A Mother-Daughter Getaway to the Mountains of Nagano
Kita Shiga Kogen might just be the perfect destination for your summer family trip from Tokyo!
Not sure where to travel yet for this summer? Whether it’s a day trip or a week-long expedition, I highly recommend trying a lesser-traversed area of Japan for a little family bonding.
In the mountainous nature of northern Nagano Prefecture lies the Kita Shiga Kogen district. Yes, it’s that area famous for skiing and snow monkeys during the winter, but it’s also a little-known hot spot that most would regret bypassing during the lush “green” (summer) season.
I just had one with me—my 3-year-old daughter—after we were invited by our hosts T Hotel Ryuoo for our first-ever mother-daughter trip in early July.
T Hotel is a convenient and comfortable base that let us take part in outdoorsy fun and a variety of activities in the surrounding area. After a brand new renovation this past winter, 30 of its 70 rooms are gorgeous suites, and the restaurants and facilities on the property are all stunningly brand new, making for a wonderful place to rest after all of our adventures.
And I mean adventures. Over two days we got to experience so much! We did blueberry picking, soba-making, fishing, taking the ropeway to the summit of Mt. Ryuoo, guided trekking in the forest, relaxing in an onsen (hot spring) bath, and even checking out a unique doll museum!
While many of the surrounding hotels are closed during the summer and fall, T Hotel welcomes guests from all over the world year-round. For me, one of Japan’s best-kept secrets is the awesome nature you can experience during the off-season at ski resorts. For T Hotel, that goes from about late May to late November.
In other words, right now!
Summer blueberry picking
Our first destination after checking in was Yomase Blueberry Picking, a little less than a 10-minute drive from T Hotel. Nagano Prefecture is fruit heaven. Seasonal fruits are on offer all year long, and in early July, we were lucky enough to catch the end of cherry season and the beginning of blueberry and peach season.
The local orchard owner, Mr. Takagi, offered us all-you-can-eat-and-pick berries for ¥1,400 per person—without a time limit. We had two rows of ripe blueberries to pick as we pleased, meaning my daughter could run around freely. It was so much fun, though we had to restrain ourselves from eating our pickings as our delicious soba lunch was up next.
When in Nagano, you must try the regional dish of Shinshu soba (buckwheat) noodles. We come from a soba-loving family, and it was a valuable experience for my daughter to understand that what ends up in her lunch bowl doesn’t come easy! Despite my poor cutting skills, we both agreed it tasted delicious.
First-time fishing and a sea of clouds
Next up, we tried our luck at the local fishing pond at Kita-Shiga Fishing Park Seiryu no Sato (Home of Clear Streams), just a three-minute drive from the hotel. We had a memorable experience catching rainbow and mountain trout and then eating them right after. It doesn’t get fresher than that.
Next, we headed up toward the summit of Mt. Ryuoo. Here you can visit the Sora (Sky) Terrace. At an altitude of 1,770 meters, the terrace lives up to its name in the fact that it’s quite literally above the clouds! On a clear day, you can view the phenomenon of the “sea of clouds” beneath you.
To get there you take the ropeway, which boasts one of the world’s biggest gondolas (a whopping 166 people can fit in at one time).
Though the weather conditions weren’t in our favor for our visit, it wasn’t a total loss. Atop the terrace is a stylish cafe which serves a cute “cloud” coffee made with marshmallows.
A memorable experience at T-Hotel
With a beautiful view of Mt. Ryuoo, our spacious 73-square-meter room was made up of two bedrooms, one with a king-size bed and another with twin beds that seemed perfect for a staycation with friends or extended family. All guests can make use of Wi-Fi, a Nespresso coffee machine, and amenities for no extra charge. Rooms are smoke-free, too (perfect for a mama and her kiddo).
We really enjoyed the French dinner at the hotel restaurant, T’s Dining, on the ground floor. Chef Kato, a former executive chef at several top hotels in Tokyo, serves you the best of local ingredients in season. I stuffed myself with scallops swimming in a beetroot sauce, sea urchin, truffle cream soup, sea bass with colorful vegetables, locally sourced wagyu beef, and to top it all off, their signature apple tart. I didn’t mind trying the recommended “Dragon Eye,” a local white wine, either!
My daughter tucked straight into her kid’s menu offering of steak, deep-fried shrimp, fried chicken, and creamy mashed potatoes.
I also have to give a mention to the absolutely flawless Japanese breakfast the next day where I got to taste the regional salmon and marinated local magari-take (a type of thin bamboo).
Thanks to the comfortable room and the delicious dinner and breakfast at T Hotel, we were rejuvenated and ready for more adventuring on day two!
Trekking and forest bathing
Living in Tokyo, I don’t get to take my daughter out into nature as much as I would like to, so trekking in Nagano was a hit. On our second day in the area we went to Kaya no Taira Kogen, designated as a special site for “forest bathing” thanks to its (scientifically!) proven relaxing effects.
Kaya no Taira Kogen’s virgin beech forest, with trees over 300-years-old, is often thought of as one of the most beautiful beech forests in Japan. We learned about this from our guide for the day, Taka-chan, who educated us throughout the walk. Although my daughter’s 3-year-old feet couldn’t make it to the famous wetland, she loved the unusual chirping of birds and observing plants and insects that she’s never seen before.
Hot springs and handmade dolls
Soaking in an onsen spring bath was the perfect soft landing after coming down from the forested mountain slopes. Maguse Onsen is at the foot of Kaya no Taira Kogen where locals gather regularly to bathe for just ¥500 a time. Their incredible outdoor bath is ranked as having one of the best onsen views in Japan—honestly, it looked like a scene from a painting—and was a trip highlight.
Before taking the train back home, we paid a visit to Mayumi Takahashi Museum of Doll Art, about a 20-minute walk from Iiyama station. The beautifully crafted handmade dolls can teach you about the lives of Japanese people during the Showa era, and it makes for a lovely relaxed end to an activity-filled trip.
Tired but happy we made our way back to Tokyo. Our first mother-daughter trip was a complete success!
Special offer for Savvy Tokyo readers!
T Hotel is offering 10% off room reservations for Savvy Tokyo readers who book a stay there for this summer! Just complete your booking online through this link before Sept. 30 and you’re all set! The reservation must be a date before Nov. 30, 2019.
Sure, there are quite a few ryokan (traditional Japanese inn) and onsen in Kita Shiga Kogen—but these get can get quite pricey. If you prefer an affordable hotel equipped with Western-style, family-friendly amenities while still maintaining a luxurious Japanese essence, then T Hotel really is your best choice.
Address: 11700-24 Yomase, Yamanouchi-machi, Shimotakai-gun, Nagano
Access: About a 20-minute drive from Iiyama station. The hotel provides a free shuttle bus service for guests.