Snowboard like a pro

January 25th, 2010 by
Category: Outdoor Activities
Image courtesy of

Always wanted to snowboard like a pro?  . . .here’s your chance.

This weekend, January 30th and 31st 2010, Burton snowboarder Michiyo Hashimoto will be rippin’ up the slopes of Otaki Village’s Ontake 2240 ski resort.

The event is being organized by the Tokyo NGO, Gaia Initiative, through their “+1 Forest Program”.  The group has partnered with Otaki to help raise awareness about and support for the village and its forest environment.

Details about the tour, which leaves from Tokyo, can be found here (sorry, Japanese only).  In addition, individuals who are not part of the tour can have a chance to ride with and learn from Hashimoto.  The cost for this is ¥5,000.

Those interested can contact me at

World of silver

January 18th, 2010 by
Category: Information, Outdoor Activities


Winter turns the Kiso Valley into a silvery world; one only ambiguously defined through dim rays of sunlight.  The cold, dry air is difficult to be in; driving is treacherous; and the days are short.  However, it is this season, more than any other, that brings a true sense of appreciation to those who are patient enough to seek it out.

Shizen-ko, a lake that sits about 10 kilometers beyond the central part of Otaki Village, is, even in summer, a surreal landscape.  In winter the frozen lake takes on ephemeral qualities–one may feel they simply dreamed the place. (Read more about Shizen-ko here).

Photo courtesy of 水と緑のふるさと王滝村

Photo courtesy of 水と緑のふるさと王滝村

Ice fishing is popular on Shizen-ko both among locals and outsiders, and wakasagi (the small smelt of a Japanese variety) is the main catch.  Batter and fry these little suckers (on the spot if you’d like) and you’re in for a culinary treat.  Of course, ice fishing can be dangerous, so please use the proper caution and find a knowledgeable person to tag along with.

Long live winter.

winter, 1st movement

October 20th, 2009 by
Category: Seasonal Topics

miura-040In Otaki we are seeing in the landscape the first bitter-sweet notes of winter.  During a hike in the back part of the Otaki Valley I caught a glimpse of Mt. Ontake 御嶽山 in white.  The previous night it had been dusted with the first snow of the season.  The mountain huts have closed for the season, but with the proper equipment and a bit of experience you can still climb the mountain.

Down in the valley the leaves are well into their yearly display of color.  Yellows and reds mix with the greens of pines to create variegated slopes that dazzle tmiura-074he eye.  I’m guessing the peak will be this weekend.

Now, not only the nights, but the days too, are cold.  A trip to the hot spring tastes even sweeter now, and delicious “nabe” 鍋 (pots of hot soup with meat and vegetables) have become a staple.

Winter in the mountains can be tough, but what joys it brings.

Fall on Mt. Ontake

October 5th, 2009 by
Category: Experience, Information, Outdoor Activities, Seasonal Topics, Sightseeing

_ontake-051_The above is the view from the summit of Mt. Ontake looking towards the northwest; Mt. Norikura and Kamikochi lay in the dista_ontake-140_2nce.

Fall is perhaps the best time to climb Mt. Ontake.  The hillsides begin to turn a dazzling array of colors, and the weather tends to be stable.  Clear skies offer other-worldly views of the North, Central, and South Japanese Alps, as well as Mt. Fuji, Yatsu-ga-dake and beyond.

Staying in a mountain hut at the summit is an extra treat.  The cost is reasonable (about 9,000 yen with dinner and breakfast included) and the accomodations nicer than one might think.  Step outside on a clear night and it looks as if you could run your fingers through the Milky Way.  The lights of Nagoya are also visible at night and seem close enough to step into.

The mountain huts are beginning to shut down for the season and the snows will be coming soon, so come while you still have the chance.  The long weekend (October 10-12) may be the best opportunity to climb before the snows come.


When we truly enter the mountains,
birds, bugs, beasts and blossoms
radiate supernatural excellence
and take great delight in our presence.


Buses to Ta-no-hara 田の原 (where the Otaki route begins) run from Kisofukushima station 木曽福島駅.  The cost is 1,500 yen one way.  Extra days have been added for the fall.  Find the complete schedule here.

Web page and phone number for the mountain hut at the summit of Mt. Ontake (ken-ga-mine 剣ヶ峰) here.

Give them a call, they’ll keep a room warm for you._ontake-129_

Banff Mountain Festival at Norikura-Kogen

September 9th, 2009 by
Category: Information, Seasonal Topics


This is a bit out of the Kiso Region, but worth noting on the blog.

The Banff Mountain Festival is currently in the middle of a world tour and will be coming to Nagano this weekend, Saturday the 12th.

The screening will happen at Norikura Kogen, with doors opening at 6 PM and the movies beginning at 7 PM.

I’ve never been, but apparently this is an outdoor venue where you can enjoy Mt. Norikura as you enjoy movies about other mountains. This also means that it can get cold, so prepare accordingly.

Check out the link below for further information and access details. There may be a bus out of Matsumoto.

Banff Mountain Festival

Banff Mountain Festival website (in Japanese)

Blue skies

August 30th, 2009 by
Category: Sightseeing

ontakepicnic-0201Last week my wife and I went for a picnic to Otaki’s ski hill, Ontake 2240,located on southeastern flank of Ontake-san. The  “2240”  in the name refers to the elevation at the top of the ski hill.  This elevation is accessible by car, which is a rarity in Japan.   At this height, the views of the north, central, and south alps are incredible.

Now that we’re exiting summer and on our way to fall the weather is stable and so there are plenty of blue skies.

Come on down to Kiso and enjoy!!


Rollin’ the gods

July 17th, 2009 by
Category: Culture Art, Events
Image courtesty of

Next week, July 22nd and 23rd is Kiso’s yearly festival held in Kiso-fukushima, “mikoshi-makuri”.  A mikoshi 神輿 is a portable shrine like the one pictured above.  Makuri means “to roll” or “to turn”.  So, that’s basically what this festival is about . . . rollin’ shrines.

On the first night of the festival (the 22nd) the mikoshi are paraded around town without being rolled. Boring?  Yes, probably . . . but there are fireworks after.  On the second night of the festival (the 23rd) the mikoshi are again paraded around town, but this time they are rolled by the men carrying them.  I’ve never seen this festival, but I’m sure the men imbibe sake continuously throughout the day and night.  This means, I was assured by a friend, that towards the later hours of the night (perhaps 9 or 10 pm) the rollin’ gets more fierce.

Amazing thing is these beautiful shrines are built fresh every year . . . wow.

Let’s get rollin’.



From Matsumoto 松本 take the Shinonoi Line 篠ノ井線, transfer at Shiojiri 塩尻 and take the Chuo Line 中央線 to Kiso-fukushima 木曽福島.

From Nagoya 名古屋 take the Wide View Shinano ワイドビューしなの on the Chuo Line 中央線 to Kiso-fukushima 木曽福島.


Take route 19 (19号) from Nakatsugawa 中津川 or Matsumoto 松本

For more details see the following website (Japanese only)

For a brief English explanation of the festival see the following website (scroll down a bit)

The depths of Shizen-ko 自然湖: a kayak tour of Otaki’s little known lake

July 2nd, 2009 by
Category: Experience, Outdoor Activities, Sightseeing

For details about Shizenko and kayak tours please call or visit the website of Ontake Adventure (おんたけアドベンチャー).


Shizenko 1

Some landscapes lend themselves to the aloof gazing of observers. For example, California’s Yosemite Valley with its enormous walls of granite, or Japan’s Kamikochi, which offers sweeping views of some of the Hida Range’s finest alpine cirques, come to mind. Otaki’s Shizenko 自然湖, meaning “natural lake”, is not such a landscape. Rather, its beauty and grandeur come only from patient exploration and observation. The lake invites intimacy and refuses to welcome those who are unwilling to engage it, both physically and mentally. There is no overlook; no viewing from afar. In fact, much of Shizenko is hidden behind bends of trees or within vertical canyon walls. The landscape is, therefore, defiant of the insouciant looks of passers-by. In order to gain any sense of it, one must enter the lake and sit directly upon its waters. A kayak (called カヌー, pronounced ka nu-, in Japanese, a phonetic translation of the word “canoe”) is a tool well suited to such an undertaking; it allows one to interact with Shizenko in a way that is deeper, and more equitable, than a gaze ever is. Ontake Adventure (おんたけアドベンチャー) of Otaki, runs kayak tours on Shizenko that offer this kind of deep experience-something rare in the Japanese tourist landscape of today. Read the rest of this entry »

お茶壷道中 Tea Procession

June 5th, 2009 by
Category: Events

image courtesy of

Although it’s a staple almost anywhere you go in Japan, it is said that back in the Edo Period (1603-1868) tea was available only to the daimyo, Japan’s feudal lords. . .those elitist swine.

So, vessels of tea making their way from one place to another was quite the sight for Japan’s “common folk”; almost as much fan-fare as when the daimyo themselves would come through town.

The Kiso Valley’s nakasendo 中山道 was one of the major roads used during the Edo Period to travel between Kyoto and Edo (modern day Tokyo).  This means that there was also a fair amount of tea being carried through the mountains there.  These processions of tea are known as ocha-tsubo-dou-chuu お茶壷道中.

Narai-juku 奈良井宿, one of the stops on the old nakasendo, celebrates this Edo Period custom during a yearly festival.  The festival will be held this year from today, June 5th until Sunday, June 7th.  The tea procession itself will happen on Sunday, June 7th from 12 PM to 4 PM.

Narai-juku is a beautiful town that allows a glimpse into Japan’s Edo Period, so it’s worth visiting any time of the year.  The ocha-tsubo-dou-chuu is just an added treat.

Find more information at the Narai-juku website: