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Winter Japan Day 4 - Takayama to Nagano

Updated: May 2, 2019

Takayama to Matsumoto

The snow had continued to fall with vengeance on the fourth day. Walking around town could be quite challenging and inconvenient for most people.

View from our room at Ryokan Asunaro before checking-out. Another night of snowfall.

If you are still thinking that the need for a pair of snow boots is exaggerating, think again. You'll never know when you truly need them.

The streets of Takayama all covered in white.


Saying goodbye.

On-board the Nohi bus from Takayama to Matsumoto for transfer to Nagano. Buses depart from Takayama bus centre daily (bus bay number 6). We took the 10.10am bus and arrived at Matsumoto around 12.45pm. One-way fare costs 3,190¥ per person. More info on Nohi bus schedule here:

Travelling down the snow-covered streets of Takayama. We got in the queue 30 minutes before our scheduled bus departure time of 10.10am and hence, managed to get a front row seat in the bus. This had allowed more shooting opportunities, or simply, be able to enjoy a better view along the way. Below are some stunning sceneries you may get to see along the way in winter.

The advantage of getting in queue early is, hopefully, be one of the first few to board the bus and hence getting a seat in the first row. I seized the opportunity to mount my action cam and filmed a significant part of this fascinating journey of a snow-filled world. See video below.

Arrived in Matsumoto safe. The journey was a comfortable and pleasant one despite the bad weather and nerve-wracking road condition. Thanks to a highly skilled and professional driver. The bus stop is located across the road from the Matsumoto train station.

Matsumoto to Nagano

Cross the main road from the bus stop and you will see the JR Matsumoto train station (east entrance).

Tickets to Nagano on Limited Express Shinano.

Train rides are a good way to see the countryside. Also a good time to relax and take a break, do nothing and daydream...

Arriving at Nagano station after a short 50-minute ride.

Our accommodation for the next two nights, Hotel Sunroute (tall building on the left). Take the East Exit from the train station, you would see it right across the pedestrian overhead bridge.

There is a big tourist information centre located in the train station (the pink "?" symbol). This is a floor plan used by the friendly staff at the counter to show the station layout and all the important bus stops we need to know. For example, bus stop number 1 outside Zenkoji Exit is where you can catch a bus to Zenkoji temple. And bus stop number 3 and 4 outside the East Exit is where you can catch a bus to visit the snow monkeys at Jigokudani.

Some hot sake for lunch and to warm up before hitting the road again to explore Nagano.

View of the train station complex from opposite Zenkoji Exit. The shelter in the middle is bus stop number 1 where you could catch a bus to visit Zenkoji temple.

Approaching the entrance of Zenkoji temple (善光寺) via the Niōmon Gate.

The Niōmon Gate is flanked distinctively by two huge wood-carved statues of Niō - the guardians of Buddha. The two statues have been there since 1918.

After being granted entry by the two angry-looking guardians, the street ahead is lined with many souvenir shops, cafes and restaurants with the vista terminated by an imposing structure - the Sanmon Gate.

The Sanmon Gate is the temple's main gate which dates back to 1750. It is designated as an Important Cultural Property of Japan and houses statues of the Monju Bodhisattva and the four heavenly kings (Shitenno). A Sanmon gate (三解脱門) is the most important gate in Japanese Zen Buddhist temples. Its three gates are called kūmon (空門 gate of emptiness), musōmon (無相門 gate of formlessness) and muganmon (無願門 gate of inaction), which symbolize the three gates to enlightenment. By entering, pilgrims symbolically free themselves from the three passions of greed (貪), hatred (瞋), and foolishness (癡).

The second storey of Sanmon Gate is open to the public at a small admission fee of 500¥. It offers a fantastic view of the temple approach.

Finally, the main temple hall - the Zenkō-ji Hondō, a National Treasure of Japan, stands majestically at the end of the compound. Zenkoji is one of the most important temples in Japan. It was founded in the 7th century and stores the first Buddhist statue brought into Japan when Buddhism was first introduced in the 6th century.

The Zenkoji History Museum located at the pagoda.

Devotee in the temple.

The back of the main temple hall.

A common Buddhism symbol - a flaming pearl terminating on the roof.

Close-up on the main temple hall's roof gable details.

A panoramic view of the main temple forecourt.

Incidentally, it was the 12th Nagano Lantern Festival when we were there. And it was the last day of the one week long event when we arrived that day. The main buildings in Zenkoji were illuminated with coloured lights. It was a magnificent sight to behold.

And along the main temple street, hundreds of paper lanterns filled the ground in the Dream Akari-e Exhibition as part of the Nagano Lantern Festival. Each lantern carries a unique paper-cut design by the public in the theme of peace.

What could be better than ending the long and cold day with a bottle of sake. And yes, for just S$2 a bottle from their convenience store.



  • The weather could feel colder than the numbers suggest due to wind and flurry. It's better to be over than under-prepared. Do bring along REAL winter jackets from reliable makers.

  • Jackets with hoods are absolute essentials. Scarfs, neck and face warmers are very effective as well. Some locals were even wearing ear muffs.

  • Bring a good pair of gloves that are thick enough but also fit well. Better if it's a pair of touchscreen-enabled gloves since we use our smartphones so often. It can be annoying if you are planning to use your smartphone as your camera and need to remove your gloves every now and then.

  • Consider bringing heat packs as well to add some warmth in your pockets.

  • Cold weather is dry weather. Bring some REALLY good moisturiser with you. Those little travel-size tubes will not be enough as it's easy to underestimate the amount of moisturiser needed everyday. Bring different types if you are particular about application on different areas like body and face (remember to check-in if it exceeds 100ml).

  • Get a pair of snow boots or equivalent. Sinking your feet into thick snow (intentionally, inevitably or accidentally) means water seepage into your shoes. Having water in your shoes and wetting your socks in winter do not seem like a good idea.

  • Walking on icy surfaces is extremely slippery too. I've seen many people in their usual sneakers, running or cross-trainer shoes slipped and fell. Otherwise, you may buy an ice-spike sole attachment (around 1,500¥ a pair) to enhance your foot grip. They are available in most souvenir shops.

  • A pair of shades/sunglasses would be useful as the snowy landscape can be rather glaring.


  • Was using Nikon D5100, Nikon AFS DX 10-24mm f3.5-4.5, Sigma 17-70mm f2.8-4 DC, Nikon AFS 50mm f1.4, Nikon AFS VR 70-200mm f2.8, Sony HX50V, Sony Action Cam AS30V, Apple iPhone 6, Samsung Galaxy Edge.

  • Other than keeping your hands warm and functionable, gloves should be of perfect fit to handle and operate your camera easily. Best if they are designed for winter photography. Get touchscreen-enabled gloves if you're using cameras with touchscreen feature.

  • Consider bringing cameras with bigger buttons and controls if you don't mind the bulk. I find it hard to use those tiny buttons on the D5100 with my gloves on.

  • Make sure your equipment can be used in sub-zero environment. Perhaps, do a test in your home fridge before your trip. This includes your lens as many lenses have complex electronic components these days.

  • Use a lens hood. It can be useful to prevent snow from hitting the glass directly, which can be annoying and hard to wipe dry.

  • Extra batteries are critical as they deplete fast in cold weather.

  • A waterproof outermost jacket with a hood could potentially eliminate the need to carry an umbrella during light snow. Imagine carrying an umbrella while trying to shoot.

  • Most indoor areas are well heated during winter, which is great for us but not our lenses. If you have stayed in the warm indoors for long enough (e.g. for a meal), condensation will occur. Hence, try to keep your camera cold in the bag if you want to be able to shoot immediately.

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