While climbing the rugged Japan Alps is quite an adventure, if you’re looking for a more laid-back option, there is a nice hiking trail in the Asama Hot Springs area that has a lot to offer: easy access by bus or even bicycle from downtown Matsumoto, historical Shinto shrines in the forest, and best of all, a spectacular view of the Japan Alps (sometimes it’s just as impressive to see the Alps from afar as it is climbing the mountains themselves!). I checked it out last weekend and I’ve got a custom Google Map of the trails and points of interest below! If you prefer a Japanese map, there is a hiking map available in PDF format for this course here as well.
The trail up to the view point, which is on Mt. Gotenyama, takes 30 to 45 minutes from the trail heads and is easy enough for just about anyone to walk. First off, if you’re taking the bus, you can use the Asama Onsen bound bus (departs from Matsumoto Bus Terminal by the Matsumoto Station. See schedule here) and get off at the Asama Onsen bus stop. You just need to walk up the hill for about 10 minutes to get to the trail heads.
I started at Trail Head A (see map) and ended at Misha Shrine (where Trail Head B is located). I’ll go through the course I took below, photos included.
Fudo Falls (optional)
Now, before heading to the trail head, I would recommend checking out this cool little waterfall hidden just off the road on the way to Trail Head A and C. The waterfall itself is small, but it runs down from a small temple/shrine into a natural hollow carved into the rock wall. There is also a Buddhist carving in the wall as well as a fearsome stone sculpture. When walking through the town, you might notice there are some street signs pointing in the direction to the falls. Once you get near the falls, you’ll have to walk down a narrow path along a stream to find the actual waterfall. There isn’t an obvious sign in English at the entrance to the path so it can be hard to miss (use the map as guide).
Trail Head A to the Look Out Point
I started from Trail Head A located above the whole Asama Hot Springs area at the top of a steep hill. There is a big trail map at the entrance and a nice view of Mt. Norikuradake! In the fall, if it’s a nice day, you’ll be able to see the mountains through the trees as you’re hiking. Walk down the trail for about 15 minutes and you’ll come to a fork: take a right here to get to the look out point.
The Look Out Point!
Once you get to the look out point, you’ll be rewarded with a great view of the city of Matsumoto and the Japan Alps (assuming there aren’t clouds hanging over the mountains)! There are also a couple of wooden benches here, so you can take a break or eat a snack.
Look Out Point to Tenmangu Shrine (天満宮)
After you had your fill of the look out point view, head back down the trail you came up until you reach the fork in the road again. Turn right to go toward Tenmangu Shrine (天満宮). Shortly after, there is another fork in the trail, where you ‘ll turn left to continue toward the shrine. After passing through a pleasant forest trail, you will see Tenmangu Shrine come into sight after just a couple minutes. Once you reach the shrine, check out its red torii gate, the small wooden pavilion, and the main shrine structure at the top of the stairs.
According to the sign standing next to the shrine, it was originally built back in the year 1659 as offering of gratitude to the gods after a source of lead was found in the area.
Tenmangu Shrine to Misha Shrine (御射神社)
Just below Tenmangu Shrine is a small suspended bridge. Check out the bridge if you like, then head down the trail towards Misha Shrine (御射神社 in Japanese; toward the right if Tenmagu Shrine is at your back). The trail will exit the forest and you will briefly walk through a residential area. Misha Shrine shouldn’t be hard to miss because it has an impressive red torii gate at its entrance. To see the main building of Misha Shrine, take the trek up the stone steps.
After you’re all finished exploring, you can take the bus back to downtown, or even better, take a soak in at the Hot Plaza Asama hot spring facility first! This is the only public hot spring in Asama Hot Springs, and here you don’t need a reservation. It only costs ¥650 – see more details here.
If you’re looking for some more light hiking, check out the Hayashi Castle course in the Satoyamabe area here.