After New Years, neighborhoods traditionally gathered the spent bamboo, dharma dolls and other decorations, piled them up and held a bonfire for an event called “Dondo-Yaki”. While this tradition is becoming less common in urban areas, many communities in Nagano continue to put on “Dondo-Yaki”, usually around the holiday weekend at the beginning of January.
Suzaka Town’s “Dondo-Yaki” for 2018 will take place on Monday 08-Jan (“Coming of Age Day” national holiday) on the grounds of Suzaka Elementary School. The bonfire will be lit at 5pm. Participation is free.
It is said that if you eat mochi (sticky rice) roasted over the “Dondo-Yaki” bonfire, you will have good health for the year. Many participants bring their own mochi rolled up in colorful balls and stuck to a branch for roasting over the coals.
Suzaka’s Guesthouse KURA can provide more details. On Sunday, they will make mochi and prepare to roast it at the bonfire, so guests can enjoy a full “Dondo-Yaki” weekend.
The Harvest Moon is spectacular to see from anywhere in the world, but Nagano Prefecture has 2 locations that are particularly famous for viewing the moon: Matsumoto Castle and the Obasute terraced rice fields in Chikuma City.
Matsumoto Castle has a ‘tsukimi-yagura’ (moon-viewing tower), from where you can see the moons three-fold: one in the sky, one reflected in the moat, and one reflected in … well, any guesses where?
(Picture courtesy of Keener-san)
At the Obasute rice fields, the number of moons you can see doesn’t stop at 3. The terraces are known as “Tagoto-no-Tsuki” meaning the moon reflects in the individual rice fields. I think you need some of the local sake in order to see that properly. (Oh, there’s a hint for the answer to my question!)
Apple season has officially started here in Nagano Prefecture. Deep-red ‘akibae’ and shiny-yellow ‘Shinano gold’, tangy ‘Shinano sweet’ and tangy classics like ‘kogyoku’, these early-season varieties will continue through October before transitioning to fuji’s in November.
Tobita-san from Crown Farm dropped off some first-pick apples for us. His orchard is only 5 minutes by car (15 minutes by bicycle) from Onsen Town Togura-Kamiyamada. They offer all-you-can-eat picking, as well as tasting.
Nothing beats the sweetness of a freshly-picked Nagano apple.
Nagano’s mountains kept us mostly safe from Typhoon Talim — now it’s back to enjoying Autumn.
Cosmos (the flower) Festival in Saku City on the eastern edge of Nagano.
Route 254 is lined with cosmos flowers for several kilometers.
The festival runs through 20-September and features music, fresh-picked grapes, yummy crepes and … colorful cosmos blossoms.
By the way, the ‘kanji’ for cosmos is 秋桜, “Autumn Sakura (cherry blossoms)”.
Cosmos Flowers Lining the Cosmos Highway (Route 254)
From Nagano City to Karuizawa, the resort town on the eastern edge of the prefecture, it is a blazingly fast 30 minutes by Shinkansen bullet train.
Red carpet treatment to board Rokumon at Karuizawa Station
Or, as a luxurious alternative, you could take Shinano Railway’s special Rokumon train and enjoy a leisurely 2 hour 20 minute ride through Nagano’s scenic countryside.
For those that care to indulge, you can partake in a gourmet meal along the way: French featuring cheese from Tomi City’s esteemed Atelier de Fromage, on the run from Karuizawa to Nagano, or kaiseki-style Japanese from Obuse’s famous restaurant Suzuhana on the return.
I had the opportunity to ride from Karuizawa to Nagano. The warm wood interior furnishings of the train and the friendly smiles of the attendants combined with the carefully prepared dishes featuring an abundance of local ingredients would have made the trip a perfect 10 for me.
However, what made riding Rokumon extra special was the enthusiastic hospitality we received along the way, from local preschoolers to the Station Master at Ueda.
Rokumon — the perfect unhurried way to enjoy Nagano’s countryside.
Iiyama’s heart-shaped Hokuryu Lake is hidden in a valley on mystical Kosuge Mountain. Not fed by any rivers or streams, the pristine lake is filled only with snow melt run-off and natural springs.
Romantic heart-shaped Hokuryu Lake
Recently my daughter and I had the opportunity to appreciate the lake doing SUP.
Stand-Up Paddling, a combination of surfboarding and canoeing, is a relatively new sport but it is gaining in popularity and is scheduled to make it’s Olympic debut at the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo. Despite it being our first time, thanks to some skillful coaching by Powerdrive R117‘s charismatic owner, Gyaruman, we got the hang of SUP surprisingly quickly. Soon we were skimming across Hokuryu Lake and enjoying the mountain scenery. As we got more comfortable with the paddling, we tried a few rounds of SUP Sumo. Losing was actually rewarding as it meant falling into the lake for a refreshingly cool splash.
Nagano is blessed with many scenic mountain lakes, and SUP is a perfect way to appreciate their natural beauty. Friendly outfitters make it easy to enjoy even for beginners. Besides Gyaruman and Powerdrive R117 at Hokuryu Lake in Iiyama, other popular alternatives include Evergreen Outdoor Center / Hakuba’s Lake Aoki and Sunday Planning / Nojiri Lake in northern Nagano.
Polynesian demigod? No, charming Gyaruman the SUP pro.
The Japan Alps Art Festival 2017 is taking place in Omachi City until 30-July. Produced by Furamu Kitagawa (creator of the Echigo-Tsumari Triennale), Omachi’s festival is also planned to take place once every 3 years. For its inaugural exhibition, the Festival sure managed to attract some world class artists for some absolutely stunning art installations. Some pieces will likely remain permanently, but you’ll have to come before 30-July to see all the artwork.
What makes Omachi’s art festival so unique is the way the artists incorporated local material and cultural heritage into the make-up and thematic design of the art. While enjoying the visual and emotional beauty of the art installations, visitors get new perspectives and appreciation of Omachi’s Alpine beauty as well as it’s rich culture.
I was invited to take place in a Go-Nagano bloggers tour of the art festival, and would like to share some pictures and thoughts on Omachi.
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The Togura Tengu looks out over the Chikuma River Valley from his perch above Togura Station. The park around him, Togura Kitty Park, is ablaze in pink at the moment, clearly pleasing the Tengu.
The park is within walking distance from Togura Station on the Shinano Railway Line, in between Ueda and Nagano Stations. Besides the Tengu, there are a gazillion rabbits, 3 goats, 2 sheep and a godzilla. Plus the longest slide you’ll ever see, a mini zip-line and other playground toys. All with a great view of the valley below. And all bathed in pink with cherry blossoms now.