Vegetarian's Japan Guide

Kinasa – A Village Filled with Myths and Amazing Nature

If you are looking for a stunning place to visit in Japan that hasn’t been commercialized and has an abundance of nature, consider dropping by Kinasa in Nagano Prefecture! The quaint village is just around an hour away by bus from the city center of Nagano. It is also adjacent to both Togakushi and Hakuba, which receives hundreds of thousands of visitors each year! On top of that, the beautiful Okususobana Valley in Kinasa is one of the Top 100 Landscapes in Japan!

Here is a list of attractions that we think are worthwhile for you to consider. They are listed in the order of distance from Nagano Station.

How to Get to Kinasa Village

To get to Kinasa Village by bus, you can take Alpico Bus’s route 74 from Nagano Station’s bus stop no. 7 or Zenkōji Temple.

Important: Please note buses departing for Togakushi depart from the same bus stop as well.

Nagano Station’s bus stop is just in front of the Alpico Kōtsu Nagano Station Information Center.

  • Please refer to HERE and translate the webpage to English by Google Chrome’s translation function at the right of the address bar.
  • A one-way bus trip will cost 1,200 yen.

The attractions in Kinasa Village can be accessed by the community bus (鬼無里地区市バス). The 1st PDF HERE is the timetable for the service. For each of the attractions below, we will include more details about which stop to get off at and what to look out for.

Bicycle Rental at Kinasa

In a rural area like Kinasa, where buses don’t service the village frequently, if you don’t have access to a car, renting out an electric-assisted bicycle is probably the best way to explore the attractions you want to visit.

So after you get off the bus at Tabi no Eki Kinasa, head to Sobadokoro Kinasa (そば処 鬼無里), rent a bike and off you go!

  • Bicycles can be rented out and returned between 9 am and 3 pm daily except on Wednesdays
  • The rental cost is
    • < 3 hours: 2,000 yen for adults and 1,500 yen for middle school students and younger
    • 1 day (from 9 am to 3 pm): 3,500 yen for adults and 2,500 yen for middle school students and younger
    • Insurance of 300 yen is also necessary.
  • A helmet can be rented out for free.

Why Was the Village Named Kinasa

In ancient times, Kinasa wasn’t called Kinasa, rather Minase (水無瀬). It is said that the village used to be submerged in water. The area only slowly turned into a livable place after the water drained out from where Chōshiguchi Tunnel (銚子口トンネル) is. This was why the village used to be called Minase, which means ‘a place that used to be covered by water’.

Back in the time when Emperor Tenmu (天武天皇) reigned Japan in the 7th century, there were plans to transfer the capital to Kinasa. Inspectors were sent out to inspect the suitability of Kinasa as a capital.

The plan angered the demons who lived in the area, so they made a mountain overnight. The act provoked Emperor Tenmu, and an army was sent to slay all the demons living in Kinasa. Without the existence of demons, people started calling it Kinasa (meaning a village without demons).

And the mountain that was made by the demon in one night is Mt. Ichiya or Ichiyasan (一夜山) on one side of the village.

The Legend of Kijo Momiji

Similar to Togakushi next door, Kinasa has its legend that temples and shrines in the village were founded based on. As the main character came from Kyoto, some geographical names in Kinasa, such as Nijō and Sanjō are from Kyoto too.

There are several versions of this legend. We have picked the one that was passed on in Kinasa.

The legend of Kojo Momiji dates back to the Heian period (794 – 1185). At the time, a beautiful girl called Momiji had her talent for the Japanese harp recognized soon after she moved to Kyoto. She was then chosen to be a maid of the wife of Minamoto no Tsunemoto (源経基), a samurai and Imperial Prince at the time.

Later, Momiji was pregnant with Minamoto no Tsunemoto’s child but was charged for trying to curse the wife of Minamoto no Tsunemoto. As a result, she was banished to Kinasa in 956.

At Kinasa, Momiji gave birth to a boy safely and passed on her talent and what she knew about Kyoto to the villagers. As such, she was respected as “nobles” and “living gods”.

As her son grew older, she wanted to seek a better future for him and therefore was thinking of heading back to Kyoto. Earning support from the local bandits, they started preparing for their return by robbing the tributes for the imperial court. She also moved out of the residence prepared by the villagers to a cave in the mountain. At that time, people in Kyoto started calling her “Kijo Momiji”, meaning the demon, Momiji.

Learning the news, the imperial court issued an order to vanquish Momiji and her supporters. The army was led by Taira no Koremochi.

During the severe battle, Momiji’s son was shot to death by an arrow, and Momiji was killed after unsuccessfully revenging her son’s death when she was 32.

Above is the map of the places related to this legend that you can refer to. Some of them aren’t marked on Google Maps if you simply search them. Please note that some of the places on the map belong to Togakushi Village in terms of the administration area. We included them in this article as they have a connection to the Kijo Momiji legend.

Shigarami Shrine (柵神社)

When the army from Kyoto arrived at Kinasa, they had difficulty locating their target. So Taira no Koremochi made a prayer asking the god for assistance for the direction of where Momiji is. He then fired an arrow that magically landed where Momiji and her supporters were hidden.

Later, two shrines were established. One is where Taira no Koremochi fired the arrow, which was named Yamoto Hachiman (矢元八幡). It is the current Yamoto Hachimangū Shrine (矢本八幡宮). The shrine that was built where the arrow landed was called Yasachi Hachiman (矢先八幡).

If you visit Shigrami Shrine and Yamoto Hachimangū Shrine, you will realize the distance the arrow traveled wasn’t human work. Without god’s help, the arrow couldn’t fly that far.

Ⓒ 戸隠観光協会

The Yasachi Hachiman Shrine was later renamed to Shigarami Shrine.

Ⓒ 戸隠観光協会

Tip: To get to Yamoto Hachimangū Shrine, get off the bus at Furumiya (古宮) and walk for 15 minutes. For Shigarami Shrine, get off at Nishinoya (西ノ矢).

Demon’s Mound (Oni no Tsuka, 鬼の塚)

Among the many tombstones that Momiji has in the region, one of the most famous ones is Oni no Tsuka, which means Demon’s Mound.

Why demon? Because that was how Kyoto was referring to her. As much as the villagers of Kinosa loved her, she was still regarded as someone who had committed a sin as bad as a demon in Kyoto.

It is said that Momiji’s head is buried here by Taira no Koremochi, the samurai who beheaded her.

Following the trailhead’s directory sign, you should soon see a vermilion torii gate. Momiji’s tombstone is just beyond the gate.

Ⓒ 戸隠観光協会

There are quite a couple of tombstones there. To tell which one belongs to Momiji is easy. It is the one that is stand-alone by itself and closer to the torii gate. A red donation box should be in front of it if it hasn’t been moved away. The other tombstones grouped together are said to belong to the bandits supporting her.

Tip: Oni no Tsuka is a 2-minute walk from the bus stop, Nishinoya (西ノ矢).

Daishōji Temple (大昌寺)

Daishoji-Temple-Togakushi-Nagano-Japan
Ⓒ 戸隠観光協会

From Shigarami Shrine, just around a 15 to 20-minute walk, the Daishōji Temple is another place in the region relating to Momiji.

Ironically, the temple enshrines both Momiji and Taira no Koremochi, the general who defeated her.

Apparently, this was based on Buddha’s teaching that everything is equal. Everyone will become a Buddha one day regardless of what one has done.

In the temple, there are a few paintings that illustrate the story of Momiji. If you want to see it, talk to the staff to see if they have time to show them to you.

Momiji’s Cave (鬼女紅葉の岩屋)

Ⓒ 戸隠観光協会

Beyond Arakura Camping Ground (荒倉キャンプ場), north of Shiragami Shrine, you will also find the cave where Momiji was hidden just before her death. The cave is called Oni no Iwaya (鬼の岩屋), which means demon’s cave.

To get there, there is a bit of hiking through a few steep slopes from the nearest parking space.

Along the way, you will also walk past a mountain stream called “Momiji’s Lotion (紅葉の化粧水)”. It is said that this is the water that Momiji used to wash her face in the morning and at night. Maybe this is the trick that kept her so pretty?

The mountain stream is safe to drink if you are out of water supply (but we would still boil it before drinking just in case).

At Momiji’s Cave, a small doll is there to represent Momiji. It is kind of sad to see how her residence had changed from the splendid mansion in Kyoto to this small cave in the middle of nowhere.

Bakery Sonomano (野生酵母パン・焼き菓子 ソノマノ)

For some vegetarian or even vegan bread and light meals, drop by Bakery Sonomano before you explore the village further. Their bread and meals are so delicious that even those who aren’t vegetarian love it!

The gorgeous cafe is in a traditional Japanese house with its interior nicely decorated to fit the historic atmosphere the house is emitting.

The bakery makes all its bread and light meals from natural ingredients sourced mainly from Kinasa/Togakushi Village, allowing you to enjoy the natural taste of the ingredients that can be hard to find in big cities.

Moreover, most of their products (including chocolate) are vegan! They can even make their potato and rosemary pizza vegan too! Depending on which seasons you visit the bakery, a couple of their bread may contain cheese or honey. So when you get there, please utilize the phrases in our Essential Japanese Travel Phrases for Vegetarians and Vegans article to confirm.

Bakery Sonomano’s Business Hours and Access Information

  • The bakery is currently only open on Wednesdays and Saturdays from 11 am to 5 pm.
    • In January, they only open on Saturdays, and in February, the bakery is closed.
  • If you are taking a bus from Nagano Station, please get off at Uwadaira-guchi (上平口町).

Kinasa Shrine (鬼無里神社)

Just a 5-minute walk from Shōganji Temple (the next attraction), the Kinasa Shrine at the top of a hill is the home to the guardian god of the village.

Ⓒ 鬼無里観光振興会

Once upon a time, Kinasa Village was under the water. After the water retreated, a mountain that looks like a fish appeared. The Kinasa Shrine was erected where the head of the fish is, and Suwa Myōjin (諏訪明神) was enshrined here to look after the village in the late Nara period (AD 710 – 794).

Ⓒ 鬼無里観光振興会
Ⓒ 鬼無里観光振興会

Because Kinasa Shrine is sitting on the road of strategic importance to provinces in the north, from its establishment until the Edo period, it had received generous support from various military commanders.

One thing you would want to pay attention to is the tablet of the shrine. The dragons engraved around the tablet by the famous craftsman – Kitamura Kiyomatsu (北村 喜代松) in the late Edo period are just astonishing!

In the Legend of Momiji, where Taira no Koremochi prayed to Hachiman Daijin (八幡大神) for the location of Momiji is said to be Kinasa Shrine.

How to Get to Kinasa Shrine

If you are taking a bus from Nagano Station, please get off at Kinasa-nakamachi (鬼無里仲町).

Shōganji Temple (松巌寺)

Shōganji is the temple where Momiji’s grave is. It is said that after Taira no Koremochi defeated Momiji, he returned with a statue of Jizō Bodhisattva and established a worship hall for her, hoping Momiji could rest in peace.

Ⓒ ながの観光コンベンションビューロー

The worship hall was later expanded to the Shōganji Temple in 1615 that we have today. The Kannon-dō Hall (観音堂) on the precinct was built in 1625. Although the exterior may look plain, the interior has many colorful sculptures, with the ceiling decorated with some intricate engraving commonly found in buildings from the early Edo period.

A unique thing about the main worship hall of Shōganji is its automatic doors. It is the first time that we have encountered a temple that has this advanced technology (´▽`*).

Inside those automatic doors, the hall is decorated with various paintings. Some are related to Momiji.

Tip: Remember to look up after you enter the main worship hall. Although it might eventually give you some dizzy spell, the ceiling is covered with 505 gorgeous paintings!

How to Get to Shōganji Temple

If you are taking a bus from Nagano Station, get off at Shoganji (松巌寺). The temple is just in front of the bus stop.

Daibōtōge Observatory (大望峠展望台)

Daibōtōge Observatory, at an elevation of 1,055 meters, is the ideal place to get a panoramic view of the mountain ranges surrounding Kinasa. From here, you can see as far as the northern Japanese Alps. Of course, this is also the place for an aerial view of the quaint village of Kinasa (^_-)-☆.

If you are driving to Kinasa from Togakushi, the observatory will probably be the first attraction of Kinasa that you will be stopping by. Located in the northeast part of Kinasa Village, Daibōtōge Observatory is actually closer to Togakushi.

Tip: There is a toilet facility around 200 meters from the observatory.

The Fall Foliage Season at Daibōtōge Observatory

To see the fantastic autumn colors from Daibōtōge Observatory, come between late October and early November.

Ⓒ ながの観光コンベンションビューロー
Ⓒ photo-ac.com

How to Get to Daibōtōge Observatory

  • If you are driving, the observatory has a car space that has a capacity of 5 cars.
  • You can also get there by taking the community bus Daibōtōge Line (大望峠線) that departs from Tabi no Eki Kinasa (旅の駅鬼無里).
    • Tabi no Eki Kinasa stop is the same stop as Alpico’s Kinasa stop.
    • Refer to page 3 of the 1st PDF HERE for the service’s timetable.

Kinasa Folk Museum (鬼無里ふるさと資料館)

For those who would love to know more about the history, the culture, and the hemp industry, Kinasa Folk Museum is the perfect place to visit.

One of the exhibits that will surely catch your attention is the wooden festival floats. While it isn’t something uncommon in Japan, you will be amazed by the four floats parked inside the museum.

Instead of lavishly decorating the floats with lacquer and vivid colors, the level of intricate dragon carvings on the entire float makes the floats elegant enough to carry the gods.

When you visit Okususobana Valley, if you can’t seem to spot any fossils, the museum also has a couple that represents the history of the area millions of years ago.

For more information, please refer to the museum’s website HERE.

Kinasa Folk Museum’s Opening Hours, Admission Fees, and Access Information

  • Kinasa Folk Museum is open from 9 am to 4:30 pm.
    • The last admission is at 4 pm.
    • The museum is closed on Mondays except for May, August, and October.
    • If a Monday falls on a public holiday, it will close on the next business day.
    • From the 29th of December to the 20th of March, the museum is closed but can open if you make a booking a week in advance by calling +81-29-284-9011.
  • The admission fee is
    • 200 yen for adults
    • 100 yen for senior high school students
    • 50 yen for elementary and junior high school students but free on Saturdays
  • If you are taking a bus, get off at Kinasa (鬼無里)

Irohadō (いろは堂)

As you might know already, Nagano is known for its soba noodles. The buckwheat noodles from Togakushi next door are so famous that the Togakushi Soba has ranked as one of Japan’s three most famous soba noodles!

But noodles aren’t the only thing that soba can be made into.

Oyaki (おやき) is a local specialty with its skin made of wheat and buckwheat flour and is filled with flavored vegetables or sweet bean paste. As it doesn’t contain meat or seafood, it makes for the perfect lunch or snack for us vegetarians!

Conveniently located close to Kinasa Folk Museum, the Irohadō Main Store is the shop to get some deliciously made Oyaki. The shop also has a cafe for you to enjoy the specialty relaxingly.

For all the flavors that they sell, please refer to their website HERE.

On the second floor, there is an art gallery. If one of the paintings catches your attention, you can check with the staff to see if it is for sale.

Irohadō’s Business Hours and Access Information

  • Irohadō is open from 8:30 am to 5:30 pm daily except for Tuesdays.
    • As the shop may close occasionally on top of Tuesdays, refer to their store calendar HERE for the exact dates that are marked in red which indicate the store won’t open for the day.
  • If you are taking a bus, get off at Kinasa (鬼無里).

Shirahige Shrine (白髯神社)

Ⓒ ながの観光コンベンションビューロー

Shirahige Shrine, around a 30-minute walk from Kinasa Shrine, recorded another historical event.

Back in the time when Emperor Tenmu (天武天皇) reigned Japan, there were plans to transfer the capital to Kinasa. Shirahige Shrine was built at the time to protect the capital from demons.

In 1959, the main worship hall of the shrine was designated as a National Important Cultural Property.

As a side note, Taira no Koremochi also prayed at Shirahige Shrine for his success in defeating Momiji.

Tip: If you visit Kinasa from late June to early July, drop by Shirahige Shrine at night to admire the dance of little fireflies!

How to Get to Shirahige Shrine

  • The closest bus stop to Shirahige Shrine is Soyama Iriguchi (祖山入口). You can get there by taking the community bus’ Minami Kinasa Line (南鬼無里線) that departs from Tabi no Eki Kinasa (旅の駅鬼無里)
    • Tabi no Eki Kinasa stop is the same stop as Alpico’s Kinasa stop
    • Refer to page 2 of the 1st PDF HERE for the service’s timetable.
  • To get to the shrine, you can simply trek your way from Tabi no Eki Kinasa. It should just take around 20 – 30 minutes.
    • Or, you can get there by an electric-assisted bike!

Okususobana Valley (奥裾花渓谷)

Ⓒ photo-ac.com

Okususobana Valley is one of the most scenic spots in Nagano. Located at the north of Kinasa Village, the picturesque valley was chosen to be one of the 100 Landscapes of Japan.

Especially in October, when the 5 km valley is decorated with the vivid fall color, it receives numerous visitors for the masterpiece created by mother nature.

For more information, please refer to our article on Okususobana Valley!

Kijo Momiji Festival (鬼女もみじ祭り)

In mid-October each year, a festival related to Momiji is held.

At the temples of Kinasa and Togakushi, rituals involving chanting are performed to pray for a happy afterlife for Momiji. This is how much the villagers loved Momiji.

The climax of the festival is the Kijo Momiji Taiko Drum performance. Take a look at the YouTube video and get a vibe of the hype (^_-)-☆.

For the exact date of the festival, please refer to the event calendar on the official website HERE. Translate the webpage with Google Chrome’s translation function at the right of the address bar.

Visiting Togakushi, Where the Main Attractions in the Region Are Located

When you visit this side of Nagano Prefecture, you definitely can’t miss out on the Togakushi Shrine, which receives around 150 thousand visitors annually.

Togakushi-Oku-sha-Shrine-Nagano-Japan
Ⓒ ながの観光コンベンションビューロー

Food-wise, Togakushi is known for Togakushi Soba Noodles.

There is also a large campsite, a ski resort, and a Togakushi ninja school!

For more information, refer to our article on Togakushi to discover the best restaurants for mouthwatering soba noodles, how to improve your ninja skills, and more (=゚ω゚)ノ.

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