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The Nakasendo: part 2

Friday, October 30th, 2015 by Blair
Category Cuisine, Events, Information, Sightseeing

Princess Kazunomiya in the post-town of Narai.

From Kyoto, the Nakasendo passes through the Kiso valley and continues into the Eastern area of Nagano prefecture. There are 15 more post-towns along the way up to Karuizawa, many of which have preserved parts of their history. Recently, there has been resurgence in interest in these less-traveled areas, particularly in regards to one of its travelers.


Special Multilingual Promotion for Matsumoto Taiko Drum Festival (July 30-31) and Iida Puppet Festival (August 4-7)

Thursday, July 28th, 2011 by Andy
Category Information

Leaflet of Taiko Drum Festival

Taiko Drum Festival at Matsumoto Castle will be held this weekend (July 30, 31) and Iida Puppet Festival will be held next week (August 4-7).
Taiko Drum festival is very popular among local foreign regidents and Iida Puppet Festival is now a large international puppet event (400 shows will be performed at 120 venues and 40,000 attendants will enjoy them!).

We made multilingual (English, French, Korean, Chinese, Thai) leaflets of the two events this year. You can get it in TICs, some hotels, and Narita Airport. Otherwise, you can download PDF files.


Happy Girls Day + Hina Doll Info for Northern Nagano

Friday, March 4th, 2011 by Tyler
Category Culture Art, Events, Seasonal Topics

March 3rd was ‘Hina Matsuri’ day.  So, Happy Girls Day to all you young (and young at heart) ladies out there. Here is our daughter Misaki posing with our Hina Dolls. I’d like to take this opportunity to pass on some information about a few of the area’s many Hina Doll related events.
‘Burari’ Northern Nagano Hina Tour
This is an event involving various Hina Doll displays along the Nagano Dentetsu Railway from Yashiro Station to Yudanaka Station. Besides a ‘stamp rally’, the event features a travelling ‘relay’ display of new dolls by local popular doll artist Mayumi Takahashi. Relay dates and locations are as below:

1. Matsushiro Town
3/03-3/09 Matsushiro Machi Aruki Center
Original Hina Dolls made of local Matsushiro-yaki pottery will be featured.

2. Suzaka City
3/10-3/16 Kura-no-machi Kankou Koryu Center
To be held in conjunction with the Hina Doll Festival at Tanaka Honke Museum.

3. Yamanouchi Town
3/17-3/21 Kaede no Kan

4. Chikuma City
3/22-3/25 Yashiro Station ‘Welcome Station’
Also on display will be Hina Dolls made out of ‘haniwa nendo’, a local clay. One day during the event, participants will be able to make their own clay dolls. Contact the Welcome Station for more info: tel(026)272-3223.

5. Obuse Town
3/26-3/30 Kurian Fumido

6. Nakano City
3/31-4/03 Nakano Jinya & Kencho Memorial Hall
Don’t miss the ‘Hina Ichi (Market)’ festival. It takes place every year on March 31st and April 1st, and features clay dolls painted by local artists in a tradition that has been handed down over hundreds of years. People come from all over the country to add to their tsuchi-bina (clay doll) collections.

Finally, one more local Hina Doll event:
6th Annual Sakaki Kobina Festival
2011 Dates: 2/19-3/19
Features historical Hina Dolls displayed in the Sakakijuku Furusato History Hall, Tel(0268)82-4193.

Omi-juku: One of Nagano’s lesser-known Edo-era post towns

Tuesday, October 26th, 2010 by Tyler
Category Culture Art, Sightseeing

Nagano Prefecture has its share of ‘shukuba’ post towns along the various ‘kaido’ roads that led to feudal Edo.  Tsumago in southern Nagano and Unno-juku in eastern Nagano are two of the most well-restored, and hence popular with tourists. 

One of the residences in Omi-juku

One of the residences in Omi-juku

Today I visited a lesser-known post town, Omi-juku, which lies on the old Zenkoji Kaido that connects Matsumoto and Nagano City.  It is located in the village that bears its name, tiny, sleepy Omi village, population of a tad over 3,000 souls.  Just up from Hijiri Kogen Station (JR Shinonoi Line) which is located pretty much in the center of the village is Omi-juku, a stretch of road with many buildings dating to the Edo period.

You won’t find Omi-juku on many tourist maps.  But it is just that sense of non-touristy-ness that makes it so appealing.  It isn’t a well-preserved history museum — it’s real houses lived in by real people, peole that put up with the lack of modern conveniences and lovingly use and maintain the original buildings. 

It’s also surprisingly convenient by either car (just 2-3 minutes from the Omi IC on the Nagano Expressway) or a simple 5-6 minute walk up from Hijiri Kogen station.  So if you have the time and inkling to explore one of Nagano’s lesser-known ‘kaido’ treasures, Omi-juku would make an excellent choice.

Click here for Omi Village’s web page on Omi-juku (in Japanese)

Taking the Tanaka Honke Museum’s Appeal Overseas

Thursday, July 15th, 2010 by Tyler
Category Cuisine, Culture Art, Experience

The Nagano Inbound Summit team members and I held our 3rd in a series of “Unique Nagano” cultural activities “monitor tours” today.  12 of us toured the Tanaka Honke museum in Suzaka, highlighted by not just eating, but experiencing their bento lunch recreated from a 300 year old menu. 

Entrance to Tanaka Honke museum

Entrance to Tanaka Honke museum

The Tanaka Honke museum is a unique place.  It is the residence of Suzaka City’s Edo-era merchant family.  The buildings and gardens will please lovers of Japanese traditional architecture and formal gardens.  Besides, that, the museum’s artifacts give you a glimpse into the lifestyle of  this wealthy merchant family.  Some samples of the fascinating stories we gleamed from curator Tanaka-san’s explanation:

The "Autumn Garden"

The "Autumn Garden"

*What was the 2nd storehouse originally used for?  (Hint: the ceiling was stained a pitch black.)
Answer:  sake making (smoke from cooking the sake rice blackened the
*What was the room next to the vegetable garden for?  (Hint: There is a channel with water running down the middle.)  Answer:  Mill room (there used to be a water wheel there.)
*In the tea items display, there was a bowl painted with a design of an elephant surrounded by monks.  If you see it, try to guess how many monks are there.
*There was a lidded bowl amongst the tea display.  It’s exterior was completely black exterior, but open the lid and the inside was decoreted with and autumn color leaves.
*The dolls in the antique toy display had caucausian, not Japanese features.  Why?  Because they were for export to Western countries.  In the past, toy export was as big an industry as car export is today. 

Cool architecture

Cool architecture

So what did us foreigners think of the esteemed Tanaka Honke museum?  Here are our results.

*760 year old tea items
*antique toys
*the Bento (more on this later)
*tools used to move the garden stones
*300 y.o. pines
*mill room
*sitting room
*sake making room
*plum juice

*Lack of English explanation

*audio guide in English

For us, the main draw besides the buildings, gardens and museum displays, was the bento lunch.  The museum painstakingly recreated the lunch from a 300 year old menu discovered in the premises.  It is a fabulous chance to see what a wealthy merchant in mountainous Nagano ate during the Edo period.  The bento was full of suprises, like mozuki seaweed — that must have been a delicacy, as it would have had to have been carried by horse up from the Sea of Japan, and salmon that had also been carried up from the ocean, where it would have been caught before the long trip up the rivers as opposed to salmon caught in the nearby Chikuma river that had already depleted their stored fat by climbing up the river.   So many amazing stories, that really took us back to the Edo period.  All while enjoying the beautiful formal garden and the classic construction of the buildings. 

Enjoying the 300 year old bento lunch

Enjoying the 300 year old bento lunch

More than a museum that serves a 300 year old bento, we felt the Tanaka Honke would be best considered as featuring the bento and also offering a tour of the museum.  It would be a great addition to a trip to Nagano, for example to see the snow monkeys.

Tanaka Honke Museum is located in Suzaka, the city renowned for its earthen walled storehouses, just to the east of Nagano City.  The 300 year old bento is 4000 yen (reservations required), museum admission is 700 yen.  Hours are 9am-5pm (shorter in winter), closed most Tuesdays (days of operation are shown on their website).  For more, see

Matsumoto’s 2nd most popular tourist destination: JUM

Saturday, May 30th, 2009 by Tyler
Category Culture Art, Experience

052809-ukiyoe-facadeMatsumoto’s top attraction is, of course, the castle. But among foreigners, what is the city’s #2 most popular spot? According to one innkeeper who caters to guests from abroad, it is JUM, the Japan Ukioye Museum.
Today I met up with some of my fellow Inbound colleagues in Matsumoto. We are working on projects to make Nagano friendlier and more accessible to travelers from abroad. Anyways, since we were meeting in ‘Moto, we decided to hold the gathering at JUM. The curator, Sakai-san, graciously offered to give us a talk about the museum. He went into some fascinating subjects about why Westerners fancy ukiyoe, the roots of the Japanese people (as well as natto — both are surprisingly international), etc.

Then Sakai-san narrated a slide show on the museum’s current display, works by Hiroshige from the 1860′s on popular spots (of that time) in Tokyo. Ukiyoe was THE pop-culture art of the period, and seeing scenes of Tokyo in ukiyoe prints really brings the era alive. It’s amazing to see Ocha-no-mizu in a snow scene, and even more amazing to hear that the river was so clean its water (‘mizu’) was used for making tea (‘ocha’). Another fun scene was of tourists sightseeing at a waterfall in Shinjuku. This scene was surprising for 2 reasons — first, a natural waterfall in Shinjuku?!?!; second, one of the tourists was obviously a foreigner — “Inbound” back in the 1860′s!
Sakai-san offers his talks in English, Japanese, or an English-Japanese mix. If he isn’t available to talk in person, his narration is recorded and can be played back while watching the slide show.
JUM is located about a 10-minute walk from the Matsumoto Interchange, which is accessible by highway bus from downtown Matsumoto. So if/when you visit ‘Moto, after seeing the castle, lose yourself in the ukiyoe world at JUM!

Click here for the website for JUM

Ryokan Seifuso in Matsumoto is a member of the Japanese Inn Group. They offer courses in wearing kimonos and Japanese tea ceremony for their guests. Click here for their website.

The Craft Fair and Matsumoto Crafts Month

Friday, May 29th, 2009 by Andy
Category Culture Art, Events

Craft Fair of Year 2006

Craft Fair of Year 2006

Shinshu is a land of traditional crafts, such as Kiso wood crafts and lacquerware, tsumugi fabric, mizuhiki paper cord art, Matsumoto temari handballs and Togakushi bamboo craft.
Now, many craftsmen live in and around Matsumoto and Azumino in quest of a good environment for crafts and art.
On this weekend (May 30th and 31st), the Matsumoto Craft Fair, one of the biggest craft fairs in Japan, will be held at Agata-no-Mori Park. Many craftsmen and fans of crafts will gather from all over the country. (more…)

Kimono Event, Experience, Show

Thursday, April 16th, 2009 by Andy
Category Experience, Report

hinafesI attended an event called “Hina Doll Festival for Adults” on April 5th at the Baba Family Residence an old Japanese building in Matsumoto.
The dress code was kimono (or something pink for men), so all the women were wearing kimono.
We enjoyed tea ceremony, To-sen-kyo (a traditional Japanese game), and a concert featuring traditional music.

Experience Japan at Zenko-ji Temple

Saturday, March 28th, 2009 by Haru
Category Culture Art, Experience, Sightseeing
In front of 'Hondo' the grand Main Hall
In front of ‘Hondo’ the grand Main Hall


 Zenko-ji is one of the largest temples in Japan with as long as 1400-year history, which attracts some 6 ~ 7 million of people annually.



A temple named Zenko-ji Tokugyo-bo started its unique package for visitors from all over the world. It includes traditional cultural experiences such as kimono, sado (tea ceremony), zazen (Buddhist meditation), shojin-ryori (Buddhist-style Vegetarian meal) as well as the guided tour of Zenko-ji. 


They have already done several demonstrations inviting people in tourism, which have been successful. Their operation starts in this coming June after the Grand Festival ‘Gokaicho’.  I bet this will be a must for visitors from overseas for even us Japanese would like to join this tour.  

They had a chance to receive the touch of Buddhist Rosary from the Top Priestess of Zenko-ji temple

They had a chance to receive the touch of Buddhist Rosary from the Top Priestess of Zenko-ji temple with Japanese people


Sado - Japanese tea ceremony in a tatami-mat room in the temple

Sado - Japanese tea ceremony in a tatami-mat room in the temple

Zazen - Buddhist meditation at Zenko-ji

Zazen - Buddhist meditation at Zenko-ji

Ladies clad in kimono walk up the main approach to Zenko-ji Temple
Ladies clad in kimono having a pleasant time strolling downtown Nagano



Under ' San-mon' the Main Gate with temple priests

Under the first temple gate, Nio-mon or Deva King Gate with temple priests



If you would like to experience real Japan and its traditional cultures in a tranquil surroundings, come to Zenko-ji Temple!


Saturday, February 28th, 2009 by Haru
Category Culture Art, Experience, Report

Fans, Target on the Box

Hi! I happened to have a chance to experience a traditional Japanese indoor game called ‘ To-sen-kyo’ in a neighboring town, Suzaka.

Suzaka is called a town of ‘Kura’ or traditional warehouses, once thrived as a big producer of high-quality silk.


1 What is ‘To-sen-kyo’?

‘To-sen-kyo’ literally means ‘throwing-fan-amusement’.

2 How to play

Put the target called ‘Chou’ (means butterfly) on the wooden box called ‘Makura’ (pillow). You sit on heels at a distance of about 2 meters and toss an open fan called ‘Oogi’ (folding fan)to the target; the primary objective of this game is to knock over the target, but if the fan hits the base, you will lose points.

The scores differ according to the pattern made by the fan and the target, and sometimes the box.

It is said to have become popular in the mid Edo period around 1770s and is still played in some areas.


I tried many times. At first, I did not know how to toss the fan properly, and so it did not even graze the target. BUT under the kind guidance of the staff, I improved a lot in the end!!


Well, it was more amusing than it looked and , what is more, it made me feel as elegant as a court noble in old days.