Having only one full day in Nagano and as the weather forecast was finally rainless after the last few days of rain, I decided to go on an adventure up in the mountain and visit the Togakushi Shrine. Together with that was the Kagamiike pond, famous for having a perfect reflection of the mountains behind it. I was a little hesitant as I wasn’t sure how tough the walk would be between the different sights and I was also hoping to take in Zenkoji Temple, supposedly one of the important temples in Japan. Anyway, I decided to just wing it and give it a go!
I reached the bus stop (opposite Nagano station) with barely minutes to spare. Upon the recommendation of the Tourist centre, I decided to go all the way up to the Togakushi Upper Shrine – Togakushi Okusha (the topmost one) and make my way down to the lowest shrine, Togakushi Hokusa – a suggestion I would very much come to appreciate and recommend to anyone thinking of visiting the three shrines.
The hour-long ride was not very scenic and upon reaching the Togakushi Okusa bus stop, I alighted and realized the long walk I would need to make just to reach the shrine! It was a 1km walk just to reach the door and another 1km walk which included steps to reach the shrine! Oh boy… what did I get myself into… (but this was just the start of things to come…)
The first km to the door was a pleasant stroll with tall beautiful trees lining the path. It was so serene and beautiful, almost made me think I was in another world. I can only imagine what the pilgrims of old experiences when it was even more undisturbed.
The main door had a beautiful thatched roof. Beyond it looked deceptively like another pleasant 1km walk….
The path started to have a slight slope, as if warning me of things to come.
Japanese (and I think chinese in general) love their sacred trees. I believe this tree was sacred also because it had another tree growing out from within it! The tree just behind it actually has it’s roots inside this little alcove of the first tree.
And then it started….
Steps… and more steps…. It was a painful climb up to the shrine. The steps were uneven and pure hell on the knees.
Along the way up the steps were more little shrines along the way. I love this little shrine carved into a rock with little statues inside.
Just outside the main shrine was a little waterfall over a stone,. I’m not sure how man-made it is, but it was certainly beautiful and there was a group of happy pilgrims praying for blessings in front of it.
The actual shrine was actually not very majestic. Quite simple and unassuming. In a way, I was disappointed. But in a zen way, I also appreciated that I had enjoyed the journey so much more than the destination.
Despite the simplicity of the shrine, I thought the whole journey made it quite worth it.
I made my (painful) way down the steps back to the thathed-roof door. There, I made the decision to do the forest walk to Kagamiike pond instead of taking the bus to the nearest bus stop to the pond. The walk was actually quite nice with the path clearly marked out and there were planks along the way for you to walk on. It was fairly flat and didn’t take much effort except for a small slope near the end.
Along the way to the pond was another shrine with two sets of torii gates. A nice picture moment.
Finally, after about 35mins, I completed the first walk to reach Kagamiike pond. Although cloudy, it was really quite beautiful. Can’t imagine how it would look if it was summer and sunny. I enjoyed the walk from the Okusa door to the pond BUT felt a little cheated when I saw that you can drive right up to the pond! Kinda took away part of my effort to reach the pond on foot through the forest.
I then made the decision to do the forest walk to the middle shrine – Togakushi Chusya. This was one walk I kinda regretted a little, just a little. The walk was very different from the first one and although it was only about 3km, it was a painful 3km with many slopes and some marshy land. The path, while clearly trodden, wasn’t paved so it was more natural but some marshy spots made the walk quite challenging.
I was beginning to fully regret my decision to do the walk when I reached the Suzuriishi Stone. There were beautiful views of the mountains and like I said earlier, this almost took away any regrets I had of doing this walk.
Just after the Suzuriishi rock was another pond – Kotorigaike pond. Although somewhat similar to Kagamiike pond, it was interesting that there weren’t any reflections in this pond. Maybe it was just the wind at the moment.
After about an hour’s walk, I reached the end the trail to almost arrive at the middle Shrine. But just before that was this beautiful collection of memorial stones (?) or graves(?).
The moss covered stones continued to add to the mystery and beauty of Japanese culture.
The Togakushi Middle Shrine (Togakushi Chusha) is grander than the upper shrine.
This triplet of trees is the sacred tree for this temple.
After Togakushi Chusa, the last shrine was the Togakushi Hokusa. The Shrine was a further 20min walk from the Togakushi Chusa across a combination of roads + forest trail.
A loooong set of steps leads up to Togakushi Hokusa. While I made my way down (since I diid the reverse routing), I can imagine the ‘joy’ of doing the upwards route from Hokusa to Chusha to Okusa.
And with that, I ended by day out in the Togakushi area, totally tired out. What was supposedly a 2.5hr visit, turned out to be almost 4.5hrs. But it was an enjoyable day out. And like I mentioned at the start of this post, what’s interesting is that this was a day where the journey itself was much more enjoyable than the actual sights. The three shrines were nice… but not awesome. I would say that the shrine at Chichibu was more interesting. But this trees and the walk really made this interesting.