It is Cultural Day, and the local crowd was expected to be large as it is a national holiday. We arrived early at the Alpico office to purchase our Zenkoji & Togakushi 1-Day Ticket Pass. It was the most affordable and convenient option at a price of 3,000yen each. Prior to that, we stopped by the nearby Family Mart to grab breakfast. before making our way to the bus stop in front of the Alpico office and joined the line waiting for Bus No.70 to arrive. Since it was a holiday, they had arranged for two buses to accommodate the expected weekend crowd – instead of one. Smart move!

The 1-day ticket of Zenkoji & Togakushi we purchased
Alpico’s Highland Shuttle Bus. No.70 on the road

Togakushi Shrine consists of 5 shrines: Togakushi-Hokosha (Lower Shrine), Togakushi-Chusha, Hinomikosha (Middle Shrines), and Togakushi-Okushairiguchi, Kuzuryusha (Upper Shrines). A path connects all 5 shrines, with the most popular and beautiful being the path between the Middle and Upper shrines. If you have enough time and energy, we highly recommend visiting all shrines, just as we did – to fully be immersed in the natural beauty in between all shrines. The total distance is about 7km, and it involves a steady uphill trek.

Bus stop at Togakushi Hokosha
Walk up the small road after alighting the bus

After the bus ride of 1 1/2 hours, we got off at Togakushi-Hokosha bus stop to begin our first 2km trek. The first shrine greeted us with a magnificent wooden torii gate, flanked by cedar trees. We climbed the stairs and reached the stunning Togakushi-Hokosha temple where we decided to take a break and have our breakfast.

Beautiful wood torii gate mark the entrance to the first of the 5 shrines
Prepare to stairs!!!
… here we go
Togakushi-Hokosha – beautiful

After recharging ourselves with the ever dependable onigiri (riceballs), we continued on the forest path, which gradually transitioned from lush green to vibrant red as the foliage changed color. It was truly breathtaking.

Follow this sign to the next temple
Autumn leaves adorned the floor of the path
Holy tree along the way 神道(かんみち)
It can get confusing when seeing this sign. Very easy, just walk towards the main road with passing cars.

After a leisurely 40-minute walk, we reached the main traffic road that leads to the Middle Shrine. You can’t miss it, as a large white torii gate stands out, marking the entrance to Togakushi-Chusha and Hinomikosha (Middle Shrines). Right after the entrance, there is a clean restroom to the right. It’s the last one you’ll come across for the next 2km.

We listen to the sound of vehicles and followed the path
White torii gate of Togakushi-Chusha
The stairs leading up to the temple

Togakushi-Chusha is a grand and picturesque shrine, complete with a small waterfall beside it. Two large trees with sacred ropes, called “shimenawa”, caught our attention. These trees are said to be over a hundred years old, and one of them allowed visitors to touch and feel its power. Like japanese people likes to say – power spot.

800-year old sacred tree, 戸隠の三本杉(一本目). Power spot!
Togakushi-Chusha. Beautiful
さざれ滝 sacred waterfall
戸隠神社 中社 御神木 sacred tree

Once we had a quick meal, we continued along the trail to the left of the temple, leading us to a car park. However, we accidentally took the wrong turn at the fork. Despite this, the walk was enjoyable due to the shade provided by the numerous trees.

The other entrance if coming from the carpark
Carpark area
Calm and relaxing walk up

Eventually, we reached another road with very little traffic. Realizing that something was amiss, we approached two locals who were engaged in conversation. They kindly pointed us in the right direction. Despite the language barrier, we managed to communicate with limited English, Japanese and lots of gestures. A real chicken and duck talk.

Getting lost in the wild

After changing to the suggested path, we gave a sign of relief when we encountered a few local hikers. It was a serene and picturesque stroll, particularly when some paths were completely covered in autumn leaves as the trees prepared for winter.

The correct walking path with limited vehicular access
Natural carpet of leaves
Took a break with a killer view

The walk concluded at another larger car park. This area was bustling with more people and featured two soba restaurants and a spacious restroom. As we weren’t hungry, we decided to eat later and continued onwards to the next shrine: a grand wooden torii gate that marked the entrance to the final shrine, Togakushi-Okushairiguchi (戸隠神社 奥社 随神門), also known as the Upper Shrine.

Toilet!! relief
The torii gate to the Upper Shrine

From the torii gate, it was a 2km uphill trek to the Upper Shrine, with the final 500m being slightly steeper. This popular part of the Togakushi Shrine experience is the most beautiful and popular one so expect alot more visitors. Before we knew it, we’ve arrived at the stunning Zuishinmon Gate (随神門)a striking red structure guarded by two lion-dogs and adorned with a thatched roof covered in plants and trees. It truly was an exquisite sight to behold.

Zuishinmon Gate
Walking past this gate means we’re entering the realm of the Gods
Passing the gate and looking behind at Zuishinmon

Passing through the gate, we were greeted by two rows of majestic Japanese cedar trees, creating an illusion of an endless forest in the distance. The surrounding nature was simply breathtaking. Despite the number of visitors that day, the walk remained serene, with conversation volumes kept to a minimum.

Amazing amazing giant cedar trees

Over the next kilometer, the path became narrower and steeper as we approached the final temples: Kuzuryusha (戸隠神社 九頭龍社) and Okusha Shrine (戸隠神社 奥社). As there were no handrails, children and senior citizens do practise extra care to climb the rocky steps leading to the shrines. There is a restroom before the final steps up.

Steps with no handrail making the walk a tad difficult
A mini torii gate to a small temple
Nearing the peak needs abit of finesse and leg muscle with utmost care.

After taking some photographs at the top, we swiftly descended and headed back to the main road, eager to satisfy our growling stomachs after all the walking. Even though we retraced our steps along the same path we took earlier, there were subtle changes in the atmosphere as the sun had moved higher and cast its rays at a different angle. Although it may seem insignificant, for the purpose of photography, it made a remarkable difference – the Zuishinmon Gate now appeared even more stunning with the cast of warm sunlight.

The final temples
Walking back pass the amazing red Zuishinmon Gate

Reaching the main road, I inscribed my surname (と in hiragana) on the waiting list for the soba restaurant, 奥社の茶屋. Fortunately, my limited knowledge of hiragana was finally put to good use. We savored dishes such as Kamo Namban (a delectable soupy soba with succulent duck meat), Tenzaru Soba (a refreshing cold dip soba accompanied by crispy tempura) and two delightful oyaki (traditional Japanese dumplings filled with pumpkin and mountain vegetables) at the charming 奥社の茶屋. To complete our meal, we indulged ourselves with smooth and creamy ice cream. As expected from Japanese standards, the staff and service were exceptional, leaving us with a highly recommendable experience.

奥社の茶屋 – soba goodness
Dependable Ninja-Wifi still at full speed
Kamo Namban
Tenzaru Soba feast

Afterwards, we strolled across the shop and patiently waited at the bus stop for our transportation back to Nagano Station.

The bus stop to go back to Nagano, just across the soba shop
Bus. No.70 arrives on time!!

  • Useful links:
  • Experience :
    • Arrive early to the bus stop and line up. Even after buying the tickets, may have to wait for the next bus if the bus(es) are full.
    • Bring comfy walking shoes for the trek between all 5 shrines. Hiking shoes not necessary.
    • Torii gate etiquette : It is respectful to walk under the torii gate NOT in the center but at the sides. The center area is reserved for the Gods. I also notice japanese people will bow on entering and exiting the torii gate, which marks the divide between human and God’s domain.

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