« Into the Nagano Sunset | Main | Hiking the Chichibu-Tama National Park »

Sakae Mura

DSC_4089_1.jpgP1030673_1.jpgDSC_4258_1.jpg

The villiage office of Sakae-Mura is the lowest point in Nagano prefecture. Just 200 meters above sea level, summers are not as cool as what I have been experiencing in Hakuba (700m) this past month, but still preferable to Tokyo in August. The winters though... This is what is known as Yukiguni - Snow Country. Kawabata Yasunari's novel Yukiguni was set in this very area and I have wanted to see it for myself since I first read it.

SakaeOverView.jpg

A few years ago Tomoe and I went skiing to Gunma, just a bit south of Sakae Mura, where I had a small taste, but Gunma is only on the edge of snow-country. This past winter I spent two months in Otari, another part of the snow country, but there was a record low snow-fall. I still have yet to really experience the average four meters of snow (Sakae holds the record high for snow-fall in one year with 7.8m - a two story building) that explain why houses in Sakae Mura are built with doors on the second floor - yet no balcony or stairs, and why one old woman we spoke with (with no second floor) has to call her neighbor to dig a tunnel to her front door some mornings.

SakaeClose.jpg

The GoogleEarth map above shows the boundary of Sakae Mura in white. The orange line indicates Akiyamago, another name that has haunted my imagination for several years. An isolated mountain vally nestled into a deep, steep valley where only the strongest survive - and throughout history entire villages have vanashed - Akiyamago is somewhat infamous in Japan. Thanks to the steep mountains on each side of the valley, sunrise is late and sunset is early making it extremely impossible to grow a substantial rice crop, so throughout history people have survived on millet.

P1030723_1.jpg

Akiyamago may be one of the most isolated areas in Japan. I once attempted to ride my bike there from Tokyo but never made it because I just didn't believe my map when it said that the road I was riding ends at the Gunma/Nagano border. The fact that it is right smack in the snow-country makes it even more amazing that people can live there. In fact, only two years ago Japan's self-defense force was called in to help dig them out when they were cut off from the rest of the world for a month. When the old woman I mentioned earlier was a child, she recalls having to spend the winter down in the main town to attend school because there was no way to commute. Some things don't change though, and kids still spend the school year away from home.

P1030692_1.jpgDSC_4193_1.jpgDSC_4054_1.jpg

This is Sakae Mura and it will be our new home.

I should make it clear that we are probably not going to live in the Akiyamago area. Most likely we will live somewhere near or within the red circle (see map above) which is the path we walked on a recent three-day scout. Still, it is full-on snow country in the winter, and one of the most beautiful areas we have ever seen in the spring. Ridding through with a co-worker last week (who did not know that I would soon move there) I was pleased when he stopped the car to get out and take some photos, exclaiming "Wow! This is beautiful!". Perhaps its because, unlike Hakuba, there are no run-down abandoned hotels. In fact, there are no hotels at all. The only run-down buildings here are old style farm houses.

P1030706_1.jpgDSC_4071_1.jpgDSC_4062_1.jpg

Why would a white guy and a city girl who has never really seen snow move to a staunchly traditional Japanese villiage in the heart of Japan's snow country?

Aside from the village being beautiful, having everything we need and envisioned for our "big dream" business venture and our life, Sakae Mura is also the most welcoming place we have come across. Many villages in Japan are loosing people to cities, In fact, only two townships in Nagano are growing, and they are second-home areas. Sakae Mura is no exception so we somewhat expect a desire for new, young faces, but that's not all. Sakae Mura has also been wanting to do exactly what Tomoe and I have been planning in terms of outdoor/environmental education - but they don't have anyone to do it.

When an NPO that tries to match up city-folk, who want to escape their concrete hell, with needy townships heard about our plans, they called us to Sakae to introduce us. At first Saito-san, the man in charge at the Sakae city-office, seemed skeptical, but after an hour of chatting and presenting our plan we found ourselves being driven around the entire village and offered use of many of the facilities that surpassed anything we had ever imagined, spending an hour chatting with the mayor, and spending the night at Saito-san's home with his family.

It looks like we have found a new home.

I am still working in Hakuba for the summer because I don't want to quit on them right before the busy season, but we will certainly be taking several more trips to find a house and start getting settled.

There are many more photos of Sakae Mura taken by me here, and taken by other people showing winter, spring, summer, fall (Akiyama means "Fall Mountain" - apparently its an amazing sight) here.

DSC_4066_1.jpgDSC_4123_1.jpg

Comments

Wow! That's gorgeous country you'll be living in once you move outta Tokyo! It's refreshing to see pictures of the japanese countryside, not something people post as many are so fascinated with the city life of Tokyo.

Wow! That's gorgeous country you'll be living in once you move outta Tokyo! It's refreshing to see pictures of the japanese countryside, not something people post as many are so fascinated with the city life of Tokyo.

Kevin, How fast you forget your roots. Houghton, MI gets an average of 200 inches (5 meters) and Calumet has a snow gauge that goes to over 10 meters but I will admit has to my knowledge yet to exceded 280 inches in a given Winter. The mountains in Houghton don't match those of Central Japan, however. Are you going to live in a heated house with a heated bathroom and have electricity? Would love to see the area.

Billy

Kevin, How fast you forget your roots. Houghton, MI gets an average of 200 inches (5 meters) and Calumet has a snow gauge that goes to over 10 meters but I will admit has to my knowledge yet to exceded 280 inches in a given Winter. The mountains in Houghton don't match those of Central Japan, however. Are you going to live in a heated house with a heated bathroom and have electricity? Would love to see the area.

Billy

excellent situation and lifestyle,shall we start knitting socks for you both?
all the best keep us posted
-mechelle

When i click on the photos in this post, flickr tells me they're set to private :(

How many people live in Sakae Mura? How far will you need to go for groceries? Do you have Internet access?

How many people live in Sakae Mura? How far will you need to go for groceries? Do you have Internet access? Finally, I'm very happy for you!

How many people live in Sakae Mura? How far do you need to go for groceries? How far is the nearest big city? Do you have internet access?

I apologize for posting multiple times! I didn't think the comment had gone throught but it did.

Nikita, Thanks! Hopefully there will be a lot more to come with lots and lots of snow!

Uncle Bill, I knew they got a lot UP there, but I never expected that much! Why have I never seen photos or news footage of roads with eight meter walls of snow on either side? They should start marketing that to tourists more. Somehow I never felt that the UP was part of my roots :P - although I always thought that if I move back to Michigan I would like to try somewhere up there.

As for the house, we don't actually have one yet, but the villiage office is collecting a list of houses that are open for us to rent. It will have electricity for sure. It wont have central heating (few houses do) but we are hoping for an older house with wood burning stove instead of portable oil stoves that are popular in this region. The bathroom would most likely be inside as well. In terms of the house itself, it will not be exactly what we had dreamed of, but the area and other benefits are far beyond what we hoped for, so we have to settle for indoor plumbing.


Nikita, Thanks! Hopefully there will be a lot more to come with lots and lots of snow!

Uncle Bill, I knew they got a lot UP there, but I never expected that much! Why have I never seen photos or news footage of roads with eight meter walls of snow on either side? They should start marketing that to tourists more. Somehow I never felt that the UP was part of my roots :P - although I always thought that if I move back to Michigan I would like to try somewhere up there.

As for the house, we don't actually have one yet, but the villiage office is collecting a list of houses that are open for us to rent. It will have electricity for sure. It wont have central heating (few houses do) but we are hoping for an older house with wood burning stove instead of portable oil stoves that are popular in this region. The bathroom would most likely be inside as well. In terms of the house itself, it will not be exactly what we had dreamed of, but the area and other benefits are far beyond what we hoped for, so we have to settle for indoor plumbing.


Hi Bastish..,

I'm really impressed by the 3D Google Earth pictures on your map. I also recorded GPS data on my recent hike and would like to use something similar. As I'm not to familiar with the functionalities of Google Earth did you generate those pictures with embedded Google Earth functionality or did you use some 3rd party products and if so which?

Thanks for your help,
Lighthiker

Thanks roman,
this site http://42.195km.net/jogsim/ to trace the paths, and then I export them into a kml file and open them in Google Earth. I used to just try to draw the path on Google Earth (paid version) but found it much easier to use the website. I am sure there are similar sites that do the same thing in English as well.

Userful blog. Thanks!

Hello. So many of our dreams at first seem impossible, then they seem improbable, and then, when we summon the will, they soon become inevitable. Help me! I can not find sites on the: Clomiphene purchase. I found only this - clomiphene without a script. Often, it promotes to catergories treating it to experience an attack, clomiphene. Clomiphene, increased hcg is a reference sent high for beneficial in greece. With respect :-(, Bowie from Uruguay.

hi, wonderful photos, they are great, i really liked the views of nature and fields.A++

On That Point there r certainly a stack of details identical to that to take into consideration

zOflxVCP

Post a comment