April 26 2019
A Trip To See The Cherry Blossom in Ogawa, Nagano Prefecture – April 2019
As the cherry-pink petals of Tokyo’s sakura season were being blown away by the capital’s April breezes, we headed to Nagano’s Northern Alps to catch one more fix of Japan’s annual exhibition of springtime beauty.
On this trip, we were returning to Ogawa, a small village between Nagano City and the internationally-renowned ski resort of Hakuba. Ogawa is a cherry blossom viewer’s heaven.
Our trip had been delayed by a few false starts, caused by this year’s atypically cool spring – resulting in the blossoms later-than-usual arrival in the highlands. We’d changed the date of our booking twice, in an attempt to catch Ogawa’s pink cherry blossom trees in full bloom against the area’s panoramic mountains.
Boarding a bullet train from Omiya in Saitama Prefecture, we sat back for the smooth one-hour journey, our train barrelling through long stretches of tunnels and rural farmland until our arrival at Nagano Station. With almost 2 hours to spare until the next bus to Ogawa, we took the opportunity to enjoy the pedestrian calm that soothes Nagano City, and ambled up to the huge, beautiful Zenkoji Temple.
Returning with just a few minutes to spare, we boarded the Highland Shuttle bus from bus stop #25 outside Nagano Station’s east exit at 12:30 (passengers pay the bus driver the ¥1,000 fare when entering the bus). The 35-minute trip goes via picturesque valleys, much of the route following the winding Sai River, with brief glimpses en route of some of the cherry blossom we had travelled here to see.
Although the proprietor of our accommodation had offered to pick us up from Ogawa Rinden Bus Stop, we opted to make the last 5km leg of the journey uphill on foot, regretting the decision just slightly after about 4km, as the sweat soaked through to our rucksacks.
On our previous trip to Ogawa there was a lot of pressure on our time, as we tried to take in all of the local places of note, including ’Oyakimura’ (a local centre for making oyaki, Nagano Prefecture’s soul food delicacy) and some of the places of worship in the village, all within 24 hours. However, on this visit the only goal was to soak up the beauty of the cherry blossoms and the mountains.
When we arrived at our destination, we wasted no time in taking in the view of the beautiful slopes, punctuated by various colourful spring flowers in bloom, and by clouds of differing shades of cherry blossom pink. It was commented that there is something very soothing about seeing cherry blossom trees nestling naturally on country hillsides, rather than growing artfully in urban points of interest.
Our accommodation for the night, Rinrinkan (www.rinrincan.com), is a 5-minute walk from the most dramatic vantage point in the area, which allowed us to relax indoors between taking in the view at four distinct times: on day 1 in the afternoon, and then at sunset, and on day 2 at sunrise, and then just before noon. We were also blessed with gorgeous weather – never a given in mountainous areas – which served to illuminate the scene even more beautifully.
Rinrinkan is a lovely, timber-built inn serving delicious dinner and breakfast, all prepared with freshly-picked local vegetables. Several of the photography enthusiasts we had met earlier in the day were also staying there, with the numerous lenses on display adding the air of a jousting contest to our stay.
As well as a balcony providing an amazing view of the Northern Alps, Rinrinkan also has a small, indoor bouldering wall for the guests to clamber up. The atmosphere is very friendly and relaxed.
We slept deeply after all the fresh air of day 1, but set our alarms for 4:30am the following morning, to be ready to catch the orange sunlight of dawn ignite the peaks of the mountains at 5am. Despite the unsociable hour, many serious-looking tripods were already in place at various vantage points by the time we arrived with our own more modest photo equipment.
After returning to eat breakfast, and then going back out again for another stroll with our cameras, we gathered our belongings to leave at midday.
With the fabulous vista all but imprinted on our retinas, we were returned by car to Ogawa Rinden Bus Stop by the proprietor of Rinrinkan, via two more fabulous view points where we were able to snap a few bonus shots before our return by bus, and then bullet train to Tokyo, feeling decidedly in the pink and falling into a glorious, exhausted doze.
NOTE – if you wish to stay at Rinrinkan, you can make a reservation by email through their website (www.rinrincan.com/reservation/).