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 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!

Experiencing the Japanese Countryside in Chikuma

November 30th, 2016 by
Category: Accomodations, Culture Art, Experience, Information, Outdoor Activities

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!)

Additional Information

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.

Access:
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.)

Related Links:

Fall Foliage Collaborates with Yayoi Kusama’s Artwork on Matsumoto Museum of Art

November 17th, 2016 by
Category: Culture Art, Seasonal Topics

Now fall foliage is at the final stage in downtown Nagano.

This morning, at the entrance of Matsumoto City Museum of Art, I was surprised to see beautiful red colored trees collaborating with Matumoto-born Yayoi Kusama’s artwork on the building. Nature’s red and yellow colors are competing with artificial red and yellows.

The artwork was created before fall foliage starts. Is it just coincidence, or calculated art by Yayoi Kusama? Genius!

You can enjoy the Kusama world in the permanent exhibition inside the building.

New Kimono & Ninja Cosplay/Rental Shop near Matsumoto Castle

July 18th, 2016 by
Category: Culture Art, Experience

A local beautician opened a fantastic shop of kimono (traditional Japanese clothes) and a ninja costume wearing & rental service on July 5th.

It is located close to the street toward the entrance of the Matsumoto Castle and you don’t need a reservation in advance if you are not from a large group.
So, why don’t you look into the shop? If you find your favorite costume from various kinds of them, use the wearing & rental service, walk to the castle (just 5 min) and take perfect photos with the castle in the background with your camera or cell phone.

The rental fees start at 3,500 yen (for 2 hours).

Ninja costume (ninja actually existed in Matsumoto in the 19th century)

And, if you wear a kimono around town, you can advantage of special discounts offered at times during the summer.

One is of these is the “Nakamachi Street Yukata Festival.” During July 1 and 18, visitors wearing kimono or yukata can get special service in 29 restaurants, cafes, izakaya (Japanese pubs) and bars.

Another is free admission to the Matsumoto Castle for visitors wearing kimono between August 6 and 16.

See this page for the details.

A professional dresses you in your favorite kimono or ninja wear in about only 15 mins.

Then you can choose an obi (band), zori (sandals), and a bag.

Impressions of the Onbashira Festival

July 13th, 2016 by
Category: Culture Art, Events, Report

Locals watch as the first pillar is lifted into place at the Harumiya shrine.

The Onbashira festival is finally at an end. After months of preparation and twelve long days of labor, the sixteen onbashira pillars have reached their resting places at the corners of the four shrines of Suwa Taisha.

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Winter 2016 Illuminations and Festivals

January 29th, 2016 by
Category: Culture Art, Events, Seasonal Topics, Sightseeing

Areas of Nagano prefecture are getting ready for a series of festivals in February, and in that spirit I thought I would put together a list of current and upcoming events for the Winter season. Tear yourself away from the ski resorts for a night and visit some of Nagano’s other scenic spots!

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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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The Onbashira Festival 2016

December 4th, 2015 by
Category: Culture Art, Events, Information
the Onbashira festival

One of Japan's most unique and exciting festivals

Once every seven years, the Suwa area (in central Nagano) holds the Onbashira festival. In this festival, thousands of locals participate in moving 16 massive fir tree trunks from the surrounding mountains to the shrines of Suwa. These fir trees are usually 17 to 19 meters long, 1 meter wide and weigh around 7.5 tons each. These trees become the new great pillars, or Onbashira, in the corners of each Suwa shrine.
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Candle Night in Matsumoto Museum of Art

July 6th, 2014 by
Category: Culture Art, Events, Report

On Friday night of June 20, which is one day before the summer solstice, the “Candle Night”​ event was held at Matsumoto Museum of Art.

The “Candle Night”​ is held on the summer and winter solstice every year to enlighten people on environmental issues. But it is also a nice (and free of charge!) event to enjoy the fantastic night by only the light of candles on green glass in the yard of the museum with art and live music.

Matsumoto is popular with its oldest castle in Japan and surroundings of beautiful nature, but also it is a town of a modern culture of music, art, and crafts.

Kids enjoyed running around and adults enjoyed sitting on turf in my favorite courtyard of the museum.

A big objet d’art “The Visionary Flowers” by the world famous modern artist Yayoi Kusama, who is from Matsumoto, was also lit up by candles. and more mysterious​ than usual during Candle Night.

Candles in natural spring water flow

The building of the museum designed by a Japanese famous architect is also fancy