Mecca of Japanese Pilgrimage — Zenko-ji Temple

May 12th, 2012 by
Category: Culture Art, Experience, Sightseeing
Main Hall of Zenko-ji Temple (National Treasure)

Main Hall of Zenko-ji Temple (National Treasure)

Nagano, widely known as the host city of the Winter Olympics in 1998, has always been a Buddhist mecca for Japanese pilgrims since ancient times. This renowned temple, Zenkoji, has a history of 1,400 years and has grand 300 year-old Main Hall (believed to be one of the three largest historical Buddist temple buildings in Japan) designated as a National Treasure complementing its natural environs.
Walking through the pitch-black passageway underneath the altar of the sacred main image of Zenkoji (Amitabha), and touching the ‘Key to Paradise’, will give you a deep insight into what Buddhism has meant to the Japanese people.

Bell Tower of Zenko-ji Temple

Bell Tower of Zenko-ji Temple

Nio-mon (Deva King Gate)

Nio-mon (Deva King Gate)


Here, with an advance reservations and according to the number of your party, you can experience traditional Japanse culture such as Kimono, Tea Ceremony, and Zazen. Traditional Buddhist Meals are also available.

Nagano is only 85 min from Tokyo by Shinkansen. Come visit us.

Hanamomo peach blossoms in Achi village

May 10th, 2012 by
Category: Outdoor Activities, Seasonal Topics, Sightseeing

“Hanamomo Kaido(road)” is well-known for its beautiful “hanamomo” or ornamental peach blossoms. In the southern part of Nagano prefecture,  ranging from Iida city in Ina valley to Nagiso village in Kiso valley, there are thousands of  well-cared hanamomo trees.

They are usually at their best from April through early May, almost for a month. This year, because of the unseasonal cold weather in April, the best season started late April.

Hanamomo peach in Hirugami onsen-kyo


The photo above is taken in Hirugami onsen-kyo. It is a relatively new hot spa resort, the source of its hot water happened to be discovered  in the trial boring to construct a national railroad through  a huge mountain in 1973.

It would be fun if you spend some time on the riverbed of the Achi-gawa.

people enjoying themselves by the Achi (Achi-gawa)


The following is the hanamomo peach blossoms in area named Tsukikawa. You will be greeted by blossoms in crimson, pure white, rose pink , and most impressively, white blossoms tinged with pink. There are several paths lined with two thousand hanamomo trees in total, on which you can walk comfortably.

Hanamomo peach paths in Tsukikawa area, Achi


Newborn Snow Monkeys (Video)

April 29th, 2012 by
Category: Information, Report, Seasonal Topics, Sightseeing

Though I have guided tours to the SNOW MONKEY PARK many times, it was my first time to see real tiny shaky fragile newborns. I could not resist taking photos and videos of the monkeys to show you.

a new born monkey (right) with its mother (left)

The baby above was making its first unsteady steps. Read the rest of this entry »

Nagano city in full bloom!

April 20th, 2012 by
Category: Seasonal Topics, Sightseeing

somei yoshino in Matsushiro castle, Nagano city


Flowers, Flowers!
The height of spring has finally come here in Nagano city, Nagano, Japan!

The cherries are blossoming late this year by a week or two throughout Japan. It was just last week when I saw so many tourists on sightseeing tour buses (featuring sakura blossom viewing) greatly disappointed to find the cherry blossoms still in bud.

In and around the city of Nagano, which is well-known as the host city of the Nagano Winter Olympic Games 1998, almost every kind of spring blossoms and flowers are in all glory. Sakura, or cherry blossoms, apricot, magnolia, dandelion, shepherd’s purse flower all come into bloom!
Read the rest of this entry »

“Monkeys, Monkeys, Everywhere!” Best Snow Monkey shots this winter

April 12th, 2012 by
Category: Information, Outdoor Activities, Seasonal Topics, Sightseeing
 Monkeys, monkeys, everywhere.

Snow Monkeys in pairs–
“Mother and Baby”

Baby monkey and Mother in snow

“Friends always together”

Snow Monkeys grooming–
“Well-Cared-For Child Monkey”

Bathing in a hot spring, onsen–
” So many Monkeys bathing together!”

Wise-looking Monkeys–
” Deep in thoughts “

People happy watching the Snow Monkeys
” Worth visiting!”

Since 1964, the Snow Monkey Park, the official name of which is Jigokudani yaen-koen, has been visited and loved by millions of people from all over the world. As a place where the interesting life of the Japanese Macaques can be observed nearby, and as a place of unique snow monkeys bathing in natural hot spring (Onsen) , Jigokudani Yaenkoen is just so popular both home and abroad even after the March 11th.

My fellow tour guides and I have conducted Snow Monkey Tours almost every week for more than three months. We tried very hard to successfully cope with the task. Cheerful smiles and happy faces of our guests were our best reward!
The Snow Monkey park will have another lovely season; from late April or May, you will be able to see tiny little nowborns  carried in their mothers’ arms. There will be no snow on the path to the park anymore. Enjoy a wonderful day in Nagano!

Hirugami-onsen ~ Onsen of Beautiful Skin

November 28th, 2011 by
Category: Onsens (Hot Springs)

Hirugami onsen




We visited Hirugamionsen in southern Nagano prefecture(our province).

It is a quiet rural area along the river Achigawa and surrounded by calm mountains.


Though I am fond of onsen so much and had known many other hot spring resorts in Nagano as well as other areas in Japan, I can definitely tell you ”Hirugami” is at the top of my list in terms of water quality–alkaline sulfurous of PH 9.6.

The abundant waters of the hot springs are just crystal clear and velvety smooth. You will know what I mean as soon as you scoop some water out of the tub — you may even double-check if you have not any soap on your palms.

It is called ” Onsen of Beautiful Skin”

You will just relax soaking in the water with a slight smell of sulfur.

It is also good for diseases such as rheumatism and diabetes.


Here is some additional info on PH —

According to the following page, the highest onsen PH is 11.3 and the lowest 1.2.

Among the lowest are famous Kusatsu (Gunma) and Zao (Yamagata), and HakubaHappo onsen is among the highest.


Please refer to the following multi-language page for more info on Hirugami and some other hot springs in Nagano prefecture which are some of my other recommendations in terms its smooth water quality–



Tazawa onsen:,



ToguraKamiyamada onsen

What you cannot miss — Early Morning Service at Zenkoji Temple

September 25th, 2009 by
Category: Accomodations, Culture Art, Experience, Sightseeing


= My friends from various countries

Zenko-ji Temple is the pride of Nagano — even the pride of Japan.

It attracts more than 6,000,000 people annually.

However, many people miss the greatest part of their visit.


To fully enjoy its serene solemn atmosphere, stay at one of its 39 shukubo ( inns to serve for pilgrims run by temples affiliated to Zenko-ji), and join the morning service performed by both Zenkoji ‘top priest’ and

‘top priestess’ along with those shukubo monks! 



We started our tour here at the ‘Deva King Gate’ in the crisp air. You will see only some people in early morning.  





Daihongan–the temple of the top priestess 





                The main approach is also calm.



Purified ourselves with the smoke from the incense burner.

 Before joining the morning ritual, we received the blessing from the top priest,

which is so special (unique and impressive) you cannot experience anywhere else.

We also got the blessing from the top priestess on the way back from the morning prayer — how lucky!




 This is a photo from a couple of months ago — during the grand festival ‘Go-Kaicho’, people waited for a long time to touch the pillar called Eko-bashira, which features in the festival. And— 

Now you can touch it anytime to your heart’s content.




Bell tower

The temple precinct is open and welcomes you anytime!


Bonsai expert in Nagano

September 11th, 2009 by
Category: Culture Art, Shopping
Just on the outskirts of Nagano city, in the city named Suzaka is this Bonsai shop.
It looks nothing more than an ordinary Bonsai place
we have here and there in Nagano or in Japan.
But!… The owner of this Bonsai shop is something special.
She is the only female Bonsai art teacher certified by the Japan Bonsai Association.

Ms Chiyako Yamamoto is a vivacious woman like her works.
Her family has raised Bonsai for more than 100 years and she is the fourth generation.
This is a page from a Bonsai book.
This is her work that won the first award in the Bonsai contest in Japan.

If you find Bonsai too expensive or somewhat too much, try this!
It is the combination of young cheaper Bonsai trees with some other objects.
My photos are not good, but they are actually much better and lovely.
Here is a quiz from her:
You see three tiny Bonsai trees in pots in the photo above.
They are all the same kind of tree, pine, but their sizes differ a little
as well as the sizes of their pots.
One of the following photos shows the process
how young trees are grown into bonsai by skillful bonsai artists.
Which do you think is the proper order?


Answer: B ( bonsai trees are meant to be grown smaller!)

It is fall now in Nagano, and the harvest season is coming soon!
I saw a nice old couple working on a vegetable field.
Apples grow and grow — still literally green!
Rice is almost ready to be harvested.
You can see the roofs of M-WAVE, the speed skating arena from the 1998 Nagano Olympics.
Crape myrtles in their full bloom!

Update: The Shouzan-en Bonsai Garden has created their own English webpage! For more information, please see their website:

Togakushi– Ground with History and Mystery

August 24th, 2009 by
Category: Cuisine, Culture Art, Sightseeing
Some of you may have heard about the area called Togakushi. It is in the outskirts of Nagano city proper and is famous for its mysterious ninja history.

BUT, ninja up there it is not only in the history but in modern days. You can experience real ninja training up there. I will tell you about this sometime later.

Togakushi will be most associated with its buckwheat noodles, soba. For most Japanese,
the mere name of it ‘Togakushi soba‘ would make their mouth water.
Surely, soba they produce here is something special :buckwheat flour kneaded with some wheat
flour — about 20 percent of the buckwheat flour, and fresh cold mountain water is of the top quality
in Japan.

We, tour guides in Nagano, had a small inspection tour up there, escaping from the summer heat.

Togakushi— a mysterious mountain site with abundant nature and history of hermits, Buddhists, and
We had known it is such a spiritual area with abundant nature and history of hermits, Buddhists, and Shintoists,
that everyone would be struck with its spirituality, but our actual walk took us much further.

After about 15 min walk from our starting point, we came across a small temple with new buildings–which we had paid no attention first, but in its backyard, we stood aghast!

It was a small ground but with several weird stone statues– statues with wings! We guessed they had something to do with the region’s worship, but we could not even figure out whether they belong to Shintoism or Buddhism, or something else. Togakushi has been fringed with so long a history.

Then, we came across this board.

This reads as follows (excerpt) :
Shaku Chomei Kajo-no-tokoro

Shaku Chomei who had been leading a harsh training life as a hermit in Togakushi mountains, in the year of Emperor Murakami in 966 AD, entered Kajo here at this place and went to heaven .
We did not understand the word ‘kajo‘ and so did not pay much attention to this small plaque and continued on our way, wondering what this mysterious place was for. None of us would wish to enter there alone.

It was not until that night when I was looking the word ‘kajo‘ in the dictionary and on theInternet, when I felt a chill run down my spine. I learned what he had done to attain the greatest devotion to his belief, an unbelievable sacrifice — burn himself to death.
I have learned there have been more people, they all seem to be Buddhist priests, who killed themselves this way: apply oil all over his body, sit on/in a pile of firewood, set a fire while chanting sutras (Buddhist scriptures) . It is believed to be the most painful, agonal way of killing oneself. Ah, what great sacrifice they chose to seek after the truth or to save people!
That night, I ruminated over the image again and again — so sad, but would have been so meaningful for them. It is still beyond my understanding.

I have learned anther story of a Buddhist priest who killed himself this way in Ueda, Nagano prefecture. He burned himself to save villages from a fierce epidemic that killed many children.

Our walk went on without much knowing this event in history.

History of Togakushi —–excerpts from the official pamphlet of Togakushi
Togakushi is a major center for Japan’s native religion, Shintoism, as well as for Buddhism. Japanese people have found their peace of mind and spirituality here for more than 1,000 years. Hermits lived an ascetic life of training and meditation far away from the world with earthly desires.They sought after the truth and the enlightenment in a total of 33 caverns discovered in the steep Togakushi mountain range.

Any idea what this gadget is for?

You have to be careful when you go into the woods! It is advised you wear something that makes noises such as bells and radios.

Chusha (Main Hall)
One of the five Shinto shrines of Togakushi, which for many centuries have been a focus of pilgrimage. The surrounding forests is still seen as a sacred treasure.

One of the sacred trees
This creptromeria tree just in front of the shrne is 700 years old.

Soba — buckwheat fields just started to bud.;jsessionid=E78355A65186CDD172EF29763AE6AF6A?DISPLAY_ID=DIRECT&NEXT_DISPLAY_ID=U000004&CONTENTS_ID=8053

Daruma ( Bodhidharma ) Doll Workshop in Nagano city

August 20th, 2009 by
Category: Culture Art, Information, Seasonal Topics
My friend and her family runs a small workshop in Nagano city — a Daruma ( Bodhidharma ) Doll Workshop.
She and I have been friends since we both were members of a group of parents in Nagano who visit elementary schools and read the kids stories. The importance of story reading and story telling have been positively reevaluated in Japan.
In Japan, this type of doll is believed to bring you good fortune and good luck. People, especially business people, highly appreciate it and make it a custom to visit shops to purchase ones on New Year’s Day and other ceremonial occasions.
The price varies, but the middle-range price for the ones of about 30 cm tall would be 2,000 ~ 3,000 yen. If you find it too big as a souvenir, you can get miniature ones of about 10 cm tall just for several hundred yen. It is a papiermache (hollow inside) and so, not as heavy as it looks.
I (happen to be a licensed English tour guide ) took one of my guests to this workshop last November and then she got a special bargain as well as a good hospitality from the workshop.
Summer is their busiest season because of the summer festivals that take place all over Nagano.
They are so friendly and kind to visitors. It is also fun and interesting to see how they make these traditional Japanese mascots.
If you are lucky, you can see the scenes of them making Daruma Dolls.

The doll she holds in her right hand is a finished one while the other, still in process.