Category Archives: 5.2 .. alte Pfade in Chubu

Zwei Täler in den Bergen Japans. Es sind “remote places”, die einen kompletten Kontrast zum hochtechnisierten Japan bieten, dessen Zentrum Tokyo ist.

Shibu Onsen

Today I will leave the old Japan (Ainokura and Kisodani) and enter the modern Japan (Tokyo). The only question is where I stop today. Inuyama part 2? Hmm. I don’t want to go back. Matsumoto is not really on my way to Tokyo and the castle is closed today. Nagano? Maybe there is snow. It would be simple to travel from there to Tokyo. Nagano is connected by Shinkansen. Lucky that I decided for the complete JRP. This would me give the change to bring the thank-you-letter to Kiso-Fukushima. I have to change there anyway.

Breakfast is at 8am. Then a short taxi ride to the train station of Nagiso. It is raining and all the snow is gone. Lucks like I was lucky again. It is difficult to deliver the letter. The language barrier is working again. All the words I need are not really part of a basic Japanese class. Who is learning “The station officer who was on duty yesterday”.

Here in Kiso-Fukushima the decision is made. The Ltd. Express to Nagano needs 90 minutes and departures soon. So Nagano it is. Then I have a crazy idea. Shibu Onsen. It was my plan to return in 2014 (my 2004 reloaded plan), but it also was an idea to visit Shibu via Kusatsu. This idea I had to gave up because the pass is closed.

Nagano Gallery

In Nagano I check the time. 90 minutes until the last reasonable train to Shibu. This should be enough for a brief visit at the Zenko-ji, the big temple von Nagano. I store my luagage at the train station.

Hm. Thereis no snow in Nagano. There was less and les during the train ride. Strange. The olympic winter games took place here in 1998. The temple is not as impressive as in 2004. May be temple overdose. Or a Japan overdose? There is a pathway underneath the temple. Completely dark. But tiem is too short. I will write this on my 2004 plan.

I hurry back to the train station. Departure at 3pm. The train is called Snow Monkey. It is funny how they pronounce the name: “Snoo Moonkii”. The way is totally different from what I remember. Wasn’t there a change in direction? In Yudanaka a known picture. Total Recall. Maybe I can visit the Monkeys. The taxi arrives the entrance at 4:25pm. That was close. But too late. I forgot that there is an additional 1.5 miles walk thru the forrest. This is not possible in 5 minuntes.

Even here in the mountains is not much snow. Some ice on the street is the evidence that it was snowing a few days ago. Now it is rainung. This is Inuyama all over again. I walk back to the city. I need some onsen. I check the next souvenir shop for the stamp towel. While I pay for the towel I learn that the key to the onsen is only for hotel guests of Shibu and Yudanaka with a vaild ticket. Damned. I totally forgot about that.

But the shop keeper is nice. I can enter bath #9 on the other side of the street. Ohh boy. This was worth the trip. After the cold rain the onsen is like heaven. It is so relaxing. Exactly like I remember. The wood in the onsen is old and partly black. The moisture is take its toll. The water is brown and opaque. I can smell sulfur. This is nothing you would show or describe in a travelguide. But it is so relaxing.

Shibu Onsen Gallery

It is my plan to take picture of all 9 onsen. It is raining cats and dogs. I mount the umbrella on my backpack to have two free hands for my camera. Then I try something: I have a towel around my neck and the stamp towel at my backpack. Beside the missing Yukata I look like a hotel guest. I just wait for a guest with a key and enter the onsen. This is totally against the rules and a little bit dangerous. But I want to have this towel. I could just put the stamps on it but this towel has to be real. I want to have some good memory of this day.

I can enter all nine onsen. In the meantime it got dark. And I still have to go back to Nagano and further to Tokyo. I walk back to Yudanaka. The way is longer than I remember. A quick picture of Uotoshi Ryokan for my collection. Looks like the Dining With does not exist anymore.

I need 90 minutes for the short distance to Nagano and another 120 minutes for the long way to Tokyo. The speed difference between a local train and the shinkansen cannot be more obvious. I arrive Ueno late in the evening. The wheels of my trolley are finished. After the check-in I take a short stroll to the Amusement district. Back in modern Tokyo. It is much warmer than in Nagano. And it isn’t raining.

[Update: In the following clip you will not see much of Shibu Onsen but listen: This is the sound of an japaense onsen in summer time.]

[deutscher Blogeintrag]


After this exciting events from yesterday evening I need some rest. After a long japanese breakfast I start for a walk. At the door a Shiba Inu is waiting that doesn’t belong to the ryokan. He always tries to stay behind me. I turn quickly around. He doesn’t like it and instantly try to get out of sight again. He is following me a a few yards while I walk downhill to Tsumago.

After less than a mile I arrive the first houses of Tsumago. The road is covered with ice and not easy to walk. There os some snow, but not as much as in Kisofukushima. I arrive the old post town area at  9am. I am more or less alone. The shops open in one hour. I enjoy the quiet tourist-free atmosphere.


The old Tsumago is a long street with old houses. A remote place. There is no special house that sticks out. It is the complete ensemble. The perfect place for a samurai movie. This place covered with fog must be awesome.

The street splits into two ways. I decide for the stairs down. That was dangerous. The stairs are tilted and covered with ice. Something I didn’t expected. After a few meter the way goes up and meets with the second path. It is not easy to walk. Again there is ice. Now I am followed by a cat. Today I am haunted by japanese wildlife .. and there are bears in the mountains. I hope they hibernate.

I walk down the street passing the old rest places for travelers. At the end is a small water mill and a big ancient newsboard. I spot a small temple. Maybe I can take some pictures during the magic hour.

Now I want to start to walk the Nakasendo to Magome. On the way I will pass the ryokan. Until there the way is boring. It is part of the national road. I pass the houses behind the ryokan. I meet the Shiba Inu again. Now the Nakasendo is leaving the national road and enters the forest. Here there is less snow but it is easier to walk.


This will be a peaceful walk. It goes uphill. The path is crossing the road several times. But I never recognized how close both ways are all the time. This Nakasendo is somehow a place half way to nowhere that exist outside of time. The weather is cold and sunny. This I call holiday. Now the way is splitting. Nakasendo to the left and a path to two water falls to the right. They are not far away. A minor diversion seems possible without any time problems.

The only thing that worries me is this tiny bell next to the signs. “Ring the bell hard against bears” and a phone number below. The bell I know from Hokkaido where you should wear a tiny bell on your backpack. I wonder if this stationary bell is also successful. And why the phone number? If I face a bear I will definately do not call for help and wait for help. Or shall I give the phone to the bear, say “it’s for you” and run?

The water fall is 5 minutes away. There are not very high but here in the middle of the forest they are well placed. The edges of the waterfall are frozen. That reminds me on the blog I found about people climbing up frozen water falls.

Next stop is a 250 years old cherry tree. The forest ended a dozen yards before. It goes steep uphill. Passing bamboo. This is the Magome pass. It is the border between Gifu and Nagano prefecture. This confused me while I was looking for a Ryokan. Magome and Tsumago have different predial numbers and post codes.

From this point on it should go downhill until Magome. But this part of the Nakasendo is boring because it follows the mainroad. At 2pm I arrive at the upper end of Magome. Here again is a big news board and the bus stop. The next leaves in one hour. That should be enough. Magome is not that big. But beautiful. In my opinion even better than Tsumago.


A 300m long paved way. Old houses on both sides like in Tsumago. Souvenire shops and ryokans everywhere. This city (like the complete Kisodani) is famous for Honoki wood. During the time of the samurai it was forbidden to the normal people to use this kind of wood. This law was intact until a few decades ago. That is the reason why the cities along the Kisodani are so old, weathered and run down. Many cities were given up and got lost. Tsumago and Magome survived and now are a living evidence of the past. Back to the souvenir shop. I buy some honoki sake cups.

A walk the street down to the water mill. Inside is a small generator and a display that shows, how much power the generator is producing. A nice approach towards green energy; speically after Fukushima. The street takes a left turn and a right turn before it ends. This side of Magome is not as beautiful as the upper part. Therefore I go back. I have a small chat with owner of the souvenir shop from before. Then I rush to the bus stop.

Looks like I have luck twice. While I was waiting for my ride back to Tsumago a bus is stopping and dozens of Japanese tourist are entering Magome. And the weather is changing. It is getting windy and cold. Looks like perfect timing and that I have used the best time of the day for the walk. I stroll thru Tsumago until it is getting dark. But I cannot find a good scenery. And after 5pm cars are allowed in the street and ruin the mood.

Tomorrow I travel back to Toyko. Therefore I embrace this remote place as good as I can. First I take a relaxing bath on the onsen of the ryokan. At 6pm I walk to the dinner room. Wow. A feast. Grilled fish, sashimi, vegetables, soup, tempura. I am full. Some nihonshu and another stop in the onsen before I go to bed … I mean futon.

[deutscher Blogeintrag]

Inuyama 1/2

Breakfast at 8am inclding many things I usually don’t want to see on a breakfast plate: fish, different kind of pickles and other strange stuff. A highlight was rice and miso. But in Japan this is ok with me. All I really want to change is: coffee instead of green tea.

The owner of the roykan is giving me lift to the bus stop. The way back to Ogimachi bus stop is well known. The bridge is much more iced than yesterday. Mean. My tracks from yesterday are still visible. The bus to Takayama is leaving in a few minutes. Timing. The Japanese guy from the Ryokan bid me farewell with the word “Bis dann“. I am confused, for a moment. Right, his former girlfriend was from Germany.


240yen and several tunnel later I arrive Takayama. Now the train hopping starts. Takayama>Mina-Ota. The connecting train is waiting at the same platform. Why this never happens at the Deutsche Bahn? Mina-Ota>Unuma. Now I change the train and the train company. The train station are next to each other and connected by a pedestrian bridge. Unuma>Inuyama.

I ask at the tourist information for a coin locker. The officer takes a brief look at my Tatonka bag. (too big) and escorts me to the Station Office. I can store my bags there. A short view on the station clock. I am behind my schedule. I am rushing to the castle, thru Castle Road and thru the rain. Many old houses, a pedestrian area. But all the shops are closed. Looks like the wrong day for Inuyama.

The castle is worth a visit. One of the oldest wooden castles. The architecture is amazing. And: it is earthquake-prove (more or less). From upstairs I have a good view on Inuyama. Next to the castle is a small shrine, also worth a visit. The park of Inuyama is closed. It is past 4pm. On the way back to the train station I got lost. Damned.

Unfortunately there is now japanese food available at the train station. All I can pick up are burger at “Lotteria”. This is not my day. Now the second part of my train hopping starts. Inuyama>Mina-Ota.

The train to Tajima is delayed. A Delay! In Japan! The display says, it will take 45 minutes. Just after I talked to positive about the on-time-capability of Japan rail. In Tajima I am confused. The train should end here but no one is leaving the train. My mistake? No. I was right.

Schrein am Inuyama-jo

Looks like all train types (from Local up to Ltd.Express) stop in Nagiso. Therefore I jump on the next train that arrives. In the train I am greeted with “Welcome to Super Limited Express …”. Super? Why Super? Looks like I got the only train that doesn’t stop in Nagiso. The next stop is not on my travelmap. 40 minutes later and 18 miles too far I arrive in Kisofukushima. Snow. A lot of snow. Looks really nice. But it is the wrong place. The last and only train back leaves at 10.37pm. Not good! The curfew at the ryokan is at 10pm and it is a long way uphill too. This is a big problem. Taihen.

I explain my situation to the station manager. It takes some time because of the language barrier. The he informes the ryokan manager by phone about my problem. He will wait for me … if the train is going. Wait a second. If? I learn that the snow is causing problems already. All the snow outside was falling within the last hours. There is a chance that we get snowed in within the next two hours. A nightmare. Why did I got into this damned train. Now I need some sake. I can leave my luaggage at the station office.

It really is snowing. Wonderful. If this place would be Nagiso. I find an open Izakaya. The lady behind the desk is strict. I am not allowed to enter the room before I remove all the snow from my jacket. 2 hours, a few sake and many yakitori later I walk back to the train station. In this time the fire department was driving by and was warning the citizens by speakers about the snow. This heavy snow fall seems to be very unusual. I start to understand the “if” of the station officer, and the delays of the trains in Tajima.

Kisofukushima im Schnee

On the way back to the train station I take some pictures. All this snow. At the platform I take some pictures too, using the snow as a tripod. But I cause some trouble: There is a gaijin down on his knees, in the snow. Looks like the station manager didn’t saw my camera on his monitor. I can solve this situation within a few seconds.

I get on the last train to Nagiso. Arriving there a taxi is waiting for me. “You are Mr. Boller? Hanaya Ryokan?” This is something I like about Japan. The taxi was organised by the ryokan manager. Check-in at midnight. I excuse my behaviour and for causing all the trouble.  (I also write a short letter to station manager to thank him for his help.)

[deutscher Blogeintrag]

Shirakawago und Ainokura

A taxi is driving to the train station. I hope my reservation is working. Where is the bus? The driver tells me that I had to pruchase a ticket. Looks like I have a problem. But at least my seat is reserved. After a short discussion between the driver and the platform conductor I can pay cash. This was close. With every mile the bus is driving there is more snow in the mountain. Maybe I can see some snow in Shirakawa. Until now I always was one month to early.

Ogimachi is a white dream. The temperature is around the freezing point. But the snow is melting in the sunlight. But there is plenty of it left. This will last until tonight. I cross the river by using a extremly thin concrete bridge that is swinging with every footstep. On he other side the old houses are covered with snow. It looks like they sunk into the snow. I walk thru the old houses. (This is how Gothmund may look like after heavy snowfall.) I find the hiking trail that leads uphill to the view point. It is closed but I try it anyway. The way is covered with ice and snow but I manage to get to the top. From here I have a perfect view down to the postcard like scenery. The perfect view is only destroyed by the street that cuts the town into two peaces.

Ogimachi Gallery 1

Back in the valley I have some time left to walk thru the snowy streets. But with a look to my watch every few minutes there is no real holiday feeling. Too soon the hour is gone and I pace back to the bus station to pick up my luaggage. And than again over this strange bringe to the other side, because the bus is leaving there and not at the arriving bus station. Lucky for me that I can read Kanji and lucky for me that I spotted the bus stop earlier. It is not easy to pass the bridge with a heavy trolly. At the end of the bridge is a small step segment. I need three attemps.

At the bus stop I still have two minutes. Time for a coffee can and some postcards. The bus is on time. Like always in Japan. There is only one other passenger. After a few minutes I am in a conversation with the bus driver. I am “Doitsujin”. We stop several times on the way to Ainokura without a bus stop. The driver shows me old temple and houses. He opens the door so that I can take pictures. Cool.

In Ainokura I am lost. After the bus is gone there is just me, the bus stop and the street. But no village. I spot a sign that says 300m. OK. Not easy with a trolley and the half molten snow. At the beginning of the village is a big parking lot. The guard gives me a small map; nice. The Choyomon is one of the first few houses. Lucky. Because the snow is 1m high.

Ogimachi Gallery 2

I open the door and go inside. “Sumimansen”. An older women appears. The owner. We enter the central living room, without shoes. My room is just next to it behind a sliding door. The temperature inside is 45°F or less. I can see my breath. Then we go back to the central room an sit down next to the open fire. Fresh green tea is prepared. Cozy and cold at the same time. A small heater is spending a little warmth. A small sign says: “Do not use petrol. Only use kerosine.” This I call a bold statement.

At 2:45pm I feel the urge to go outside again. Taking picture. Ainokura is very small and in the middle of nowhere. I should cover everything including plenty of time to enjoy the scenery. All hiking trails leaving the village are blocked by snow. I visit the small museum that is located in one of the old houses. Not much to see but I can climb upstairs to the second floor. The roof construction is amazing. There are no nails. The beams are put togehter by ropes. Reed is applied in two layers.

I try to get uphill to the siteseeing spot. A lot of snow but I can manage, somehow. The view is nice. All I have to do is to wait for the magic hour. The way is leading further uphill and returns down on the other side of the village. My attempt is stopped after a few meter. Up to my knees I sink into the snow. Not easy to get out.

Back to the village. Btw. The weather is perfect. The sun is shining, no clouds. I roam thru the houses and stop at a small shop. Here I warm up with some hot nihonshu. I also buy some souvenirs. At 4:30pm, dawn is beginning, I go back to the sightseeing spot. The moon is just appearing above the mountains. It is not possible for me to catch the mood. Not without a tripod and HDR.

I built myselft a small camera platform with snow. I believe that one or two pictures are very nice. Downhill I stumble into a problem: It is dark and all the snow is white. No contours. Where is the pathway. I walk slow and carefully. If the snow is going up to my knees I am offroad.

Ainokura Gallery

I am back in time at the Choyamon for dinner. Fish is already broiling over the open fire. A second guest appears. The mother of the owner also arrives; this is a real obasan. Lucky for me the the other guest can translate, without him I would be lost after 4 words.

The TV is showing „Sasuke’s Rising“. The reminds me of Takeshi’s Castle, but the obstacles are really difficult. You need a lot of strength and endurance. After the show it is time for a hot bath. In the meantime the kerosine burner is heating up my room.

Before I call it a day, I go outside for another stroll thru the city. We are close to full moon. The snow is reflecting enough light to orientate. It is dead quiet. No birds, no wind in the trees, and no cars! Nothing. A few meters laters I hear water. The runlet is small and a couple of meter away, but I hear it. Amazing and relaxing.

The night is interrupted very three hours. The heating has a safety shutdown and needs to be restarted. Without it gets pretty cold within minutes. It is like a wakeup call. I just press start and crawl back into the futon for another three hours.

[deutscher Blogeintrag]

Shibu Onsen

Heute ist Abreise. Nochmehr, heute erfolgt der Wechsel vom alten Japan (Ainokura und Kisodani) ins moderne Japan (Tokyo). Es bleibt die Frage, wo ich den heutigen Zwischenstop einlege. Inuyama? Hm. Keine Lust. Irgendwie hat Inuyama bei mir verschissen. Matsumoto liegt nicht auf der Strecke und die Burg ist eh geschlossen. Nagano? Vielleicht liegt hier Schnee? Von dort ist die Weiterfahrt nach Tokyo simpel. Der Shinkansen fährt durch. Da lohnt es sich doch, den kompletten JRP gekauft zu haben. Auch gibt es mir die Chance, in Kisofukushima einen Brief mit einem Dankeschön zu hinterlegen. Umsteigen muß ich hier eh.

Frühstück ist wie immer um 8 Uhr. Danach geht es per Taxi zum Bahnhof. Es regnet und der Schnee ist weg. Da hatte ich gestern echt Glück; auch wenn es nur ein paar Zentimeter waren. Das abgeben des Briefes dauer etwas. Die Sprachbarriere schlägt zu. Keines der Worte, nach denen ich suche, kommen in einem Sprachkurs vor. Wer lernt schon “diensthabener Leiter der Bahnstation”.

In Kisofukushima fällt die Entscheidung: Nagano. Der Ltd.Express braucht 90 Minuten. Unterwegs kommt mir die Schnapsidee nach Shibu Onsen zu fahren. Das war zwar erst für 2014 angedacht (2004 Reloaded), aner warum nicht. Es war schon während der Planung eine Idee, die durch die gesperrte Paßstraße zwischen Shibu und Kusatsu vereitelt wurde.

Nagano Gallery

In Nagano angekommen ein Blick auf die Uhr. Ich hätte 90 Minuten bis zum letzten sinnvollen Zug nach Shibu. Das reicht für einen Besuch des Zenko-ji, dem großen Tempel von Nagano. Der Koffer wird am Bahnhof verstaut und los geht es.

Hm. In ganz Nagano liegt kein Schnee. Auf der Zugfahrt hierher wurde es weniger und weniger.  Und hier waren 98 die Winterspiele? Der Tempel hat nicht mehr den Reiz, den er 2004 hatte. Hm, Tempelüberdosis? Japanüberdosis? Es gibt noch ein Gewölbe unter dem Tempel, das sehenswert oder besser ertastendswert ist. Dafür ist die Zeit zu kurz. Das plane ich dann mal für 2004 ein.

Plötzlich ist die Zeit um. Im Eilgang geht es zurück zum Bahnhof. Um 15 Uhr geht der Zug. Er heißt Snow Monkey, was die Japaner etwas lustig als “Snoo Moonkii” sprechen. Die Strecke ist so vollkommen anders, als ich sie in Erinnerung habe. Hatte der Zug nicht damals seine Fahrtrichtung gewechselt? In Yudanaka das vertraute Bild. Total Recall. Ob ich es zu den badenden Affen schaffe? Ich schnappe mir ein Taxi und bin um 16:25 Uhr am Eingang;. Knapp … aber zu spät. Ich hatte vergessen, daß es von hier noch 2km in den Wald sind. Das kann ich knicken.

Hier in den Bergen liegt kaum Schnee; etwas Eis, besser gesagt gefrorener Schnee. Es ist spiegelglatt. Aber ich hatte mehr erwartet. Und regnen tut es auch. Das ist Inuyama in Neuauflage. Zu Fuß geht zurück ins Dorf; jetzt ein wenig Onsen. Ich steuere ein Souvenirladen an, um ein Stamp-Towel zu kaufen. Ich erfahre, daß nur Hotelgäste mit Zugangskarte den Schlüssel bekommen. Sch…, das hatte ich total vergessen.

Er läßt mich aber ins Bad #9. Ach, ist das herrlich. Nach dem naßkalten Regen eine echte Entspannung. Es ist genauso, wie ich es erinnere. Die Holzbalken sind alt und teilweise schwarz. Die ständige Feuchtigkeit hinterläßt Spuren. Das Wasser ist bräunlich trüb. Es riecht nach Schwefel. Also eigentlich nichts, was auf den ersten Blick in den Reiseführer gehört. Aber es ist so entspannend.

Shibu Onsen Gallery

Von meinem Plan, alle Onsen von außen zu fotografieren rücke ich nicht ab. Es regnet in Strömen. Ich habe dem Regenschirm am Rücksackgurt montiert, um beide Hände für die Kamera frei zu haben. Dann bin ich frech. Ich habe ein Handtuch um den Hals, das Stamp-Towel am Rucksackgurt. Auch wenn ich keine Yukata trage, gehe ich als Badegast durch. Ich warte auf Gäste mit Schlüssel ich husche mit ins Bad. Das ist unfair und unterläuft die Dorfregeln, aber ich will das Towel abstempeln, um diesen Tag zu retten.

Nach und nach kann ich alle 9 Onsen ansteuern. Mittlerweile ist es dunkel geworden und ich muß an die Fahrt nach Tokyo zu denken. Der Fußweg nach Yudanaka ist länger als in meiner Erinnerung. Ich mache noch schnell ein Foto vom Uotoshi Ryokan. Das Dining With finde ich nicht. Ich glaube, das hat den Betrieb eingestellt.

90 Minuten für die kurze Strecke nach Nagano. 120 Minuten für die Strecke nach Tokyo. Der Geschwindigkeitsunterschied zwischen Locals und Shinkansen kann nicht anschaulicher sein. Ich erreiche Ueno spät und schlage mich zum Hotel durch. Die Rollen vom Koffertrolley haben es echt hinter sich. Nach dem Check-in folgt ein kurzer Streifzug durch den Amusement District. Hier in Tokyo ist es wesentlich wämer als in Nagano. Und es regnet nicht.

Im nachfolgenden Video sieht man nicht viel von Shibu Onsen aber hört hin: Das ist der Sound eines japanischen Onsen im Spätsommer.

[english blog entry]