Although resorts like Hakuba and Shiga Kogen get the most attention, Nagano is also home to many quaint “pension villages” attracting an interesting mix of people. Some come for the simple life, others dream of running a B&B, building their dream cottage or simply getting closer to nature.
Minenohara, a small village at the foot of 2,128-meter Neko-dake, is one of these places. This is where Greg Farnum, a “recovering lawyer” from Montana, recently opened Hoshi Boshi Lodge—and he fits right in.
“I chose the Minenohara area because there are a lot of cool people living there.” He says, “The locals are into nature, preserving the environment and living ‘alternative’ lifestyles.”
The area’s main attractions center around Neko-dake standing unobstructed in front of Hoshi Boshi Lodge. From the genkan to the summit takes a mere hour and a half if you are in good shape…three, if you’re not so fit.
You hike past grazing milk cows in green pastures and through forests of pine and birch toward stunning views of Togakushi, Myoko, Shiga Kogen on one side. Active Mt. Asama spews smoke on the other, with the peaks of Hakuba are behind you.
A night at Hoshi Boshi is just ¥3,000 per person. There’s an open kitchen where guests cook for themselves (no meals are provided), but many choose a BBQ out on the spacious deck. The atmosphere is laid back; it’s a great place for like-minded people to chill out, play cards, chess, Scrabble or darts, read a book in front of the wood stove and use as a base camp.
And there are plenty of activities to enjoy in the area. “Hiking, biking and skiing are right out the front door,” Greg says. Several onsen are within a 30-minute drive. “Just about everything northern Nagano has to offer is within an hour or so from the lodge.”
So why is it called Hoshi Boshi Lodge?
“I wanted to answer the phone, ‘Moshi moshi, Hoshi Boshi!” Greg jokes. “It also means a sky filled with stars,” which he says is what you see through the clear mountain air most evenings at the lodge.
It’s just 80 minutes from Tokyo to Ueda by Shinkansen, then 35 minutes by bus from Ueda to Sugadaira where pick-up service is available. Pick-up service is available for larger groups from Ueda. By car its two and a half hours from Tokyo to the Ueda-Sugadaira I.C. (via Joshinetsu Expressway) and 35 minutes from there to the lodge.