15 Things To Do In/Around Togakushi
Nagano City has no shortage of fantastic day tripping opportunities. Of these myriad places to visit and savour, few are as charming or as interesting as Togakushi.
Located to the north of Nagano City, a mere one hour bus ride away, the village has a history dating back centuries, though Togakushi in its present day form only came into being at the end of the 19th century, when two smaller towns (Togakushi and Toyooka) were merged into one village.
So, join me today as we take a closer look at this, one of Nagano Prefecture’s best kept secrets.
Here are 15 ways to make the most of your time when you go to Togakushi:
1. Togakushi Okusha and The Giant Cedar Trees
Many of Japan’s religiously significant sites draw much of their “spirtual energy” from the surrounding nature. Togakushi Okusha is such a place. The stunning, 400 year old, giant cedar trees which line the route up the mountain to the shrine itself, are considered by the local populace to be almost as sacred as the shrine itself.
Togakushi Okusha definitely has something of a mystical vibe to it. Many first time visitors to Japan probably have a preconcieved image of what a classical shinto shrine should look like. If there is one place in Japan that comes closest to fulfilling such preconceptions, then this is it.
The Shrine itself is said to date back some 2000 years.
Upon passing through the massive red tori gate at the entrance to the shrine’s approach, visitors can marvel at the majesty of the aforementioned massive cedar trees which run the length of the 2 kilometer approach to the shrine itself. Nature is in abundance in this area. After enjoying the shrine, visitors can also take a walk through the nearby Mizubasho Flower Garden. These flowers are best enjoyed from May to June, when they are in full bloom.
2. Togakushi Chusha
Togakushi Okusha is but one of a larger network of shrines in Togakushi. Another, is the Togakushi Chusha. It is the 3rd of five shrines in total, following the traditional shrine visiting trail.
Located in the center of the village, Togakushi Chusha is noticeably busier than the other shrines on this trail. However, Togakushi itself is a small, peaceful village, so even at its busiest times, Togakushi Chusha is still a far cry from the congested madness of places like Kiyomizu Temple in Kyoto or the Asakusa Sensoji in Tokyo at the height of the summer tourist season.
The shrine, like so many others is accentuated by the massive wood-carved tori gate that adorns it’s entrance. Throughout the year, you will see hanging in the courtyard outside the main shrine, hundreds of Ema, wooden blocks with messages written on them.
The Ema is a long-running custom in shrines all over Japan, where visitors are invited to write down what they wish for in the coming months, and say a prayer at the shrine before leaving the block at the shrine, and their wishes at the will of the gods. These blocks can be asking for anything, from the safety and well being of loved ones, to the blessing of a marriage. I even saw one asking for divine intervention to help someone pass their driving test!
3. The Togakushi Ninja House
Ninjas, those dark, deadly, black clad assassins have been the stuff of Japanese legend for centuries.
Their exploits immortalized in story, song, film and today even video games like Mortal Kombat and Tekken.
If you fancy unleashing your inner Shinobi, then a visit to Togakushi Ninja House is an absolute must.
Located just across the street from Togakushi Okusha Shrine, The ninja house showcases weaponry, tools, costumes and other artefacts from the history and culture of this enigmatic clan of brave, noble warriors.
Ever wondered what it feels like to throw a shuriken, the deadly, star shaped bladed projectiles used by ninjas throughout the ages?
Well, at the Togakushi Ninja house, you can find out for yourself.
For a mere 200 yen, you can throw seven of these lethal little daggers at a range of targets. Hit 5 out of the 7 and you not only get to call yourself a true ninja warrior, you’ll also earn yourself a nice little prize!
If you fancy a challenge a little more cerebral, then why not try to work your way through the on-site Ninja maze house. Made famous in the climax of Bruce Lee’s iconic 1973 hit movie Enter the Dragon, the ninja maze is an assortment of mirrored halls, hidden doorways and other surprises spanning two floors. Only the bravest of budding ninjas dare attempt this challenge!
4. Togakushi Ninja Village
There’s a lot more to the history of Togakushi’s ninjas and their art of Togakure Ryu Ninpo, than just a mere Ninja house. Togakushi Ninjamura (Ninja Village) is a fully interactive theme park based around the legend of the Ninja clans who once called the area home.
Children will especially love the ninja themed activities and games dotted around the village. Adults will probably get a kick out of them too.
The village offers a host of events such as shuriken throwing contests, Ninja fighting technique training and even a light-footed ninja race.
The park provides fun for both children and adults alike and is a must see for anyone who is planning to visit the area. A “saturobi” ticket, which includes admission to both the village and all the accompanying attractions, is 1850 yen for adults and kids aged 7 and above and 1630 yen for preschool kids. Various discounts and promotions are available throughout the year, so be sure to check back regularly.
Also, for an extra 500 yen, you can rent your own Ninja costume for the day. Not only will this save you from getting your clothes dirty but it also looks great for the photo album too!
Ninjamura runs from late April to late November and is open daily from 9am to 5pm (closed Thursdays).
5. Kagami Ike Pond
With all this talk of ninja assassins, shurikens and such like, one could be forgiven for thinking Togakushi is a place of constant intensity, action and intrigue. However, as is the case all over Japan, the village also has its more secluded spaces, where one can go to enjoy some quiet reflextion and peaceful relaxation.
Perhaps the best known of these areas is Kagami Ike Pond.
Kagami means mirror in Japanese and from the moment you first gaze upon this stunning body of water and the perfect silouette its wind-free waters cast of the surrounding Togakushi mountain range, its easy to see why the name fits it so well.
Kagami Ike is probably best enjoyed at the height of the Japanese autumn season from late October to early December, when the red, brown and golden autumn leaves of the surrounding forrest cast the most seductive of silouettes on the cool, clear waters of the pond.
Although somewhat out of the way from the rest of the local attractions, Kagami Ike Pond is easily accessible by local bus. However, if the weather is good, and you’re feeling fit, then I strongly recommend taking an hour or so to hike to the pond from the main village. The scenery is stunning, and when you reach the pond, the views will be all the more invigorating.
6. Hiking in Togakushi
Of course, it’s not only ninjas who will relish the challenge of tackling the hills and forests that envelope the village of Togakushi. The area’s rich diversity of trails, hikes and climbs offers a wide range of adventures to suit everyone from the veteran hiker to the casual walker.
Perhaps the most popular of the many trails is the hike which takes in all five of the villages‘ shinto shrines.
This trail dates back to the founding of the original shrines almost 2 millenia ago.
Many hikers also love to hike up to the aforementioned Kagami Ike. This hike won’t take much more than an hour each way and the view alone makes it worthwhile.
One thing is for sure, you‘ll certainly have no shortage of options in Togakushi
Indeed, with the rich forests, occassionally steep gradients around the base of Mount Togakushi, and of course the aforementioned stunning beauty of Kagami Ike, its easy to see why hiking in this area is so popular not just with visitors but also among the Japanese populous too.
One does need to exercise some caution though. As I mentioned previously, this area is very rural, and the trails themselves are, in some cases, unaltered for centuries. As such, the local wildlife may take more than a passing interest in visitors to their backyard. Snakes can be a concern in summer, and bears have also been seen in the area from time to time.
However, if you apply some simple common sense you should be fine.
Avoid walking through long grass, or bushes and stick to the designated paths. Snakes are highly unlikely to come onto the path, as they tend to prefer hiding in the undergrowth.
As for the bears, they are nocturnal by nature and tend not to approach humans.
Nevertheless, if you do see one, its probably best not to approach him to say hello!
7. Hiking the 5 Shrines of Togakushi
As I said earlier, one of the most popular hikes in the area around Togakushi, is a hike taking in the 5 Shrines of Togakushi. Generally speaking, depending on the time of year and your own personal energy levels, there are two ways you can tackle this hike.
Some prefer to start their hike at the highest point, Togakushi Okusha, and then work their way down through Kuzurusha, Chusha, Hinomikosha and finally ending at Hokosha, the lower shrine.
However, if you really fancy a challenge, then why not get off the bus at Hokosha and hike the full five kilometers or so uphill all the way. It’s not such a difficult hike really, and the gradual uphill gradient means you’ll not be too tired when you eventually reach Togakushi Okusha. If it’s a nice day then you also have the option of diverging from the trail after passing Togakushi Chusha. The left path will take you up past Kagami Ike, whilst the right hand path will take you to the ninja house and folk museum on your way to Kuzurusha and Okusha.
8. Togakushi Soba
Soba is not just a staple of many Japanese diets, it is also one of Nagano’s most popular indigenous dishes.
As is the case with other Japanese dishes, such as okonomiyaki, there are regional variations in how soba is prepared. Togakushi Soba is unique and highly sought after by soba fans all across Japan.
Soba aficionados are very particular about what exactly constitutes Togakushi Soba.
Firstly, it needs to be prepared using a specific type of flour called “hikigurumi” which is a whole wheat soba flour. Secondly, it must be seasoned with “Togashi Daikon”, a local radish, with a distinct, spicy flavor.
Finally it must be served alongside tempura made from local “sansai” vegetables, sourced from the mountains around Togakushi.
As far as culinary experiences go, there are few in Japan more authentically rustic than Togakushi Soba.
Please bear in mind that soba noodles are made from wheat and as such, those with a wheat allergy should avoid them. However, most soba restaurants in Togakushi offer equally delicious udon noodles as a wheat-free alternative.
9. Bamboo Crafts in Togakushi
One of the biggest questions many tourists face when visiting a new part of Japan is the issue of souvenirs. What is an appropriate item to buy to remember your time in this new place?
In the case of Togakushi, some of the most popular local souvenirs are the local bamboo crafts.
These intricate, yet sturdy items are made using “Nemagaridake” which literally translates as “bent bamboo roots”
If you’ve sampled Togakushi Soba noodles during your visit then you may recall the elegantly designed strainers and baskets from which the noodles are served. These are just a couple of common examples of the many and varied bamboo crafts one can find in Togakushi.
The best place to view and purchase locally produced bamboo goods is probably the Togakushi Bamboo Center. Here, you can experience first-hand how these wonderful items are made, and even try your hand at some craftwork yourself.
A beginner’s bamboo craft experience, lasting one hour costs 1600 yen. An intermediate, 3 hour, course costs 3000 yen. Booking ahead is required.
The Bamboo center is a short walk from Togakushi Okusha Iriguchi Bus stop, approximately 70 minutes from Nagano Station.
10. Togakushi Shukubo
Have you ever wondered what it would be like to actually stay in a real, Japanese shrine?
In Togakushi, you have the opportunity to do just that. Shukubo Gokui is a former shrine that has been converted into guest lodgings.
Not only can you bask in the stunning scenery of the surrounding forests and marvel at the intricate beauty of the building’s own aesthetics, you can also enjoy some of the finest local food and drink in the area.
Soba in Togakushi isn’t just used to make noodles here. You can also enjoy locally crafted wheat beer, sobagaki (soba dumplings) and even shochu (a vodka style liquor) blended with the same water used in making soba noodles, giving it a unique flavor and fragrance.
Prices vary from summer to winter (winter is cheaper) and since Gokui only has 11 rooms, advance booking is essential.
11. Togakushi Ski Resort
No destination in Nagano is truly complete without its own ski resort and, once again, Togakushi is no exception.
Togakushi Snow World, to give the resort it’s official title, is a little more out of the way and as such noticeably less populated than many of the other, larger resorts in nearby Hakuba.
However, the resort still has everything the ski enthusiast would hope to find in a typical venue.
The course difficulties are divided up to suit all levels: With a ration of 30% beginner, 40% intermediate and 30% expert level.
An elevation of 1,748 meters also ensures good conditions for skiing throughout most of the season.
In total there are 18 different trails to cover, serviced by 10 lifts.
If you’re looking for somewhere to get away from the hustle and bustle and really focus on your skiing then Togakushi is ideal. On weekdays, you may even have an entire trail all to yourself.
A one day pass for access to all of the resort is priced at 4000 yen for adults and 2500 yen for kids.
12. Togakushi Campground
There are few better ways to reconnect with nature and rediscover our own sense of balance with the natural world, than to spend a couple of days camping. With its mountains, woodlands, and tremendous, unspoiled scenery, Togakushi is perfect for such a break.
From April 29th to October 30th each year, the Togakushi Campground accomodates up to 350 vehicles. Bungalow and cottage renting options are also available.
Surrounding by a white birch forest, you can either enjoy hiking through the nearby nature trails, or perhaps just sit back, open a beer and enjoy the splendid scenery as nature intended.
Prices are reasonable too, at just 3000 yen per car per day. Bungalow rentals start from 5000 yen and Cottages vary from 18-24,000 yen per day if you fancy something a bit more extravagant.
Camping out doesnt mean you have to slum it though, there are plenty of facilities on site to make the most of your stay. Hot showers, flush toilets, outdoor kitchens and even an on site shop are available to help you make the most of your stay.
The campground is also only a 25 minute walk from the Shrines and other facilities in the main Togakushi village, so its also the perfect spot from which to explore area in more detail, at your own pace.
Also known by the far less attractive English name Asian Skunk Cabbage. Mizubasho is a plant that has become synonymous with the Togakushi area.
A short walk away from the Togakushi Okusha Shrine you will find the Mizubasho garden. Despite the rather unappealing name, mizubasho are actually quite easy on the eye when the flowers are in bloom.
The best time to see the mizubasho at the Togakushi Okusha Garden is from May to June.
During these months, the flowers are in full bloom, and perhaps more importantly the weather in Nagano is just at the sweet spot between the end of the cold, harsh winter and the at times stifling heat and humity that Japanese summer brings from mid-July onwards.
14. The Dondo Yaki Festival
However, Togakushi’s Dondo Yaki Festival combines elements of all of the above, to create a truly unique festive experience.
Every year, on the 3rd Saturday of January, all the locals gather together around a 3 meter high bonfire built out of locally-sourced green bamboo. This structure makes for quite the enchanting site when it is set alight. The ritual of burning the bamboo is said to confer good fortune on the town and all who visit it in the year ahead.
After the bonfire has taken place, the party isnt over. Visitors can enjoy local delicacies such as rice cakes and sake as they watch the drum show followed by fireworks that bring this fanastic festival to a close.
The festival kicks off at 7pm on the 3rd Saturday of January each year at the Togakushi Campground. As the event runs until around 10pm and alcohol will be on offer, its highly recommended that you get a hotel locally. Also, be sure to book in advance, as this is a very popular event and nearby rooms tend to sellout fast.
15. The Beeso Drinking Festival
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This event needs little elaboration. It’s pretty self-explanatory. On the first Saturday of March each year, at the entrance to Togakushi Chusha Shrine, the Beeso Drinking Festival takes place.
For a mere 300 yen, you are provided with a Beeso drinking cup, and invited to drink as much as you like for the duration of the event. Sake and wine is the order of the day here. You’ll also be able to enjoy a variety of performances on the snow-sculpted stage which forms the centrepiece for this event. Drums, fire shows, live music and a host of other performances can be enjoyed free of charge throughout the event.
Again, much like the Dondo Yaki festival, since this is an evening event, and drinking is involved, we strongly recommend that you take a hotel in the area and book as far ahead as possible.
As you can see there’s no shortage of things to see and do across Togakushi, and this is just one of the many exciting venues we at Snow Monkey Resorts offer to you.
Based in Nagano, Snow Monkey Resorts provides tours and charters throughout the region. Our charter vehicles are suitable for single travelers, couples, and groups (up to 45 persons) for private transport to and between the resorts, nearby major airports including Narita and Haneda, cities including Tokyo and Nagano, and other popular destinations. As Nagano’s No.1 tour operator, we offer a range of tours including private tours from the resorts to Nagano’s famous Jigokudani Snow Monkey Park – and other popular destinations. We’re here all year round to help you plan and get the most out of your winter adventure in Nagano!