(東京) Tokyo is the capital of Japan and the largest international city in the world in terms of population and economics. Cutting-edge technologies, highly-developed subway system, pop-culture, delicious food are there, and almost anything you can eat and buy in Tokyo.
Since more than four hundreds years ago, Tokyo has been the center of Japan. Despite the severe damages of war and earthquakes, Tokyo revived repeatedly and currently exists as the mixture of modern and traditional cultures. Major ‘Must-See’ spots are located close, connected conveniently via the train system and accessible in 30 min from Tokyo station. Many spots to visit, a lot of restaurants, a number of hotels and other cultural funs are available here.
(草津温泉) Kusatsu is one of Japan’s best onsen spots, which is proud of the most significant volume of onsen sources in Japan and several “free” public onsen where you can feel a traditional atmosphere of historical onsen town. As source of onsen is known for the high benefit for health because of the strong acid and bactericidal effect, Kusatsu Onsen is told to be “effective to any sicks except for love”. In a small onsen town, there are various onsen ryokans, souvenir shops, and free onsen facilities. From Tokyo, accessible in 2.5 hours and one-night stay is recommended. Also reachable from Karuizawa in 1 hour so a day-trip even possible as a part of your Karuizawa trip.
1. Matsumoto Castle 松本城
Called “Crow Castle”, proud of an appearance of the black and white castle with the background of Japan-North Alps. In spring, a scenery with full-blooming cherry blossom and a bridge with vermilion handrails over moats are worth seeing. Its history dates from 1504 and the current castle tower was built in 1597, which is one of the twelve existing castles with original castle tower and also one of only five national-treasure castles in Japan. Though the castle tower is 6th-story, it’s built so as to appear 5th-story building for deceiving enemies. 45-60min would be required for the whole watch. Centering on this castle, Matsumoto had rearranged the castle town spending 150 years since the castle built and still it’s well preserved.
4. Matsumoto city museum of art 松本市美術館
The museum mainly exhibits artworks of creators associated with this region, such as Yayoi Kusama who is a worldly famous artist. Outside, there are her colorful/huge works.
5. Nawate Street 縄手通り
The atmospheric shopping street is re-enacting the scenery of old castle town. There are around 50 stores of wooden architecture, where traditional items, craft items, antiques, foods/drinks, and others are sold. It’s good to feel a historical atmosphere, eating sweets and snacks upon strolling.
2. Nakamise Street 仲見世通り
Stretching from Niohmon gate to Sanmon gate which is the entrance of Zenkōji, the old shopping street is full of souvenir stores, restaurants, and Japanese cafes in traditional architectures. This street has been a place to take a rest for visitors to Zenkōji since long ago. It’s recommended to enjoy ice cream / Japanese sweets, upon strolling, enjoying the old-good atmosphere. Festivals and seasonal events take place frequently.
6. Nakamachi Street中町通り
The main street with old town scenery has traditional buildings with namako wall (black wall with white grids which is for fire resistant) on both sides of the road. There are cafes, restaurants, and stores of craftworks and good for strolling, taking a rest at cafes and purchasing souvenirs. Morning market opens on the weekend.
8. Yohashira Shrine 四柱神社
The historical shrine is known as a strong spiritual spot in Nagano prefecture. Yohashira (four piles) means that four gods are enshrined here, because of which, it’s told that any wishes could be realized. The current buildings were constructed in 1872, located along Nawate street.
KnoConstructed in 1873 as an elementary school, one of the oldest school architectures in Japan currently opens as a museum. Documents used for education are exhibited and an interior is retro and beautiful.
(軽井沢) The summer resort beloved by world’s celebrities is proud of its moderate climate and beautiful nature from spring to autumn, which is the best for evacuation from crazily-hot Tokyo in summer because Karuizawa locates at the high altitude (1,000m) and accessible from Tokyo in one hour via Shinkansen. In an abundant nature, you can spend an extremely-relaxing moment eating/drinking at a fashionable cafe and restaurant, visiting around nature spots and cultural spots, and staying at a sophisticated hotel. The best season to visit would be from May to Oct, and traveling around in winter should be harsh. As it’s situated on the way of Hokuriku-Shinkansen, it might be a good option to drop off in the middle of Kanazawa travel from Tokyo. Also, Hoshino Area, run by Hoshino Resort Group which is one of the most luxury hotel brands in Japan, is also must-visit.
(戸隠) The top sight in Togakushi district is Togakushi Shrine which consists of five ancient shrines dating from more than 2,000 years ago. A serene atmosphere of those historical shrine buildings standing among the cedar trees of 400 years old is breathtaking. It’s suggested to visit around those shrines one by one on your foot so that you can enjoy the historical sites and rich nature following the route as locals have done for long ago. Also, as Togakushi is famous for one of old ninja sect “Togakushi-ryu-ninja”, there are some associated museum and amusement facilities so it’s good to stop by them if you have time and interest. The local specialty, Togakushi-soba is famous and worth trying. It’s major to visit from Nagano station via bus as one day trip.
4. Zuishinnmon gate 随神門
Located on the way of approach to Okusha, this is the oldest architecture in Togakushi shrine constructed in the year of 1710. The scenery of the mossy vermilion-colored gate standing between huge cedar tree avenues is picturesque.
5. Togakushi Shrine Okusha 戸隠神社奥社
The ancient shrine dating from more than 2,000 years ago is the primary shrine of five Togakushi shrines, known as a strong spiritual spot. Through the shrine gate “Zuishinmon gate”, walking to shrine building (2km, 40min) surrounded by fog and avenues of cedar 400-years-old trees make you feel like being in another world. Total 90min would be required for a round trip and visiting both Okusha and Kuzuryusha.
7. Kagami-ike pond 鏡池
One of the best scenic spots in Togakushi is proud of a mysterious beauty of mountains and surrounding trees reflected on the blue lake surface. Best season is autumn when leaves turn to be colored beautifully. Rest house is located here.
9. Togakushi Ninja Museum戸隠流忍法資料館
Togakushi is famous for one of ninja sects, “Togakushi-ryu”, and this museum exhibits around 500 ninja items and related items. Located in the same ground of Togakushi Folk Museum.
12. Togakushi Plant Nursery戸隠森林植物園
The large nature park located next to the forest of Okusha exhibits various sorts of wild birds and highland plants where you can walk around in about one hour.
4. Kitaguchi-Hongū-Fuji-Sengen Shrine北口本宮冨士浅間神社
One of the world heritage assets, this ancient shrine is famous for its strongly-spiritual atmosphere created by gorgeously-decorated shrine buildings which were constructed in around 1594-1739 and the enormous old trees of 1,000 years old. It dates from 1,900 years ago, and original shrine buildings were constructed in 788 for calming the volcano activity of Mt. Fuji, which brought significant damage to this district. Famous for the fire festival Yoshida-no-himatsuri which takes place in 26-27Aug.