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Nasudake Autumn Hike

Oct. 16, 2016 Hike

Yes, autumn kōyō fever has started  and we are on a roll! After Gunma last week, now it’s time for Nasudake. My goal is basically to tick off the list of hikes for “kōyō migoro” or autumn foliage peak season. Thank god the weather forecast was for sunny skies! Weathernews lists Nasudake as “migoro” or “peak for viewing” – perfect timing!

We were going to do a day hike to Mt. Nasudake. It can be done from Tokyo but we decided to stay overnight in Nasu.

So yesterday, our chill day, we arrived mid-day in Nasu. Had an outdoor barbecue for lunch, among other random highland activities at Minamigaoka Bokujo (南ヶ丘牧場), before arriving at our ryokan in Nasu Onsen. 

OMG. Cheese ice cream tastes like Tokyo Milk Cheese!


Nasu has really good onsen! Shika no Yu had creamy white water, which I found to be great for the skin. I had the best sleep, but still woke up 3am to see the starry sky outside the ryokan window. Too bad it was a full moon though, the sky was too bright!

A starry night in Nasu Onsen
The next day, we hopped on the bus bound for Nasu Ropeway. Traffic was heavy on the way. I guess everyone wants to be out and about on a sunny day!

After a 4-minute ride on the ropeway, we got to the 9th stop (9合目) of Nasudake. There are many trails from the ropeway station, but we chose the course that brings us to beautiful autumn foliage of Ubagataira (姥ヶ平).


Nasudake is a volcano, and the peak is a pile of rocks. We hiked south of Nasudake for abour 15 minutes, and we start to see some beautiful scenery.

Grassy terrain with some volcanic rocks


On our left hand side, we see the view of the rest of Tochigi and some fog covering the towns.

Hiking the path is not difficult at all.

After a few more minutes hiking along the path, we are greeted by beautiful red foliage spreading out before us.



It’s amazing how it can be completely rocky on our side but just lush red foliage on the other! And it’s perfectly migoro!


Look at that close up shot!


The view was calling us like a flame to a moth. We hiked a bit more towards it, and decided to have some snacks at a viewing spot. We were very near Ushigakubi 牛ヶ首.

View from nearby Ushigakubi
Bears love this sweet and sour berries. Humans who go deep into the mountain picking these berries may encounter bears.
 

It was the most beautiful view! We stayed there half an hour just staring at the beauty of nature. With a heavy heart, we say good bye and hike up back to the path. And a new view that was initially hidden spread out before our eyes. 

View of Ubagataira
This is looking over at Ubagataira 姥ヶ平 from Ushigakubi 牛ヶ首. So that’s our goal! We hike down a very rocky path for half an hour, and finally reach Ubagataira. It’s a flatland with beautiful autumn foliage and green shrubs. Many hikers were having lunch in the area. 


The view of Nasudake from down here is priceless! The red, the green, the blue sky, and the cute gas gushing from the volcano. 

 

From here there was a pond nearby, so we followed a wooden path for about 10 minutes. We were rewarded with a beautiful view of Nasudake reflected in the tiniest pond ever! 

ひょうたん池 Nasudake and its reflection on Hyoutan Ike

Nasudake is really beautiful and easy to hike. At every point there is a spectacular view to behold. We were so lucky to be blessed with perfect weather during the peak colors. I honestly believe that it would be so hard to top this trip this year. 

Very satisfied, we went back to Nasu Onsen and went in Shika no Yu for another time, before finally boarding the highway bus back to Shinjuku.

Who knew Nasu would be this beautiful!

How to get there?

JR highway buses from Shinjuku to Nasu Onsen, reservations required. Tranfer to Nasu Ropeway.

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Hiking the Oze Marshlands

Oct. 9, 2016 Autumn hike 🍁

My favorite season has come! This 2016, I decided to be an early bird in the fall activities, which means going up highlands and mountains to experience beautiful foliage at altitudes above 1900 meters. 

First on my list is Oze!

Oze is national park in Gunma that is known for hiking trails around the marshlands. Fall season comes  around the first week of October. We went there on the first half of the 3-day holiday, Oct. 8-9. We were hoping to stay in the mountain huts within the park, but planning late for a long holiday means places are fully-booked. So we just stayed outside the marshlands and decided to do a day hike.

We hopped on a train to JR Numata, shopped for snacks, then changed to a bus for Tokura Onsen. 

Tokura Onsen scenery

We stayed at a family-run ryokan with basic amenities. As in other ryokans, they serve a lot of dinner.

They also served us a good breakfast, and even gave us some onigiri rice ball to bring for the hike! Lovely people.

So we planned to leave for Oze like really early in the morning, by the first bus. But it was so unfortunate that the weather was so gloomy in the area, so we decided that leaving really early wasn’t gonna be worth it. An excuse for extra time sleeping! 
Private cars apparently are not allowed in Oze, so to get there, every one hops on a shuttle bus that goes high up the mountain. 

Shuttle bus schedule to Oze from Tokura Onsen and vice versa (peak season schedule)

Finally, we arrive in Oze. 


To get to the marshes, we did an hour’s hike through the mountain. Thank goodness I brought hiking wear. Sneakers and regular clothes are not good enough. And seriously it was so cold I thought it was December!


We enter the forest. It started with a muddy hike, but then there were wooden paths for most of the hike. 

Finally, we arrived at the marshland!


It’s very interesting. The area is so vast, even though you walk on wooden pathways it would still take you a day to hike to the other end of the marshland. 


The wooden paths seem endless in this world. 


Little ponds add to the charm of the place. 

Supplies sometimes brought in by helicopter?

We spent 2 hours walking along the path, and decided to head back. It was still raining, the wind was harsh, but we were very happy with what we saw.


Oze is really one of a kind. It’s one of those places where you understand its beauty when you get there, because pictures can’t tell you how amazing it is. We’ve seen it in autumn, but I bet spring in Oze will be as magical!

How to get to Oze?

Bus: There is a 3.5-hour direct bus from Shinjuku to Tokura Onsen, reservations required. Change to a shuttle for Oze.

Train: Take a train to Numata, change to a bus for Tokura Onsen. Change to a shuttle for Oze.

Tanigawadake Autumn Hike

Oct. 10, 2016 Autumn Hike

Part 2 of our autumn hiking trip to Gunma! 

After Oze, Tanigawadake was number 2 on our list of autumn foliage in peak season. We didn’t research too much about the mountain but just saw some pictures on instagram and thought it would be great to go there! So after hiking in Oze, we went to Tanigawadake and stayed at Tenjin Lodge, right beside the Tanigawadake ropeway.

That night I was really hoping to see stars since the sky was so cleanr in Numata! But just 20 minutes away, in Minakami area, it was so cloudy! Oh well, as the owner, Kieren told us, the mountain has its own weather. 

So we started early the next day. Forecast said it would be sunny, and we’re energized!

We got on the ropeway, and within twenty minutes it brought us 1300 meters above sea level. Beautiful sunny day and a peek of autumn colors at the hiking base in Tenjindaira! 


There’s a short lift after the ropeway but we opted to hike from here instead.


Tanigawadake is a hike where you go along the backbone of the mountain. And I didn’t know this, but apparently, it’s one of the well-known hiking spots in Japan for beginner’s rock climbing. The thing is, I’m not yet ready for that stuff! Imagine my surprise when we had to climb using some chains! 


It’s not difficult the entire hike though, and you get rewarded with beautiful views along the way.


And after a few more rocky ascents, we got to a viewing point where you have views from all sides! It took us 2 hours.


It’t a beautiful sunny day but the clouds are hovering and the gentle wind is very cold! I felt the need for a down jacket when resting.


We took in the beautiful view of the wonderful autumn foliage before us, and of the mountains spreading out behind us. We climbed this far just to see the view! 


Looking into the horizon I saw the ropeway station, a mere dot from where we were standing. It’s very humbling to be in the mountains.


If we went further than here it would be all clouds, so we decided to head down, as we feel that we accomplished our purpose coming here. 

Going down was really difficult! It was all rocks for about 30 minutes. But we managed. My knees were a bit shaky, but I think that’s just me. 

At the ropeway station, there is a proper restaurant, clean bathrooms, and a souvenir shop.

Non-hikers were spending a nice sunny day on the grassy area of the ropeway area.

All in all, it was a great trip even though I tired my knees so much! I’m very happy that we got to see mountain kōyō in the most spectacular way! 
Tanigawadake, Gunma

How to get there: Takes 3.5 hours by local train from Tokyo. Head for Doai station. 

Autumn season: Peak at mid-October

Hakuba in Autumn Again

It’s Day 3 in Hakuba!

We got up early and had breakfast at the log house we stayed at.

Pension House Ringo no Ki
Pension House Ringo no Ki

Hakuba-60

Hakuba-61

I think I am in love with Hakuba pensions. They make me wanna go back there and try out other accommodations! 🙂

A full stomach at the start of the day is a good start. We thanked our hosts and headed off to explore the town.

We decided to go to the lakes that we’ve been driving past for a couple of days now. It’s around 9 AM and the mist is just about to disappear from the lakes.

Aoki-ko Lake
Aoki-ko Lake

Hakuba-56

This would be so pretty when autumn comes to the lower elevations.

We returned the car and left our luggage at the Hakuba station map. at 10:30 am, we still had lots of going around we could do.

Walking around town was quite pleasant! There was a park just on the other side of the station so we decided to go there.

Hakuba-71

We passed by some nice flowers and houses along the way.

Hakuba-72

Some apple trees…

Hakuba-74

And some streams…

Hakuba-75

At the entrance of the park, we decided to have a quick meal.

Soba and Udon Place
Soba and Udon Place
Soba noodles
Soba noodles

We then went around the park, and saw some interesting stuff.

Coffee shop in the woods/at the park
Coffee shop in the woods/at the park

This kind of foliage reminds me of Baguio and Sagada in the Philippines…

Hakuba-81

Although we don’t have views such as this. Beautiful Japan Alps.

This was such a great stroll!

View of the Alps from the park/woods
View of the Alps from the park/woods
Cute little find at the park
Cute little find at the park

The woods smelled so refreshingly of pine. It was so hard to walk back to the station and get back to busy Tokyo. But going to Hakuba for early autumn is really worth it!

  • Autumn foliage in Hakuba starts mid to late September at the high altitudes of Happo One Lake and Tsugaike area, while the elevation of Gondola Adam was in full bloom October 11, 2015
  • Autumn foliage in Kurobe Dam was near peak on October 12, 2015

Autumn in Tanzawako, Kanagawa

I really enjoy autumn! But most of the time, I don’t like crowds when it comes to nature trips. Luckily, we managed to get discount vouchers for a ryokan in the middle of the mountains in Yamakita which is near Tanzawako lake in Kanagawa. We got it around August and booked it for November 17, hoping that the autumn leaves would be in full swing by that time. Just a note, it is not a popular autumn tourist spot, so we did not expect anything. I was just happy for any ryokan stay at less than 10,000 per person per night!

We rented a car from Odawara, and drove north to Tanzawako. On the way we passed by some nice viewing spot and got off to see a very interesting side of Mt. Fuji!

Mt Fuji beautifully shrouded with clouds
Mt Fuji beautifully shrouded with clouds
View of Tanzawako Lake
Pretty awesome view

Options for traveling in Japan really increase when you have a license!

And so finally we arrived at Tanzawa Lake. It was around 4:30PM by that time so we didn’t have enough time to enjoy the view. We’ll come back in the morning anyway.

At Tanzawako Lake
At Tanzawako Lake

We went straight to our ryokan called 魚山亭やまぶき Gyosantei Yamabuki.

Gyosantei Yamabuki Ryokan in Kanagawa
Gyosantei Yamabuki Ryokan in Kanagawa

The room is a regular tatami room, which is always so relaxing. Can’t wait to sleep.

This tatami room will transform into a bedroom after dinner
This tatami room will transform into a bedroom after dinner

One of the things I look forward to during ryokan stays is the dinner! Today we had duck nabe as the main dish, in a full kaiseki course.

Yummy kaiseki course food
Yummy kaiseki course food
Duck nabe is the main dish in this course
Duck nabe is the main dish in this course. It was cooked right at our table.

With a full stomach, I go to the onsen and relax. I couldn’t take a decent picture since it was so dark. Onsen is so perfect during an autumn night!

This is the indoor onsen at night, there is also an outdoor onsen with a nice view of the trees.
This is the indoor onsen at night, there is also an outdoor onsen with a nice view of the trees.

Next morning, beautiful mountain countryside views greet us! After checking out, we took a walk around before going back to Tanzawa lake.

View from the entrance of the ryokan
View from the entrance of the ryokan

It’s great when you can enjoy views like this without much people.

Tanzawako in autumn
Tanzawako in autumn
Momiji at Tanzawako Lake
Momiji at Tanzawako Lake
Driving along the Tanzawako lake
Driving along the Tanzawako lake

The lake nearby is in full autumn colors! Love it! This place is such a nice secluded mountain getaway! Perfect for the weekend. Hope to share with you guys more awesome places like this in Japan.

Here is the location of where we stayed:

Kamikochi Itinerary Day 1

My colleague at work, who is a mountain girl, suggested that Kamikochi was her most memorable climb in entire Japan. I had no plans for the 3-day holiday yet last July so when I saw how beautiful her pictures were, I decided to go to Kamikochi! That was 2 weeks before the 3-day holiday and thank god someone canceled at Nishiitoya! I was able to book that and a mountain hut for the next day. Hooray! Japan Alps, here we go!!

Day 1 – 11:00 @ Shinjuku

We bought JR Express Train Azusa tickets about 5 minutes before the departure time. We were departing quite late today so we avoided the early rush of everyone who was headed to Matsumoto. You can purchase these train tickets in advance from the machine that is specifically for Shinkansen and Limited trains. We had bento lunch on the train. By 2 pm we arrived at Matsumoto and it was cloudy and rainy! We bought roundtrip tickets to Kamikochi and decided to walk around before going to the mountains.

Matsumoto Castle

Matsumoto Castle is a short 20-minute walk  away from the station. We just viewed if from outside for free, sitting on a bench for an hour. Loved the chill atmosphere.

The train to Shinshimashima only goes once in an hour, so we had to head back in time for the next one. Thank god we were going to Matsumoto at an odd hour (3:30pm!) so we could sit properly on the train and on the bus after.

highland rail

The bus ride was a very pleasant one with many views! We saw many dams on the way and just a lot of greenery. Some reminded me of the Sagada area in Northern Philippines.  The ride took more than an hour, and finally, we arrive in rainy Kamikochi!

The bus terminal is about a 10-minute walk to Kappabashi, and there was absolutely no one by 6 pm. Too bad it was raining! Out hotel, Nishiitoya, was on the other side of the river, just a 3-minute walk from the bridge. Very good location!

Nishiitoya Lodge is located 5 minutes away from Kappabashi. It is a ryokan style accommodation, and some rooms had no bathrooms.
Nishiitoya Lodge is located 5 minutes away from Kappabashi. It is a ryokan style accommodation, and some rooms had no bathrooms.

After check-in, we were told that we would have dinner at 7:30. We walked around rainy and misty Kamikochi for a bit before gorging on the sumptuous dinner!

Nishiitoya dinner
Nishiitoya dinner
Iwana shioyaki (grilled iwana)

After the nice dinner, we tried to go outside but gave up since it was still rainy. Oh well, we decided to rest and wake up by sunrise the next day instead! So by some miracle, we were asleep by 9pm. Crazy!

Itinerary Day 2  ← click

Kamikochi Itinerary Day 2

July 19, 2015 4:30AM

For the first time, I willingly woke up at 4:30 to go trekking. What on earth is the matter with me? Anyway, we wanted to see the early morning view of Kamikochi’s famous Taisho Pond, which is about 2.5 km away. Roughly an hour’s walk from the hotel.

We left Nishiitoya at around 4:45. Since we would probably get hungry along the way, we brought along some sweet bread that we bought at the accommodation lobby the night before.

Beautiful river gently flowing towards Taisho Pond
Beautiful river gently flowing towards Taisho Pond

We just followed the path along the river, and got rewarded with beautiful views all the way. Even though it was cloudy, the early morning mist had its own mystic beauty.

Misty Mountains
Misty Mountains

After an hour of really slow walking on the designated path, we finally reach Taisho Pond!

Boats for rent at Taisho Pond
Boats for rent at Taisho Pond
Wild duck swims gracefully in Taisho Pond
Wild duck swims gracefully in Taisho Pond

Seriously, it’s a cloudy morning but I’m not complaining! I love this mist over the pond! And there were some cute ducks up so early in the morning. I’m not sure how this place is like during the daytime, but at 6 am there were only around 6 other people around. We dropped by nearby Tashiro pond, which was like a marshland to me.

Walking back took us around 45 minutes, and we were ready for breakfast at 7:30!

Breakfast at Nishiitoya consisting of salmon, salad, vegetables, seaweed, fruit, rice, miso soup
Breakfast at Nishiitoya consisting of salmon, salad, vegetables, seaweed, fruit, rice, miso soup

Today would be a long day of hiking, so we decided to nap a bit, and then shower at the common bath (ofuro) before checking out. Everyone else was hurrying checking out at around 8 AM. When we finally got out at 9:30, Kamikochi was in full swing. Hikers were all up and ready to explore the mountains. It was cloudy but not yet raining.

Kappabashi Bridge, an iconic spot at Kamikochi
Kappabashi Bridge, an iconic spot at Kamikochi is full of tourists at 9:30 AM

Today we are off to Myojin Bridge. It is supposed to be an hour’s hike from Kappabashi. We wanted to leave our stuff at our next accommodation called Kamonjigoya.

Hiking starts!
Hiking starts!

There were not so many people hiking along the south side of the river. Maybe because it has less spots? But this would take us faster so we went this way. After an hour of regular forest scenery and the occasional river view, we arrived at Myojin bridge, which looked not so different from Kappa bridge. By the way, the ladies room was not very nice in this area.

There were accommodation facilities right beside Myojin bridge, and they had a restaurant that seemed full at 12noon. Anyway, we crossed the bridge and followed the flow of people to the other side, and arrived at Kamonjigoya.

Kamonjigoya, a mountain hut known for serving delicious Grilled Iwana Fish
Kamonjigoya, a mountain hut known for serving delicious Grilled Iwana Fish

Kamonjigoya is a well-known mountain hut whose owner’s ancestor was the first known mountain guide for foreigners at Kamikochi. It was packed with people who were there to eat. We just told the people that we would be staying for the night and wanted to leave our stuff. Good thing we did because we found out that the bathing time here is only until 5:30, and dinner is from 5:30. Can you believe it? Anyway, it is a mountain hut and I guess it’s safer to make sure guests are at the accommodation by around 5.

So anyway, we had some friends at Kappabashi and decided to trek on the north side of the river on the way back, because that’s where the marshlands are. It started raining! It wasn’t hard rain, so my poncho from 3COINS was good enough. I was dry inside! Too bad that I couldn’t take enough pictures. It was a beautiful experience in the rain though. I loved all the mistiness of everything! And it’s not only us enjoying, we saw a family of monkey playing in the marshland! I caught a picture of this monkey right on the path!

wild monkey at Kamikochi walking along the path
wild monkey at Kamikochi walking along the path

It rained harder so I gave up on taking pictures. The next day was forecast to be sunny so I knew we would go along this path again tomorrow.

We arrived at Kappabashi and checked out our friends staying at Konashidaira Campsite. They were staying at a lovely wooden cabin! Some of our friends hiked from 5 in the morning to Yokoo, which is way past Myojin bashi, and came back at around 2. We had lunch together at Gosenjaku Hotel and chilled until 3:30 pm. It was raining anyway. We headed back to Kamonjiya via the southern path.

We checked in, each person costing 8,000 for a futon, dinner and breakfast. Men and women were separate. But there were not many people today so we got a room for ourselves.

Kamonjiya tatami room
Kamonjiya tatami room

I was soaking wet so I went to the bathroom and soaked in the lovely hot water bath. I love their bathroom, but I don’t like their toilet at all. Nishiitoya was way better.

Anyway, as advised, dinner was served at 5:30!

Kamonjiya dinner: Iwana Shioyaki, chicken curry, tempura, some vegetables, unlimited rice and soup
Kamonjiya dinner: Iwana Shioyaki, chicken curry, tempura, some vegetables, unlimited rice and soup
Iwana Shioyaki - this is what people were lining up for this morning at lunch.
Iwana Shioyaki – this is what people were lining up for this morning at lunch.

Dinner was great! I liked the fish, but taste wise it’s not that different from other fish. But hey, I get that the way they cook it is very interesting, next to the fire in the hearth.

There were a couple of other foreigners and we were seated next to them at the table. They couldn’t speak Japanese at all and I am surprised how they found this place!

Anyway, after dinner, we headed off to the hearth to get warm. For a summer day it was a pretty chilly evening.

The staff at Kamonjiya talk about their travels to the Himalayas
The staff at Kamonjiya talk about their travels to the Himalayas

For about an hour we were just listening to the old lady and old man talk about Nepal in the1980s when they were young and went on adventures.

It was a very nostalgic atmosphere. Sitting by a cracking fire, old people drinking sake, and tales of a time gone by. This was Japan but I felt like I was a kid back in the Philippines listening to old relatives. A very nostalgic evening!

Itinerary Day 3 ← click