Continuing with our adventure in Japan, my next destination was Minami-Otari, where I had booked a full day Shinrin Yoku, private tour with a guide from the Otari Forest Therapy base. I left the Akasawa forest area, the very historical Kiso area, heading north, up a beautiful valley with forested mountains on either side. I had the whole day before I had to check in at a Hotel in Hakuba, my destination for the night. I could stop as many times as I wanted along tha way, thanks to the JR (Japan Rail) Pass. I was told that the Matsumoto Castle was worth seeing and it was definitely great intel.

It was a stunning piece of history and a national tressure for Japan and the world.

Read more about it here

I jumped on another train to continue on to Hakuba, a world-renowned ski area at a much higher elevation on the Japanese Alps.

I stayed here for one night, just 20 minutes by train to Otari. Not many lodging options as you go deeper into the mountains of northern Nagano. This was a beautiful place to stay, with its own indoor Onsen (Hot springs bath). I was actually the only westerner staying here among dozens of Japanese tourists. That night, once again something amazing happened, during dinner, a buffet style setup in a seemingly very large restaurant for being at a hotel. I was struggling to get the attention of a waiter to order a drink. I didn’t want to start waiving, as I didn’t really know what was appropriate, and I had no idea how to call a waiter in Japanese. All of a sudden I see this couple, two tables over, that called one of the waiters and as I was trying to get ready to get up and call him after they were done with him, I saw that once the waiter came to their table, they pointed at me and sent him over to me. This really blew my mind, how aware people are there and how they volunteer to provide assistance to the poor traveler with a desperate look on his face… I bowed several times at them of course, as I had learned by now, the proper way of expressing gratitude in Japan.

Early morning the next day, I had to get to the train station by 7:45 the only morning train would take me to Otari, my next Shinrin Yoku destination.


I basically had the train to myself, beautiful sunny day and only 20 minutes away, I could hardly wait. When I arrived at the Minami-Otari station, I saw this girl holding a sign saying “Mr. Carlos Ponte”, of course that was Naoko, the guide I had been communicating with through numerous emails to set this up and also arranged the next day’s tour through a Buddhist temple and several Shinto shrines. The only surprise was that I was expecting a man, no idea that the name Naoko was for a female. In the end, it was an amazing great surprise because I was about to meet someone so beautifully in tune with me and my views of nature, forest and even religion and spirituality that was a complete pleasure to spend two days following her guidance.

The best gift of this entire trip when it comes to scenery, the full fall colours and their radiant splendor where exploding that day here. The full day Shinrin Yoku session was much more than I expected, very insightful, warm and fulfilling experience. Naoko was very professional and at the same time it felt very comfortable like I was taking a walk with an old close friend. On top of everything, with such beautiful backdrop, you just didnt’ know which way to look, as there was one spectacular view next to another.

Enjoy the photos. (Click on them to enlarge)


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