A view of a sea of clouds and a starry sky. Experience amazing scenic tours at an inn on the highlands!
Located in the center of Honshu, Nagano Prefecture is where the Japanese Alps, referred to as the roof of Japan, runs through from north to south. Roughly in the center of this Nagano Prefecture is Utsukushigahara Highlands, a plateau named as one the One Hundred Best Mountains of Japan, and called “Utsukushi” by the locals. It is an area which enjoys much attention from tourists visiting from other prefectures, but in recent years, from those visiting from abroad as well. The typical sightseeing spots in Utsukushigahara include Ougatou, Utsukushinotou Tower, and the Utsukushi-ga-hara Open-Air Museum, but here are some other memorable scenery that is a little different. Participate in the “Stargazing Night Tour” and “Early-Morning Utsukushigahara Scenic Tour” offered at “Yamamoto Goya Furusato-kan, an inn leading to the starry sky.
Utsukushigahara at an altitude of approximately 2000 meters offers a premium seat for stargazing.
When you stay at Yamamoto Goya Furusato-kan, its staff will take you to the best stargazing spot on a bus. There is no fee and the tour takes approximately 40 minutes. If you take the tour as a way to walk off your dinner, you will find it a surprisingly memorable event.
Stargazing begins at 8:45 p.m. The pitch-black night sky will be brimming with twinkling stars down to the horizon, and you will just be awe-stricken with the number of numerous stars you can see with your naked eyes. Two astronomical telescopes are available, one with 26.5-centimeter aperture and another with 30.0-centimeter aperture, allowing you to observe the Moon’s craters, Saturn’s ring, and Jupiter’s stripes, among other things.
If you are lucky, you may also witness shooting stars. Recommendations include the Quadrantids from January 1st through the 5th, the Perseid meteor shower from July 17th through August 24th, and the Geminid meteor shower from December 7th through the 17th. The Utsukushigahara Highlands offer a sure sighting of these meteor showers every year. If you would like to wish upon a shooting star, you should aim to make your visit during the periods listed above.
Incidentally, stargazing is not possible when the sky is overcast or when there is dense fog, but the night tour on the Highlands offers different and unique sights in rain as well as in clear weather. One of the appeals of this tour is the possibility of encountering nocturnal animals such as the Japanese Sika deer.
A breathtaking view of the celestial Alps floating in the sea of clouds.
A scenic tour is offered on the following morning. The sea of clouds tend to form from dawn to early morning, thus the tour starts before breakfast, at 6:30 a.m. The tour visits scenic spots on the Utsukushigahara Highlands by bus, such as Utsukushinotou Tower, Utsukushigahara Dairy Farm, Ougatou (2,034 meters above sea level), and Ougahana, and a staff from the inn, also serving as the bus driver, will provide detailed descriptions of these places. There is no fee for this tour either, and it takes approximately 90 minutes.
The Utsukushigahara Highlands offer such a commanding view that it is called the observation deck of the Alps. Its 360-degree panoramic view allows you to survey great mountains such as Mt. Fuji and Yatsugatake, as well as the Southern Alps, the Central Alps, and the Northern Alps.
The golden rays of the rising sun serves as the backlight, and a silhouette of the Alps will emerge, with an expansive sea of clouds spreading beneath it. The contrast is truly spectacular. And the vista is so fantastic that it might make you lose your sense of time. This is an extraordinary location, and taking souvenir photos in panoramic mode or time-lapse mode is recommended.
You can also enjoy the sight of charming alpine plants. There are buttercups and Japanese azaleas in June, geranium yesoense and fragrant orchids in July, fireweeds and scabiosas in August, grass-of-Parnassus and goldenrods in September, and the fall foliage from October to early November.
Enjoy a bath while admiring Utsukushigahara.
Yamamoto Goya Furusato-kan is also popular for its baths with views. There are two baths: “Unkai no Yu”, the men’s bath, and “Sanraku no Yu,” the women’s bath, both of which are available to guests 24 hours a day. Although the water is not drawn from hot spring, the vast windows in the baths provide striking views. Private semi-open-air baths are also available, which require reservation upon check-in.
Savoring the tastes of Shinshu.
The meals offered when staying at a mountain lodge tend to consist of relatively simple menus. But at Yamamoto Goya Furusato-kan, the menu is comparable to those offered at hotels and ryokans in the world below. In a kaiseki course meal named “Sanga Kaiseki Zen,” you can enjoy such main dishes as char-grilled fresh iwana mountain trout and lava stone-grilled apple-fed Shinshu beef, as well as wild vegetables collected in Utsukushigahara. Shinshu is also known for its soba noodles. The authentic hand-kneaded soba noodles prepared by the head chef, who has honed his skills at a long-established traditional Japanese restaurant, is also one of the treats to be enjoyed.
You can expect no less from the “Dairy Farm Breakfast,“ which is offered after the Scenic Tour. In addition to the rich milk, the delectables of highlands such as home-made yogurt, as well as freshly-baked breads, for which the preparation starts the night before, are offered for your enjoyment.