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An Enchanting 2-Day, 1-Night Journey Around the Mystical Lake Suwa

Enveloped by mountains and shrouded in a mystical ambiance, Lake Suwa offers breathtaking views, particularly from Tateishi Park. This park has been distinguished as one of the Top 100 Shinshu Sunset Spots, part of the New Three Great Nightscapes of Japan, and included in the Top 100 Nightscapes. The article presents a detailed itinerary for a 2-day, 1-night stay at Kamisuwa Onsen, where visitors can immerse themselves in Japanese culture and indulge in a variety of nature-based activities.

Day 1

Exploring the Four Shrines of Suwa Taisha

Start your sightseeing around Lake Suwa by visiting the Suwa Grand Shrines, a symbol of the area. The Suwa Grand Shrine is not a single shrine, but rather a collective name for four shrines scattered around Lake Suwa. These are some of Japan's oldest shrines and are renowned as a 'power spot' — a place believed to be filled with spiritual energy — making them beloved as a representative spiritual site of Japan.

Suwa Grand Shrine Maemiya
Suwa Grand Shrine Honmiya

The four shrines of Suwa Grand Shrine each enshrine the same deity and share many commonalities, such as having four sacred pillars each. However, each shrine also possesses its unique atmosphere and charm. The practice of visiting all four shrines, known as "Shisha-Meguri" (Four Shrine Pilgrimage), has become popular. While there's no set order for visiting these shrines, a practical route is to visit in the following order: Kamisha Maemiya, Kamisha Honmiya, Shimosha Akimiya, and Shimosha Harumiya.

Suwa Grand Shrine Akimiya
Suwa Grand Shrine Harumiya

At each shrine's administrative office, you can receive a Goshuin, a seal or stamp given as proof of visitation. These artistic Goshuin not only make for a wonderful memory of your trip to Japan but collecting all four from each shrine also entitles you to a special commemorative gift. It is highly recommended to collect them all during your visit.

The Suwa Five Brewery Tour

After spending half a day touring the four shrines of Suwa Taisha and immersing yourself in the solemn spiritual world of Japan, why not relax and enjoy a stroll through some of Japan's finest sake breweries?

The Suwa area, with its clear air, cold climate, and high-quality subterranean water from the Kirigamine mountains, fulfills all the essential conditions for producing delicious sake. Recognized as one of Japan's premier sake regions, especially around Kamisuwa Station, there is a notable stretch of about 400 meters where five sake breweries line up side by side. These breweries offer a popular tasting program called the "Gokuraku Set," which can be used across all five breweries. It's a perfect way to leisurely enjoy and appreciate the unique flavors of Japanese sake in this renowned area.

Masumi, one of the five Suwa breweries
The unique tastes from brewery to brewery

The Gokuraku Set costs ¥2,500. It can be purchased at any of the five breweries or the Suwa City Tourist Information Center. Upon payment, you receive a bag, a glass, and a stamp card. With these, you can sample 4 to 5 different types of sake at each brewery. It’s a great opportunity to find your favorite Japanese sake.

Gokuraku Set—bag, glass, and stamp card
The brewery's shop displays historical documents and exhibits.

Each brewery building has its own charm, and the tasting areas are surrounded by fascinating historical artifacts, such as old receipts from the Edo period, which add to the ambiance and let you feel the rich history of the place. This brewery tour offers not just the enjoyment of sake but also a chance to immerse yourself in Japanese history and culture.

The tasting tour takes about 1.5 to 2 hours. It's a delightful way to spend your pre-dinner hours.

Stay at Kamisuwa Onsen

After fully indulging in Suwa's culture through the shrine and brewery tours, a stay at an onsen ryokan (Japanese hot spring inn) awaits you. Kamisuwa Onsen, located on the southern shore of Lake Suwa, is a hot spring area known for its abundant water supply, with tales of hot springs easily found just by digging into the ground.

Onsen ryokans along the shore of Lake Suwa
Popular lodging, Sui-Suwako with its rooftop open-air bath

The string of onsen ryokans lining the lakeshore creates a picturesque and atmospheric scene. Each ryokan offers not only high-quality hot springs but also hospitality with cuisine featuring local ingredients from the Shinshu Nagano region. Take your time to find a ryokan that suits your preferences.

The ryokans at Kamisuwa Onsen are just a 10-minute walk from JR Kamisuwa Station, making them an excellent base for exploring the Lake Suwa area.

Another popular lodging, Suhaku, is known for its open-air bath.
From late July to late August, fireworks every night

Day 2

Hiking in Kirigamine Highlands

After a relaxing morning at Kamisuwa Onsen, consider heading to Kirigamine Highlands, which is about a 30-minute drive away.

The Kirigamine Highlands, situated at an elevation of around 1,600 meters, feature gentle undulations and are known for their breathtaking views, including a panoramic vista of iconic Japanese mountains like Mount Fuji. The beauty of the highlands can be enjoyed in any season, but hiking among the vibrant alpine plants in summer is particularly popular. In winter, the highlands are transformed into a landscape blanketed in snow, making snowshoe tours another favored activity.

As a popular hiking spot known for its beautiful alpine flora
In winter, snowshoe tours are also available

Additionally, the road that cuts through Kirigamine Highlands is charmingly named the Venus Line. Renowned as one of Japan's most scenic drives, it's a favorite route for driving enthusiasts. A drive along this road, with distant views of Mount Fuji, is an exceptionally pleasant experience.

Autumn on the Venus Line, Mount Fuji beyond the silver grass
The road winds through delightful scenery

For a perfect break during your hike or drive, consider the Korobokkuru Hyutte mountain hut. Indulge in a cup of coffee served in chic siphons, creating a moment of elegance as you take in the breathtaking scenery. The hut operates as a cafe with irregular hours before the winter snows arrive. There are a few things to note—the menu is only available in Japanese and as a mountain hut certain items such as water are only available at a charge.

Enjoy popular summer breakfasts with stunning views.

Coffee at Korobokkuru Hutte served by siphon
Enjoying a café time with the grand vistas of nature at Korobokkuru Hutte

Activities on Lake Suwa

After enjoying the activities in the highlands, it's time to have fun on the lake! Lake Suwa offers a variety of activities suitable for both adults and children, including sightseeing boats, boat rentals, cycling, and kayaking.

A 25-minute scenic cruise around Lake Suwa
Pedal boats are also available for rent

The sightseeing boat, which takes about 25 minutes to circle Lake Suwa, operates regularly and does not require a reservation, allowing for spontaneous enjoyment.

On the calm waters of the lake, even beginners can enjoy kayaking

For those who want a more authentic experience on the lake, why not try kayaking? There are guided two-hour tours available where instructors provide detailed paddling instructions, ensuring even first-timers can kayak with confidence.

Cycling with a view of the lakeside
Well-maintained cycling paths around Lake Suwa

If you're looking for a good time by the lake, consider hopping on a bike. The lakeside boasts a neatly manicured 16 km Lake Suwa Cycling Road exclusively for cycling, offering a delightful biking experience. Renting bicycles or E-BIKES is a breeze, and there's the option of guided tours for those seeking a more curated adventure.

Exterior of SUWA Glass Village
Sophisticated glass products for purchase with an art museum displaying glass work

Explore the diverse wonders around Lake Suwa, and don't miss the SUWA Glass Village, home to Japan's largest collection of approximately 20,000 glass items. This vibrant destination not only features a contemporary glass art museum but also a restaurant offering scenic lakeside views. With plenty of Instagram-worthy spots, be sure to make a pit stop during your cycling adventure.

How to get to the Suwa area

By Train

From Nagoya Station, take the Wide View Shinano Limited Express train on the Chuo West Line to Shiojiri Station and transfer to the Chuo Main Line to Kamisuwa Station. From Shiojiri Station, transfer to the Chuo East Line and get off at Kamisuwa Station. The trip takes about 2 hours and 30 minutes.

By Car

From the Nagoya IC to the Suwa IC on the Chuo Expressway takes about 2 hours and 30 minutes, and from there, a further 15 minutes down the road brings you to Kamisuwa Onsen (the time required from Tokyo is about the same as from Nagoya).

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