Kamikochi Monitor Tour

September 8th, 2010 by
Category: Accomodations, Events, Experience, Information, Outdoor Activities, Report, Seasonal Topics, Sightseeing

On the weekend of September 4th-5th, a group of Nagano-based ALTs headed up to Kamikochi to check out the sights, access and facilities. Matsumoto City started the Kamikochi Inbound Project this April to meet the needs of growing numbers of international visitors to Kamikochi and the Japan Alps national park. This time round, 14 English speakers had signed up to a 1 night 2 day trip to the mountains which was sponsored by Alpico and the Kamikochi Tourist Association.


p9040060p9040067Day 1 – After an early start, everyone met at Matsumoto station to check out the access to the mountains. Amazingly, everybody made it ON TIME for the 8AM start, but the Tourist Information Office was still closed so the ALTs would have to work to find the answers to the Quiz questions which checked out a range of information such as cost of a round-ticket to Kamikochi and number of direct buses per day. Maybe the JETs were still a little sleepy (or hadn’t monitored the Starbucks coffee hard enough to full wake up yet:), but almost half of the Quiz questions were WRONG!!! Still, most people agreed that between the JR Green Window and Tourist Info. Office (when it’s open) there would be plenty of helping hands to point new arrivals in the direction of the Japan Alps. Also, the 2 Day Pass made it easy to get up – and down – without worrying about extra transport expenses.

p9040001 p9040002

After changing from the mountain railway to a bus at Shinshimashima, we continued on up the 158 highway which follows the the Azusa River up the valley to Kamikochi. The blue skies were reflected back in the water of the 3 huge dams we passed before a series of long tunnels finally lead us into the Kamikochi basin itself.  On arriving at Kamikochi, we checked out the Information Centre and Bus Terminal before setting off on a Guided Tour of the Kamikochi basin downstream to Taisho-ike Pond. The local Guide, a member of the Nature Guide Association, explained about Kamikochi’s nature and culture in English and en route, we walked through shady forests, past marshland and along wooden boardwalks. Our guide explained the Kesho Yanagi Willow trees and handed round a pair of binoculars so we could see the smoke rising from the top of Mt. Yakedake – the only active volcano in the Northern Alps.  On the return trip we also met a pair of local Macaque monkeys who were entertaining tourists doing flips from tree to tree!

That night we stayed at some of the  most luxurious hotels found anywhere in Japan, with the 14 volunteers spread out across 7 of the accommodation facilities. All stood up to the test of English Check-In, and more than held their own for comfort and hospitality. Even the weather was doing its best to promote Kamikochi, with amazing starlight skies and the Milky Way seeming to shine down directly on Kappa Bridge.


Day 2

The next day dawned fine again and after breakfast we crossed the Kappa Bridge again before testing the water of the Shimizu River…a chilly 6 degrees centigrade! Next up was the Visitor Centre which had some amazing photos of the mountain ridges and peaks of the backcountry beyond. Then we set off for Myojin, following the Azusa upstream for an hour through the forest before emerging at Myojin where the smell of freshly fried fish was rising from the Kamonjigoya, 130 years old and home to Kamonji, the first hunter known to have lived at Kamikochi. We also saw the sacred shrine and pond, and – for extra good luck – a large grass snake whose sun bathing was rudely interrupted by 14 pairs of foreign hooves.

All too soon, we had to had head back downstream to the Kappa Bridge, by now buzzing with tourists; we finished the final group discussion and had some lunch before people went their own seperate ways, tired out but refreshed by the Alpen experience and a great weekend in the mountains.


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New Gourmet Guide and Walking Map for Onsen Town Togura Kamiyamada

July 23rd, 2010 by
Category: Accomodations, Cuisine, Culture Art, Onsens (Hot Springs), Outdoor Activities, Shopping, Sightseeing

Onsen Town Togura Kamiyamada has a new Gourmet Guide and Walking Map in English.  20 different restaurants representing a wide variety of budgets and cuisine are listed, with full color pictures and helpful descriptions, along with 7 of their menu items translated into English for you.  There are also indications showing which restaurants accept credit cards, are no-smoking, have vegetarian menus, and provide western-style sitting.

The New Onsen Town Togura Kamiyamada Gourmet Guide and Walking Map

The New Onsen Town Togura Kamiyamada Gourmet Guide and Walking Map

The map side features descriptions of 21 shops and businesses, giving guests an idea of places to check out when they visit our onsen town.   The map shows locations for a coin laundry, convenience stores with ATM’s, a pharmacist and medical clinic as well as a church with service in English, so guests from overseas will know their various needs are covered.  As travellers from abroad often like to walk and enjoy the outdoors, the map mentions walking times and distances between major points and shows where rental bicycles are available.

So on your trip to Togura Kamiyamada, stop in at the Visit Japan Information Center aka Kamesei Ryokan (www.kamesei.jp) and we will be glad to give you your own personal copy of the new Onsen Town Togura Kamiyamada Gourmet Guide and Walking Map.

Kobayashi-san’s Agricultural Village Idea

May 25th, 2010 by
Category: Accomodations, Experience, Information, Miscellaneous, Outdoor Activities, Seasonal Topics, Sightseeing
The number of local people who went out of their way to show us interesting things was amazing!

The number of local people who went out of their way to show us interesting things was amazing!

The train ride earlier helped top off a fun day with Kobayashi-san from Seishun-Agricultural Village in Ueda.

Kobayashi-san understands that solely growing rice & vegetables is not enough in today’s Japan,  so he is leading the way around Ueda with a new idea…

Tourism Farming will allow us to better make use of our downtime – or something along these lines, I never trust my understanding of many conversations we have…

Kobayashi-san told me (and teachers/guides Mike & Jacky from England) so much in a very short time, unfortunately the time between talking and writing this blog means I’ve lost it – sorry:  but do check out www.murada.com & visit him for more info.

Kobayashi-san also has a custom built Eco-study-lodge for rent if you’re interested in local agriculture & staying near Ueda.

This is a must buy for me, I am sure my parents could always holster a '.....' like this, could be useful weeding around kiwifruit vines?
This is a must buy for me, I am sure my parents could always holster a ‘…..’ like this, could be useful weeding around kiwifruit vines?

After visiting several locations Mike & Jacky were keen that their kids would enjoy many of the experiences they were seeing in Nagano

The problems we have are the same everywhere^-^

The problems we have are the same everywhere^-^

Kobayashi-san together with one school was doing some volunteer work in Nepal, as is Mike (and me too…in 1991!!)…

It was a real thrill to meet the calibre of people today!

Mike actually was paid to climb Mount Everest, and met my kiwi hero Edmund Hillary before he died.

The characters today, Kobayashi, Mike, Jacky and Yoda-sensei (& Edmund) – it was an awesome coincidence!!!

and students were so full of energy!!

and students were so full of energy!!

Keep running guys!!^-^

Rain came down heavy on the rice field outside, but was cosy inside the school library^-^

Rain came down heavy on the rice field outside, but was cosy inside the school library^-^

Kamesei ryokan, Kamiyamada Onsen

March 9th, 2010 by
Category: Accomodations, Experience, Information, Onsens (Hot Springs), Report, Sightseeing

Kamesei Ryokan 100303_09330001
Kamesei ryokan                       open air bath made by Tyler and big wooden turtle


Last week I was passing  Kamiyamada Onsen and decided to take bath in Kamesei ryokan.

I had 2 reasons:
– it’s only one ryokan in Nagano which runs foreigner  (Tyler, born in Seattle) together
with his wife and her mother
– it’s only one ryokan in Nagano with open air bath made by foreigner (Tyler)

After soaking and special feeling in Tayler’s open air bath, relaxing on old massage chair I noticed interesting things and decided to stay over night.

Not just because warm hospitality of the staff, beautiful old Japanese building with many gardens, Onsen with great smell, beautiful room with new tatami mats, very foreigner welcoming  atmosphere, Seattle cookie in the room and very reasonable rates,
but also because I  like that Tayler:
– keep the old Japanese beauty of ryokan
– brings a bit of western “smell”
– try to promote local art in the ryokan
– does a LOT not just for Kamesei ryokan abut also Kamiyamada Onsen and whole Nagano  prefecture.

100303_09270001 local art in guest rooms                               Signs in front of Kamesei ryokan

“Kame” means “turtle” so you can find signs of turtle in many ways and many places around the ryokan

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How Nagano-ites Enjoy the Winter: Onsen “Notenburo”

December 31st, 2009 by
Category: Accomodations, Onsens (Hot Springs), Outdoor Activities, Seasonal Topics

What’s a family to do on a cold, snowy December Sunday? Why, go for a winter drive up to the mountains of course! The kids were off from school, and our inn was quiet, so we piled into the car and drove up to Takayama Village, about an hour east of Nagano City. There we went to Shichi-Mi Onsen for a soak in their bath. Of course, we take a bath in Kamiyamada’s Onsen waters everyday, but it’s fun to try other onsens every once in a while. Shichi-Mi’s has a lot stronger sulfer content, and is a couple degrees hotter than hours (approx. 43 deg F). The color apparently varies day to day — the day we went it was green. The best part was the outdoor bath with a spectacular view of the Matsukawa Valley covered in snow. Nagano’s beautiful nature and wonderful onsens — I knew there was a reason I moved here!
Nagano’s Takayama Onsen: Shichi-Mi Onsen
Approx 40 min. by car from the Suzaka IC (JyoShin-Etsu Expressway) or 40 min. by bus from Suzaka Station on the Nagano Dentetsu Line (during winter, change at Yamada Onsen to the shuttle; 3 busses daily, more often on weekends)
Koyokan Tel (026)242-2710

Overflowing with Cultural Treasures: Yudanaka-Shibu Onsen

December 2nd, 2009 by
Category: Accomodations, Onsens (Hot Springs), Sightseeing

The other day, I went to Yudanaka-Shibu Onsen for a seminar. I got a chance to see a couple of ryokans that I had really wanted to see: Yudanaka’s Yoruzuya and Shibu’s Kanaguya.
Kanaguya’s 4-story wood building is spectacular. Some say it’s like from out of an anime movie — I say the anime movies copied Kanaguya. Part of it is even a registered National Cultural Treasure.
Up until now I had only seen Kanaguya from the outside. This time, I got to take a tour of the inside, too.  Kanaguya is in a league, a universe all to itself. There’s no way words can convey how impressive Kanaguya’s interior details are. I’ve attempted to express a little of it by these pictures, but you’ll just have to go and see for yourself to fully appreciate it.

Kanaguya's Spacious Banquet Room

Kanaguya's Spacious Banquet Room

Woodwork detail

Woodwork detail

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Crystal Cave and Kawakami-Brand Dogs

November 24th, 2009 by
Category: Accomodations, Experience, Information, Onsens (Hot Springs), Sightseeing





I proudly announce you; we have a crystal cave in our village!

It is a shame that this crystal cave has been almost ignored by general local villagers.

Villagers just take it for granted that it exists here.

I also was no exception,until I have got an opportunity to interview the owner 3 years ago.



He is…well,villagers all know him. He is an inn-keeper of Yunuma Kosen here.

Tadao-san of Yunuma Kosen
Inside the inn;not particularly gorgeous,but definately cosy to sit here and chat with whoever comes along

Inside the inn;not particularly gorgeous,but definately cosy to sit here and chat with whoever comes along

Tadao-san is also a breeder of the Kawakami dog.

Kawakami dogs are brand dogs  in our village which used to be hunter dogs until 60 years ago.

They almost extincted once, but now they are popular among dog lovers througout the country thanks to the village breeders.


nine puppies have just been born

nine puppies have just been born






Yunuma Kosen is a lodging with a bath of a mineral spring. (Only the water is cooler than 25 degrees celsius when it springs.Of course they heat the water to make a nice bath, but legally speaking it is called “kosen”, and not “onsen” if the water temperature when it springs is below 25C.)

 One day some 40 years ago, the owner thought of gold-mining here. ( In the inner part of Kawkami vil.,gold was mined through 15~19 centuries.)

It turned out that he struck crystal instead of gold. But the crystals were precious green colored heart shaped crystals which have found only in Japan so far,so he was excited.

Then he dug a pathway through the place where he had found the crystal so that people  can see the vein by walking through it.

The true worth of this cave is that it shows crystal in the exact place where it originally located,and still locates. The owner thought it better to show the crystal in its original state rather than digging it out and display it in showcase.

a mom of four

a mom of four


 When I sometimes take guests to the cave, I ask the owner to come along and lecture us on anything he is recently interested in.

The dogs would appear from nowhere to lead us to the cave entrance.

in front of the entry way to the cave

in front of the entry way to the cave

Then he would tell us about how into a blank space between minerals came air, water, and gas,and eventually how crystal was gethered to be crystal.( long before the humankind was born,of course)

And how all the things ,including ourselves are originally made from minerals.




the entrance for the cave

the entrance for the cave

” In this exact place I found these crystals. It’s six meters below the ground.”
” Hey,that’s a big one.And it’s new! Did you find it recently?”
” Yeah, the year before last. In Kawahake region.(innermost region of the village)”
” You still dig! Good for you.”
” Well, I had a stroke last year as you know, and now a frail old man…”
 ” Oooh, poor Tadao-san. Nh?what’s this? It’s new,too!”
” Yeah, this one I found it just the other day.”
” A frail old man indeed!”
opal in water

opal in water

” What’s this opal doing in the water?”
” Japanese opal contains much water,so it would crumble in the air. So I put it in the water.”
” I see.”
His other junky ( sorry!)collections.
grind stone for gold picking probably more than 300 yrs ago

grind stone for gold picking probably more than 300 yrs ago

his tools to dig

his tools to dig

minerals and gem stones from across the world

minerals and gem stones from across the world

and so on…..
By the way, hunting season has started since the 15 th November.
The village hunters,most of them farmers and become hunters in non-farming season,(including my husband) invited their friend hunters from Sanada Town in eastern Nagano this weekend.
They are staying at this Yunuma Kosen .
” What is the difference between the mountains in Kawakami and the mountains in your region?”
” Your place has more deers than our Sugadaira Highland. In our place, there are more wild boars.
This year those wild boars took effort to harvest all MY potatoes and rice!”
” How do you like the inn?”
” Splendid! It’s so cosy. You can just be yourself and relax.”
Informations for those interested in visiting Yunuma Kosen;
15 minutes bus ride from  Shinano Kawakami station,JR Koumi line. The bus stop is Igura Shimojuku.
phone: 0267-99-2771     to see through the crystal cave, adults 600yen, children 300 yen
                                                   to take a bath without staying overnight, 500yen
                                                                                                                                                         staying overnight with dinner and breakfast 7,000yen/person

What you cannot miss — Early Morning Service at Zenkoji Temple

September 25th, 2009 by
Category: Accomodations, Culture Art, Experience, Sightseeing


= My friends from various countries

Zenko-ji Temple is the pride of Nagano — even the pride of Japan.

It attracts more than 6,000,000 people annually.

However, many people miss the greatest part of their visit.


To fully enjoy its serene solemn atmosphere, stay at one of its 39 shukubo ( inns to serve for pilgrims run by temples affiliated to Zenko-ji), and join the morning service performed by both Zenkoji ‘top priest’ and

‘top priestess’ along with those shukubo monks! 



We started our tour here at the ‘Deva King Gate’ in the crisp air. You will see only some people in early morning.  





Daihongan–the temple of the top priestess 





                The main approach is also calm.



Purified ourselves with the smoke from the incense burner.

 Before joining the morning ritual, we received the blessing from the top priest,

which is so special (unique and impressive) you cannot experience anywhere else.

We also got the blessing from the top priestess on the way back from the morning prayer — how lucky!




 This is a photo from a couple of months ago — during the grand festival ‘Go-Kaicho’, people waited for a long time to touch the pillar called Eko-bashira, which features in the festival. And— 

Now you can touch it anytime to your heart’s content.




Bell tower

The temple precinct is open and welcomes you anytime!



September 22nd, 2009 by
Category: Accomodations

Hotels, ryokans, youth hostels, lodges and cottages, or a tent in a campground.  Nagano has accomodations for every type of traveler and any size budget.  There is also a minshuku. It’s the Japanese version of a  bed and breakfast in the home of family who will provide you  with a no-frills room  and meals if you wish.  If the accommodations themselves are less important to you than the cultural insights gained from staying with a Japanese family, then a minshuku might be the place for you.

p1000128The other day I visited a minshuku in Takato-machi run by Isoda, Yoshiyuki-san and his wife, Mika-san.  For 6,500 yen you can stay in their home and have breakfast and dinner.  Feel free to visit with them and get to know them or interact with their two young children.  If you’re a vegetarian or have any food allergies, Mika-san loves to cook and will listen to your preferences.  Yoshiyoshi‘s website (Japanese only) is here.

Kitahara, Ayako-san also runs a minshuku in Ina city.   Lodging without meals is 4,000 yen per night.  Meals are extra or you can cook for yourself in a separate kitchen. Ayako-san is a jack-of-all trades and weaves and dyes her own yarns, makes wooden accessories, and plants her own garden.  Her husband has a full time job in the city but helps Ayako-san around their property on his days off.  They just finished building this one-room wooden cottage behind their house and would like to offer it to guests. p1000132 They have purposely left it without electricity and running water for those willing, daring and brave enough to try out the”rough” conditions.   Besides growing all the vegetables that she uses in the meals she serves her guests, Ayako-san also has blueberries, raspberries, and chestnut trees on her property.  She says her land is too big for her to do all the work by herself, so in exchange for a couple of days of work on her property, she can let you stay in one of her rooms.  That just goes to show how flexible and willing to negotiate that she can be.  If you’re back-packing in southern Nagano or are cycling in the area, you might want to check out Fudangi.

Be aware, though.  Unless you have a car, these two minshukus are not easily accessed by public transportation.  On check-in/check-out day, the Isoda’s will provide transportation to and from  Takato train station and Kitahara-san will do the same from Ina station. After that you are mostly  on your own to explore the surrounding area on foot and enjoy the sights, sounds, and try your hand at weaving, chopping wood, picking blueberries or whatever is in season.  Be prepared for slow life – plain and simple.

Shirahone Onsen – White Bone Hotspring

August 30th, 2009 by
Category: Accomodations, Experience, Onsens (Hot Springs), Report

200908_shirahone-onsen2We recently had Trevor’s parents from Canada over for a visit, so we decided to go to Shirahone Onsen and take a bath together in an open-air bath. Wow! For foreigners, taking a bath with other people or being naked in front of others can be an extraordinary experience. We decided to go to Shirahone Onsen, which has white-colored water that hides our bodies a lot more than clear water baths. At the place we stayed in Shirahone Onsen, women are allowed to wrap a big towel around their body, so it was easy to try the mixed open-air bath with gentlemen.

200908_shirahone-onsen1Shirahone Onsen means “White Bone Hotspring”. The reason for the name is that calcium and magnesium in the water sediment and build up bone-like lumps around the bath. At least that’s the story I heard.

We stayed at a Ryokan (Japanese inn) that had a Japanese style dinner and breakfast and slept in futons on the tatami floor. In total, we took 3 baths while we were there: one soon after we arrived, one before sleeping, and a last morning bath.

For Trevor’s parents, everything was a new experience. They had a great time and we had a great time, too!


This is a blog for foreigners in Japan from all over the world, so here is some extra advice for our visitors who stay at Shirahone Onsen.

1. Some tips for taking a bath:
・Use the shower and rinse your body carefully before soaking in the bath.
・Tidy up your shower stall for the next person.
・Cover your privates with your washcloth on the way to the shower and bath areas.
・Remove all clothes and towels before entering the bath.
・Leave your washcloth outside the bathtub.
2. Don’t be shy! Try the open-air bath with your friends and other guests.
3. Try the Onsen Gayu (rice porridge made with hot spring water), if they have it.

For more information on Shirahone Onsen, check out:
Shirahone Onsen webpage: http://www.shirahone.org/ (Japanese only)
Matsumoto city official site: http://welcome.city.matsumoto.nagano.jp/contents04+index.id+5.htm (English)