Fresh Air and Mountains
Tokyo is a great city, yet a prolonged stay can make you feel claustrophobic with crowds and endless lines. We were finally able to escape the swarms of people and jam packed trains through a getaway to the mountains of central Honshu.
Our first stop was Kamikouchi, a picturesque, Japanese national park that has the nickname of the “Japanese Yosemite.” Located in the Hida Mountains, which also bears a nickname, the “Japan alps,” it is a three and half hour bus ride from Shinjuku station. Luckily, the view from the bus was breathtaking enough to make the time pass quickly.
Upon arrival, we immediately noticed the drastic temperature difference from Tokyo (Tokyo being around 65 degrees Fahrenheit and Kamikouchi being only about 40 degrees Fahrenheit. After leaving one of New York’s harshest winters in late March, I hoped to see snow for the last time until next year, but there was an abundance of snow up in the mountains.
After a five minute walk from the station, Mt. Hotoka is in sight and your consciousness of the cold is gone. There are a few hiking trails to follow from there, with different ranges of difficulties, and we chose the middle difficulty. It was about a 2 hour hike to Lake Taisho, an gorgeous lake formed by a volcanic eruption. We headed back soon after to catch our bus to our next stop, and in the time in between, stopped at a gift shop, where you could buy all types of Kappa goods. Prior to this, I was not entirely sure what a Kappa was, but it is a figure from Japanese legend, and an inspiration for characters in Japanese games (like koopa troopas for anyone who plays Mario games).
We were greeted by the owners of the hostel at which we were staying at the station of Matsumoto, and the were kind enough to drive us to the hostel from the station. The best part of the hostel may have been the hospitality of the owners. After an exhausting day of hiking, our stomachs needed food A.S.A.P. and in large quantities. We asked the owners there suggestion, and they immediately pointed us in the direction of locally famous ramen shop. I’m not sure if it is because I was extremely hungry, but that was the best ramen I’ve in Japan up to this point.
The next day we got an early start, and headed to Matsumoto castle. A traditional style Japanese castle, Matsumoto is a beautiful sight. Leading up to the castle were some vendors and small shops, where we were able to find vintage post cards and maps of Japan, as well as Taiyaki for the road.
Our next stop was Nagano. To get to Nagano, we took the most scenic train ride. Once in Nagano, our goal was to eat soba, for which Nagano is famous. We asked some locals for opinions on the best soba, and they led us to a place hidden in a basement. We entered, and it was very traditional and filled with all the local people. We were served the best soba that anyone could ever want.
Soon after, we headed to Zenkoji temple. On the way, we got the creamiest, and best ice cream of Japan ice cream on the way. We were also asked to be on video with a bull for some television show. At the temple, we were lucky enough to view a Buddhist ritual outside of the temple. After viewing the grounds and gardens, we picked up some sweet potato ice cream and headed back to the station. We were stopped again on the way, this time for an interview for a television show in Nagano, asking us whether we knew what basket of edamame was or not. From there, it was time to go home.
Our trip out of Tokyo was refreshing; we breathed fresh air, ate good food, and saw some of the most beautiful natural sights of Japan. This would be the inspiration for more many more trips away from Tokyo.