Monday, November 10, 2014

Hidden beauty of Japan off the beaten track

Time is fleeting. While I was engaged in this or that and wanted to have a trip but didn’t have enough time to plan ahead, an advertisement of a bus tour provided by a tourist bureau caught my eyes, “Symphony of five hidden superb views with autumn foliage and snow capped Northern Japanese Alps”. I booked with my husband right away and in two weeks I was in a bus heading for the border area of Nagano and Niigata prefectures.

On the second day, we got into a micro bus and explored around Itoigawa. Itoigawa is a small rustic city located on the coast of western Niigata, where the mountains of the Northern Japanese Alps meet the Japanese sea. Itoigawa-Shizuoka Tectonic Line is a major fault that runs from the city of Itoigawa on Japan Sea through Lake Suwa to the city of Shizuoka on the Pacific Ocean.  Fossa Magna also lies to its east.  On October 23, 2004, a powerful earthquake shook this region.  It was the largest disaster in terms of scale and impact since the 1995 Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake.

 Fudotaki Falls

The Fudotaki Falls is a beautiful, three-tiered, 70m tall waterfall surrounded by the forest on three sides. It is very cool during summer and dim even in the daytime.  The environment around the waterfall is home to a variety of wildlife including wild Japanese serow.

Mt. Myojyo

Mt. Myojo, with its massive face of white limestone, was formed from coral reefs which date back at least 300 million years. It contains a wide variety of marine fossils. The mountain was originally located south to this place, but tectonic movement carried it to its current place. The peak located behind the rock wall is 1188 meters high.  (Source: here)

 The rock wall itself is about 450m high and is popular with rock climbers.

We walked to Kotaki-gawa Jade Gorge viewing the surrounding foliage.  The Kotakigawa River winds through this gorge along the foot of Mt. Myojo and, as its name suggests, it is home to large jade deposits. 

Kotaki-gawa Jade Gorge

Until quite recent years, jade artifacts excavated in Japan had been thought to be imported from Burma. However, discovery of the large jade deposits here in 1938, coupled with the discovery of large jade-working villages throughout the Itoigawa region, completely overturned this thought. Now evidence suggests that most if not all of jade artifacts since the ancient times were produced here and distributed across the country.

Because of the minerals dissolved into the water, the water color is beautiful blue. The Kotakigawa Jade Gorge has been designated as a National Natural Monument and removal or damage of any plants, animals, or minerals from the area is strictly prohibited.

Takanami-no-ike Pond

Takanami-no-ike Pond is at the 540 meter-high Hakuba foothills.  A giant fish has been sighted successively.  It is affectionately called “浪太郎 Namitaro (wave boy)” or “翠 Midori (jade green)”.

 I was so charmed by these simple beauties that I forgot myself until I realised time was running out.  The tour conductor told us we could spend (only!) 30 minutes here.

Water is clear and crystal.

Looking up, the sky is clear blue.

Since I spent leisurely, I couldn't reach to the point where Mt. Myojyo is reflected on the water.  I missed the chance on such a rare clear day without fog as the locals said.

But I felt better later when I could photograph Mt. Myojyo soaring by the Takanami-no-ike Pond from the bus window.  (The photo above)

 The mountains were the stage of Nagano Winter Olympics.

Our bus ran through rice paddies after harvest along the JR Ooito Line and entered Hakuba Village, Nagano.

Oide Suspension Bridge on the Hime River in Hakuba Village

Clear stream, small wooden suspension bridge, houses with thatched-roof, Japanese pampus grasses....
I think this is the place dear to the Japanese people's heart.
(Look at the zoomed image on the top, too.)

Let's wind clock back to the first day of our trip.  When the sun was low in the west, we reached Ryujin Lake made by Omachi Dam after driving through Takase Gorge. Because of the crumbled granite and sulfur contained in the water, the water color is emerald green but the color soon changed in the declining sun. It was about 8 hours after the bus left Namba, Osaka, and the travel distance of the day was about 500 kilomieters.  

The brocades of autumn foliage is aglow in the last ray of the sun.

Have you joined a bus tour organized by travel agencies?  My husband and I often travel by car or by train individually, but once in a while we enjoy a bus tour.  As merits, it’ easy because you just come up to the required meeting place and it’s cheaper even when you use optional hotel.  As for disadvantages, there is usually only 20 to 30 minutes for you to stroll around at each destination. Being unable to walk at my own pace is the hardest thing for me. I was either taking photos or running out of the bus and mostly sleeping in the bus.  All in all, I am quite satisfied to be able to see such hidden treasures of Japan in an eventful week.

Five days later after coming back from the travel, I met Jenny and her husband T for the first time in person.  I felt like seeing an old friend of mine like my English teacher long ago. She has such an air to make me feel familiar to her. My Japanese friends who are also Jenny's blog friends and I had a good time to share the places we love with them, leisurely strolling around Nara Park, feeling soft sunlight in the cool and crisp air and talking softly or cheerfully. 

At Isui-en Garden, Japanes maple leaves have started turning colors to welcome them.

At Ukigumo Park, heart-shaped Chinese Tallow leaves were still vibrant to please them.

This is not belated Halloween but reflection on the old handmade glass at the Hyoshin-tei, Isui-en Garden

 We are the Friends of the same generation with young and playful heart.

Keep tuned to An English Travel Writer for Jenny's trip to Japan.
She'll be back to England after visiting New Zealand and California.
This post is linked to Our World Tuesday.


  1. Dear Yoko-san, thank you so much for letting us join you in the memories of your wonderful tour! Your photos are truly magnificent and let us have a great insight in this glorious landscape of your travel. The colors and textures of autumn are special and soothing, it is such a pleasure to let them calm us. Thank you too for the words of your story and the thoughts of your lovely soul provided so graciously.
    And thank you for directing us to Jenny's blog, I already had a peek and will go to explore it more seriously later.
    Many dear regards to you. Shalom, Yael.

  2. Such a beautiful place. Thank you for these lovely photos and story.

  3. Jenny had very good tour guide blog friends while visiting Nara! She had a wonderful fall welcome to your city. Your bus trip photos with the craggy peaks reminded me a little of CO. (Except for the rice paddies!) I think that blue water might contain calcium citrate. I love this description of fall foliage at the lake: "brocades of autumn foliage is aglow." Long bus rides sometimes make me motion sick, though when I visited Japan many years ago, I traveled by bus.

  4. such special places you visited
    such lovely photos you captured
    you have made me want to wander there
    and these photos are so different from tonight, when i look out and for the first season I see a white snowy world
    those tallow leaves are so beautiful

  5. Just lovely,Yoko. I think Jenny must have felt privileged to meet you and see your beautiful country!

  6. Vilken underbart vacker resa med de mäktiga bergen och de härliga höstfärgerna, Förstår att du njöt.Min man är busschaufför på ett reseföretag här i Jönköping så han är ute mycket och reser, även jag ibland.
    Tack för den fina kommentaren hos mig om min farbrors död. Det går inte att beskriva den vackra begravningen vi d´var med om Jag gläds över att den var så fin, han var värld det.
    Jag önskar dig en fin och bra vecka
    Kram Meta

  7. 私も今年は2回バスツアーをしました。メリット、ディメリット、ありますよね。楽ちんなのは確か。現地での時間がないのがやはり最大のディメリットですね。でもそれを覚悟のツアーですが。いい骨休めになりましたね。水の色がほんとにきれい!

  8. Breathtakingly beautiful photos. Love the autumn atmosphere in them as well as the colors. The maple leaves in the Isui-en Garden are gorgeous!

    Mersad Donko Photography

  9. こんばんは。 5つの秘境の旅ですか、お写真がとても素敵です。 私も姫川源流や フオッサマグナなどには行きましたが、まだまだ知らない、美しい所が沢山あると、しみじみ感じました。骨休めが出来て良かったですね。

  10. Oh my goodness … I do love the last picture of you and your blogging friends. It is playful but also delightfully mysterious. The scenic bus tour you took with your husband is a perfect way to travel but the stops are often too short. You must have come away with a thousand pictures, as there is something awe-inspiring around every corner. I found the first photo exceptionally enchanting … as well as the one where the water “is aglow in the last ray of the sun”.

  11. how wonderful to meet up with friends. :) i loved the bus tour you went on! the autumn colors, the mountains, falls and rivers... just perfection! several of these photos should be in calendars, note cards and picture puzzles!

  12. Amazing pictures !!!! Gorgeous places !!! I'm delighted !!!!
    Thanks for sharing...
    Have a great week !

  13. Stunning post! Your photos are always a delight to my eyes! This place it's amazing! Thanks for sharing!
    Hope you have a wonderful week!
    Hugs from Portugal,
    Ana Love Craft

  14. Oh, I love your pictures ! You are showing the beauty of your country !

  15. What a lovely place! Your photos are great. Thanks for letting us join you for the tour.

  16. Beautiful! I've been to Japan once (visited Kiyosato and Tokyo) and fell in love with everything! I would love to come back again in the near future.

    Inside Cambodia

  17. みょうじょう山?行った事ないです。妙高なら知ってますが。美しい場所は、まだまだ残されていますね。ヒスイ色の池がきれいです。バスでいくのは、便利ですが、撮りたいところでの時間が限られますね。私たちは、現地でレンタカーを利用したりします。
    Have a nice day!

  18. Those falls are magnificent! And such glorious scenery.

  19. Beautiful! Love the colors and snow-capped mountain. Thanks for sharing your tour. The people on the reflection look like dolls in a painting.

  20. A beautiful landscape with some dramatic scenery. Did you climb the rocks?

    1. Thank you. Rock climbing? No way! But at the indoor facility for rock climbing, maybe I might feel inclined to train as a beginner.

  21. バスの旅は忙しいと聞いていますが、ゆったりと山を楽しんで撮影も楽しまられたように見えます。空気もきれいのでしょうね。自然の色がよく出ていると思います。Jennyさんご夫妻もきっと奈良を楽しまれたことでしょう。窓ガラスのリフレクションをポストするとは面白い考えです。楽しい記念になりましたね。色々と有難うございました。楽しかったです。

  22. 大変良く書かれているポストですね。英語がお上手で、感心しています。 長い事アメリカに住んでいますが、未だに下手な英語で、恥ずかしくなります。見習って頑張ります。写真が素晴らしくて、これも勉強になります。白馬はこの夏、訪ねました。車がなかったので、ほとんど歩きでした、、、そうか、バスツワーなら、時間に追われるけれども、いろいろ廻れていいですね。 虹がかかった滝、緑の湖も素敵です。 次回の日本の旅の参考になります。

  23. Hi, Nice to hear from you at my blog :D

    Your lovely pictures are making me missing Japan so much. We were at Hakone catching a glimpse of Mt Fuji and we saw it!!!

    Autumn is so beautiful in Japan and I really enjoy you for what you have seen at Mt Myojo.


    1. Hi Yoko,

      I have a giveaway for 4 lucky winners at

      Please join in and I hope that you can be one of the winners :D



  24. 素晴らしい「青空」です。 天気に恵まれて良かったですね。
    青空は、湖面・山々・木々・・・、全てを美しく引き立ててくれます。 写真の内容が断然違ってきます。


    白馬八方尾根は、私が大好きなスキーコースでかなり通いました。 急斜面はちょっと怖いですが、頂上からの眺めがとても爽快です。


  25. Dear Yoko, I do love to look through your posts and this one is especially delightful. I don't know why but have never thought of Japan having so much beauty and such a variety a terrain!. It's all mind-blowing. The mountains and trees and rivers and lakes...gorgeous. And, your photographer is always the best! I love jade and therefore was most interested in that area and the lake. Impressive!

    Thank you for your nice comments on L & L Photography. I've not done much in a couple of weeks as I had the surgery and now am in my 2nd week of recovery. All is well, so far as we know. We'll get a pathology report on Friday and that should show if there's more cancer to worry about. But I'm feeling pretty good, although I'm spending most of my time sleeping! :)

    Hope that all is well with you and your family. It is always a delight to hear from you!

  26. Yokoさん こんにちは。 ご無沙汰してしまいました。 
    山ガールの洋子さんはきっと今の季節 澄んだ空気を一杯吸い込みながら 笑顔で山歩きを楽しんでおられるのだろうなぁ
    と想っていたとおり、とっても楽しそうなお写真の中に 洋子さんを探し私まで楽しくなりました。 
    いつも自然を愛でながら ゆったりした気持ちで撮られていて素敵です。

    さて、cosmosさんから 今の私のブログが 洋子さんから頂くコメントを受け取る事ができない状況のようで
    入っていないようで・・・理由が分らず 情けないです。(ノ_-;) 恐らく私のサイトが不安定なのでしょう。

    丁寧なご連絡を頂きありがとうございました! お気持ち嬉しかったです。

  27. Dear Yoko, now I've found the time and calm to write some lines to you... know I'm not the type of blog friend who's pleased with a comment like "soooo cute...!" or "What a beautiful photo!".
    Like many of your blog friends I want to take my time to go through your post and appreciate the photos, texts and work you arranged deliberately.

    "Off the beaten track" is one of my favourite lanes / paths / ways I like to go along as often as possible. To explore and find the unpredictible! That's a great pleasure for me (and for you!).

    Your first photograph is really a stunner! I don't know how to take it any better!

    With all the sunshine the landscape of the Northern Japanese Alps is more than beautifully, and although I personally struggle with using superlatives (too often), I really must say: it's breathtaking!

    Within the last decades my wife and I took part in an organized bus tour here and there as well. For expamle a one-week tour to the Croatian island Krk (no misspelling!) in the Mediterranian Sea. Or to Tuscany region in Italy. More or less these bus tours are all the same. A huge "herd" of people, not too much time to stroll off the beaten tracks, but great to get an appropriate first impression about a city or region you haven't been before.

    Thanks for sharing all these treasures, including the great last group photo. Enjoy a pleasant weekend, Yoko, the next two weeks I'm going to be very busy, there won't be too much time for blogging or visiting posts of blog friends.

    All the best from Germany, Uwe.

  28. Αγαπημένη μου φίλη Yoko, καλημέρα!
    Πολύ όμορφες εμπειρίες μας χάρισες με τις υπέροχες φωτογραφίες και την αφήγηση σου!
    Δεν ήξερα ότι έχει Άλπεις και στην Ιαπωνία!
    Επίσης συμφωνώ μαζί σου, σε όσα είπες για ομαδικά ταξίδια.
    Το μόνο καλό είναι ότι τα ξενοδοχεία, που κοστίζουν λιγότερο με γκρουπ.
    Εμείς ταξιδεύουμε σχεδόν πάντα μόνοι, στην Ελλάδα με το αυτοκίνητο μας και στην Ευρώπη με αεροπλάνο και μετά τρένα και λεωφορεία. Στέκομαι όση ώρα θέλω και φωτογραφίζω, κάνουμε στάσεις όπου μας αρέσει.
    Χάρηκα που πέρασες τόσο όμορφες μέρες!
    Σας στέλνω τα φιλιά μου και την αγάπη μου!

  29. What a beautiful view. I like the wonderful rainbow. the trip sounds fun. :)

  30. Stunning landscape......thanks for sharing the beauty!

  31. My family and I are already looking for flights to Japan for next year! I'm going through your blog for ideas :) Is this location more accessible via Osaka or Tokyo? (I'm so sorry, I'm not particularly familiar with this one haha). Coming from the Philippines, the direct flights are either to Osaka or Tokyo.


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