If you find yourself in Nagano City, take a day trip to nearby Togakushi Village, which is just a 45 minutes drive away. With a shrine in a sacred forest, top-notch soba noodles, and a hint of ninja intrigue, the village ranks among Japan’s great “off the beaten path” destinations.
Though modest in scale, Togakushi is surrounded by hills and mountains which come to life with dazzling colors in the autumn, plus kid-friendly ninja parks offer welcome diversions for families. The undisputed highlight, however, is the hike along a path lined with towering cryptomeria trees to the Togakushi Okusha Shrine in the foothills of Mount Togakushi.
Take a spiritual trek
With a trailhead conveniently near one of the main bus stops, the hike to Togakushi’s Okusha Shrine (Map) neatly encapsulates the relationship between Japan’s Shinto and the divine nature that it venerates. Okusha, also known as the upper shrine, is one of five that make up the Togakuchi shrine complex and is the best spot to start your journey around the village.
On the hike there, you’ll be joined by the more than 300 ancient trees lining the path standing imperiously like primordial pillars holding up the sky. You’ll experience a mixture of awe and tranquility as you walk among them. The shrine itself is overlooked by the craggy peaks of Mount Togakushi which is a popular destination for mountain walking enthusiasts.
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