Nagano/Gunma Travel, Onioshidashi Park & Shiraito-no-Taki: Breathe in Grand Nature at Mt. Asama
Mt. Asama soars at elevation of 2568 m between Nagano and Gunma prefectures, and highlands of the mountain’s north side offer great scenic spots created by nature.
Onioshidashi Park and Shiraito-no-taki are especially worth a visit and we are introducing them this time.
Onioshidashi Park is at the foot of Mt. Asama and it is a part of Joshin’etsu Kogen National Park, and it is located in Tsumagoi Village, Agatsuma County in Gunma Prefecture.
Mt. Asama violently erupted in 1783, leaving massive lava flow solidified into rock field. The incident looked as if an oni (ogre) raged and pushed rocks out from the crater, thus the park was named “Onioshidashi (Ogre pushing out) Park. You can witness the breathtaking power of nature in lava rocks that are well over the height of adults. You can also enjoy more than 100 kinds of alpine plants from spring to autumn as well as the fall foliage.
There are several routes including the main route of Omote-sando (a total distance of 510 m), Alpine plant observation course to enjoy views of Mt. Asama at elevation of 1358 m (a total distance of 700 m), and Oku-no-in-sando (1200 m). Please select a route that is best for your stamina and enjoy a stroll.
Take the Hokuriku Shinkansen Line from Tokyo Station to Karuizawa Station for approximately 1 hour and 10 minutes. From the Karuizawa Station take the Seibu Kogen Bus for “Manza Onsen / Kusatsu Onsen via Shirane-kazan” for approximately 40 minutes, and get off at “Onioshidashi Park” stop.
Highlight 1: Sohmon
After entering the Onioshidashi Park, you will first see the Sohmon gate. This is the base point of the Omote-sando route to go to Mt. Asama Kannondo. This gate used to be the front gate of a university in Toeizan Kan’eiji temple in Tokyo during the Edo Period (1603-1868), and it was renovated and transferred here in 1966.
On either side of the gate, Jikokuten & Zochoten are enshrined, who are two of the Buddhist protector gods of the four directions. The 5th Shogun, Tsunayoshi Tokugawa (1646-1709) is credited for the construction of these statues.
Highlight 2: Mt. Asama Kannondo
This is a branch temple of Toeizan Kan’eiji in Tokyo Ueno to pray for the souls of the victims of the eruption. The main deity, Shokanzeon Bosatsu is famous for warding off evils.
Near the Kannondo there is a bell tower constructed in 1960. A sign saying “Shinsen” is posted here, and it means ringing the bell helps you wash off evil thoughts from your heart. You are free to ring the bell here, so let’s ring and cleanse off distracting thoughts!
Highlight 3: Hono’o Kannon
This statue is quietly standing in the rock, and being enveloped in flames, it is called Hono’o (flame) Kannon. This Kannon has been praying for the souls of the eruption victims and for the peace of this place for us.
Highlight 4: Hikarigoke (Luminous Moss)
Hikarigoke (luminous moss: Schistostega pennata) is precious moss to the extent that it is designated as natural monuments in some places as “something that is academically valuable and to commemorate nature that represents Japan”. You can see them growing through the cracks of the rocks in several locations of the Onioshidashi Park.
By the way I heard luminous moss is not actually emitting light by itself. Apparently because the lens-shaped cells of protonemata reflect feeble light coming into the dark, it looks like they are shining.
It is a beautiful waterfall in which countless threads of water flow down the rock wall as wide as approximately 70 m and looks like a curtain. The water rarely becomes muddied as its source is ground water sprung from the rock surface, and you can always enjoy the gorgeous view. There are several souvenir shops at the entrance and you can enjoy tofu made with spring water as well as grilled Japanese char.
Take the Hokuriku Shinkansen Line from Tokyo Station to Karuizawa Station for approximately 1 hour and 10 minutes. Ride a local bus of Kusakaru-Kotsu for “Kusatsu Onsen” from the Karuizawa Station for approximately 20 minutes, and get off at “Shiraito-no-taki” stop. (Adult fare is 710 yen, one way).
The Onioshidashi Park is great for feeling the harshness of nature in the lava flow and the Shiraito-no-taki lets you feel the quiet subtlety of nature. You can enjoy contrasting aspects of nature, static and dynamic, in the area around Mt. Asama. It is only about 3 hours’ drive from Tokyo, and it is perfect for a weekend drive, too.
Experiencing the grandeur of nature by leaving the hustle and bustle of Tokyo Metropolis can be definitely one of the highlights for your Japan trip.