Where is Iiyama, Nagano, the retreat site?
Iiyama is a small town in Nagano, which is located Northwest of Tokyo. It’s less than two hours by Hokuriku Shinkansen (bullet train) from Tokyo station, a beautiful countryside area surrounded by nature and outdoor activities waiting for you.
What is the best way to get to Iiyama?
There’s a direct flight from San Diego to Narita daily, operated by Japan Air Lines. If you choose to fly from LAX, keep in mind that there are 2 international airports in Tokyo area, Narita and Haneda.
・From Narita to Iiyama
Take Narita Express from the Terminal train station to JR Tokyo train station. From Tokyo, take Shinkansen, to Iiyama ( less than 2 hours).
・From Haneda to Iiyama
Take Monorail from the International Terminal station to JR Hamamatsu train station (13 minutes). From Hamamatsu, take JR Yamanote Line, to Tokyo (6 minutes). From Tokyo, take the Bullet train to Iiyama.
What about renting a car?
You don’t need to rent a car in Tokyo or any other big cities in Japan. Public transportation is safe and dependable. However, if you are thinking about renting a car while you are at retreat site, please note that Japanese cars drive on the left side of the road, and have the driver's seat and steering wheel on their right side. It certainly does need some getting used to. Please acquire International driving permit before departure if you wish to rent a car. I recommend reserving a rental car in advance. There is a rental car office at the Iiyama train station, and for your information, here is the link for the rental car office. Choose Koshinetsu for the area, and the station name is Iiyama under Nagano. If you don’t feel comfortable driving on the left side with steering wheel on the right side, public transportation (bus and taxi) is available to get to the temple. There is no UBER in Iiyama, but if you share the cost of taxi with others, you will spend about 20-30 dollars one way. Once you get to the temple, there are several restaurants you can go to within walking distance.
I want to explore other parts of Japan before or after yoga retreat. What do you recommend?
Arrive a couple of days before retreat to explore Tokyo. It has so much to offer! You will get rid of jet-lag and be ready for the retreat. After the retreat, your options are endless. You can take a bullet train from Iiyama to Kanazawa, main hub in North western Japan for JR Shinkansen, to go to Kyoto, Osaka, and Nara. Or you can go back to Tokyo and explore more!
There are so many hotels in Tokyo, but I will list several hotels for their convenient location and reasonable price. Located at the Tokyo station, Tokyo Station Hotel, is a historical and newly renovated hotel. Not too far from Tokyo station, MITSUI GARDEN HOTEL KYOBASHI, and HOTEL RYUMEIKAN TOKYO are recommended by my friend who actually stayed there. Shinagawa Prince Hotel is across the street from JR Shinagawa train station, and also recommended by someone who stayed there. Once you arrive at Narita airport and get on the Narita express, Shinagawa is one of the stops before you get to the Tokyo station. Shinagawa is not too far from Shibuya (known for a famous intersection appeared in the movie “Lost in Translation”). Not as expensive as hotels in Shibuya.
Will my cellular phone work in Japan?
Please consult with your cellular phone carrier for the international calls. Extra roaming fees may apply for all the calls.
What about Wi-Fi?
Wi-Fi is available at many public places in Tokyo. There is Wi-Fi at the temple in Nagano. However, public Wi-Fi is not dependable and secure. I highly recommend getting a personal Wi-Fi router at the airport; it’s inexpensive and very reliable. If you have Skype, LINE or WhatsApp, you are able to make phone calls to the person in the US using the Wi-Fi.
At Retreat site
Are there activities and places to go in Iiyama?
Iiyama is known for beautiful mountains and Onsen (hot springs). Many outdoor activities are available for a fee, including riding bicycles, hiking, and visiting histroical/cultural sites. Links are provided under “Explore Japan”. I have a brochure also for those who are interested.
I am planning on having a half day trip to Zenkoji, in Nagano. If you would like to learn more about this historical temple, here is the website.
Kanazawa is a capital of Ishikawa Prefecture. It is just 1 hour away by bullet train from Iiyama. It is worth going there as a half-day trip. Kanazawa offers many historical attractions such as restored residences and districts, as well as modern museums. But Kanazawa's most popular attraction is Kenrokuen, one of Japan's "three best landscape gardens” and by many considered the most beautiful of them all. Also, Kanazawa has one of Japan’s top fish markets, with bountiful catches of wild, deep-sea prawns, seabass, and snow crab. Kanazawa offers one of the best sushi spots in Japan.
Obuse is a small town near Iiyama, about 30 minutes by car. Hokusai Katushika , a renowned woodblock painter during Edo era, spent the later years of his life in Obuse, and there is a Hokusai museum. Obuse is also renowned for its chestnut confectionary. Here is the link for Obuse.
What type of food is famous in Iiyama, Nagano?
Nagano is known for Shinshu Soba, buckwheat noodles. The most popular style of eating the freshly boiled, slightly “al dente” noodles is to dip in a soy-sauce based broth. Pickled Nozawana greens are also popular. Nozawana is a Japanese leaf vegetable. Each household has their own unique recipe of pickling. It has crisp texture and goes well with rice. In Autumn, apples and mushrooms are harvested. Oyaki is a Japanese dumpling, made with fermented buckwheat dough. It is wrapped with various fillings, and steamed or broiled.
Are there Washers and Dryers?
At the temple, there is a washer for guests. Dryer is not available, however there is a drying closet for skis, and you are more than welcome to hang your clothes there. Hangers are provided in the closet.
How do I take a public bath in Japan?
First and foremost, Japanese hot springs are enjoyed naked. Swimming suits are not allowed. However, it is ok to bring a small towel into the bathing area for your privacy. You can cover your body with the towel while outside of the water. Once you enter the bath tub, please keep the towel out of the water.
Bring the towel, shampoo/conditioner, and a soap to wash. Once you enter the bathing area, secure the wash station with a shallow wash bowl and a bath chair provided. Shower, wash and get cleaned up. If you have long hair, please tie in a knot. Then soak in the bath tub. Note that the bath water can be very hot. Typical temperatures are 40 to 44 degrees Celsius (104-111F). If you are not used to it or it feels too hot, enter very slowly with your feet. There is an outside bathing area in most places. It feels cooler, as the temperature of the outside is a lot colder than inside. Repeat soaking as you please. Before exiting, do not rinse with tap water. Keep the minerals of hot spring water on your body.
I am not comfortable taking a public bath naked. Do I have any options?
The temple has a bath/shower room with soaking bath for guests.