- Japan 2023 Trip Itinerary (still updating)
- Nov 1 – Arrival at Nagoya, around Nagano Station, Stay : Sotetsu Fresa Inn Nagano-Zenkojiguchi
- Nov 2 – Bus trip to visit the famous Snow Monkey Park, Nagano, Stay : Sotetsu Fresa Inn Nagano-Zenkojiguchi
- Nov 3 – Easy trek at Togakushi 5-shrines, Nagano, Stay : Sotetsu Fresa Inn Nagano-Zenkojiguchi
- Nov 4 – Drive rented car to Hakuba and hiked to Hakuba Happo Pond, Stay : Hotel Hakuba
- Nov 5 – Morning walk to Zenkoji Temple, relaxed at Hakuba Mountain Harbour and Oide Park, Stay : Hotel Hakuba
- Nov 6 – Drive from Myoko to Joetsu, Ben-ten Iwa rock and crab feast, Stay : APA Hotel & Resort Joetsu Myoko
- Nov 7 – Drive to Kiyotsu Gorge and Naena Falls, Stay : APA Hotel & Resort Joetsu Myoko
- Nov 8 – Drive around Lake Nojiri, train ride to Lake Suwa and Tateishi Park, Stay : Beni-ya Hotel
- Nov 9 – Train ride to Shizuoka and Nihondaira Terrace sunset, Stay : Nippondaira Hotel
- Nov 10 – Walk around Shizuoka Station, Stay : Nippondaira Hotel
- Nov 11 – Train ride to Fuji City, walk around Atami City, Stay : Super Hotel JR Fujiekimae Kinenkan
- Nov 12 – Shy Mount Fuji, cheap seafood at Co-op and Numazu City festival, Stay : Super Hotel JR Fujiekimae Kinenkan
- Nov 13 – Mount Fuji, Shira-Ito Falls, Fujisan Sengan Shrine, Mount Fuji World Heritage Center, Stay : Super Hotel JR Fujiekimae Kinenkan
- Nov 14 – Mount Fuji, Hamamatsu Station and bus to hotel nearby airport, Stay : Hotel Route-Inn Tokoname Ekimae
We woke up early, bought our breakfast at the nearest convenience store (konbini), and took a morning exercise walk to Zenkoji Temple since it was within walking distance from our hotel, Sotetsu Fresa Inn Nagano – about 2km away or 30mins walk one-way. The streets were quite empty with only a few cars on the road and senior citizens tending to roadside planting making it a very enjoyable stroll.
Zenkoji Temple is mainly composed of two gates (Niomon and Sammon) with the Hondo Main Hall as the main temple. The first gate is a beautiful structure, resembling an entrance to a sacred world. From the opening of the first gate, we could see the second Sammon Gate, flanked by shops along Nakamise shopping street. That view from the second gate looking directly at Zenkoji is really a sight to behold with majestic mountains as the backdrop.
As we approached the main temple, we were fortunate to witness a rosary blessing called O-Juzu Chodai at exactly 7 am. As the Abbot and Abbess were walking out from the Hondo Main temple, they blessed kneeling devotees along the street by touching their heads. Interesting
The Hondo Main Hall is the grand temple surrounded by mountains, and to me, this temple exudes a certain “air.” Everything blends perfectly with the architecture, surrounding buildings, and natural elements. (Personally, it is one of the most aesthetically pleasing temples I’ve the honour to visit in Japan)
On the way out from the temple we stopped by at Starbucks Zenkoji @ Nakamise shopping street for a quick coffee break. As with all japanese Starbucks in heritage enclave, the building’s color blends with the surroundings in muted tones. We also bought some bread and melon pan from Arteria Bakery and some apples from a pop-up stall for our forthcoming road trip, renting a car and driving to Hakuba.
We used the convenient self-checkout with a machine at Sotetsu Fresa Inn Nagano-Zenkojiguchi making the checking out process even faster. The Sotetsu Fresa Inn group is one of our preferred business hotel chains to stay in Japan although it is a bit pricier than other business hotels. Best part is always clean, free of smoke smell and provides unlimited amenities. Our favorite is the array of instant tea and coffee choices just beside the lifts.
We arrived at Toyota-Rent-A-Car Nagano too early from the booked time and they were still preparing our car for usage. So we walked to a nearby river for some R&R and purchased some grapes from a local fruit store. Sitting by a river with swimming ducks, we enjoyed our bread and melon pan bought earlier. Before we knew it, it was time to collect our Toyota Roomy kei-car and GPS our way to Hakuba.
Using only free public roads, we drove at a leisurely speed with the only stop at a rest station overlooking the mighty Northern Alps of Japan. It had been nine years since we laid eyes on the northern alps and what a welcoming view it was. Since it was only mid-day, we decided to climb to Hakuba Happo Pond on Karamatsu-san in a hasty decision. However, we had to do it quickly because the Happo Alpen Line chair-lift or quad-lift services terminate at 4:30 pm during the green season.
The Happo Alpen Line (Mapcode: 535 100 804) consists of one gondola (Adam Gondola) and two quad-lifts (Alpen and Grad), and it opens from 8 am to 4:40 pm. The return trip from the foot of the mountain to the starting point of the hike costs 3,300 yen each. I have a fear of heights, so the ride was quite harrowing for me, but enjoyable for most. Fifteen scary minutes later, we reached the end of the gondola at Usagidaira (1,400m) before proceeding to the two quad lifts. I liked the the quad lifts as the height is not that high from the ground below. Be aware because it is open air, it can get quite chilly – do wear something appropriate. Before we knew it, we’ve reached the hiking starting point at Happo Sanso Lodge (1,830m).
There are two paths to take from the start of the hike: the left is a boardwalk type (easier), and the right is the natural way with lots of rock skipping (harder). Our plan was to take the harder path up and the easier path down. So, off we went on the rocky path. It was challenging but fun, as the views were simply breathtaking, even though it was overcast. We started at quite a fast pace but forgot that we were in a higher altitude, so breathing was a bit harder. LOL. First timers. We slowed down to a good pace to counter the effects but I forgot that the only food I had was one melon pan many hours ago. I dug into my backpack to find anything edible and luckily found some Fisherman Friend sweets. This “fisherman” became my “friend,” giving me a glucose boost for the rest of the climb.
Soon the paths converged and the rest of the hike was on boardwalks, making it easier. In fact, this hike can be classified as beginner level and anyone can make it to Happo Pond just start earlier (and eat first). We made many photo stops during the climb as the views of the Japanese Northern Alps were breathtakingly fantastic.
After an hour of hiking, we finally reached Happo Pond. It is a pond with a reflection of the mountains when viewed from a photography spot. How to find that spot? Don’t worry; there will be a lot of photographers at any time of the day. After taking photographs, we just sat and enjoyed the magnificent views that is front of us with our own eyes. No camera can ever replaced it.
With limited time left, we had to make our way down. Saying goodbye to the mountains, we made a hasty hike down the boardwalk, but alas, we took the wrong fork and ended up going down the rocky path again! Haha. Nevertheless, it took 50 minutes to reach the quad lift that would ferry us down to road level. Karamatsu-san will be a target to hike in the future.
Thank goodness our hotel was not far, and we freshened up after checking in at Hotel Hakuba for a two-night stay. We decided for take-away dinner and instead of the usual konbini, we found JA A-Coop Hakuba supermarket to buy our dinner. With that, we had an in-room sumptuous dinner with grapes and apples to cap the day off.
Oh, we bought a small knife and fruit peeler so that we could purchase fresh fruits and cut them up in our hotel. Throughout our trip, we always had fresh fruits. Clever move by my wife.
- Useful links:
- From our experiences :
- Arrive early to Zenkoji Temple (7am-ish) and enjoy the serene atmosphere
- Mapcodes are codes you can enter to your car’s GPS unit sort of Google maps but needn’t key in the words. I prefer using mapcodes.
- Get the earliest tickets to the Happo Alpen Line to fully make use of the 3,300yen lift charges. They open at 8am. The hike was well worth it though.
- Wear hiking or jogging shoes for the hike and eat sufficiently
- Bring some sweets for the hike for glucose boost
- We got a small knife and peeler for cheaps at Donki so can have fresh and affordable regional fruits. Nagano is mainly apples and it shows with some as cheap as 50yen an apple.