. Please see below for access information.

In addition to the light displays, various other activities will be taking place. A single ticket allows you to enter both areas on the same day. Visit the official website here (Japanese only).

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Admission

Hours: 4:00 p.m.-9:00 p.m.
* Park hours are 9:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., but you may remain in the park to view the lights.

Prices

Adult: 410 yen

Elementary/Junior High School Student: 80 yen

Senior (65+): 210 yen

Preschool: Free

 

Fireworks (Horigane-Hotaka Area)

A 5-minute fireworks show will take place every Saturday between Nov. 11, 2017 (Sat) and Jan. 6, 2018 (Sat) and also on Christmas Eve from 8 p.m. to 8:05 p.m.

The show will be cancelled in the event of rain or bad weather.

Food Tasting (Omachi-Matsukawa Area)

Grilled mochi, mochi in a sweet bean sauce, and baked apples!

100 yen *Limited to the first 100 people.

Live Performances (Omachi-Matsukawa Area)

Christmas Stage: Various performances (dates and times)

Magic Show: Jan. 6 (Sat)-8 (Mon/holiday) 4:00 p.m.-4:30 p.m., 6:00 p.m.-6:30 p.m., and from 7:30 p.m. FREE

Crafts (Both Areas)

Horigane-Hotaka Area

Omachi-Matsugawa Area

Miniature Aquariums Display (Horigane-Hotaka Area)

Tropical Christmas

Access

Free Shuttle Bus

JR Matsumoto Station –> Toyoshina Station –> Horigane-Hotaka Area: Dec. 23 (Sat/holiday)-24(Sun) 4:00 p.m.-9:15 p.m.

View in Google Maps

JR Matsumoto Station –> Shinano Omachi Station –> Omachi-Matsukawa Area: Dec. 23 (Sat/holiday)-24(Sun) 3:45 p.m.-9:00 p.m.

View in Google Maps

By Taxi

(JR Oita Line) Matsumoto Station –> Toyoshina Station + taxi

(JR Oita Line) Matsumoto Station –> Shinano Omachi Station + taxi

Inquiries (Japanese)

Horigane-Hotaka Area: 0263-71-5511

Omachi-Matsukawa Area: 0261-21-1212

 

Hakuba – Matsumoto Express Bus and Sumo Road-show Again This Year & Castle Expo in Yokohama to Dec 25

Happy holidays! Snow falls in the north mountain areas in Nagano, so it is white Christmas.

hakubamatsumotowebIn the last year’s winter, I wrote about the launch of Hakuba from/to Matsumoto direct express bus service. Again this year, it operates from Dec 17 till Mar 20!
Check out this new English website.

Free shuttle buses between Matsumoto and Mt. Norikura/Nomugi Pass ski resorts are operating this year, too. You need reservation for them. See the details on Japanese websites (Mt. Norikura / Nomugi Pass).

mainAnother good news, ‘Sumo road-show in Matsumoto’ will be also held next April again. It might be the season of cherry blossoms seen in and around Matsumoto Castle beautifully.

Time: 8 am to 3 pm, Friday 14th, April
Venue: Matsumoto City General Gymnasium (Google map)
Ticket: advance-sale tickets will be sold from Feb 1 (probably walk-up tickets will also be sold)
Refer to the Japanese website and our previous blog article.

Are you interested in Matsumoto Castle and other Japanese castles and cultures at the samurai age? If so, now ‘Castle Expo’ in Yokohama is being held to Dec 25. See this PDF document.

Hakuba – Matsumoto Express Bus Launch!

20151214snowmagicThis winter, Hakuba from/to Matsumoto direct express bus service has newly operated.

The bus connects Happo/Goryu/Sanosaka ski resorts to Matsumoto by 1,500 or 1,800 yen (depending the day). It departs Matsumoto 7:00 and departs Hakuba 16:00 (two hours ride).

So, after enjoying ski/snowboard in world-renowned ski resort Hakuba, why don’t you ride the bus and eat supper, drink at bar/izakaya, stay in Matsumoto, and see another world-renowned spot, Matsumoto Castle? (Hakuba has a “supper refugees” problem of a shortage of restaurants for skiers.)

Check out this website.

Also, there are winter-limited shuttle buses between Matsumoto and Mt. Norikura/Nomugi Pass ski resorts. You need reservation and the websites (Mt. Norikura / Nomugi Pass) are in Japanese, but they’re FREE! They depart Matsumoto 7:50/8:15 and depart Norikura/Nomugi 15:40/16:00 (only 1:40/1:15 ride).

Let’s stay in Matsumoto and enjoy skiing/snowboading/snowshoeing/sleigh in the Japan Alps!

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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