If you’re in the mountains of central Honshu and looking for a lovely day away from the crowds, Komoro in Nagano Prefecture is a great bet. All its major sights are walkable from the train station and include a gorgeous garden, famous soba and an afternoon onsen.
Cross the bridge over the railway line to get to Kaikoen, a garden that has stunning cherry blossom in spring and maple tree foliage in autumn. Kaikoen contains the ruins of Komoro Castle, built in the 16th century and demolished after the Meiji Restoration—like so many other castles around Japan. You can still see the enormous stones of the castle’s base, and two of the original gates still survive. San-no-mon gate is at the entrance to the park, whereas Ote-mon stands on other side of the railway line in its own small, pleasant park.
Kaikoen holds festivals during the sakura and autumn leaves seasons, and we stumbled across a chrysanthemum festival in late October. The whole garden is worth exploring—you might find someone doing archery practice, and there are views across the mountains from a lookout point.
If you take the exit near the lookout point you’ll pass Kashima Shrine before reaching the Koyama Keizo Museum of Art. Painter Koyama was born in Komoro and donated some of his Impressionist-style works to this museum, founded in 1975. There’s a mix of Japanese and European subjects, and the small garden is a joy to wander around.
Koyama Keizo Museum of Art
Soba with a 400-year history
For lunch, make a bee-line for Kusabue. Anywhere that’s been making soba noodles for 400 years comes with an automatic recommendation, and one of Kusabue’s restaurants is just to the north of San-no-mon gate. Get there early (once the day’s noodles are cooked and sold, it closes) and expect to queue. There’s a basic English menu and whatever you pick, you can’t really go wrong for deliciousness and portion size.
Onsen time at Nakadanasou
After a walk in the park and lunch, you might feel in need of a relaxing onsen. Head down a steep hill to Nakadanasou, a ryokan that allows public access to its indoor and outdoor baths between 11:30 am and 2 pm. Visit between October and May and you’ll be sharing the hot water with bobbing apples. It costs ¥1,000 and check on the website before visiting, as the baths close to day visitors two days a month.
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