Gomyoukan @ Zenkoji

March 30th, 2009 by
Category: Cuisine, Culture Art

d1000064After a recent appointment with the monks at Zenkoji, I had lunch at a historical restaurant just outside of the Sanmon gate. The restaurant is called Gomyoukan, and apparently originally provided lodging for travellers to the temple. The place had caught my eye before, with its classic exterior, full of character. Today, upon entering, I looked up and noticed “1776” written above the main door. This restaurant’s history is as long as that of my country, the United States! The owner was cool, the interior was cool, the food preparation was cool, and they even had a cool microbrew. (Oh how I wish I could have had one!)
I would say Gomyoukan is a legitimate lunch alternative to all of the soba shops around Zenkoji.

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By the way, the reason I had to go to Zenkoji was I am on the planning committee for this year’s “Pulled by an Ox to Zenkoji” walk, our annual event involving a 30km walk from Togura Kamiyamada Onsen to Zenkoji. This year it will take place on 06-May (Wed.) Care to join?

Hina Dolls of Northern Nagano

March 5th, 2009 by
Category: Culture Art, Events
Hina Dolls

Hina Dolls

March 3rd is the Hina Doll Festival in Japan.  Households throughout the country put out these Hina doll sets for their daughters to enjoy.  Most of the inns here at Togura Kamiyamada Onsen also have elaborate Hina sets on display, including the 8-level one at Kamiyamada Hotel.  Kamesei’s set this year is this relatively simple one.  Our daughter Misaki seems happy with it.

At the Sakaki-juku Furusato Historical Hall in neighboring Sakaki Town, every year they put on an Antique Hina Doll Festival.  This year’s event is scheduled to run from 20-March (Fri) to 06-May (Wed).  They often have Taguchi-sensei, a Hina Doll scholar, come for a talk, and this year he once again stayed at Kamesei.  According to the sensei, northern Nagano is at a sort of crossroads between Tokyo and Kyoto, and the area’s Hina dolls were influenced by both sides for a style unique to this locale.  Taguchi-sensei actually started out researching Western doll culture.  He mentioned that when he saw our Misaki playing with her Ju-chan doll. 

Ju-chan, a Western Doll

Ju-chan, a Western Doll

Ju-chan is named after Grandma Judi who kept the doll from when she played with it as a child.  Grandma initially kept it to give to her daughter, but for better or worse she only had my two brothers and I.  So she waited for a granddaughter.  She finally got one in Misaki, but here in far-away Japan.  Even so, Grandma still gave Misaki her treasured doll.

I wonder if Hina dolls have such memories attached to them.

Click here for details on Sakaki’s Antique Hina Doll Festival

The Lesser Pandas Say “Hi”

March 4th, 2009 by
Category: Information, Outdoor Activities

Last weekend we took advantage of the sunny weather and took our kids to the Chausuyama Zoo in Nagano City.  The zoo is on a hill above Shinonoi Station with great views of Nagano City and the Shiga Kogen Heights in the distance, and is famous for its Lesser Pandas. The Lessers sure were cute, but we were more impressed by the lions and the tiger near the entrance. They sure are huge in real life. Nearby was a section with both giraffes and zebras  in it. The 4~5 meter tall giraffes made the zebras look like pygmies. We had the most fun at the Urangutan exhibit. He was eating lunch when we saw him, and he would come right up to the window, face to face with our Misaki. She was so scared she started crying!

Most of the critters were enclosed behind bars in concrete cages, but it didn’t seem as cramped as most other zoos in Japan.  And it seemed like you could see the animals pretty close up (too close in some instances, like Misaki and the urangutan!).  The kids liked the petting zoo, and there were the great views of Nagano City below.

Chausuyama Zoo’s website is here

Andy and Kenny with their Zoo Tickets

Andy and Kenny with their Zoo Tickets

 (limited English).

Access:  Closest train station is Shinonoi, 4 stops from Nagano Station.  Bus Access from Shinonoi Station is available, but very sparse.  It would be a long (7~8 km) and steep hike, so if you don’t have a car, I would splurge for a taxi.

Togura Kamiyamada Onsen’s Michelin Debut + Chikuma City’s New English Brochure

February 28th, 2009 by
Category: Accomodations, Information, Onsens (Hot Springs), Sightseeing

According to one of the other innkeepers in town, Michelin’s Japan Travel Guide (to be out 16-March) will list a new spot in Nagano: Togura Kamiyamada Onsen! Last year, their editor passed through Nagano and our town got a 10 minute appointment with him. Apparently my presentation was effective, as our town’s geisha will be featured in the new guide.

Also, today, Chikuma City’s first ever English Sightseeing Guidebook was released. Not bad, if I do say so myself. Now our town has the tools to better provide information to guests from overseas.022809-new-brochure1

A Circus is Coming to Town

February 19th, 2009 by
Category: Events

In conjunction with this year’s Gokaicho at Zenkoji, and to commemorate the opening of new Chikuma Station on the local Shinano Railway line, the Kigure New Circus will be held in a tent near Chikuma Station from 20-March to 24-May.  Prices are 2700 yen for adults, 1500 yen for children, with discount tickets available in advance until 10-April.  Two to three shows daily (Thursdays off).


I’m not sure what a circus has to do with Zenkoji’s esteemed once-every-seven-years Gokaicho, but it sounds like it will be fun for kids.

Kigure circus website is here (Japanese, not English)

Chikuma City’s Funkiest Bridge

February 19th, 2009 by
Category: Sightseeing

Getting Wider, and Wider, and Wider, and ....

A relative of ours that’s here in the construction industry once told me that one of the things they have the most pride in building is a bridge.
But one of the things that’s difficult about bridge building is the river doesn’t always stay put. So what happens when the river you built a bridge over shifts its channel? You extend the bridge to cover the river’s new position. And if the river changes again? You extend the bridge again? And another change? Another extension.
Another tricky thing about bridge building is government building code tend to change, especially regarding the required width of the bridge. A long time ago, when there were few cars on the road, you could get away with a one-lane bridge. But as the years go by, the minimum width restrictions get increasingly wider.
So that’s why.
(Why what, you ask?)
Oh, I neglected to mention that this picture is of Kamuriki Bridge, just downriver from Togura Kamiyamada Onsen. This is the west end of the bridge, where it is a 1-lane deal. As you cross the bridge, the width changes. 4 times
If you want to experience a bridge that changes width 4 times, you’d better hurry. Nagano Prefecture is building a replacement for this inconvenient (?) bridge next to the existing one.
That means we’re losing another funky bridge from the world.