Arato-jo Fortress overlooking the golden rice fields

September 23rd, 2018 by
Category: Information, Seasonal Topics, Sightseeing

Arato-jo is a mountaintop fortress overlooking the Chikuma River Valley and present-day Onsen Town Togura-Kamiyamada.  The rice fields down in the valley are in their golden glory, just a couple of weeks away from harvest.  Just one of the beautiful scenes awaiting you if you visit Nagano in the fall.

Info on Arato-jo Fortress:  http://www.onsentown.net/interests/arato-jo-castle  The castle is a 30-minute walk uphill from the onsen town.  The trailhead is reachable by bus from Togura Station on the Shinano Railway line.

Summer in Nagano Means ‘Hanabi’ (Fireworks)!

August 10th, 2018 by
Category: Events, Information, Outdoor Activities, Seasonal Topics, Sightseeing

Cities and towns throughout Nagano put on fireworks displays in summer.  It’s a great excuse to wear a colorful yukata (summer kimono) and enjoy the relatively cool evening ambience.  The grand-daddy is the Lake Suwa Hanabi festival, held every year on 15-August.  It boasts over 40,000 fireworks reflecting in the lake surface.  Then in early September, a separate display featuring a competition of Hanabi-shi (professional pyrotechnics) takes place.  For details, see the official website.

Below is a picture of this year’s Chikuma River Fireworks Festival at Onsen Town Togura-Kamiyamada.  It’s about the 1/4th the size of Lake Suwa’s, but is an area favorite because the viewing are is so close to the action and the sound reverbrates off the surrounding hillsides, making for a very dynamic display.  The grand-finale includes a cascading ‘Niagara’ of fireworks along the upriver bridge (to the right in the picture).  It is held every year on the 7th of August.  (Photo is actually by my son, Andy, taken from the Kannon-ji Temple on the castle hill behind town.)

Go Waterfall Hunting — Naena Falls

August 4th, 2018 by
Category: Outdoor Activities, Seasonal Topics

One of my favorite ways to escape the heat in the summer is to go waterfall hunting.  My latest target was Naena Falls in Shinanomachi Town.  The waterfall is actually on the border of Nagano and Niigata Prefectures.  We visited during a stay at Lake Nojiri.  From the lake and/or Kurohime Station, it is a 10 minute drive (or you can rent bicycles at the station), then a short (approx. 1km) walk.  The trail starts out at a rather garish concrete weir, but soon ascends to a lush forest path (sturdy shoes recommended) before arriving at a suspension bridge crossing the river in front of the falls.

The name, ‘Naena’, apparently derived from the word for earthquake, referring to the sound of the waterfalls echoing off the surrounding mountainside.

Naena Falls is listed as one of Japan’s Top 100 Waterfalls, and makes a refreshing break from the summer heat.

Escape up to Utsukushigahara

July 1st, 2018 by
Category: Outdoor Activities, Seasonal Topics, Sightseeing

 The 2000-meter Utsukushi ga Hara plateau makes for a beautiful (that’s what ‘Utsukushii’ means — ‘beautiful’) high-altitude escape. The wide open fields are home to a heard of cows and in late June are punctuated with wild azaleas.

 
The 360-degree panorama vista looks out to the Yatsugatake Range to the south, the Hotaka Range of the Northern Alps to the west, the Hakuba peaks to the north, and Mt. Asama to the east.


Our recent visit was too brief to be able to enjoy the Open Air Museum’s inspirational artwork, nor the trek to the stone bell tower. But we’ll be back.

Utsukushigahara Open Air Museum


Utsukushigahara can be reached from Matsumoto by bus, but the windy ascent and scenic Venus Line highway are paradise for drivers.

Onsen Town Togura-Kamiyamada’s Newest English Map and How To Videos

March 18th, 2018 by
Category: Cuisine, Experience, Information, Onsens (Hot Springs), Sightseeing

Nagano’s Onsen Town Togura Kamiyamada now has its 3rd generation Walking Map & Restaurant Guide as well as 4 PR videos.

The new Onsen Town Togura-Kamiyamada “How To” video series,

Video 1: How to Enjoy an Onsen Town 

Showcasing several of Togura-Kamiymada’s unique shops as well as a feature on Zukudashi Eco Tours.  Come wear a yukata robe, slip on the wooden geta slippers, and explore our onsen town!

Video 2: How to Enjoy Local Food

Shows how to order (and eat) at some quintessential types of Japanese restaurants, like soba noodles, yakitori, izakaya and even ‘horumon’ (not for the faint of heart). Plus a local Nagano favorite, oyaki dumplings and the video has a feature on Togura-Kamiyamada’s legendary Kohaku including an interview with Susa-san about our area’s signature ‘oshibori udon’ noodles.

Video 3: How to Stay at a Ryokan

Curious about staying at a traditional ryokan while visiting Japan, but not sure what to do during your stay?  From the kaiseki-style dinner, soaking in the onsen bath, and your futon spread out on the straw tatami mat, this video explains how to make the most of your ryokan experience.  It also shows many of the great inns here in Togura-Kamiyamada.  Don’t miss the seeing one of our town’s geisha, Takeshi, showing the proper way to wear a yukata robe.

Video 4: How to Bathe in an Onsen 

When in Japan, one of the can’t miss experiences is taking an onsen bath. But the process can be a bit intimidating. (Yes — as local onsen expert Tonegawa-san explains in the video, you have to be naked.) Learn these simple tips of onsen etiquette and bath like a native. The video also explains the unique characteristics of Togura-Kamiymada’s hot spring mineral water (beware bathing with silver jewelry!), featuring a special interview with Goro-san, president of the Kamiyamada Onsen Company.

Zenkoji’s Lantern Festival — Part of Nagano’s Olympic Heritage

February 13th, 2018 by
Category: Culture Art, Events, Outdoor Activities, Seasonal Topics

Last night, we went to Nagano City’s venerable Zenkoji Temple for the last night of the 15th annual Toumyou Matsuri (Lantern Festival).  It is in commemoration of the 1998 Winter Olympics.  The visual artistry was a heart-warming display, which was dearly welcomed with the sub-freezing temperatures!  I’ll let the pictures do the talking:

New Years Bonfire Tradition: Suzaka’s “Dondo-Yaki”

December 29th, 2017 by
Category: Cuisine, Culture Art, Events, Experience, Information, Outdoor Activities, Seasonal Topics, Sightseeing

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.

Meet Japan’s Emperors (and General MacArthur)

November 4th, 2017 by
Category: Culture Art, Information, Sightseeing

Curious about Japanese emperors? The Japan History Museum on the hill behind our Onsen Town Togura Kamiyamada has a permanent display of portraits of all the emperors and empresses dating back to mythological times.
The museum will be open until the end of November and the again in the spring. Entrance is 500 yen.
The museum’s temporary display features the history of Daihongan, one of the two Buddhist sects that manage Zenkoji Temple. Kanon-ji, he temple neighboring the museum, is a branch of Zenkoji under the Daihongan sect

 

Happy Harvest Moon, From Nagano’s Top-2 Moon-Viewing Spots

October 6th, 2017 by
Category: Information, Outdoor Activities, Seasonal Topics, Sightseeing

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!)

亀清旅館さんの写真 亀清旅館さんの写真 亀清旅館さんの写真

Nagano’s Apple Season Has Officially Started

September 30th, 2017 by
Category: Events, Outdoor Activities, Seasonal Topics

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.