Typhoon Talim Passed, Now Back to Autumn: Cosmos Flowers in Saku

September 18th, 2017 by
Category: Events, Seasonal Topics

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)

Leisurely, Luxurious Train Ride: Rokumon

August 3rd, 2017 by
Category: Cuisine, Experience, Sightseeing

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.

Classy interior

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.

Friendly Staff

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.

 

Summer in Nagano: SUP on a Mountain Lake

July 20th, 2017 by
Category: Experience, Information, Outdoor Activities

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.

Japan Alps Art Festival 2017 to End 30-July; Omachi’s Rich Culture and Beautiful Alpine Scenery Endless.

June 27th, 2017 by
Category: Information

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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Hanami with a Tengu

April 19th, 2017 by
Category: Outdoor Activities, Seasonal Topics

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.

Exciting new developments in Yudanaka, gateway to the Snow Monkeys

February 12th, 2017 by
Category: Onsens (Hot Springs), Report, Shopping


Yudanaka and Shibu are a pair of onsen resort towns at the base of Shiga Kogen near the Jigokudani Wild Monkey Park (home of the Snow Monkeys).  If you go by train to the snow monkeys, you’ll likely pass through Yudanaka Station.  Yudanaka, as with many resort towns, is struggling with shops and inns closing up due to not having anyone to take over the businesses as the current owners retire.

Nagano’s largest bank has teamed up with an investment fund to create a civic improvement organization called Waku-Waku Yamanouchi.  (“Waku-waku” means to be excited.)  They purchased 4 such businesses, renovated them, and are in the process of reopening them repurposed as guesthouses, a restaurant, an art-themed boutique-ryokan, and a coffee shop.  I recently toured the new shops and certainly found them to be “waku-waku”!

A Nagano Winter Pastime: Greenhouse Strawberry Picking

February 2nd, 2017 by
Category: Cuisine, Outdoor Activities, Seasonal Topics

One scrumptious way to beat the winter cold in Nagano is to go strawberry picking.  You can pick all-you-can-eat strawberries inside a toasty-warm greenhouse.  One such location is Agri-Park in Chikuma City.  I went there recently with some bloggers from Taiwan.  They really enjoyed picking the berries, dipping them in some condensed milk, and popping them into their mouths.  Deliciously sweet berries and a warm escape from the cold — a perfect winter day in Nagano.

One of Agri-Park’s greenhouses with the Northern Alps in the background.

Agri-Park is located in the vicinity of the Mori Shogunzuka ancient burial mound, so you can indulge in prehistoric history after you’ve had your fill of yummy strawberries.  For further historical intrigue, the Nagano Prefecture Historical Museum is adjacent to the burial mound’s visitors center.

Nagano Prefectural History Museum’s prehistoric village in the springtime with peach blossoms.

Access via public transportation is from Yashiro Station on the Shinano Railway.  Bus service from the station is infrequent so either taxi (approx. 7 min., 800 yen) or on foot (2km, 25 min.).  By car, Koshoku IC on the Nagano Expressway is approx. 6 min. 3km.

 

Happy Splendid New Year from Nagano!

January 2nd, 2017 by
Category: Information

As they say in Japanese, “Akemashite Omedetou Gozaimasu!” (Happy New Year!)

How did you spend your New Years Day?  Here in Nagano, it is common to climb a mountain in the morning to see the first sunrise of the year.  At our onsen town, Togura-Kamiyamada, the fortress at the top of the hill behind our town, Arato-Jo, hot tea was provided as we huddled together to watch the sun rise over the Chikuma River valley.

1st Sunrise of 2017, as seen from Arato-jo Castle (Picture courtesy of Andy Lynch)


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Mystical Togakushi in transition from winter to spring

May 11th, 2016 by
Category: Experience, Outdoor Activities, Seasonal Topics, Sightseeing

Togakushi is special any time of year, but this transitional period, after winter has departed and before the trees have grown their leaves in the spring, is magical.  The creamy white flowers of the mizubasho plants (known in English very un-romantically as skunk cabbage) serve as a reminder of the recently melted snow, while the cacophony of ground plants are a harbinger of vernal green.

Mizubasho, aka “skunk cabbage”

My wife and I made a post-Golden Week day trip to Togakushi.  We started off at Yamaguchi-ya for some soba noodles.  Located near Chu-sha (Togakushi’s Middle Shrine), this restaurant’s eating area provides a spectacular view of the Togakushi Mountain Range.  Today, unfortunately, the mountain was hiding behind clouds, fitting in a way since the peak has traditionally been home to hermit monks hiding in its depths.  Even without the normal scenery, the noodles were still fantastic.  There is just something different about noodles made with local buckwheat and Togakushi’s clear mountain water.  The fresh mountain air seems to add to the experience, too.
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Norikura Nature Walk, Snowshoe-style

March 7th, 2016 by
Category: Accomodations, Experience, Information, Onsens (Hot Springs), Outdoor Activities, Seasonal Topics

The Japanese Alps are a treasure trove of natural wonder, and knowledgeable guides at Little Peaks in Norikura are just the ones to  reveal the splendor.  Today I had the pleasure of joining in a magical snowshoeing tour of Norikura.

Here is how the adventure went:

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