Iiyama - Discover “Snow Countries Little Kyoto” in Japan Alps

January 24, 2017

Is it just me or does snow make everything more magical? I mean maybe it’s because as an Australian I`ve never had to shovel the stuff, but I really love those little fluffy crystals. So naturally when I heard about “The snow countries little Kyoto”, well I knew I just had to make the trip.

Welcome to Iiyama, Nagano! Under 2 hours away from Tokyo on the shinkansen bullet train (8430 yen or free with your Japan Rail Pass), getting there is a breeze so you can make it a day trip or stay over in one of the many traditional farmhouses (and why wouldn’t you!)

Iiyama claims the name “Snow Countries Little Kyoto” for three reasons. First, it’s located in the north of the Nagano prefecture, which equates to a whole heap of snow between mid to late December and March/April. Second, like Kyoto, the area is rather sacred and the home of many authentic temples of historical significance. Finally, the “little” comes from the nature of the area. Whilst by no means “little” in the sense of area (it’s huge), Iiyama is little in a rustic way. Because the focus seems to be on a rural, traditional Japan, the people of Iiyama seem to make active effort to keep the areas natural beauty alive, and avoid it becoming just another modern tourist ski resort.

The many areas of Iiyama

I mentioned that Iiyama is big right? Well the area can be divided up into six separate areas. In Central Iiyama, you can find the many temples that give it the “Kyoto” tittle, as well as the ruins of a castle. For me the highlights of Iiyama city however are the traditional arts and crafts centers, where you can learn and make your own Japanese crafts. At the Iiyama Handicraft Paper Studio (飯山手すき和紙体験工房), learn to and make traditional Japanese paper arts. Other arts include metal working, lacquerware and papermaking.

In the Madarao and Nabekura areas you’ll find yourself deep in nature, where activities include nature walks, outdoor actives and flora and fauna viewing. In Madarao, the over 50km long hiking path “Shin-etsu” trail begins. This path is beautiful all year round, but in the winter the area is most famous for snow shoeing, with local guide services are available to boot.

In the Hokuryuko Lake area one of the biggest non seasonal highlights of Iiyama is most certainly the Kosuge shrine, which dates back 1300 years! The shrine area is quiet large, and the approach to the inner temple takes around an hour. Along the path are many sacred rock formations and a wonderful avenue of cedar trees.

An interesting story about Kosuge involves a lord who met a women at the Shrine. For him it was love at first site, and the couple soon married and had a healthy child. Since that event, the area has become famous as a place to pray for match making and marriage. Many young couples come here to propose or pray for a good match. If you are thinking of proposing during your vacation in Japan, there is no better place!

Finally Iiyama also has the area “Shinanotaira”, where every year a snow festival is held!

The Kamakura festival

The Kamakura festival is held during the second weekend of February. During the festivities we can do many activities, but the best is snow showing and snow mobile rides! The Kamakura festival is actually a part of a larger event, the Snow Hut Village. As the name implies, during this event (from the end of January to the end of February) many snow huts are built from the ground up. Not to detract any from the natural beauty of Iiyama, all the huts and the village are illuminated with lanterns, increasing the magic.

Iiyama’s famous food is known as “Noroshi Nabe”, a soup made with miso, pork, local vegetables and local mushrooms. Noroshi Nabe is enjoyed inside a snow hut by making a reservation prior. Lucky for us it’s a very easy process and the form is completely in English!

Due to the lanterns the Snow Hut Village is at its most beautiful after dark, so whilst Iiiyama is easy to visit as a day trip thanks to the shinkansen bullet train, I really recommend staying overnight at one of the many accommodations.

For more details, contact DMC Japan to discuss ideas, locations and rates.
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