‘Onioshidashi’ literally means ‘ogres pushing rocks down from the mountain’. Considering the park’s unique landscape and the fact that it’s right beside an active volcano, you can see where such a vivid name came from.
When you get out of your car, all you need to do is turn around, and there you will see the magnificent Mount Asama looming over you. Onioshidashi park gives you the best view of this mountain anywhere in Nagano and Gunma prefectures, and it’s situated ideally on the border between the two.
After going through the entrance, there are shops, cafes, stalls selling food, and professional photographers ready to take your picture in front of Mount Asama and its beautifully rugged environment. Buying a photo costs ¥1000, a good price for a great memory.
As you ascend the winding path towards the temple, you begin to get a glimpse of the red buildings, a striking image in the rough, grey landscape. Amongst these buildings, you will find a place to wash your hands and mouth before approaching the temple, food and drink stops, the temple itself, and a gong, which people are free to ring for themselves.
It’s not only immensely satisfying, ringing this gong with a clear view of the volcano ahead of you, then listening to it echo - it’s also a beautifully haunting sensation.
After all, Asama was not only responsible for the stunning rugged landscape, but also the death of many locals hundreds of years ago. The temple was built in 1958 in remembrance of them, and in dedication to the Kannon, the Buddhist goddess of mercy. The sound of the gong is melancholy, reverent, and creates an impression of the people’s fearful respect towards the active volcano.
Once you’ve seen this beautiful Buddhist temple, taken plenty of pictures and had a quick, authentic Japanese snack, you can make your way back down and find a bench to sit down on; make sure you take your time to appreciate all the views this park has to offer. Whichever way you turn, there’s something beautiful, magical to see.
If you’re visiting during the summer, as I did, Onioshidashi will be a blissful relief from the humid July heat - it being so high up, there are cool breezes that pass by, making it the perfect place to visit on a sunny day. Plus, you get an even better view of the mountain without clouds and rain obscuring it. That being said, I imagine that Onioshidashi and Mount Asama would look beautifully magical in the rain and mist, and crisp and clear in the winter months.
Onioshidashi park is a half an hour drive from Karuizawa’s Hoshino resort and Picchio tourist centre. It is easy to get to by car for anyone in Nagano or Gunma prefectures, but guided tours are also available. If you’re staying in the area, you must go to Onioshidashi to get some of the best views in the whole of Japan.