Tsumago-shuku is one of sixty-nine post towns on the Nakasendō Road in the Kiso Valley which is located in Nagano Prefecture. Connecting Kyoto with Edo (present day Tokyo), this road features many historically important sites, traditional houses, and serene settings.
Photographs depicting what life was like for older generations and other items can be found on display around town. This quiet village in the mountains offers numerous places to explore and walking along the road surrounded by wooden buildings and storehouses gives you a feeling that you’ve traveled back in time.
Hiking the Nakasendō Trail
The area is accessible by train and bus, but you can also travel along the route via a hiking course. You can also purchase a traveler’s staff and receive wood-branded seals at checkpoints and post towns along the way. A baggage transportation service is offered from March 20 to November 30. The service is offered through the Tsumago-shuku Sightseeing Information Center (0264-57-3123), Koshinzuka Hotel (0264-57-3029), and Magome-shuku Sightseeing Information Center (0573-69-2336). Stop off at the post towns to rest and rejuvenate yourself.
You’ll find many souvenir shops along the way selling locally made goods and tasty treats including gohei mochi (pounded rice that has been flattened and molded into an oval shape, stuck on a skewer, coated with sauce such as miso, and then grilled.) Nagano Prefecture is known for its buckwheat, so you can enjoy fresh, hand cut buckwheat noodles as well. Sweet amazake (contains little to no alcohol) and nihonshu (sake) can also be found along the route.
The Tsumago-shuku Sightseeing Information Center offers a variety of information and pamphlets for you to take with you.
Nagiso Museum’s Wakihonjin-Okuya with the traditional fire pit and gardens has preserved the atmosphere of traditional Japanese housing. Feel calm settle over you as you witness the sunlight streaming in above the fire pit and the garden and pond filled with multi-colored carp.
Where to Stay
The area has been preserved through the Protection of Cultural Properties Project, but you will still find people living in the town. You can even stay at one of the residences or Japanese style inns in the town. Please understand that because these accommodations are in older buildings, rooms with private bathrooms are not available, although some places offer private shower stalls. If you access the respective homepages from the following website, you will find that many of the websites offer English: http://www.tumago.jp/stay/index.html.
One point of access to the Tsumago-shuku Area is from Nagiso Station. The bus fare is 300 yen one way. Lockers are available at the Tsumago-shuku bus stop. They require one 100 yen coin, but you will get your money back once you remove your things from the locker.
Tyler shows our group some Showa era graffiti on a local earthern wall.
On a beautiful fall day, I joined a group of foreigners on a cycling tour of Togura Kamiyamada Onsen south of Chikuma City. The area was once home to several mountain castles and a post town so there is a wealth of history in the area. Our guide, local ryokan owner and area expert Tyler, took us along beautiful mountain roads and pointed out interesting relics and features along the way.
From small stone dosojin carvings used to ward off bandits to legacies of the region’s districts and landscape features, Tyler pointed out interesting aspects of history that we would have never noticed on our own. As a lover of traditional Japanese architecture himself, he told us about the significance of different design features, from thatched roofs to decorative tile crowns on various buildings. And occasionally there were some heart-warming discoveries as well, like the preserved lovers’ carvings on old, earthern walls.
The temple gate of Chishiki-ji is made entirely without metal fastenings. Fasten-ating!
Tyler recounts the history of Chishiki-ji temple in Chikuma.
Along the route there were expansive views of the Chikuma valley and surrounding mountains. While past their peak, the autumn leaves still burned vividly and brightly around us and cattails swung in the breeze. As we passed farmers tending their fields they greeted us warmly and occasionally we stopped to chit chat. Groups of school children shouted “Hello!” as we cycled on. It was a much closer inspection of the countryside than I’ve had in most of my time here.
We tasted one of these delicious sun fuji apples from Crown Orchard along the way.
Lovely views from the Crown apple orchard.
After 2 hours touring around the area we were starting to get cold, so headed back to Tyler’s inn, Kamesei Ryokan, to take a dip in the hot springs.
An Evening Geisha Performance
Togura Kamiyamada Onsen is also home to practicing Geisha performers. They usually work at larger banquets, but Tyler sometimes arranges them to visit for 30-minute performances in his own ryokan. Unlike seeing geisha in Kyoto, here it is an interactive experience, playing games and learning dances from them! They danced and sang several songs. One of them, called “Kawanakajima,” was about the great battle between Uesugi Kenshin and Takeda Shingen that happened here. As they danced, their bright fans slashed through the air like swords.
The geisha perform the song and dance “Kawanakajima.”
We learned a coal miner’s dance, and while our hostesses explained it very well in English, the timing and coordination are not as easy as you might expect. After a few revolutions around the table, they kindly told us how good we all were at it (despite actually being quite uncoordinated and clumsy). Finally, we played a simple drinking game against the geisha. As it turns out, they are very, very good at this game and none of us stood a chance against them. They would then hand the loser a glass of beer, and we all cheered in rhythm as they drank it down.
But actually, Tyler himself is a seasoned veteran of the game. Here he upsets the champion in a practice round.
I make my drinking game debut with another guest (and won!)
Cycling through the countryside is one of the best ways to see it up close and personal. Having a local guide to point out interesting features and history makes it even better. For an unforgettable experience of rural Japan, consider visiting Togura Kamiyamada Onsen.
From Nagano Station, take the Shinano line train to Togura station (about 25 minutes). From there, buses run regularly to Kamiyamada Onsen, or you can walk there yourself in 25 minutes.
(Click here to browse the timetable in Japanese. It’s unnecessarily complicated so I apologize in advance.)
Matsushiro was once the domain of the Sanada clan, the samurai family starring in NHK’s newest historical drama, Sanada Maru. The Matsushiro domain covered the largest area of the Shinano province and thrived as a castle town during the Edo period. Now the Matsushiro area is a sleepy, undeveloped town with pristine artifacts of its Samurai history.
A group of us visited Matsushiro recently to learn more about its history and enjoy some cultural activities and local food.
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.
In Japan, the winter is a season of “illumination”. There are some beautiful illumination spots lighted up by LEDs. In Nagano, Karuizawa, Azumino, and Suzaka’s illumination events are famous.
This winter, not large but unique illumination has started at Asama Hot Springs in Matsumoto. It is Japanese taste design lighting in front of Hot Plaza Asama, a day trip hot spring facility. You can watch the “healing illumination” while soaking your feet in the free foot hot spring.
Japanese-style illumination of origami cranes and Matsumoto temari balls, made and played in the castle in Edo period.
The lights on trees are designed to twinkle by natural wind, like stars in the sky.
Because of the M 6.7 earthquake that occurred on 22nd November and damaged some portions in Hakuba and Northern Nagano, even hotels in Asama Hot Springs suffered from cancellations, even though Matsumoto is in the center of Nagano Prefecture and didn’t have any direct damage.
Now, there are no problems at all sightseeing spots and ski resorts in Nagano, including transportation.
Kick-off ceremony of illumination
People in Asama Onsen hope this beautiful illumination will overcome the quake.
Asama Hot Spring is located in a convenient place in Matsumoto, Nagano. It is just a ten minute bus ride from Matsumoto Castle. It also has a very long history, 1,300 years or more and feudal lords of the Castle visited there in the Edo period (17th century).
All the lights are LEDs using small amounts of electricity
The illumination is shining 5pm to 0am until April 19.
More than twenty traditional Japanese ryokans in Asama Onsen and the illumination are wating for you.
Tripadvisor.com, which features travel reviews from people around the world, announced their Travelers’ Choice 2013 Awards.
For the B&B / Inns category of the Top 25 that received the award, 7 are from here, Nagano Prefecture. That’s the most of any prefecture — more than even Kyoto! That goes to show the high level of customer service provided by ryokans in Nagano.
The 7 ryokans from Nagano that received the award are:
Biyu no Yado, Shimaya Ryokan and Matsuya from Yamanouchi Town by the snow monkeys,
The venerable Hanaya Ryokan in Bessho Onsen,
Historical Fujioto Ryokan in Tsumago, a post town along the old Nakasendo Road,
Friendly Seifuso in Matsumoto in between the castle and Asama Onsen,
and a certain little inn here in our onsen town, Togura-Kamiyamada.
Of the thousands of inns throughout Japan, 7 of the Top 25 as selected by tripadvisor.com‘s reviewers are in Nagano. So when you think about where to experience a stay in a traditional Japanese ryokan, Nagano Prefecture is a great place to consider.
Lately I have been ‘researching’ Nagano’s top onsens. One I went to recently was Omachi Onsen in the foothills of the Japanese Alps, north of Matsumoto and south of Hakuba.
Omachi Onsen is relatively new, having come into existence around the construction of the Kurobe Dam and the Tateyama Alpine Route in 1971. It’s a planned onsen resort with spacious, wooded lots (average hotel lot size is 7000m2) and nice, wide lanes. Perfect for walking or cycling, with a tributary to the Takase River to play in and views of the grand Japanese Alps. Besides being the Nagano gateway to the Alpine Route, Omachi is also convenient to Aoki Lake and Azumino (famous for art museums and wasabi fields).
Omachi Onsen’s 14 hotels offer a wide variety of accommodation. From 11-room boutique-like Azumino Kawasho to massive 170-room Tateyama Prince Hotel. In between is the posh Shoen (part of the Hoshino Resort chain), Ryokan Kashiwa-sou with the charismatic Sachie-san charming the guests, the German Alps-themed Kurobe Kanko Hotel, and more. There is also an onsen bathhouse for daytrippers, Yakushi-no-Yu.
The onsen water originates in Kuzu Onsen, 10km upstream where it comes out of the ground at 66.3C. The water is simple mineral water with low alkalidity and low osmotic pressure. 大町温泉郷Omachi Onsen
I’d like to introduce two of the onsen facilities, the daytrippers bathhouse Yakushi-no-Yu and the ryokan where I stayed this time, Hotel Yamada-ya.
Yakushi-no-Yu is Omachi Onsen’s main bathhouse. I went during an off-peak time on a weekday morning, but there were still plenty of bathers. It’s a popular bathhouse. One of the indoor baths is pure onsen water but the temperature was so low, nobody was bathing in it. Instead, everyone was in the larger indoor bath which is heated and recirculated. The outdoor bath was spacious but would have been more enjoyable if it had a view of the Alps. The outdoor bath made of river rocks is apparently only operating in the summer, so unfortunately I wasn’t able to enjoy it. 薬師の湯Yakushi no Yu
Yakushi no Yu's entrance
Hotel Yamada-ya’s owners provide surprisingly friendly service considering its size (51 rooms). The indoor bath was nice and spacious but I always like outdoor baths more. 大町ホテル山田屋 Omachi Hotel Yamadaya
Hotel Yamada-ya's Inviting Outdoor Bath
During my visit, I had the privelege of meeting the mayor of Omachi. It turns out Ushikoshi-san is an avid archery fan. I promised to put the word out about Omachi’s upcoming horse-back archery event, Yabusame. Officially called the Omachi Nyakuichi-Oji Festival, the main event will take place on Sunday 22-July this year (2012) with a procession to start at Omachi Station around 10am, winding up at Nyakuichi Oji Shrine around 3pm for the childrens’ archery demonstration. Omachi Yabusame Archery Event (English – translation by Yours Truly)
Access to Omachi is via Route 147 from Matsumoto, or via the JR Oito Line from Matsumoto Station. There is regular bus service from Shinanoomachi Station to Omachi Onsen and continuing on to Ogisawa, the start of the Tateyama-Kurobe Dam Alpine Route.
The appearance of the resort inn “Candytuft” in winter. The antique pink building is charming.
You enjoy dinner and breakfast in this spacious dining room with a warm wood-burning stove.
If you want to enjoy Karuizawa, a popular highland resort in Japan, to the full extent, what is the ideal type of accommodation? I think you will need to find a place which provides comfortable rooms, good access to tourist spots, delicious meals, kind staff, the quiet surroundings and relaxing bathrooms. Today I’d like to introduce an inn called “Candytuft”, which will surely satisfy those needs I mentioned.
Candytuft is located in the quiet area called Minamigaoka, where there are a lot of trees and holiday homes. If you walk or cycle around the inn, you will soon find the typical beautiful scenery of Karuizawa. Yet, it is only 1.9 kilometers from Karuziawa Station and has good access to popular sightseeing spots, including Karuizawa Prince Shopping Plaza (famous outlet mall) and Karuizawa Prince Snow Resort (skiing and snowboarding facility). And to the convenience of tourists using trains, the hotel can pick you up at Karuizawa Station as long as you make a pickup reservation in advance. That would be helpful especially for visitors from overseas.
Other than its location, I would like to talk about the inn itself. There are ten nicely decorated Western-style rooms, nine of which with a bath and a toilet, one with a toilet, and all with a washbasin. Aside from a bathroom within a guest room, the inn has two independent family bathrooms, which can be used privately. You can relax in a bigger bathroom with artificial hot-spring water. As for meals, you can enjoy tasty Western-style dinner and breakfast in the beautiful dining room with a lovely wood-burning stove. At the corner of the dining room, you will find a display of premium shochu (Japanese alcoholic drink) bottles. You can sip these shochu or other alcoholic beverages during your meal or in your room.
I’m sure you will have a wonderful time if you stay at Candytuft and explore Karuizawa.
A twin room with a bath and a toilet. There are 10 guest rooms in European taste.
Guests can also use a family bathroom with artificial hot-spring water. Have a private relaxing time!
You can enjoy drinking from a large collection of alcoholic beverages.
Fresh breakfast is served in a dining room with a view of the beautiful outside scenery.
There are tourist guidebooks in the lounge.
Name of the facility
Description of business
Accommodation in Western style with a capacity of 23 guests
Standard Twin room (30 square meters). All the guest rooms of HOTEL CYPRESS KARUIZAWA are spacious.
Open bath attached to Special Roten Room. You can enjoy a relaxing bath time privately.
HOTEL CYPRESS KARUIZAWA is within a 15-minute walk of Karuizawa Station. There is no doubt that the convenient location is an advantage, but the hotel’s attractions do not end there.
The hotel is in the center of Karuizawa, yet it faces a quiet street. The neighborhood has a lot of greenery, so you can enjoy your holiday surrounded by the refreshing environment. When you arrive at the hotel and enter your room, you will be pleasantly surprised at its spaciousness. Even the smallest room has the area of 30 square meters, and the majority of the rooms have the area of 50 or more square meters.
Another fascination is bath. There is a large public bath with radium spring water, which is good for your health. Furthermore, some of the rooms have a private open-air bath attached to the room (the right photo above). Those baths will surely relax your body and mind.
Cuisine would also be satisfactory. For dinner, you can choose from French food and Japanese food. You would enjoy a lot of fresh local ingredients with good wine. For Japanese food, they offer such food as shabushabu (thinly-sliced beef cooked in a pan on the table), teppan-yaki (hot plate cooking) and hot pot.
I hope you will have a wonderful stay at HOTEL CYPRESS KARUIZAWA.
Teppan-Yaki (cooked on a hot plate) premium beef is served at the hotel’s Japanese restaurant “Bien”.
A romantic night view of the courtyard reminiscent of a forest in Karuizawa.
This large public bath is open exclusively to hotel guests.
An example of French multi-course dinner.
The hotel's entrance. You can walk from Karuizawa Station.
Name of the facility
HOTEL CYPRESS KARUIZAWA
Description of business
Accommodation (capacity: 355 guests) with tea and bar lounge, French restaurant, Teppan-Yaki restaurant, wedding chapel, spa salon, banquet rooms and public and private baths.
Barbecue (Yakiniku) dinner with prime quality beef.
Shabushabu dinner with prime quality beef. You boil beef and vegetables and eat them with special sauce.
Are you interested in staying at a cottage-type room, rather than a normal hotel room, and having delicious barbecue dinner in Karuizawa? If yes, I recommend you to stay at “Cottage Inn Log-cabin” (accommodation), which has “Barbecue Restaurant LOG-TEI” (restaurant) on the same site.
An only 5-minute walk from Naka-Karuizawa Station takes you to Cottage Inn Log-cabin and Barbecue Restaurant LOG-TEI surrounded by the nature. All of the guestrooms are wooden cottages with bath and toilet, so you can fully enjoy your private time. As they have different types of cottages, anyone can enjoy a comfortable stay, from couples, friends, families to a large group of 20.
One of the great advantages to stay at this inn is that you can enjoy delicious barbecue and other dishes in the restaurant on the same venue. The restaurant LOG-TEI is known for providing high-quality meat dishes, such as Barbecue (in Japanese “Yakiniku”, grilled meat and vegetables cooked at a table) and Shabushabu (a hot-pot with thinly-sliced meat and vegetables boiled at a table). The restaurant is open to the public, so those who don’t stay at this hotel are also welcomed.
I hope you will enjoy a special resort holiday here!
Appearance of “Barbecue Restaurant LOG-TEI”.
All the rooms of “Cottage Inn Log-cabin” are cottages made of natural logs.
"Family Cottage" with a loft for 3 or 4 guests.
"Romance Cottage" for 2 guests.
If you want to enjoy a large bathroom, "Family Bath" is available on site.
Name of the facility
Cottage Inn Log-cabin (accommodation) / Barbecue Restaurant LOG-TEI (restaurant)
From Naka-Karuizawa Station (Shinano Railway): 5 minutes on foot
From Karuizawa Station (JR Nagano Shinkansen): 7 minutes by taxi *Free pickup is also available, so please contact.
Operating dates and hours
Cottage Inn Log-cabin: open every day
Barbecue Restaurant LOG-TEI: Closed on Wednesday except for summer (Open every day in summer), 11:00-14:00 for lunch, 17:00-21:00 for dinner
Cottage Inn Log-cabin (room rate per person for a group of 2 guests): JPY6,000 without meals on weekday, JPY6,500 without meals on weekend, JPY8,500 with dinner and breakfast on weekday, JPY9,000 with dinner and breakfast on weekend
Barbecue Restaurant LOG-TEI: Barbecue dinner with prime beef at JPY6,090 (price for 2 guests), and much more menus