Hello everyone! Here’s the second day of my Going solo in Nagano blog.
I had to do a lot more walking on this part of my trip since Togakushi is historically a pilgrimage site.
Mount Togakushi is a rocky mountain and home of Shinto shrines called Hokosha (lower shrine), Chusha (middle shrine), and Okusha (upper shrine).
I decided to go to Okusha shrine since it’s the farthest shrine and I was intrigued to walk through the Cedar Tree Avenue.
I left the hotel around 9 am and did a little bit of wandering around the station. However, I should’ve gone straight to the bus stop and check the bus schedule. I should’ve also checked if Togakushi requires a ticket purchased in advance.
Bus stop #7 is where you can board the bus going up to Mount Togakushi. It is best to buy the ticket at Alpico bus information center, just right in front of the bus stop #7.
I was just walking up to the Alpico information center when the bus arrived. Luckily, the staff asked for the bus to wait up while I get my ticket. You get a 400yen off if you buy their round-trip ticket. Fare from Nagano to Togakushi Okusha is 1,500JPY and the round-trip ticket from Alpico was 2,600JPY. They also give you a very informative Togakushi flyer which comes in handy later.
The bus ride up the mountain was so beautiful but I couldn’t get a good shot because of the windows’ reflections. Nevertheless, I enjoyed looking out and watch the mountain’s Autumn colors.
I think it’s best to have your own car if you wish to visit all three shrines. If you miss the bus, you have to wait about an hour for the next one. That is likely to happen especially if you get lost or happen to wander off to the Ninja house which is right across the Togakushi Okusha bus stop.
It took me an hour and a half to walk back and forth from the bus stop to Togakushi Okusha shrine. It would be a lot faster if you’re an experienced hiker/trekker. In fact, I was able to make small chats in Japanese with the locals who happen to be taking a little break in one of the benches along the way.
I should mention that there are stairs at the end of the cedar tree avenue, near the Okusha shrine. Wearing proper shoes will help in enjoying the long walk.
When I reached the Okusha shrine there’s actually another shrine below it and it’s called Kuzuryusha shrine and behind Okusha shrine is Mount Togakushi towering at 1,904 m.
It was a lovely walk along this ancient forest, it’s sad I couldn’t get to the forest botanical garden. Frankly, I couldn’t find it. There weren’t any English signs at the Okusha entrance.
When I got back to the bus stop, there’s still 30 minutes before the next bus arrives.
So… I wandered again and checked out the Ninja Museum right across the stop.
I paid 600JPY for the entrance fee at the Togakushi Minzokukan.
Originally, I was planning to just have some coffee at the Cafe that was right beside the entrance.
But I remembered I paid 600JPY! So my choices were to explore the Museum of Togakushi Folklore, House of Surprise or the Ninja House.
My mind thought museum could be boring, house of surprise could be scary or the Ninja house… which was intriguing.
Remember I have 30 minutes to just check out this place before the bus arrives. Looking at the Ninja house, it was pretty small.
So I went and entered the house (took my shoes off, of course) then the staff just left me there in the middle of the room.
There’s an English sign saying there’s a secret door.
My mind was delighted at that time thinking, “what a fun way to enter someone’s house.”
So obviously the secret door is the wall, which easily opened to the next room. Another small tatami room with tiny stairs leading to the second floor. Only the stairs was a joke, it won’t lead you anywhere and the hole I saw was actually a glass window!
Hah! I thought that was funny so I pushed the cabinet doors which was pretty tricky to open. But I was able to open it nonetheless and I got to the real stairs going up to the second floor.
This is the moment when I realized I could be stuck in this house because there was a sign at the back of that tricky door that says, “you cannot leave from here.”
I was excited and scared at the same time but I climbed up the stairs and went on exploring the rest of the house.
Let’s just say I went around the second floor of the house too many times that the staff ended up coming up to me and showed me a text from google translate that said, “Do you need a guide?”
I am embarrassed because I had no clue that Ninja House was a maze of secret doors and tilted rooms but at the same time, relieved to have the staff guide me out of there and get to the bus on time!
I swear I could’ve spent the entire afternoon figuring out how to get back outside if the staff did not care to check on me.
I couldn’t share any pictures or videos because it’s not allowed. They clearly have cameras in every room so I didn’t bother to try and get away with it. I was also trying to hide my panic.
Despite his lack of English, the staff’s pointing skills were remarkably straightforward and I was able to get out of there.
Soon as I was out, I ran like a ninja to the bus stop and waved at the bus driver to re-open the door!
Whew! I managed to get on the bus and hopped out at the Kagami Pond bus stop.
Now, according to the map Alpico staff gave me, it takes 40 minutes on foot to reach the pond. I was expecting a lovely forest trail with a sign “to Kagami pond” but no.
There were no English signs nor a tiny drawing of a pond and a direction anywhere.
The only clue I have was the Japanese sign that says Donguri House 2 KM. If you know zero Japanese then I recommend following the road.
That’s what I did. It’s too bad it’s nothing like walking along the cedar trees.
Along the way, there weren’t any signs at all so I got a little weary. Thankfully, another lone tourist was walking from the other direction. She did not say hi or anything so I thought she’s another foreigner but that only means she came form Kagami pond. Where else could she come from?
Anyway, I reached Kagami pond in less than 40 minutes for sure and boy, it was worth it!
I must leave Togakushi by 4 pm but it was only around 2 when I got there so I have some time to take in the mirror Image of Mt. Togakushi on Kagami Pond. To my surprise, one of the locals I made small talk with at the shrine, recognized me and said hi.
I was alone on this trip but I never felt lonely, pretty amazing right?
The Donguri House turned out to be right across the pond so yay instincts!
Oh and by the way, if you’re in the mountain and try searching for directions to Kagami pond, it will show you directions to Kagamike in Yamanashi.
Despite the relaxing view of Kagami pond, I had to hurry and get back to the bus stop. The road back to the stop is now uphill so it could take me longer.
On my way back, the lady who just said hi to me at the pond stopped her car and gave me a ride.
It was such a random act of kindness and I am so grateful for that. When she dropped me off at the bus stop she even gave me Nagano Apples!
I said a prayer as she drove away, forever owing her that moment I didn’t have to walk uphill.
I may be a roman catholic but I felt so close to Him during this trip. On this mountain where Shinto worships their deities.
Thanks to that Nagano Lady, I enjoyed some Nagano apples while waiting for the bus.
I arrived at Nagano station with plenty of time to buy souvenirs and some coffee at the station while charging my phone. Then finally boarded the bus at 18:00, back to Shinjuku.
To see a visual experience of this blog, please watch the video on top of this post.
This is it for Going Solo in Nagano blog post but there’s more to this Autumn in Japan blog series.
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And let me just end with, be kind and have a beautiful day!