Mountain Retreat in Hijiri Kogen, Nagano
I recently took a trip up to Nagano Prefecture‘s Mt. Hijiri to with a client to visit their new villa. In the mountains above Nagano City, a place with postcard worthy vistas, I got yet another taste of inaka living.
Our trip took us to Hijiri Kogen resort. Between the steep peaks, cool river valleys, and breathtaking natural surroundings, the area has a wild, frontier-like setting perfect for weekend getaways.
About 40 minutes by car from Hijiri Kogen, the nearest train station, or about 3 hours’ drive from central Tokyo, this area remote. In fact, this might be the most “remote” I’ve ever taken a client! However, those who go the distance out to this lovely and lesser-known part of Nagano’s highlands will quickly realize that their journey is worth the effort.
Driving up the road to the villa, fans of motorsports or cycling will feel that they’ve entered something close to paradise. Mt. Hijiri’s wide, winding roads are surrounded by picturesque scenery, providing an adrenaline rush to aficionados of the need for speed.
Note: I didn’t go above the speed limit. Promise!
For such a remote location, nearby activities are diverse and plentiful. For instance, at Hijiri Lake there is a lakeside cafe, rental paddle boats and canoes, and a pro shop. Towering behind the lake are the slopes of the Hijiri Kogen ski resort.
Skiing is only open in the winter, but during the spring, summer, and autumn there is a twisting alpine slide adjacent to the ski slopes. This provides high-speed thrills that will scare the daylights out of any first-time rider. A self-proclaimed speed demon, my first ride down was nothing short of terrifying. However, by the third time I was hell on wheels, except for that the sled doesn’t have any.
Further down the mountain near Hijiri Kogen Station, there are supermarkets, local shops, and a gas station. Once back up on the mountaintop you will notice that this destination is distinctly separated from civilization, while still being only a little over 200 km from both Tokyo and Nagoya.
100% Not Sweating to Death
Especially during Japan’s hot & humid summer, this destination offers an extremely welcome refuge from Tokyo’s sweaty hellscape.
In the colder months, Nagano becomes a spectacular winter wonderland. There are nearby lakes that freeze over and provide Instagrammable photo ops. I would suggest ice skating, but Akiya & Inaka cannot be held liable for anyone reenacting Looney Tunes-esque mishaps.
Going up to this property over the four-day Silver Week holiday weekend, we arrived in the early afternoon. As with many mountain properties, we opened the windows to air the place out. Even though it was around 30°C at the foot of the mountain, at 1200 m above sea level the temperature dropped to under 20°C. In what seemed like an instant, we ascended from humidity hell to highland heaven.
The Nagano Property
This single story property is a cozy 60 m² on 800 m² of sloped land with carefully tended gardens. This property is an entertainer’s dream, with a terraced yard, barbecuing area, and almost unlimited landscaping potential. Over two decades, the previous owner planted an ajisai, or Japanese hydrangeas, garden, which are awe-inspiring in full bloom. On this visit, the Hijiri hydrangeas had already had enough of 2020, but the autumn colors had started to light up the surrounding forest.
This villa’s new owner is an executive in the creative industry who was looking for an escape from the hustle and bustle of central Tokyo life. With this property we were able to find just that, offering an escape unlike any other.
Also, we were surprised when, upon inquiry, we discovered that NTT offers fiber optic Internet connection here. So, for the modern teleworking executive, you really get the best of both worlds.
Since the building was built in 2002, there are no immediate repairs required. They do, however, plan to make minor cosmetic renovations.
Forest Green with Envy
With both fiber optic Internet convenience and a strong connection to nature, this property is ideal for the aspiring Mountain Man executive. You won’t need that video of roaring fires playing in a loop anymore – you can have the real deal!
We spent the first two days on the near side of the mountain, barbecuing, exploring nearby facilities, and forest bathing. It didn’t seem like it could get much better than that, but I was wrong. When we set out on our return trip, we drove down the far side of Mt. Hijiri, and holy shit! If the drive up was a beautiful and cautiously curvy ascent to a pristine, forested Heaven, the road back down to Hell was just what the Devil ordered: sharp turns, steep ridges, extreme views, and smokin’ tires. Well, perhaps in a different car, but in my big red hoopty all I got were smokin’ brakes.
The beautiful two lane blacktop road down the backside of Mt. Hijiri looked like something out of one of my favorite arcade games.
Once down the mountain, we were confronted with another great surprise: The mighty Sai River, winding through the mountains up to Nagano City, was a crystal blue sight to behold. Apparently, there were a few fish in there too, judging by the dozens of fishermen we saw up and downstream. Casting their lines from the middle of the river, these Bass Pro bois were all wearing the same sort of full-body wetsuit you know at the end of a long day must smell absolutely rank and disgusting.
Nagano Prefecture: Soba Central
If you are wondering what Nagano is famous for in terms of cuisine, it is most certainly soba noodles. And if you have any question about that, every five minutes there is another soba shop waiting to serve up their own take on the ancient recipe that will have you slurping succotash and satisfy even the most discerning connoisseur.
We went southbound along the Sai River until we came upon Azumino City, where we decided to get lunch at a soba shop called Sekiya, which apparently is very popular because even at 1:30 pm there was still an hour-plus wait to be seated. But, that was not actually a problem because at the front of the shop is a gelato parlor where you can enjoy handmade gelato in a variety of delicious and innately Japanese flavors.
It was hard to choose between the options including soba noodle, Japanese chestnut, and matcha green tea flavors. I settled on chestnut, and I certainly do not regret my decision.
Thankfully, with the hour long wait, I still had enough room left over for a set of cold soba noodles with a side of the local delicacy – slices of raw horse meat, also known as basashi. I know that is not for everyone, but it sure was delicious.
Japanese Holiday Traffic & the Wu Tang Clan
After a relaxed lunch on the tatami floor, we got on the Chuo Expressway to head back to Tokyo. It was then that I quickly realized that I had broken one of the key rules of Inaka Club: only chumps take the expressway on holidays. About eight hours later, we were back in Tokyo in all of its humid, sticky glamour. And to be honest, I thought several times that it would have been faster and more satisfying to turn around and go back to Nagano for some more quiet time in mountain paradise. And I would have! However, it was time to go back and start planning the next adventure.
OK readers, here’s the bad news: this particular property is sold to a happy owner. But the good news is that there are a whole lot more properties in the area. We have scoped out several areas of interest in Nagano, particularly up in the direction of Hakuba ski resort, famous for hosting the 1998 Nagano Winter Olympics. And one of those just might have your name written on it!
Please don’t hesitate to reach out to us if you need to get your inaka fix. Hit the Akiya Hunter up and let’s get started on your journey!