Lonely and hungry hike: Togakushi, Nagano Travel in Autumn 2016

Date: 19 October 2016

I was staying at a guesthouse the night before and had the second floor to myself as there were only a few guests staying there that night. It was scary as the building was quite old, but internet speed was super fast as I was probably the only one using it.

I was supposed to take the 7 a.m. bus from Nagano station (the station is roughly a 10 mins walk from the guesthouse), but had woken up late to catch breakfast. Thinking I could grab something when I arrive at Togakushi and not wanting to wait another hour for the next bus, I happily boarded the 7 a.m. bus without having breakfast.

The Togakushi shrines consist of five shrines – Hokosha (lower shrine), Hinomikosha (god of fire and performing arts), Chusha (middle shrine), Okusha (upper shrine), and Kuzuryusha (god of rain and the Togakushi village).

The bus from Nagano station can take you up to the upper shrine, a 65 mins ride @ 1350 yen, while it is a 50 mins ride to the lower shrine @ 1150 yen. Purchase the Togakushi Kogen Free Kippu @ 2600 yen to enjoy a round-trip ride between Nagano station and Togakushi, unlimited bus rides within Togakushi, and a ride between Nagano station and Zenkoji. The ticket can be used for 5 consecutive days. Depending on your itinerary, this ticket might not pay off your original transport cost.

Most people take the bus up to Togakushi-okushairiguchi (upper shrine entrance), but I got down at Togakushi-hokosha (lower shrine), intending to hike all the way from the lower shrine to the upper shrine. The bus was 3/4 full, and I was the only one getting down at the lower shrine. Disappointed that there were no signs of a convenience store or restaurants around the bus stop, I headed to the shrine.

Togakushi, which means “hiding door” refers to (according to the Japanese mythology) the door of a cave called Ama-no-Iwato in Takachiho (Kyushu region) in which Amaterasu (the Sun Goddess) had hid herself due to her brother Susanoo’s mischief, which brought darkness to the world. Other deities tried to lure her out by dancing in front of the cave, and as she was looking out, wanting to see what was going on outside the cave, Ame-no-Tajikarao (the god of physical powers) pulled out the cave’s stone door and threw it away, flying as far to Togakushi (Kyushu to Chubu is a distance!) to prevent her from hiding again. The upper shrine worships Ame-no-Tajikarao, while the middle shrine worships the deities who performed the dance in front of the cave.

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There was only one other person at the grounds before the stairs leading up to the shrine.

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The grounds before the stairs leading up to Togakushi-hokosha (lower shrine)

The stairs had 270 steps, met another two hiker / worshiper here.

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Stairs leading to Togakushi-hokosha (lower shrine)

The Hokosha enshrines the god of learning, crafts, sewing, safe births, and protector of girls.

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The trail leading to the middle shrine, Chusha is to the right of the shrine. There was no one around at that time and looking at the “Beware of bears” sign at the start of the trail had me walking faster than I should. It was 2km to the middle shrine and before reaching the residential area near the middle shrine, I only spotted one elderly resident who was carrying a bear bell.

Tired (from high-speed walking) and hungry, I was looking around for food. It was only 9 a.m., while there were definitely soba shops around (Togakushi is famous for its soba), none were open. Well, obviously – it was 9 a.m.! Instead, I had ice cream sold at a nearby tourist centre who offered a map of the Togakushi area.

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The torii at the grounds of Chusha. The tourist centre I mentioned is pictured here, right in the middle of the torii
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Stairs leading to Togakushi-chusha (middle shrine)

After resting for a while and contemplating taking the bus to the the upper shrine, I decided to continue the hike upon seeing the female hiker I saw back in Hokosha. I did not regret the decision – the autumn colors along the trail from the middle shrine to the upper shrine was stunningly beautiful.

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The start of the trail from Chusha to Okusha

Seeing the bear sign again, I braced through the hike knowing that another hiker was right behind me. I met only 3 other hikers (who were on the opposite direction) on the way to the upper shrine.

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Beautiful autumn leaves

Thanks to the beautiful scenery, I paced slowly and the 2km trail was over before I knew it. There was definitely more crowd around the upper shrine area. Overjoyed at the sight of an opened soba shop, I had my first meal of the day (never take a long walk without breakfast anymore!). Then, I was ready to walk the next 2km to the upper shrine.

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Torii gate before the long path to the upper shrine
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Beware of bears!
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Nice autumn leaves
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Zuishinmon

The path to the upper shrine is lined by 300 to 400 cryptomeria trees.

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I love autumn in Japan, so much more than spring.

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Maple leaves

There were even elementary school kids making their way up to the upper shrine.

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Torii gate in front of Okusha
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Okusha

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After heading back to the entrance to the upper shrine approach, I headed to the Togakure Ninpo Museum, which is just a short walk from the bus stop. Togakushi is said to be the home of the Togakure School of Ninja, and this museum houses the Togakushi Folk Museum and a Ninja House. Entrance fee is 600 yen.

The highlight is definitely the Ninja house, which prohibits photo-taking so I cannot show you any pictures. It is a house with hidden doors and you are supposed to open the right doors in order to exit the house. There was no one in the house at that time so I was taking my time exploring and embarrassing myself. Towards the end, other visitors came in and it was no longer fun as we were competing on who to get the right door first. They should probably consider limiting the number of visitor allowed at any one time.

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The building on the right shakes when you enter

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Ninja tools

Togakushi is definitely a recommended visit especially if you are in central Nagano – it is only an hour away! I will definitely be returning here as there are other parts to explore e.g. hiking past the lakes (Kagamiike), hiking the Togakushi mountain range.

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Author: Jennifer

Hi! I am Jennifer. I enjoy planning my own travels and love traveling in Japan - for the history, nature, temples, and the food! Read more for travel guides of places I have visited.

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