A Traveler’s Treasure: Post-Town Tsumago

February 3rd, 2017 by
Category: Accomodations, Cuisine, Culture Art, Shopping, Sightseeing

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.

Local Cuisine

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.

Gohei Mochi

 

Explore History

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.

Access

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.

Bus Information is available in English.

Tsumago Tourist Information Center 0264-57-3123

A Nagano Winter Pastime: Greenhouse Strawberry Picking

February 2nd, 2017 by
Category: Cuisine, Outdoor Activities, Seasonal Topics

One scrumptious way to beat the winter cold in Nagano is to go strawberry picking.  You can pick all-you-can-eat strawberries inside a toasty-warm greenhouse.  One such location is Agri-Park in Chikuma City.  I went there recently with some bloggers from Taiwan.  They really enjoyed picking the berries, dipping them in some condensed milk, and popping them into their mouths.  Deliciously sweet berries and a warm escape from the cold — a perfect winter day in Nagano.

One of Agri-Park’s greenhouses with the Northern Alps in the background.

Agri-Park is located in the vicinity of the Mori Shogunzuka ancient burial mound, so you can indulge in prehistoric history after you’ve had your fill of yummy strawberries.  For further historical intrigue, the Nagano Prefecture Historical Museum is adjacent to the burial mound’s visitors center.

Nagano Prefectural History Museum’s prehistoric village in the springtime with peach blossoms.

Access via public transportation is from Yashiro Station on the Shinano Railway.  Bus service from the station is infrequent so either taxi (approx. 7 min., 800 yen) or on foot (2km, 25 min.).  By car, Koshoku IC on the Nagano Expressway is approx. 6 min. 3km.

 

A Trip through Time: Tanaka Family Museum

December 27th, 2016 by
Category: Cuisine, Culture Art, Experience, Seasonal Topics, Sightseeing

 Preserving a Family Legacy

Entrance to the Tanaka Family Compound

The Tanaka Family Compound, located in Suzaka City, is run by the 12th head of the Tanaka Family which was a family of merchants in Edo-period Japan. Here you will find their family heirlooms on display. The galleries are constantly updated as items are brought out of storage and rotated through. Items include traditional Japanese dolls, clothing, paintings, both Japanese and European style ceramics, and toys imported from overseas. The compound consists of a museum, café, shop, and gardens.

The grandfather of the current head of the family as a boy

Items used in sake making

Imported toy train

Café “Ryusen”

Tachibana Bento

Various other dishes made using local ingredients

Thanks to family heirlooms that were passed down from generation to generation, the family retained recipes of meals that were served over 200 years ago. Dishes at this café have been recreated based on these recipes. The Tachibana Bento is an exquisite example of artistic Japanese cuisine (Reservations should be made 5 days in advance). You can enjoy a variety of dishes as well as green tea and coffee or sweets while taking in the view of the traditional Japanese garden.

Japanese Garden

 

Each season features a distinct atmosphere with various colors. Enjoy cherry blossoms in the spring, morning glories in the summer, red and yellow autumn leaves in the fall, and white snow with glimpses of vibrant red berries in the winter. Visit the website’s four season gallery here!

Experience Apple Picking and Farmer House Life with Pick-Up Service Starts in Matsumoto

October 30th, 2016 by
Category: Cuisine, Experience


Autumn is the season for beautiful colored foliage, mushrooms in the forests in Nagano Prefecture, and, of course, you can’t forget the harvesting of yummy FRUITS! This is one of Nagano’s specialty!

This year, a young farming couple (with a baby) who moved from Tokyo to Matsumoto started an apple picking experience on Oct 11. If you make a reservation the same morning, they can even arrange to a pick-up just west of Matsumoto Castle.

Mr. Kawabe was a computer engineer working for an electric maker in Tokyo. He heard his wife’s grandpa is farming an apple orchard in Nagano, but thinking retirement and felling apple trees gradually. He felt pity and when the young couple have their baby, they had a fear of Tokyo life after the 3.11 earthquake. After dithering, the husband decided to throw away his career and restart as a farmer from the beginning.

They live in a traditional farm house near Alps Park, so the experience is not only of picking fresh apples in their orchard, but also sitting in their tatami room, having Japanese tea and various autumn food, and touring around their Japanese-style house if you want.

The fee of ¥3000 includes all-you-can-eat picked apples and carry-out of two.

You can book the service from the reservation form on their English website. Tour times are two hours in length, from 13:30 to 15:30 daily. They are closed on Sundays. Reservations are required by noon of the day (preferably by the previous day). The season continues until November 21 (was 30, but apples will be finished earlier than expected).
See the following flyer for the details.

For information about other orchards (without pick-up service) and more info about fruits including grapes, see my previous article.

Little Secrets of Kiso Fukushima

February 12th, 2016 by
Category: Cuisine, Outdoor Activities, Sightseeing
Latticed wood buildings form a long alleyway to the gate of a buddhist temple.

A picturesque alleyway that leads to Daitsu-ji in Kiso Fukushima.

The Kiso Valley is a very popular destination in Nagano prefecture, especially for backpackers and history buffs who enjoy its beautiful forests and undisturbed post towns. Most visitors head straight for Narai, Tsumago or Magome-juku, but there are eight other historical towns in this forest valley with their own secrets waiting to be uncovered by adventurous travelers.

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How to Make your Own Oyaki

February 4th, 2016 by
Category: Cuisine, Experience, Information

An oyaki bun cooks on a large pan over an open fire.

Oyaki are traditionally cooked over an Irori hearth.

Oyaki are one of Nagano’s traditional foods and most delicious snacks. Like Soba, they have been an important part of local cuisine for thousands of years. In rice-scarce Nagano, these flour buns filled with pickles and veggies were an important source of carbs and protein. Now, they’re healthy and delicious snacks that can be found in specialty shops and food stalls throughout Nagano prefecture.

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The Sake Breweries of the Higashi Nakasendo

January 22nd, 2016 by
Category: Cuisine, Culture Art, Sightseeing
A white farmhouse stands alone in the midground surrounded by yellowed farmlands. Low-lying clouds crown Mt. Asama and the sky above is blue.

Blue skies and Mt. Asama are constant companions on the Higashi Nakasendo.

After cutting through the forest valley of Kiso, circling lake Suwa and passing through the towns of Nagawa and Wada, the Nakasendo continues into Eastern Nagano. The land here is open and the skies are always clear. In the distance beyond miles of farmland and rice paddies, travelers can look upon snow-capped Mt. Asama, one of Nagano’s two active volcanoes.

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Nagano’s Latest Gourmet Dish: Gibier

January 8th, 2016 by
Category: Cuisine, Events, Information, Seasonal Topics
Leafy greens, mushrooms and veniso fill a small hotpot, ready to be cooked.

Deer meat prepared in a traditional Japanese style: Tsumire Nabe.

Gibier (Jibi-eh!) is the French word for animals that are hunted for their meat. Also called game, these include animals such as deer, wild boar, pheasants and bears. Nagano’s mountainous regions are home to many of these animals, and have a long history of wild game hunting, particularly in Akiyamago and Oshika-mura (literally: big deer village).

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