Located just a few hours drive from the Nagano Station is a countryside escape – Togakushi Shrines. The setting is idyllic, scenic and unique with plenty on offer to see and do. Here’s a quick guide on where to eat and sleep and what to see and do in the Togakushi area.
Nakasha Shrine is located in the middle part of the Togakushi Shrines trail on Mount Togakushi. With its three over 700-year-old cedars, the wooden main building, rebuilt in 1956, and solemn atmosphere, Nakasha Shrine is an unforgettable destination in Nagano Prefecture. Nakasha Shrine has a free parking area but only for 10 cars. If you stay longer to enjoy Soba noodles, toll parking in the front of Nakasha main gate is very convenient.
Nakasha Shrine Town
The Nakasha Shrine town has cleverly maintained its unique old shrine history as a preservation district of historic buildings and it contains completely chic buildings and soba noodle restaurants. Moreover, Nakasha Shrine Temple town is the perfect budget-friendly option for your first temple lodge stay experience at which you can enjoy many famous cultural observations.
Hinomikosha Shrine was built in 1098 and has a long tradition of old songs and dances. Hinomikosha Shrine is the smallest site and it gives the impression that time has passed slowly. There is a 500-year-old pair of cedars which share the same roots. The free parking space is only for 3 cars and it seems impossible to park there, so walking from Chusha or Hokosha shrines is more appropriate.
Hokosha Shrine is my most favorite shrine of the Togakushi Shrines. It has over 270 steps to the main building from the entrance.
The main building, built in 1861, has gorgeous wooden statues made during the Edo period and I took some time to observe carved statues around the main building. I’ve never seen carved parent and child dragon statues before. There is a free parking space for 15 cars.
I have just visited Tsushima Island located in the middle of the Japan Sea and eaten local buckwheat soba noodles which originated in Japan. I was looking forward to comparing Tsushima soba with Togakushi soba noodles.The origin of Togakushi soba buckwheat is said to have come from when monks carried buckwheat during their training at Mount Togakushi. In addition, the mountainous region is well suited to growing buckwheat and the pure mountain water results in high quality soba noodles from there. If you have a company or space in your stomach, please order sobagaki, a dumpling-shaped ball of soba. The monks used to eat buckwheat cooked with boiled water and made dough to eat.
Futabaya Hagakure Noodle Shop
Please don’t panic, if you see a long line in the front of one of the most popular soba noodle restaurants near Chusha Shrine’s main gate. You can have high quality soba noodles and heartwarming service at any restaurant in Togakushi. Honestly, I was so disappointed when I saw such a long line, but I could find another great choice soon after.
Futabaya Hagakure is located near a small little corner, away from the bustle of the main roads, as Hagakure originally means hiding in the shadow of leaves in Japanese. The same name of a book “way of bushi warriors” in Edo period is also famous, but the original meaning fits to Futabaya Hagakure, which is a local spot that serves up fresh home-grown buckwheat noodles. Try the Togakushi soba buckwheat noodles without dashi soup at Futabaya Hagakure. The original soba taste is fresh and full of flavor. Futabaya Hagakure also has clean and nice interiors welcoming the guests.
Another reason why I recommend Futabaya Hagakure is that the landlady served us from the heart. The restaurant was also very crowded, but she always tried to offer Soba noodles at the best timing for each guest. If someone was drinking Japanese Sake, she delayed to serve the soba noodles later. Despite a lot of customers, the landlady and staff served warmly and efficiently. The size of the shop is small, so the maximum number in your group who are able to enter might be restricted to 4. The year when we ate soba noodles had enjoyed a good harvest of the buckwheat, and the soba noodles were perfectly al dente and the dashi sauce had nice flavor.
When to go
The best season is autumn to enjoy the changing colors of the leaves, but the road is packed with crowds. From early spring to summer would be much more peaceful. It would be possible to visit during winter and one of the popular activities is snowshoe or cross-country skiing from Okusha. However, some cafes and restaurants are closed at this time, so come prepared in winter.
Get on the Shinkansen from Tokyo to Nagano in the early morning. Spend a half day at Zenkoji Temple near Nagano Station and head to Chusha Shrine area. Stay at a shukubo temple lodge. Next, visit Okusha Shrine and Ninja Trick House, and then continue further down to visit Hinomikosha Shrine and Hokosha Shrine. Head back to Tokyo or head to the Hokuriku area.The sample time allocation of each area would be Zenkoji Temple 100 minutes, Chusha 60 minutes, Kagamiike Pond 30 minutes, Okusha main approach walking 60 minutes for a one-way trip, Okusha and Kuzuryusha 30 minutes and Ninja Trick House 90 minutes.