Unique Visit:  2 Days in Onsen Town Togura-Kamiyamada

written by Tyler

Togura-Kamiyamada is an onsen town located 30km south of Zenkoji Temple and Nagano City.  The hot spring wells date back to 1893, and the resort town flourished with post-pilgrimage visitors.   Today, the town’s 30 inns and 7 bath houses rejuvenate guests with skin-beautifying mineral waters high in sulfur content.  The multitude of eateries and specialty shops as well as shooting parlors, onsen foot baths and karaoke bars are fun to explore wearing a yukata robe and wooden geta sandals.  With the Chikuma River meandering through the center, and surrounded by many mountains, the onsen town is a picturesque place to relax. Tyler, resident since 2005, tells the story.

(Togura-Kamiyamada Onsen, in Chikuma City, population 61,300 [April 2014].)


Day 1

Arrival / Togura Station 戸倉駅 [1] in the map below

Togura Station is the gateway to Onsen Town Togura-Kamiyamada.  Located 15 min. along the Shinano Railway from Ueda Station which in turn is 90 min. from Tokyo via the Hokuriku Shinkansen, access from Japan’s megapolis is a breeze.  If coming from Nagano Station (which is 60 min. from Kanazawa by Shinkansen), it is only 25 min. by Shinano Railway.  From Osaka or Kyoto, access via Nagoya to the JR Ltd. Express “Shinano” bound for Nagano, changing at Shinonoi to the Shinano Railway which is 12 min. to Togura.

Upon arrival, hop a bus or take a taxi to your inn to drop off luggage before heading out for a memorable lunch.

Hotel (Luggage Drop-Off) / Sasaya Hotel 笹屋ホテル / [2]

With 30 inns and hotels in the onsen town, it’s hard to know which to choose.  From exclusive  8-room boutique inns to 450-person capacity resorts, and from traditional family-run wooden inns to inexpensive business hotels, there is a full range of accommodation options.  The most famous is Sasaya Hotel, with its  Honenmushi  wing, a registered Important Cultural Property.  If your budget allows, Honenmushi is an architectural masterpiece designed by Arata Endo, an apprentice of Frank Lloyd Wright.  The rooms are (literally) fit for an Emperor.

Info on the other wonderful inns and hotels in Togura-Kamiyamada here.

After leaving your luggage, save check-in for later, and step out for lunch.

Lunch at the Legendary Daikoku-ya 大黒屋   / [3]

Daikoku-ya‘s unassuming facade belies the unforgettable food to be had inside.  This little shop with only 4 tables (expect to share) is located on a corner along Joyama Street at the base of Mt. Joyama .  If the blue curtain at the entrance is out, you’re in luck because the ‘noren’ means they are open for business.  While technically a ramen shop (and their orthodox take on this quintessential noodle dish attracts fans from out of Prefecture even), the owner is espcially legendary for his garlic sauce tonkatsu (deep-fried pork fillets).  If you really, really like garlic, Chef Natsume-san will be your hero.

Other restaurant options here.

Once fortified with lunch, it’s time to climb … to a fort.


Hike up to Arato-jo Castle 荒砥城  [4]

Towering above the onsen town is Jo-Yama, meaning “Castle Mountain”.   True to it’s name, the mountain is crowned by Arato-jo Fortress.  While Japanese castles are typically located in the middle of town, built as to be seen from anywhere in town (i.e., large ego!), mountain fortresses like Arato-jo were designed so as not be visible from below.  Reconstructed in  1995, Arato-jo is an excellent example of Warring States Era fortification — plus the view of the Chikuma River down below is worth the hike up in and of itself!  While the path is quite a climb, the distance is short enough that a reasonably fit person can reach the castle in 30 minutes.  Along the way, you’ll pass the imposing Zenkoji Branch Temple (ring the bell to announce your presence to the town below), and Okutsu Shrine with some embarassingly real phalic  symbols.


Hotel/ Onsen Soak and Gourmet Dinner 温泉と会席

Now that you’ve seen the onsen town from above, descend back down and return to your inn to officially check-in.  When staying at an onsen inn, the rule is to take 3 baths:  once after settling in, once before going to bed, and once in the morning.  So get started with this important bathing ritual, and be sure to remove any silver jewelry unless you want it to turn black.  Kamiyamada’s onsen natural minerals are the real thing!

An example of the type of onsen baths that can be found at Togura-Kamiyamada …

… and an example of the type of kaiseki-style dinners that await you.

The next thing to be pampered by is the kaiseki-style dinner.  Featuring local, seasonal ingredients and Nagano’s unique cuisine,  the chef’s culinary magic will surely delight you.


Yukata Stroll 浴衣で散策 / [5]

Following your dinner, if you have enough energy, how about going for a stroll?  Because Togura-Kamiyamada is an onsen town, you are encouraged to wear your yukata robe and use the wooden geta sandals provided by your inn to karan-karon (clip-clop) around town.  You’ll find several specialty shops to explore as well as footbaths, ‘shateki’ shooting parlors, and countless karaoke bars.

If you are in the mood for a late-night snack, Shichifuku serves arguably the best oyaki dumplings in all of Nagano.  Or, if you’re up for the challenge, Kohaku is famous for the town’s original spicy daikon radish dish:  oshibori udon.

Day 2

Morning Bath and Breakfast 朝風呂と朝食

A typical ryokan breakfast

When staying at an onsen ryokan, luxuriate.  And then partake of the healthful, energizing ryokan breakfast.  There aren’t many better ways to start a day.  Now that your body has been recharged, prepare to check out from your inn but ask to leave your luggage for a while.  It’s time to head out and explore the area around Togura-Kamiyamada.


Cycling along the Chikuma River 千曲川サイクリング道路  / [6]

At Togura-Kamiyamada’s new eco tour center, rent one of the colorful sports bicycles and go for a ride.  Cycling let’s you take in more of the area and get a better feel for how the locals live their lives.  If you are one of those crazy people that like hillclimbs, then you’ll be in heaven with the many scenic, windy routes into the hills surrounding the town.  But if you’re like the rest of us, there is a leisurely bike path along the Chikuma River.  The historical neighborhood of Inariyama makes a great destination with its many earthened-walled ‘kura’ storehouses.

Lunch in a centuries-old thatched roof brewery 萱で信州そば  [7]

After your envigorating bicycle ride, it’s time to return to your inn, pick up your luggage and take a bus back towards Togura Station.  One block before the station is an old sake brewery called “Shuzo Collection”.  You can tour the historical brewing facilities as well as pick up some local souvenirs at the gift shop.  But the main attraction is ‘Kaya‘, the soba noodle restaurant  located in the brewery’s thatched-roof main building.  Here you can have authentic Nagano-style soba for lunch — highly recommended.



Togura Station / Mini Farmers Market 戸倉駅と売店 / [1]

Now it’s time to move on to Togura Station and bid onsen town Togura-Kamiyamada farewell.  Before you depart, be sure to check out the mini farmers market inside the station.  You can pick up some fresh grapes or apples in season, as well as jam made from the famous local apricots.   Hopefully you’ve enjoyed your Onsen Town experience and come back again some day.




Onsen Town Togura-Kamiyamada offers many more attractive options.  Here are just a few additional opportunities.

Geisha Show.  The town has a rich geisha heritage, and still has over a dozen active geisha entertainers.  Your inn can arrange an interactive 30-minute geisha show.

Eco Tours.  The new Zukudashi Eco Tours offers 2-1/2 hour guided tours, both walking (around the onsen town, visiting many of the shops and meeting the owners) and cycling (8km course through the surrounding neighborhoods and orchards).

Theater for the MassesTaishokan presents ‘taishu-engeki’,  a lite version of kabuki, with different traveling troupes every month.  Shows daily at 1pm and 7pm.

Nishizawa Piggy Bank MuseumYou can see Japan’s pop culture over the years through piggy banks!

Fruit Picking.  Apricots in early summer, grapes in September, apples in October and November at Crown Farm and other orchards, as well as strawberries in winter and spring.

Hundreds of Restaurants.  From gourmet ramen shops to chic izakaya pubs, if you’re a fan of Japanese food, Togura-Kamiyama’s restaurants will make you feel like you’re in heaven.

Etc., etc.  So many options — perhaps a 2nd or 3rd night stay will be required!


ogura Kamiyamada Onsen Suggested Tour. Click on the map for details and directions.