The Most Underrated Place in Japan?
I recently took a trip to Senjojiki Cirque up in the Nagano region of Japan and it was incredibly stunning. In fact, this is the most underrated place in Japan because literally, no one I’ve met knows about it!
Senjojiki is famous for its beautiful glacially-carved landscape that yields lush green alpine meadows in the summer. In the autumn you can expect some fabulous fall colors painting the landscape. And in the winter, it turns into a snow-covered Narnia.
It’s also located at Japan’s highest station and boasts arguably the best view of Mt Fuji in the country. Also, if you’re into night photography, Senjojiki is truly one of the best places in all of Japan (or even the world) to get some incredible star shots. I really hope to get back here during the winter to capture the snowy peaks with some great star trails. Though I can tell you this for sure – getting here is quite a journey. So here are my insights and details on traveling to Senjojiki Cirque!
How to Get To Senjojiki Cirque
To get to Senjojiki Cirque from Tokyo, it’s about a 4.5-hour-long journey. This makes for an ambitious day trip so it’s best to stay overnight. The fastest way is not via Shinkansen, but to take the JR Line. Some people like to take a bus, but I personally hate riding on a bus for that long. The closest station to Senjojiki is Komagane so you will need to get from point A to Komagane Station. Komagane is a tiny town in Nagano, and from that town, you can easily find the local bus station to buy a ticket to take you up the mountain to Senjojiki Cirque. And from there, you can then board the ropeway gondola to take you to the top of the mountain.
Whew! I was the only foreigner in sight but I cherish these moments because immersing yourself in a completely unfamiliar environment makes for the most exciting travel experiences. This was a solo travel expedition but traveling alone in Japan doesn’t intimidate me because it’s so safe here.
I took the train from Yokohama station and connected at Okaya station via the Ltd Express Azusa line. From there, you hop onto a local line called the JR Iida Line which is another 62-minute journey to Komagane. Okaya is a very small station and the trains typically run every few hours so don’t miss your connection. That would kinda suck. The train times are located above each of the platforms but it’s best to have your itinerary all mapped out prior to ensure a successful connection. Use Hyperdia to coordinate your train times.
Click here to purchase a JR Pass. If you are going to be traveling Japan, using the Shinkansen or the JR Line, you should really think about purchasing a JR Pass because it will save you money in the long run. Trains can get really expensive in Japan.
Arriving at Komagane Station:
Once you arrive at Komagane, you will see it’s quite a small station so getting to your hotel takes no time. You shouldn’t experience any trouble finding a taxi out front of the station, but many of the hotels in the area like mine offer free transportation to and from the station. All you have to do is call the hotel. If you don’t speak Japanese, this can get a little complicated but below are some basic translations on what you can say. If all else fails, just hire a cab and show them the address of your hotel. In smaller towns, few people speak English but it’s worth a try if you want to save money or if you are feeling extra bold.
“Eiga ga wakarimasuka. Sumimasen demo nihongo wa chotto hanashimasu.” – This means “Do you speak English? I speak a little Japanese.”
“Watashiwa (your name). Kyo wa yo-ya-ku o motte imasu. Komagane eki koko ni imasu.” – This means “My name is so and so. I have a reservation today. I am currently at Komagane station.”
“Anata no watashi o hirou kotoga de Kim Asuka.” This means, “Can you pick me up?”
I called my hotel The Komagane View Hotel Shiki and they sent someone to get me immediately.
This hotel was quite nice but modest and so perfectly Japanese. It’s centrally located on the main street and is within a five-minute walk from the bus station I needed to catch for my ride up the mountain. The Komagane View Hotel Shiki also has a great outdoor natural spring onsen. There are few things I love more in life than a beautiful outdoor onsen! The rooms were also really comfortable and there was a distinct smell of evergreen permeating through the hallways.
A short walk from the hotel on the main street in town, you can find the bus station that takes you to the Ropeway Senjojiki station. Despite the lack of other foreigners I saw around town, there’s actually an English translation of the prices. It’s more economical to buy a roundtrip pass here which includes your bus tickets as well as your gondola tickets. This is about $40USD. There’s even an English brochure for the park as well if you need it. The bus ride is about 30 minutes long up the winding mountain. Once you arrive at the top of the mountain, you’ll take an 8-minute gondola to the top. This gondola runs about every 30 minutes and stops running around 5 PM so make sure you don’t get stranded out there hiking because there’ll be no way for you to get off the mountain.
Here I’m waiting for the bus stop. And yea, I don’t recommend wearing Vans. Hiking shoes work best even though the basic course isn’t that rigorous.
Here’s a beautiful scene I caught on the winding drive up the mountain.
Also, there’s a hotel at the top of the mountain called Hotel Senjojiki. But it’s really popular and books up rather fast, especially during peak season. But if you want to shoot night photography of the stars or watch that spectacular sunrise of Mt Fuji, it’s really the only place you can stay.
Unfortunately when I arrived, the weather took a major turn for the worse and I couldn’t see a damn thing. I arrived in town early my first day so I checked into my hotel, left my bags, and then went up the mountain. I was heartbroken to find out there was zero visibility. It felt like being in an airplane flying through a cloud over the most beautiful landscape but not being able to see anything. So instead I ate some curry because I was starving – and it was really good.
I snapped this picture on the wall next to me while I was eating. Based upon the utter lack of visibility at the top of the mountain, I feared this was the best shot I’d get on the entire trip. But turns out it wasn’t.
That first day was awful. I made the long trip up the mountain and I couldn’t see sh*t!! So I went home, soaking wet, and returned the next morning. I went through the entire ordeal again. I walked to the station, bought another roundtrip ticket, took the 30-minute bus up to the gondola, and then went up to the mountain. Except for this time, the gondola ride was surreal. Instead of riding through a dense cloud of impenetrable fog, I looked down over an incredible landscape consisting of steep cascading waterfalls and patches of fog resting softly between the lush green mountain peaks.
My absolute favorite style of painting is traditional Japanese ink-wash and this scene felt like stepping into one of those ancient scenes. So needless to say, this second time up the mountain was much better. It was still raining with patches of dense fog, but the clouds blew through rather fast alternating between clear and fog-filled views.
I hope to publish my entire story about my trip to Senjojiki Cirque and if it gets published by the larger source I’m sending it to, then I’ll definitely update my site with the story information. I was a little bummed that it rained so much but the weather in the mountains at that elevation really lacks any predictability. That said, because of my passion for photography, I found plenty of joy in photographing this landscape. But if you’re going up there just for a hike, I’d recommend making sure the weather is absolutely perfect if you’re not a fan of cold, wind, and rain.
I did personally enjoy hiking through this mystical fog swarmed meadow, despite the fact that my fingers turned numb from using the camera in the freezing cold. But I couldn’t help it – the scene looked like something out of Game of Thrones! Just be sure to dress warmly because brrrrrrr it is cold up there – even in the summer. This particular hiking trail takes about an hour to make the loop, or you can take a more rigorous trek that can last overnight. I included some helpful websites below that you can use in planning your journey. Well, that’s all for today! I hope I’ve inspired you to travel to Senjojiki Cirque.
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