Snow Monkeys Not Worth Seeing When No Snow? This Cutie Disagrees.

April 26th, 2014 by
Category: Information, Outdoor Activities, Seasonal Topics

“Are the snow monkeys worth going to see even when there is no snow?”

I get asked that question often.  And my answer is, “Of course!”  One reason is that the macaque babies that are born in the spring time are just the cutest little furballs that you’ll ever see.  They run all over the place, chasing each other around and jumping into the onsen bath. 

Hagiwara-san at the Jigokudani Wild Monkey Park confirmed that the mother monkeys have started giving birth this spring.  So for visitors to Nagano during the green season, make sure to include a stop at Jigokudani to see cute little baby monkeys.

Mama Macaque Holding a cute Baby Snow Monkey (Picture courtesy of P. Harnett)

Mori “Apricot Village” in Full Bloom

April 12th, 2014 by
Category: Events, Outdoor Activities, Seasonal Topics

Chikuma City’s Mori neighborhood is known as Japan’s largest producer apricots.  While the fruit’s season isn’t until the end of June, the valley attracts photographers from all over Japan in early to mid-April for the apricot blossoms.  And right now, the trees are in full bloom!

(Photo courtesy of Kiyotaki-san)

Last year, the Emperor and Empress of Japan even came to see Mori’s famous blossoms.  This year, the weather is cooperating with clear blue skies so in addition to the beautiful apricot blossoms, Togakushi, Takatsuma and other snow-covered mountains along the Nagano – Niigata border are providing a picturesque backdrop. 

The 2014 Apricot Blossom Festival will continue until April 18th.  (Access by train from Yashiro Station on the Shinano Railway.)

Introducing the new “Unique Nagano” App featuring 100+ Activities to experience in Nagano

April 6th, 2014 by
Category: Experience

Nagano Prefecture’s Junior Innkeepers Association has just released a new app for the prefecture.  Called “Unique Nagano”, the app features over 100 activities to experience in Nagano. 

The featured activities include everything from a real ninjutsu lesson from a Togakure-do school ninja to sitting at a 100-year old loom and weaving your own silk walk hanging.  There are a wide variety of onsens (including one where you dig your own bath out of a river bed) and cooking lessons (such as miso soup making by a real-life miso maker as well as that quintessential Nagano activity — soba noodle making).

The Innkeepers Association hopes that by showcasing some of the great activities that make Nagano such a rewarding place to see, that more people will choose to stay here. 

App is downloadable from the companion website, www.unique-nagano.com

Now is the Perfect Time to Come to Nagano

February 22nd, 2014 by
Category: Information

Nagano Prefecture was hit by two consecutive snow storms on the 2nd and 3rd weekends this February. Freeways and roads were closed. Trains stopped running. It was a transportation nightmare.

But the freeways and main roads are cleared of snow now, and thanks to all the neighbors getting together and shoveling, even most of the side streets like around our onsen town Togura-Kamiyamada are clear. The Nagano Shinkansen, our local Shinano Railway, and all other trains in Nagano Prefecture are back on schedule.

So now is the perfect time to come to Nagano. Transportation is back to normal but Nagano’s normally beautiful scenery is especially stunning now with a blanket of snow covering everything. Plus there are the onsen baths to soak in that will warm your body to the core. And Nagano’s hearty winter cuisine, with our iconic ‘nozawana’ pickles and mushroom hotpot stews, will warm your soul.

Everyone here at onsen town Togura-Kamiyamada and in all of Nagano Prefecture are looking forward to your visit.

Nothing beats a warm soak in an an onsen bath with snow all around!

“Arena” Bathhouse at Nozawa Onsen Grand Re-Opening

December 12th, 2013 by
Category: Onsens (Hot Springs), Report
Nozawa Onsen’s bathhouse “Arena” is celebrating it’s Grand Re-Opening today, 12-December 2013.
In addition to the original mens and womens onsen baths and saunas, the renovated Arena now features a new style of onsen bathing — brand new outdoor baths for soaking while wearing bathing suits. 
Arena also has a “Relax Room” for unwinding after a soak, as well as restaurant facilities. 
And coming Summer 2014:
*A waterfall pool next to the new outdoor baths
*A kiddy pool
*A new garden featuring native trees and plants.
More pictures and map on the Nozawa Onsen Ski Resort website (in Japanese)
http://www.nozawaski.com/winter/facilities/arena.php

Jigokudani Snow Monkeys now with Snow!

December 12th, 2013 by
Category: Information, Onsens (Hot Springs), Outdoor Activities, Seasonal Topics

The world-famous “Snow Monkeys” of the Jigokudani Wild Monkey Park are cute any time of the year soaking in their onsen bath. But it’s when it snows is when they are truly in their most photogenic element. And that area has started to get their winter snow fall, so now is your chance!

Winter bus schedules are now in effect, so I updated the train and bus matrix to get you from Nagano Station (and by extension, onsen town Togura-Kamiyamada) to the monkey park trailhead, Kanbayashi, and back for an easy day trip.  (Note: This is just a partial schedule.  Check at the Information Center at Nagano Station for full train and bus schedules.)

We just had a visitor from Sydney, Australia make the trip. He said he ‘only’ took about 200 pictures of the monkeys. The snow made for a dramatic backdrop, especially on the walk from Kanbayashi through the beautiful evergreen forest.

Antiques Sale in Inariyama – Yeah!

November 16th, 2013 by
Category: Events, Shopping

On the northern tip of Chikuma City is the historical Inariyama neighborhoood.  Dozens of classic earthen-walled storehouses line the narrow streets, giving a sense of what the area was like during its heydays as a transportation and distribution hub during the late Edo era.  Tucked away in nooks and crannies of those storehouses are a wealth of antique pottery, furniture, cookingware and a myriad of other objects.  Once a year, the storehouses are ‘opened’ and the antiques put up for sale.  This year will be the 2nd annual such Inariyama Antiques Sale, to be held as per the following:

Inariyama Antiques Sale
Sunday 17-November, 2013
From 8am to 2pm
Inariyama’s Aramachi street, in front of okonimiyaki restaurant “Silky”.

Flier for the Inariyama Antiques Sale, depcting some of the items you can expect to find

Antiques tend to be popular in the West, and it always amazes me there aren’t more antique shops here in Japan, especially with all the skillfully crafted furniture and other objects here.  So Inariyama’s Antiques Sale is sure to be a great opportunity to pick up some classic Japanese artifacts!

Location:

https://maps.google.co.jp/?ll=36.538816,138.104882&spn=0.003116,0.006947&t=m&z=18&brcurrent=3,0x601d82bf6683bedb:0x8170c7cb1059822,1

UPDATE

On the 17th, I dragged one of our sons to Inariyama for the antiques sale. I was looking forward to seeing what kind of treasures would come out of the nooks and crannies of Inariyama’s old storehouses, and I wasn’t disappointed.

At the 2013 Inariyama Antiques Sale, with local civic leader Takamura-san

Pictured are a couple of the items I picked up. Any guess what that item with the hook is? It’s a portable scale called a “hakari”. Traveling salesmen used to sell some objects by weight and used this kind of scale to measure, not kilograms, but “kan”. (1 kan = 3.75kg). Apparently ‘kan’ were used along side kilograms from the Meiji era until 1959 until being phased out and totally replaced by the metric system in 1966.


A bit of history for only 500 yen!

And the Japanese umbrella in the background was also 500 yen. 

After discovering these great treasures, I am already looking forward to next year’s antiques sale at Inariyama!

New Walking and Hiking Guide for Karuizawa

November 2nd, 2013 by
Category: Information, Outdoor Activities

Aussie expat and fellow Go-Nagano ambassador has been at it again. He just published his 3rd book in his Hiking, Walking & Biking Nagano Guide — the Karuizawa edition. Joining the Chikuma City and Ueda City editions, Peter’s guide gives detailed information on lots of well-researched courses from walks around town to vigourous hikes in the nearby mountains.

New Guide Book for Karuizawa


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Classic Volcano Climb: Eastern Nagano’s Mt. Asama

July 24th, 2013 by
Category: Onsens (Hot Springs), Outdoor Activities

At 2568m, Mt. Asama is the largest mountain in eastern Nagano. The active volcano towers over Komoro and Karuizawa, frequently sending up plumes of volcanic ash and smoke. The Nagano Shinkansen is named after Mt. Asama, and riders of the bullet train get a front seat view of the awe-inspiring mountain.

But what does the world look like from the top of Mt. Asama? And can you see into the volcanic crater? I had always been curious, so on a recent day when our oldest son had a day off from middle school, we decided to make an ascent of the volcano.

Author and his son at the top of Mt. Asama's Maekake Crater

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Fruit Picking Season 2013 in Chikuma City is Here!

June 28th, 2013 by
Category: Experience, Outdoor Activities, Seasonal Topics

Ever wanted to  taste a tart apricot picked right off the tree?  Curious about how much minute care goes into growing an apple in Japan?  Want to see grapes as they are growing on the vine instead of at a supermarket counter?  Then Chikuma City is the place for you with a plethora of fruit orchards. Practically year-round there is some type of fruit picking that can be enjoyed:

Apricots and Cherries from late June to early July
Grapes from early September to early October
Apples from late September to December
Greenhouse Strawberries from December to early June

The fruit picking season for 2013 is now under way, with sweet, juicy cherries and fresh, tart apricots ready for you to come and pick.

Kamiyamada Cherry Picking 2013
Watashima-san (Kamiyamada’s Yasaka district)
Tel (026)276-1834 (Sorry — Japanese language only.)
Cherry Picking Start: Sunday 23-June
Cherry Picking End: Thursday 04-July
Price: 1500 yen for 30-minutes all-you-can-eat (while picking)
Quantities are limited, but feel free to contact me c/o Kamesei Ryokan tel# 026-275-1032 for help in making arrangements. 

Watashima-san's cherries (taken when I visited in 2012)

Mori and Sarashina Apricot Picking 2013

Here in Chikuma City, the Mori district is known as Japan’s #1 ‘apricot village’. The blossoms in early April are so famous that this year even the emperor and empress came to see them. Mori is a 20-minute drive from the main resort area, onsen town Togura-Kamiyamada. A short 15-minute walk away from the onsen, along the Chikuma River, are the apricot orchards of the Sarashina district. And Kyohoen Apricot Orchards are one of the most modern growers, trying to develop better varieties and using cutting-edge techniques to maximize yield.

This past April our area had some devastating low temperatures that are effecting the apricot trees’ production. But the folks at Kyohoen believe strongly in giving guests  the opportunity to enter the apricot field and pick fruit themselves. This year’s apricot picking schedule is as follows:

Kyohoen Orchard near Togura-Kamiyamada Onsen
Office: 1092-2 Wakamiya, Chikuma City, Nagano
Tel: (026)276-6018 Kaneko-san (limited English)
Apricot Picking Start: Around 24-June (Monday)
Apricot Picking End: Around 05-July (Friday)
Price: 1000 yen per Kilogram (Showa variety)

Our son Kenny eating as he picks at Kyohoen's apricot field this year.