Obuse & Yamada Onsen – 15 Things To Do
Obuse and Yamada Onsen, located just 20 km south of the Snow Monkey Park area, offer their visitors a perfect picture of how Japanese people used to live in the past. Surrounded by mountains and rivers, the whole area is blessed with fertile soil which made Obuse and Yamada Onsen famous for various farm products such as chestnuts, fruits, rice, etc. Obuse Town is filled with well-preserved historic buildings of which many are utilized as shops, restaurants, sake breweries, etc. If you stretch your legs and go further up into the mountains, the picturesque Yamada Onsen Village awaits guests who wish to stay in an off-the-beaten-track environment.
This article will provide you with a thorough explanation about what the area has to offer!
Obuse town has a wide variety of cultural and historical attractions for visitors to enjoy, such as art museums, temples, sake breweries, and lots of local souvenir shops. Just exploring the central part of the town would give you lots of insight in Japanese traditions. What’s especially unique and fun about this town is that many local residents open their private Japanese garden to visitors to walk through freely. There are also various souvenir shops that promote local foods and snacks, many with free samples. You can easily spend a half day walking around the town on your own pace.
2. Visit Hokusai Museum
If you are interested in Japanese art, the Hokusai Museum in Obuse will be your favorite place. Hokusai Katsushika (1760-1849), one of the Japan’s most prominent ukiyo-e artist from Edo period, was so inspired by scenic beauty of the town that he moved to Obuse to fully devote himself to his artwork. Obuse has a museum specifically dedicated to Hokusai’s artwork and exhibits a unique collection you can only witness there. You can also learn how Hokusai influenced international famous artists, such as Vincent van Gogh, and how Hokusai’s art style developed and changed over his life.
One of his iconic works, the Great Wave over Kanagawa, is one of the masterpieces of traditional Japanese art.
3. Visit Gansho-in Temple and see Hokusai’s last masterpiece
Gansho-in Temple is a small temple located at the eastern edge of the town of Obuse, and very famous for the ceiling picture in its main hall. The picture’s name is Happo-Nirami-Hoozu (all direction gaze of a phoenix) and was drawn by Hokusai in 1848 as the last masterpiece of his life before he passed away at the age of 90. Hokusai devoted his whole life refining his art and to create a masterpiece he could be satisfied with. This phoenix is the culmination of his life and should not be missed if you are an art lover.
4. Takai Kozan Memorial Museum
Takai Kozan was the patron of Hokusai and he hosted Hokusai during his stay in Obuse. He was an artist himself as well as a renowned scholar and philosopher. The Takai Kozan Memorial Museum is located in the heart of the town, and exhibits his artworks and cultural collections in a Japanese traditional house. He was particularly skilled at Sumi-e (ink brush painting), and was famous for drawing Yokai, Japanese mythical folk monsters. Kozan was also a one-time student of Hokusai, whose influence you can see reflected on Kozan’s artworks. A part of the museum was used as Hokusai’s atelier.
5. Taste refined Japanese sake at Masuichi Sake Brewery
Masuichi Sake Brewery was founded in the middle of the Edo Period in 1755 and since then it has been focused on sake production. Since its establishment, the brewery has not taken to expanding their production but retained its small size of production and brewery as their focus is has been on preservation of traditional know-how and the quality of its product. As you enter into the brewery, there is a bar counter where you can order samples of their products, and the staff will explain how to enjoy sake and the difference of each products.
6. Try Obuse’s speciality chestnut delicacies
Obuse’s nickname is “the chestnut town” as the town is home to high quality chestnuts. Back in Edo period, their chestnut was favored by the shogun (Japanese warlord) and was consecrated to the Tokugawa shogunate. The chestnut production still thrives and has been the main local industry. Every store in town has various chestnut products, such as chestnut ice cream, crepes, cakes, etc. The harvest season is from October to November, but the delicacies are available for purchase throughout the year.
Another one of the town’s specialities are apples and grapes. If you are in the town from September to November, Nakajo Fruits Farm offers an opportunity to enjoy all-you-can-eat fruitpicking experience at reasonable prices. Japanese apples have gained an international reputation as high-quality, and fruit export is booming. Nagano’s fruits are especially regarded as popular, high-end products by Japanese as the region’s chilly climate and fertile mountainous soil provides the optimal environment for fruit to become juicy and sweet. Nakajo Fruit Farm’s orchard is located in the outskirt of the town center, about a 10 minutes drive away from Obuse Station.It may be easiest to hire a taxi to get there. Note that the availability of fruit depends on season, so it’s best to check with the Farm beforehand.
8. Visit Taikan Bonsai Museum
Bonsai is widely recognized as one of Japan’s most famous and popular traditional art and globally attracts many admirers. Obuse in fact has a small but special bonsai museum “Bonsai Museum Taikan” which displays well-treated bonsai trees in a private setting. The owner of the museum, Shinji Suzuki, is one of the representative Bonsai artist of Japan. In the museum, bonsai trees are laid out so that visitors can see each tree from a 360-degree angle.
9. Get off beaten track in the village of Yamada Onsen
If you want to be completely away from tourist crowds and absorb local nature, it is recommended to stay in Yamada Onsen Village. The village is located in the middle of the Matsukawa Valley and is directly connected with Obuse Town with one road at a drive of approximately 20 minutes away. The valley provides clean, fertile water to the farmlands nestled along the valley, and makes for a fully traditional picture of Japanese countryside. The village has different colors and activities; skiing in winter, cherry blossom in spring, hiking in summer, surroundings colored by red, orange, and yellow in autumn, and 100% natural hot spring onsen throughout the year! Visiting the village can certainly be a great option if you want to be off the beaten path and are a nature lover!
10. Stay at a top-class Japanese ryokan: Fujiiso
Fujiiso is the area’s top-rated Japanese luxurious ryokan a has rooms with refined designs, a 100% natural hot spring bath (both indoor and outdoor), and Japanese cuisine made of fresh local ingredients. The ryokan building is built on a cliff overlooking the valley and you can enjoy a glorious view of nature from your room balcony. The ryokan would be a nice place to try your Japanese ryokan experience.
11. Enjoy authentic hot springs
Yamada Onsen, as it is named, is a hot spring village and has several communal bath houses in the village. Takino-yu (“yu” means hot spring in Japanese) is one of the most beautiful onsen set in nature of the region. It is a gender-mixed, stone-made, outdoor bath structure at the top of river gorge. Another bath house Oyu is a more conservative choice as it is gender-separated, wooden-made, and has an indoor onsen located in the village center. They are both 100% natural water, which means that the onsen bath is filled by pure volcanic water sprung directly from the source.
12. Yamaboku Ski Resort
Yamaboku Ski Resort is a small and cozy ski resort that is popular among local skiers. The resort has unique characteristics and is a must-go for powder hunters as the ski terrain is laid out in a way that skiers/snowboarders can cut through the groomed slope and go into the off-piste routes freely. The ski resort retains a nostalgic vibe of a authentic Japanese ski resort as they are run by the local community of Yamada Onsen. Highlight of this resort is getting on a single-person lift (very rare to find one) and glide down off-piste routes at your free will. A rental store is located at the base of the resort so no need of bring your own gear.
13. Cherry blossom season in Japan’s countryside
Yamada Onsen area is also famous for Japan’s traditional and colorful cherry blossom viewing in spring. Its cherry blossom sites are not big, crowded parks like Tokyo or Kyoto. Instead, there are several different spots in the area where a single big, old cherry blossom tree stands rooted in the earth which has been visited by locals for centuries. Hiking the route from one of these trees to another and enjoying the Japanese countryside in spring could be a memorable moment in your Japan trip. The cherry blossom season starts usually from mid to end of April.
14. Visit the Snow Monkey Park
Though Obuse and Yamada Onsen are not the closest areas to the Snow Monkey Park, it is a wise choice of accommodation if you want to avoid the busy & crowded Shibu & Yudanaka area. The Snow Monkey Park is easily accessible as a train runs from Obuse Station to the Snow Monkey area.
15. Organize a private tour and customize your experience!
As written above, the area has lots of interesting attractions to cover when you are in Nagano but it may not be easy to get around by yourself. Snow Monkey Resorts offers a private tour and we can customize the itinerary according to your preference such as pick-up/drop-off points and schedule of the day.