Kansai Scene Magazine


Walk easy

Norikura Kogen, Gifu & Nagano

The Beijing Olympics wasn't the only place where new records were broken this summer. Right here in the Land of the Rising Sun, visits to Mt. Fuji reached new heights with the greatest number of hikers atte- mpting the night assault. This year 247,066 humans set foot above the fifth stage during the two-month climbing season. That's nearly 4,000 a day. And you thought Umeda was crowded. Why the sudden surge? It could very well be due to puchi-tozan, a new buzzword and future hobby for an increasingly health-conscious society. A hybrid of the words petite (puchi) and mountain climbing (tozan), the new trend involves young ladies taking a stroll in the hills to tone up their bodies. The goal isn't to make it to the summit or to enjoy nature - they just want to soak in some mainisu eeon (negative ions) and snap a photo or two. Rather than condemning this new fad as irresponsible and environmentally insulting, I'd like to offer a magical place where interested practitioners can go for their first puchi-tozan experience: Norikura Kogen.

Unlike its conical counterpart to the south, Mt. Norikura is a relatively easy stroll to the top of a 3,000m dormant volcano. Situated in the Northern Alps on the border of Gifu and Nagano Prefectures, the peak offers a rare chance to stroll around volcanic lakes, view endangered alpine flora, and inhale brisk mountain air without the energy-sapping effort required to reach other alpine peaks. You see, the Norikura skyline will whisk visitors via shuttle bus to Tatami-daira, a small village located 2,700m above sea level. From there, you have several walking options. Hike up to neighboring Fujimi-dake for a spectacular panoramic view of Mt. Fuji, Hakusan, and the Northern, Central and Southern Alps. Kids will love clambering up the wooden stairs to the summit. From the peak, traverse down the other side and over towards Kata-nogoya, a mountain hut on a saddle between peaks. Inexperienced or first-time hikers will be happy to find that there is a flat, scenic, gravel trail that bypasses Fujimi-dake, hugging the side of a majestic volcanic lake before arriving at Kata-no-goya hut. The hut sells refreshments and overnight accommodation is also available. From the hut, it's a onehour rock scramble to Ken-ga-mine, the highest point of Mt. Norikura

Like most other peaks in the Japan Alps, there's a shrine on the summit where you can buy trinkets and make an offering to the Shinto deities. Retrace your steps to Tatami-daira in time for the last bus back to Norikura kogen, otherwise known as Norikura highlands, is a worldclass hot spring and ski resort that offers a variety of outdoor activities throughout the year. Autumn is arguably the best time to visit, as the slopes turn into a brilliant mosaic of vibrant seasonal hues. One of the most unique features of the area is that you can take the shuttle bus towards Tatami-daira and get off wherever the fall colors are at their peak. There are lots of possibilities for leisurely strolls around the ski resort itself, making for a wonderful getaway for people of all ages. Reasonably-priced accommodation abounds, with Alpine Inn Mizushiro as one of the best. Run by a Japanese couple who spent over a decade living in the US, the inn offers a relaxed, smoke-free environment with free Internet and scrumptious organic Japanese and Western cuisine.

Text & photos: Charlie Harrington

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Walk easy
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Getting there

Norikura kogen is accessible from Matsumoto in Nagano
Prefecture. There are two Hankyu buses leaving Osaka for
the five-and-a-half hour bus ride to Matsumoto. The morning
bus leaves Umeda at 8am, arriving at Matsumoto station at
1:30pm. From Matsumoto station, take a train on the Matsu-
moto Electric Railway to Shin-shimashima station, the last
station on the line. Catch the 2:10pm train, which arrives at
the terminus at 2:40pm. From Shin-shimashima, there'll be
a shuttle bus waiting to take you to Norikura kogen. Tatamidaira
is accessible by shuttle bus from both Norikura-kogen
and Hirayu Hot Spring. The bus runs every day until Oct 31st.


• Alpine Inn Mizushiro: http://mizushiro.net/index-2.html
• Bus schedule to Tatami-daira: www.alpico.co.jp/access/route_k/