People, Culture and Food: Nurtured from the Tender Earth of Iiyama
Iiyama city, located in the far north of Nagano Prefecture, is an eternal hometown where nostalgic scenery portrayed in traditional Japanese folk songs such as “Furusato” and “Oborozukiyo”still live on. Amidst this rich natural landscape, unique cultures, history, traditions and people’s compassion bloomed. Elegant temples that line the town’s streets, deep forests, plateaus and farm crops reminding us of the different seasons, every area has its own unique charm. In March 2015, the Hokuriku bullet train connecting Nagano and Kanazawa gave birth to “Iiyama Station” making access from across the country more convenient.
In mid-February, Iiyama’s downtown overflows with sculptures of every size, crafted by students and local residents. The festival includes a large-scale snow sculpture contest, a mikoshi portable shrine procession in the snow and other events. Main street is lined with smaller snow creations, lending the area a festive feeling. This has become a seasonal tradition for the Shinano-Taira area.
Shinetsu-Shizenkyo Activity Center
The “Shinetsu-Shizenkyo Activity Center” is a facility providing activities and information on outdoors especially in mountainous areas and rivers. It also provides tour dispatching services, implementing workshops as well as rentals for bicycle and trekking gear. The Shinetsu-Shizenkyo region is worldly-known for an area with one of the heaviest levels of snowfall and it’s vast natural landscape spreads throughout the seasons as they change.
Did you know it’s possible to bike on snow? The Shinetsu-Shizenkyo Activity Center at Iiyama Station offers Fatbike rentals, bikes with special fat tires, to use within the city. For a more thrilling experience, visit Togari Onsen Ski Resort for Fatbike rentals (with helmet), and a night skiing lift ticket. A Fatbike area specifically available for this new genre of snow sports is on the ski slope, so you can ride downhill as fast and freely as you like!
Togari Onsen Ski Resort
Togari Onsen Ski Resort is luxuriously located on the outskirt mountains of Iiyama city overlooking the vast Chikuma river. More than 70 minshukus and ryokans (Japanese Inns) as well as two hot springs are spread over the foot of the mountains and create a relaxing atmosphere on this ski resort. This ski resort features three main slopes, from wide single runs with compacted snow to a variety of powder runs which can be enjoyed by everyone from beginners to experts.
For those who are not confident with their skiing ability, they can still have fun in the snow mountain by joining the ever popular snowshoe tours. Local expert guides at Nabekura Kogen “Mori-no-ie” and Madarao Kogen “Yama-no-ie” will plan trips for snowshoe of every level. Find animal footprints in the snow, take in the breathtaking panoramic views, and experience the thrills of backcountry winter.
Known as one of the three biggest Shugendō (Japanese mountain asceticism incorporating Shinto and Buddhist concepts) spots in Northern Shinshu for practitioners, the Kosuge Shrine has its pathway lined with towering Japanese cedars, said to be 300 years old, and large moss covered boulders. Hike about an hour up the path from the Satomiya shrine (established as expedients to allow more convenient worship of kami originally enshrined in remote yamamiya located higher on the mountain) to find the inner shrine, perched on a cliff 900 meters in elevation.The inner shrine was constructed during the mid-Muromachi Period (1338-1573), and was designated an important cultural property in 1964.
“Sasazushi” is said to be the ration food given to Uesugi Kenshin during the Sengoku Period (1467-1573) by the people of Tomikura. This humble dish is made with vinegared rice on a bamboo leaf, topped with ostrich fern, shiitake mushrooms, walnuts, and other ingredients.
Iiyama Nanohana Flower Festival
On holidays in May every year, the Nanohana Flower Festival is held at Iiyama Nanohana Park. Portrayed in the traditional Japanese folk song “Oborozukiyo” with lyrics such as “The sun fades away into the fields of Nanohana (Canola blossoms)...”, the scenery of traditional Japan can be admired at Iiyama Nanohana Park where you can catch a panoramic view of Chikuma River. 13 hectares of fields covered with bright yellow Nanohana sets the stage with the backdrop of a magnificent view of Chikuma River and the still snow-capped Sekida Ridge. The festival has many events including a parade, Nordic walking tours, an Oborozukiyo musical performance, and other mainstage entertainment.
Mayumi Takahashi Museum of Doll Art
The museum displays about 100 dolls hand crafted by the nationally celebrated artist Mayumi Takahashi. Based on careful study of people, Takahashi gives her dolls familiar and lifelike expressions while also capturing the viewer’s emotions in her works. At the video section, you will be able to see rare footage of the dolls construction process. In addition to the 3 galleries, there is also a cafe so you can spend a comfortable time at the museum. Here you can enjoy the world of dolls and its hometown landscape at the same time and is one of the town’s popular spots.
Tel 0269-67-0139 http://www.ningyoukan.net/english/
The Sekida mountain range, that straddles the border between Nagano and Niigata, includes Mt. Madarao, Mt.Hakama Peak, Mt. Kuroiwa, and Mt. Nabekura. Best known for its beech trees, the mountains are forested and teeming with natural life. Local tradition has also sustained close ties between the mountains and people in nearby villages. The Shinetsu-Trail provides a walking path through these mountains spanning 80 kilometers. This trail is one of the only “long trails” in Japan. With “Yama-no-ie” (Madarao Kogen) or “Mori-no-ie” (Nabekura Kogen) acting as your base, enjoy the walking journey through the nostalgic mountains.
Nabekura Kogen Area
“Mori-no-ie” located in the center of Nabekura Kogen offers nature experience programs for every season and can be enjoyed by a wide range of users including first-time to expert outdoor enthusiasts. Not only does it offer self catering cottages but also overnight stay plans which include dinner and hot springs. Refresh the mind and body among the beech trees and enjoy a unique trip only made possible at the plateau.
Togari Onsen Area
The “Kougen-in” known as “Ajisai Dera” (Hydrangea Temple) and a spa facility with fantastic views and open-air baths are popular in this area. Satoyama offers a trekking course called “Togari Trail” where you can rejuvenate their lack of exercise by enjoying the calm flow of Chikuma River and views of Iiyama city. The many unique inns in this area would make visitors to become spoiled for choices. Having conversations with the inn owners and locals will also add to the pleasure of staying at Togari Onsen.
Apart from the Madarao Kogen, you can experience traditional local Japanese cuisine in Iiyama city. It takes only 30 minutes by bus from the hotel to Iiyama city. The last bus from Iiyama city leaves at 21:00. You may experience Japanese hospitality here.
There are famous snow resorts in the world such as Nozawa Onsen and Myoko Akakura near Madarao Kogen Ski Resort, which can be reached by shuttle bus. Shuttle bus for Iiyama station⇄Madarao Kogen, for Nozawa Onsan ⇄Iiyama station⇄Madarao Kogen, for Iiyama station⇄Madarao Kogen⇄Tangram Madarao, for Madarao Kogen Tangram⇄Myoko Kogen station⇄Akakura Kankou Resort⇄Akakura Onsen Ski Resort, etc.
It takes only 1 hour 50 minutes between Tokyo and Iiyama by Hokuriku Shinkansen and you can access easily to Madarao Kogen from Tokyo. In addition, it takes only 1 hour 15 minutes between Kanazawa as international tourism city and Madarao Kogen by Hokuriku Shinkansen, so you can visit Kanazawa as one day trip.