(Special Event) 2-Day Tour: 'Shimotsuki' Winter Festival, Traditional Food & Sake Experience
(Special Event) 2-Day Tour: 'Shimotsuki' Winter Festival, Traditional Food & Sake Experience
Be spirited-away deep into Central Japan on this immersive two-day tour including attendance at the winter ‘Shimotsuki Matsuri’ and overnight stay at Shimabata Ryokan – a local inn renowned for its traditional ‘gibier’ (wild meat) menu. Along with visits to the floating village of Shimoguri-no-sato and Kikusui Sake Brewery and all led by a locally-based guide, this intimate and unique tour reveals a side of Japan that few international visitors experience.
- Attend the raucous and unforgettable ‘Shimotsuki Matsuri’, an intimate festival said to be the inspiration for Studio Ghibli’s acclaimed and much-loved film, ‘Spirited Away’
- Follow the Toyama River into the mountains and discover a traditional food culture over two days including one of the region’s best winter ‘gibier’ (wild meat) dinner courses at Shimabata and lunch on both days
- Be spirited high into the mountains above to the floating village of Shimoguri, one of the region’s most iconic destinations – a place of myth and fable – before visiting the region’s most famous sake brewery, Kikusui
- Including accommodation on Day 1 – with dinner and breakfast included- along transport to and from all destinations and led by a locally-based guide
The tour begins at Hiraoka Station, where your guide will greet you, have you board the tour vehicle and on your way along the Toyama River. Ascending from the high mountains above, Toyama River feeds into the larger Tenryu River and is the source of life and identity in this hidden pocket of Central Japan – a place where locals are proud of their traditional food culture and honour the spirits that are said to inhabit its forested mountains and meandering waterways.
First stop on the tour is lunch at ‘Genya’, a popular restaurant offering local specialties including your choice of Shinshu salmon, ‘soba’ noodles with Toyama ‘jidori’ chicken or a ‘gibier’ (wild meat) plate. You’ll receive a warm welcome from the owner and lots of information about the local food you’re enjoying – a great start to a two-day getaway all living traditions faraway from the city.
From there you make the short journey to the festival grounds, where you will meet the local community and enjoy the early proceedings. ‘Shimotsuki Matsuri’ celebrates the long-held belief that the region is inhabited by a large number of spirits – a belief you will see manifest that night as residents commune with those spirits including their ancestors through dance and raucous celebration. You guide will explain the meaning underpinning the festival and what you will witness later in the evening before you head onto your accommodation – Shimabata – for an early check-in and to relax and unwind before dinner.
Shimabata is a homely local guesthouse known best for its unique menu of ‘gibier’ (wild meat) and traditional side dishes including ‘hachi’ (wasps) and ‘bata’ (crickets). For guests with a sense of food adventure, this meal promises to be a highlight of their time in Japan as the owner serves an ever-changing menu of wild meat including ‘inoshishi’ (wild boar), ‘shika’ (deer), ‘ayu’ (river fish) with the promise of the best wild meats in season – for more information, see ‘About Your Accommodation’ below – and noting the vegetarian meals can also be served.
Following dinner you will make the short journey back to the festival and inside Jugosha Daimyojin Shrine. The festival will be in full swing by that time with the shrine packed with local residents including those wearing traditional clothing and masks, who perform to the delight of the audience. Dancers circulate around a cauldron of steaming water over a fire, with the most experienced performers charged with using their bare hands to spray the hot water over the crowd as a ritual purification. Male residents then take turns wearing masks and dancing and should they wish to, male guests are also invited to wear a mask and dance.
The festival is said to be one of the inspirations for Studio Ghibli’s loved film ‘Sen to Chihiro no Kamikakushi’ (Spirited Away), after acclaimed animator Miyazaki Hayao personally attended the festival. Your guide will stay with you throughout proceedings allowing around 2.5 hours inside the shrine, over which time a memorable array of spirits appear to dance each with story or purpose to its entrance. The overall experience and the photographs you will capture will be among the most treasured of your time in Japan – before you return to your accommodation around 21:00.
The second day begins with a traditional Japanese breakfast before your guide will have you board the tour vehicle for the thirty minute drive into the mountains above and onto the hamlet of Shimoguri. Sitting at 1200 metres above sea level, Shimoguri clings to the steep mountain sides – one of Central Japan’s most striking vistas. Your guide will lead you along a forest trail to the view point, from where the village often appears float among the morning clouds of winter.
A place of myth and fable, Shimoguri seems to float among the clouds – a realm in which you’ll get a strong sense of the spirits said to inhabit the mountains, forests, rivers and of course, local shrines. From there you’ll begin your journey back to modernity as you head toward Iida City and lunch at the renowned Imamiya Hanbei. Arriving for lunch around 12:30, you will enjoy a traditional menu of multiple dishes including the restaurant’s acclaimed ‘gohei mochi’ – glutinous rice balls on a skewer and coated in sauce. Imamiya Hanbei has been serving it the same way since 1872 and the full vegetarian menu acts as a delicious balance to the previous day’s dinner course.
Once done, it’s onto Kikusai Sake Brewery for the final stop of the tour. Established in the 19th century, Kikusui Sake Brewery has a long history of producing some of southern Nagano’s best ‘sake’. At first an independent brewery, the devastation of the Second World War put pressure on local breweries to come together and consolidate their efforts with the limited resources that were available. In 1944, thirty-seven breweries joined together under the banner of Kikusui, creating one of Nagano’s most famous and successful sake breweries.
Arriving around 14:20, you will enjoy a guided tour of the modern brewery followed by guided sake tasting. Brewed in winter, it is the ideal time to visit, see the brewing process firsthand and enjoy the best seasonal sake.
It’s then short drive to Iida Station where your guide will say their goodbyes and the tour – and the most memorable of experiences – comes to an end at 15:40*.
*the tour end time is scheduled to fit with Limited Express ‘Inaji’ service departing Iida Station at 15:58 and arriving at Toyohashi Station at 18:31. Toyohashi Station is a stop on the Tokaido Shinkansen line running to Tokyo, Nagoya, Kyoto and Osaka – making your onward journey to those and other cities easy to navigate.
ABOUT YOUR ACCOMMODATION
This tour includes accommodation on Day 1 at Shimabata, a local guesthouse located in the Toyama-go area. Guests will be allocated a Japanese-style room with ‘tatami’-matting, on-floor ‘futon’ bedding, low furniture and small television. Rooms do not include a private toilet, shower or bath. In-keeping with many traditional guesthouses, guests are required to share toilet and bathing facilities. Dinner and breakfast are included with the evening’s ‘gibier’ (wild meat) dinner course sure to be a highlight of your time in Japan. All meat is sustainably and lawfully hunted in the surrounding mountains of Toyama-go, with the owner taking great pride and care in its preparation. While it might take a sense of adventure to try it, the meat and fish is beautifully cooked and offers a truly memorable traditional food experience… and that’s even before the wasp or snake liquor you’re sure to be offered through the course of your meal! Should it be required, Shimabata can also cater to vegetarian diets.
GETTING TO HIRAOKA: ENJOY THE BEAUTY OF THE IIDA LINE
This tour is designed to take you far from the city and deep into the beauty and tradition of the Tenryu Riverlands. For visitors coming from Tokyo or Nagoya, or even further afield from Kyoto or Osaka, this is surprisingly easy to do using the Limited Express ‘Inaji’ service on the JR Iida Line from Toyohashi Station. As a stop on the Tokaido Shinkansen Line running from Tokyo to Osaka via Nagoya and Kyoto, Toyohashi is quick and easy to reach – taking 80-minutes from Tokyo and less than 30-minutes from Nagoya. Once there, the Limited Express Inaji service runs to Hiraoka in under two-hours, in which time passengers can enjoy one of Japan’s most scenic rail lines – see FAQs below for Limited Express Inaji times to and from Toyohashi.
|Day1 / 12:00||Meetup with your guide at Hiraoka Statiion, board the tour bus and begin your journey into the Toyama-go area of the Tenryu Riverlands.|
|12:30||Enjoy lunch at 'Genya', a popular local restaurant serving your choice of Shinshu salmon, soba with Toyama ‘jidori’ chicken or a ‘gibier’ (wild meat) plate.|
|13:30||Arrive at the festival grounds to meet the community and enjoy the early proceedings including a guided explanation of the meaning behind what you will witness later that night.|
|15:15||Check-in at your accommodation and relax until your traditional 'gibier' dinner course served between 17:00 to 18:00|
|18:30||Arrive at Jugosha Daimyojin Shrine where you will witness - and should you wish to, also participate in - one of Central Japan's most memorable festivals. Your guide will stay with you throughout the festival, enjoying between 2 to 2.5 hours there before returning to your accommodation to say goodnight around 21:00.|
|Day2 / 09:30||Following breakfast at your accommodation, you'll be met by your guide and make the journey into the mountains and the alpine hamlet of Shimoguri. Once there, you'll enjoy a walk to the viewing point for a view of the village on a guided walk.|
|11:15||Depart Shimoguri and begin the journey into Iida City where you will have lunch at Imamiya Hanbei around 12:30.|
|13:45||Arrive at Kikusui Sake Brewery and enjoy a a guided sake tasting.|
|15:25||Depart the brewery and head to Iida Station.|
|15:40||Tour concludes at Iida Station.|
This tour operates from the following meetup point:
1 / HIRAOKA STATION @ 12:00
The meetup point is at the entrance of Hiraoka Station. Please wait at the bottom of the stairs. It is a small station with only one entrance / exit so you should have no problem finding it. Please be there in advance of the tour departure time of 12:00.
- Transportation fee from / to all listed destinations and activities
- English-speaking guide on both days
- Attendance at the ‘Shimotsuki Matsuri’ on Day 1
- Guided visit to Shimoguri on Day 2
- Guided tour / tasting at Kikusui Sake Brewery on Day 2
- Lunch at ‘Genya’ on Day 1 and ‘Imamiya Hanbei’ on Day 2
- Accommodation on Day 1 (inc. dinner and breakfast)
- Additional transport costs to / from Hiraoka Station or Iida Station i.e. train fares
- Additional food, snacks or drinks
- Additional accommodation (unless requested)
- This tour is not wheelchair accessible and may not be suitable for mobility-impaired travelers. Should you have any concerns about your ability to join the tour, please contact us to discuss prior to booking.
- This tour includes lunch at ‘Genya’ in Toyamago on Day 1 and ‘Imamiya Hanbei’ in Iida City on Day 2. In the unlikely event that we cannot access either restaurant on the day of your tour, we will arrange a comparable nearby restaurant.
- This tour includes accommodation at Shimabata on Day 1. Accommodation includes dinner and breakfast, with guests allocated a standard Japanese-style room with on-floor ‘futon’ bedding and shared bathing / toilet facilities.
- Dinner at Shimabata is a multi-course ‘gibier’ (wild meat) meal. Meat served at dinner is lawfully and sustainably hunted in the surrounding mountains and is in-keeping with the region’s traditional food culture. Meat varies depending on the season and can include deer, wild boar, duck, bear, river fish and other specialties. Please note, Snow Monkey Resorts does not decide the menu and cannot guarantee what you will be served on the day of your tour. Should you be offered something you do not wish to eat, please feel free to decline it but for those with a sense of food adventure, we are sure you will enjoy one of Central Japan’s most enjoyable food experiences.
- If required, Shimabata can also serve a vegetarian dinner however we cannot guarantee that it can cater to vegan and other dietary requirements such as gluten-free.
- On Day 1 of the tour you will attend the ‘Shimotsuki Matsuri’. The festival is very local and intimate and in the evening you will spend between 2 to 2.5 inside a small shrine watching and should you wish to, also participating. During the festival performers spray hot water over the crowd while others might jump into the crowd. The festival concludes with a performer slicing paper prayers that hang from above with a sword. Needless to say it’s a raucous affair and while you are unlikely to experience anything adverse, you may well be sprayed with water or be pulled into proceedings. It is also important to note that there is nowhere to sit inside the shrine there guests must be able to stand for the entire period and we ask that you come with a good sense of fun and this is one festival intended to be raucous and get you involved.
- This tour visits Shimoguri on Day 2. Shimoguri is an alpine hamlet located around 1200 metres above sea level. In winter, the morning weather is typically ideal to visit and enjoy the view of the village with the possibility of seeing it in the clouds. This however cannot be guaranteed and it is possible, that should the weather be bad, we might be able to access the village. Should this occur, please understand that the decision will be made to ensure the safety of our guests and staff. Should we not be able to access the village, we will instead head toward the lunch restaurant early and first walk around Tenryukyo Gorge.
- The legal drinking age in Japan is 20. Persons under this age are welcome to join the tour however they cannot participate in tasting of alcoholic beverages. At Kikusui, non-alcoholic options will also be provided to all guests.
- I’d like to join the tour from Tokyo, Nagoya, Kyoto, etc. Is that possible?
- Yes. The start and end time of this tour is scheduled to coincide with a Limited Express 'Inaji' service running from and to Toyohashi Station. As a stop on the Tokaido Shinkansen line running from Tokyo to Osaka via Nagoya and Kyoto, it’s easy to reach Toyohashi from the capital and beyond, to take the Limited Express Inaji. The following service will have you at Hiraoka Station in-time to join the tour:Toyohashi: 10:08 – Hiraoka: 11:57 – Ltd. Exp. (Wide View) Inaji 1For guests coming from Tokyo, you can take the following service to be at Toyohashi in-time to take the Ltd. Exp. Inaji:Tokyo: 08:33 – Toyohashi: 09:53 – Hikari 635*For guests coming from Nagoya, you can take the following service to be at Toyohashi in-time to take the Ltd. Exp. Inaji:Nagoya: 09:08 – Toyohashi: 09:36 – Kodama 708**these are both services on the Tokaido Shinkansen line.On the second day, the tour is scheduled to end at Iida Station at 15:30, allowing guests to use the following service back to Toyohashi Station:Iida: 15:58 – Toyohashi: 18:31 -- Ltd. Exp. (Wide View) Inaji 4.
- I’d like to head to Tokyo, Nagoya, Kyoto, etc. directly after the tour. How can I do that?
- The tour is scheduled to end at Iida Station at 15:40. The Limited Express ‘Inaji’ service departs Iida at 15:58 and arrives at Toyohashi Station at 18:31. Toyohashi Station is a stop on the Tokaido Shinkansen line running to Tokyo, Nagoya, Kyoto and Osaka. Once at Toyohashi, you’ll have no problem connecting to a service to those and other cities. Services depart frequently.
- Is this tour wheelchair accessible?
- Due to the nature of this tour, it is not wheelchair accessible. It might also be inappropriate for guests who are mobility-impaired. Should you have any concerns about your ability to partake in the tour, please contact us prior to booking to discuss.
- I’d like to know more about the festival? What’s involved and will I participate?
- ‘Shimotsuki Matsuri’ is a very local, very unique festival that we’re sure you’ll enjoy. You will attend the festival twice on the first day of the tour. On the first visit in the early afternoon, you’ll meet the community and your guide will explain the underpinnings of the festival and what you will witness later that night. After your dinner, you will return to the festival to the enjoy the climax in which time performers dance inside a small shrine full of local residents. Performers dance around a cauldron of hot water over a fire, using their bare hands to splash the water over the crowd as a form of purification. Residents then dress in traditional clothing and wear masks as they dance around the cauldron and for the entertainment of onlookers. Male guests can also wear a mask and dance – something you are not obliged to do but something we encourage you to try. This tradition is reserved for men and we ask that you respect that practice. The shrine is small and festival is raucous so expect to get splashed with water and be pulled into proceedings. It’s all part of the fun.
- The ‘gibier’ (wild meat) dinner sounds interesting. Will I like it?
- The first night dinner really is a highlight of the tour. In-keeping with the traditional diet of the area, the guesthouse owner will prepare a large dinner based around game meat sourced from the surrounding mountains and forest. You are likely to be served ‘inoshishi’ (wild board), ‘shika’ (deer), ‘ayu’ (river fish) and may be offered other seasonal meats, depending what is available. The meat is expertly cooked and combined with a broad menu of vegetables, rice and other staples. Unique side dishes might also include wasps, crickets or other insects that have long been eaten in the area. You aren’t required to eat anything you don’t want to and will most likely be surprised just how good the meal tastes. With a little sense of adventure, this meal promises to be the one you remember while in Japan.
- How / where is the meat sourced?
- All meat is sustainably and lawfully hunted in the mountains and forests of Toyama-go. Japan enforces strict laws when it comes to hunting and the use of rifles. Animals are treated as humanely as possible and the guesthouse proudly promotes itself as a destination for guests wanting to enjoy a traditional menu of wild meat. The guesthouse does not serve meat from animals kept in captivity and welcomes anyone to visit and enjoy a unique food experience.
- I am vegetarian, vegan and/or have dietary requirements. Can these be catered to?
- If you have a specific dietary requirement, please let us know and we can discuss with the restaurants and guesthouse to enquire if they can cater to your needs. Shimbata can also serve a vegetarian meal should it be required however we cannot guarantee that dietary requirements such as vegan or gluten-free can be catered to. It should be noted that this tour is all about exploring the traditional food culture of the Toyama-go area. This includes a significant amount of meat and fish, with the ‘gibier’ (wild meat) dinner on the first night be one of the highlights of the tour. Lunch on the first day also typically includes meat or fish. This tour is therefore best-suited to guests with a broad and adventurous appetite but if there is anything you are unable to eat and you would like to join us, please let us know prior to booking and we’ll see what we can arrange.
- I’d like to know more about the accommodation. What type of room will I be allocated and does it have a private bathroom?
- This tour stays a guesthouse named Shimabata. Located in the Toyama-go area, it is a family-run business with friendly owners who will make you feel right at home. Guests will be allocated a Japanese-style room with ‘tatami’-matting and on-floor ‘futon’ bedding. Rooms are relatively small but clean, cosy and comfortable. Bathroom facilities are shared. This includes shared toilets and bathing facilities segregated by gender. Shimabata does not have rooms with private bathrooms meaning that guests are required to share the bathrooms including showers and bath.
(Travel Agency License No: Nagano 2-562)
Snow Monkey Resorts Tours
Nagano City Kurita 1015-7, NK Copo 202, Nagano, 380-0921 Japan
Member of All Nippon Travel Agents Association
Travel Service Supervisor: Tomoko Kasahara