Japan Travel Blog April 2015: Shinhotaka Ropeway + Tonami Tulip Gallery

I’ve spent 24 years wondering what snow was like, and after my recent trip to Japan I’d have to say it’s not as spectacular as I thought. Maybe if the snow were falling there would be a bit more magic, but seeing it settled there on the ground, a blanket of white over what would’ve at another time been green, I think I prefer the green a lot more.

But since this is my first time seeing Alpine-like mountains like this, I must say I found it quite a breathtaking sight. This is one of my favourite locations during the whole trip, even beating out the supposed highlight which is the Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route. There’s just something about Mt. Hotaka that draws my attention. It’s like a sleeping giant that at any moment can stir, come to life. It might sit up and shake off the snow and the pine trees that have gathered on its head, stretch, give a gentle yawn. And then it might even actually smile at all those observing it.

Standing as one of the tallest peaks of the Japanese Alps at over 10,000 feet, Mt. Hotaka can be fully appreciated by riding the Shinhotaka Ropeway. You take two rounds of cable car rides, which drags you on an uphill climb over the side of the Hotaka Montain Range.

The first ropeway is a short climb starting from the bus stop to an area called Nabedaira Kogen. We didn’t walk around the area but as far as I know there are some shops and restaurants here, and apparently also an onsen (public hot bath).

We didn’t linger in the stores. Straight towards the departure area for the second ropeway we went, where the cable cars are double deckers. I’ve never been on a double decker cable car, but as expected I prefer being on the top level for a better view. I’m only sorry I didn’t get to snap a photo of the actual car for you all to see.

An 800-meter climb brings us to the Upper Station, where we headed right up to the observation deck before anything else. I could feel my cheeks grow rosy but whether from excitement or from the cold I couldn’t really tell.

The view was stunning. The mountains are almost blue underneath all that white snow, as if frostbitten. But perhaps it is more apt to say that they stand tall and proud, with a lovely halo hovering above them. I was speechless just staring at them for some time.

And then it started raining! I tried to brave the rain for a little while and had some photographs of me taken with the absolutely marvelous view. I was so busy taking photos of the snowy mountains from all angles I nearly forgot to snap a souvenir tourist photo. This one was taken by my Dad and I really like it!

With a considerable amount of snow still on the ground it was quite cold already when we went up the deck (at 4 degrees if my memory serves me right), but the rain just kind of makes it impossible to stay out there for too long as my gloveless fingers began to betray me. I was having a hard time clicking the shutter of my camera since I couldn’t feel my fingers anymore. 😛

So my Dad and I decided to go down to the souvenir store to buy some gloves. (After the fact haha! I know it’s ironic.) The good news is I got to practice a bit of my broken Japanese. I tried to rub some warmth back into my hands while browsing the stacks of food in the souvenir shop here and we ended up with a couple of limited edition Kit-Kat’s— Shinshu Apple and Shinshu Hot Chilli (Yawatayaisogoro Ichimi)— to take home. Shinshu is the old name of the Nagano Prefecture, which is right in the vicinity of the mountain ranges. If you ever visit this area you might want to keep an eye out for these! (More on Japanese snacks on a later post!)

In what is a complete 360 degree turnaround of environment, our tour guide decided to take us to the Tonami Tulip Gallery as a bonus sidetrip for our tour. It’s located in Toyama Prefecture, which is I think the main tulip grower in Japan.

In the outdoor garden, about a million tulips are in bloom in the park from late April to May, with about 250 varieties. I never knew there were this many tulips in existence. But because it was raining and I was shivering out of my pants, we opted for the warmth of the indoor tulip gallery instead. Thank goodness. Being out in the rain while we were walking towards the gallery building was the coldest I might’ve been the whole trip.

Initially I was contemplating whether or not to write about the Tulip Gallery. Do people enjoy seeing photos of flower after flower? But then I realized it would be a shame not to write about how spring is simply glorious. It puts into perspective the phrase ‘the earth pulsing with life’. I might even love it more than autumn if not for all the raining. (And consequently the shivering haha!)

I challenged myself to name all the tulips in the photos for this blog post, because basically when I went to the tulip gallery I was just being snap-happy without actually trying to get to know what I was taking pictures of. Tulips in here were EVERYWHERE; in different shapes and sizes and all the lovely colours. You kind of want to soak it in while you’re here and then turn it into homework once you’re home! 😀

From the picture above the only thing I can say for sure is that the ivory and yellow tulips are called Montreux. Identifying them is a lot harder than I thought. If I make mistakes please do correct me! In the meantime, someone please tell me what those fully-bloomed tulips below are called?

For the set of tulips below, I think the round tulips on the left are the more common single hybrids while the orange ones are lily-flowering tulips. The shapes on them are lovely! The lily-type tulips are very pretty in general.

As you roam around the gallery, you will arrive at an area that has all these glass cases in straight rows against the wall. Each case has a certain breed of tulip inside with labels. (Some of the tulips look alike don’t they?) This area is what I would call the interactive learning centre since there are computerized stations here that will aid you in furthering your knowledge about tulips.

For instance, there is a machine here that allows you to turn the lights on and off to see the glow-in-the-dark kind of tulip. Then there’s a giant statue of what a tulip looks like inside. That kind of stuff.

These dark plum and yellow lily-flowering tulips below are some of my favourites for sure. The colours are so eye-catching!

Again with these wide-blooming tulips. Are they a variation of parrot tulips? Someone please do enlighten me.

Finally we get something I can actually recognize: Fringed tulips! Such a pretty little variety isn’t it? It’s like God took some scissors and decided to snip the tops of the tulips for a bit of pizzazz.

I was looking for my Dad when I chanced up these stunning red flowers. They were in a deserted area and quite frankly these are probably my favourites among all the flowers in here. Just the intensity of the redness of these flowers really demand your full attention!

Okay, the barrage of flower photos is over. Glad you’re still here! 🙂

After a round of tulip viewing, we sat down for some snacks in the café that was right beside the souvenir store. I had some doughnuts with black sesame flecks inside. I loved how crunchy it was on the outside while being chewy inside. The little sesame seeds pop when you bite into them. Mmmm.

We also tasted some Tulip Ice Cream, which was just lightly flowery but with that utterly creamy trademark of Japanese soft serve.

Ahhh nothing like eating ice cream in a place where there’s a gazillion flowers around you!

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