Kusatsu Shiranesan, after the volcano to Shibu pass 草津白根山
Michi no eki Kawaba Daisen Plaza
Kawaba Daisen Plaza in daylight, is very large for a michi no eki. There are various restaurants, a farmers’ market, a pottery class, a large, covered area with picnic tables, a small rice field with rice stalks drying in traditional stoops, a children’s playground, a slide, geese on a pond, stray cats but no water in the wash basins of the toilets in number 2 car park. This quibble aside, it is shachuhaku friendly with rubbish bins and space. Parking in numbers 1 to 3 is close to the road but traffic is light.
The day is grey, and the mountains covered in cloud, so we drive to Numata to a coin laundry. Numata is notable for its unusual river geography.
Michi no eki Nakayama Bonchi to Mt. Shirane
Lunch finds us at michi no eki Nakayama Bonchi. This is a spectacular place with tables outside to enjoy picnic lunches and a wonderful view. It also boasts an ashiyu or footbath and a dog run.
On through Kusatsu to Shiranesan (Mt. Shirane) by R. 292 to Shibu toge (pass). The last time we tried to pass this way the road was closed due to a recent volcanic eruption. Now, the road is open again, but the extent of the eruption is visible everywhere and the sulphur in the air palpable. The changed landscape, fascinating. Signs warn motorist not to stop in the area due to the concentration of gas.
As we climb to the highest point on a national road in Japan, the cloud becomes denser and by the time we reach the top we are driving in fog. People are parked taking pictures of the height designation stone as we pass. There is nothing to see but mist and we have pictures of the now invisible view from our previous visit.
Shiga Kogen, Hasu-ike
Deciding not to visit Manza Onsen again, we press on to Shiga Kogen (highland) where we walk around Hasu-ike (pond) to stretch our legs. This is a pretty little pond and the autumn colours here are some of the best we have seen so far this trip. Though not to the standard of usual years, perhaps.
Nearby, there is a huge car park with a fine view of the Kita Alps and a vast, seemingly, unused building. We suspect these are a legacy from the Nagano Olympics. As we drive on, we realize there are various walking trails in this area we were unaware of, this area, it seems, is not only for skiing.
Michi no eki Shinshu-shinmachi
Our goal for the night was michi no eki Hakuba, in preparation for a hike on the mountain tomorrow. This becomes obviously unattainable especially as we get caught in rush hour traffic and crawl through Nagano city. Instead, we stop at Shinshu-shinmachi. This is an unprepossessing place in the midst of major road construction. But it is quiet, has large, clean toilets and we can reach Hakuba within 45 minutes in the morning.
The author is a long term resident of Japan who has and continues to travel the country extensively. Avoiding highways where possible, the author has driven from Kagoshima in Kyushu to Wakanai in Hokkaido covering 20,000 plus kilometres and counting.
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