Hakuba Snow Machine

August 13th, 2019 by
Category: Events

Announcing its debut from the 1st – 4th of March 2020, brand new boutique alpine festival Snow Machine brings four snow-filled days of music and culture to the slopes of Hakuba, Japan.

Set in the picturesque valley of Japan’s premier snowfields only 3.5 hours from Tokyo, Hakuba is famous for hosting the 1998 Winter Olympics and is located right here in Nagano.

The inaugural year will feature dance music royalty including:

  • Peking Duk (DJ Set)
  • What So Not,
  • Hermitude
  • Illy 
  • The Jungle Giants
  • Confidence Man
  •  Hot Dub Time Machine 
  • Client Liason 
  • Crooked Colours
  • Art vs Science
  • Bag Raiders
  • Kenji Takimi
  • DJ Kentaro
  • Shinichi Osawa 

And many more to be announced!

Of the sister festival to the wildly successful Wine Machine, organisers have said “There is no place in the world quite like Japan. From the rich cultural heritage seen everywhere from their amazing hospitality to the architecture and cuisine – Japan is at the top of everyone’s travel list whether it’s first time, or returning…

The Wine Machine organisers have partnered with Hakuba.com, Mountainwatch, and Liquid Snow Tours to create the first music festival of its kind in the snowfields of Japan.

The heavyweight lineup will play amongst some of the most idyllic backdrops throughout the Hakuba ski fields, including on resort stages, cosy apres soirees, and outdoor village stages.

Snow Machine is an all-in-one ticket offering a variety of accommodation options, a full four day festival ticket as well as snow passes and hire. Booking is simple, just select your package, then pay your deposit of AUD $199 and you’ll be put in touch with one of the festival team members to further customise your trip and book your flights with our unbeatable discounts.

Visit snow-machine.com to learn more.

Full of Fun at Obuse Half Marathon

July 12th, 2019 by
Category: Events, Experience, Information, Outdoor Activities

It’s that time of the year again—the fun and wacky half marathon in Obuse town is on this Sunday 14th July. In it’s 17th year, it’s sure to amuse and entertain the runners, walkers and bystanders alike. 

Whether you’re a committed competitor or a weekend warrior, the Obuse Mini Marathon is a fun-filled family event held every summer in Nagano prefecture.

If you’re new to marathons in Japan and you want to witness one then you can’t go past the Obuse Mini Marathon, a 21.0975km race around Japan’s chestnut capital. It’s not your average marathon—participants are encouraged to run in colourful costumes and characters. The race held every summer on the second Sunday of July is well-known among locals and competitors with local celebrities and guest runners lending support. Don’t miss out on the spectacle throughout the day and award ceremonies such as the Best Costume Award. Here are photo highlights from the 16th Obuse Mini Marathon—just a preview of what to expect this Sunday.

Spectators hang around the starting line hoping to catch the elite runners set off at 6 a.m.

Obuse Town’s huggable mascots will be on the side of the road to cheer you on or simply make you say “kawaii”.

Look it’s Brook from One Piece minus his partners in crime.

Anpanman’s Melonpanna is pushing his trusty car Gou instead of riding it.

Recognise this character from Ghibli’s Porco Rosso (Kurenai no Buta)?

Japan’s well-known robot, Gundam, warms up his gun … and legs.

Colours and creativity is the aim of the game … race in this case.

Lace them up real tight for maximum grip and minimum slip.

Obuse’s fire brigade trumpet corp rehearses along Obuse Station, the point where runners have been gathering since 5:20 a.m.

It’s almost 6 a.m. and Group A runners are getting ready at the starting line, a couple of metres behind the Obuse electric cars.

And they’re off! Runners participate in the marathon to share the fun with friends, families and co-workers.

Now that costume is jaw-dropping!

The Obuse marathon is a well-established and organised event and as part of its safety-first rule, doctors are on run-by.

How far do you think the Swedish character Moomin went in last year’s half marathon?

The last man to begin!

Along with refreshment stations, expect to see entertainment along the course like the all-women gospel group who raised every runner’s spirits.

Superman prepares to fly through the finishing line which is just 50m away.

Adults, school kids or adult school kids can enter the race.

Spiderman relies on his legs this time and not his web to finish the race.

Wait for your families and friends cross the finish line at Obuse Park.

Hundreds of volunteers make the spectacular marathon possible.

Group A runners are expected to finish the race under one and a half hour—so they should be done by 7:30 a.m!

Whether you come first or last, the Obuse half marathon is all about fun with the f a.m.ily.

For some laughs and entertainment on a Sunday, wake up early and bring the family along to the 17th Obuse Mini Marathon!

Details:

Opening ceremony begins at 5:40 a.m. Start time is at 6 a.m. near Obuse Station. Finish area is Obuse Park so be there just after 7 a.m. to catch the winners. Award ceremony is at 8 a.m. Costume award ceremony is at 9:30 a.m. Closing session is at 10:30 a.m.

Shuttle buses will operate from 4 a.m. No convenient parking lot available around the marathon area.

For more details, visit the Obuse Marathon Official Website.

Shimotsuki — The festival where gods gather to bathe.

December 20th, 2018 by
Category: Events, Experience, Seasonal Topics, Sightseeing

Deep in the foothills of the Southern Japanese Alps, you’ll find the tiny hamlet of around 100 souls called Shimoguri no Sato.   Or maybe you won’t, as Shimoguri is considered a ‘hidden village’.  Perched precariously on a steep hill, the area is also known as the “Tyrol of Japan”, although “Japan’s Machu Picchu” may be more applicable.  Not short of nicknames, Shimoguri is also thought to be a ‘tenku’ (天空) for the way it seemingly floats above the clouds.

Matchu Picchu-like Shimoguri no Sato (Photo courtesy of Katsumasa Furusawa)

Due to its harsh geography with its hillside location averaging a steep 38 degree slope ranging from 800 to 1100 meters above sea level, practically the only thing that can be grown is potato.  And the elderly farmers, mostly by hand, produce a variety called shimoguri, named after their land.

Many moons ago, I helped with the text for Nagano Prefecture’s official “Go-Nagano” website.  I tried to do as much research as possible for each entry including physically visiting many of the sites.  Due to its remote location, I never made it to Shimoguri.  But I have been enchanted by it’s storybook-like setting ever since writing the Shimoguri entry.

However, I recently finally got the chance to visit.  A colleague of mine had spent time there on many occasions including for the mystical Shimotsuki Festival.  10 shrines in the Toyama District hold the ceremony every December, including Shimoguri’s Gojusha Daimyoujin Shrine where it takes place annually on December 13th.  The highlight of the festival is a ritual where water is splashed from a boiling cauldron with a bare hand.  I was to find out that the festival, a nationally designated Important Intangible Cultural Property, is much more complex than just that ritual.

After what seemed like an endless drive into the deep unknown, we finally arrived at Shimoguri around 10pm.  After tea at the house of an acquaintance of my colleague, we headed up to the shrine reaching there just past 11pm to find the evening’s events just getting underway.  We passed through the brand new stone torii gate and slid open the door to the main hall and ducked in.

A bonfire was burning in the center, heating two cauldrons of water.  Visitors give a little donation and then stand along the edge of the crowded hall craning to get a look through the smoke at the various dances and proceedings centered on the fire.

Names of the people who donated.

The main theme of the Shimotsuki Festival is gods come from all across to Japan to have a bath, hence the afore-mentioned splashing of the boiling water.  If that sounds familiar, you may have seen “Spirited Away”.  The animator, Hayao Miyazaki, got his inspiration from Shimoguri’s festival.

One after another, different gods and characters dance around the fire in a hypnotic rhythm, sometimes alone, sometimes in pairs, often in groups of 8.

Preparing the bonfire

When we first arrived, 8 people slowly circled around the fire with a ‘sensu’ fan in one hand and ‘suzu’ bell in the other other.

Then they switched to a katana sword and continued their mesmerizing movements.

Various gods represented by people wearing unique masks then took their turns.

Some interacted with the people watching, such as the ‘mother’ god carrying a ‘baby’ that some tried to touch for good fortune.

A couple red foxes performed an intricate dance.

At one point, a real 3-year old child battled a dragon.

Punctuating the festivities were some younger participants whose dance grew wilder, culminating in what can only be described as stage diving but without the stage.

At intervals, the bonfire was built up and the flute and taiko music reached a crescendo

for the men wearing tengu masks

to perform the ritual of splashing the boiling water with their bare hands.

I took a direct hit a couple of times and the water was painfully hot — I can’t imagine the courage it took to stick their hands in the scalding hot water.

We wound up leaving around 3:30 in the morning with still a few more gods to come.  The locals apparently end things with a banquet at 4am.  Their stamina is incredible!  And it all the more amazing considering one other nickname for Shimoguri — ‘genkai shuraku’, literally, a hamlet faced with extinction.  Currently there are only 6 school-aged children in Shimoguri and in all likelihood they will move away for high school and not come back.

In some ways, Shimoguri and its Shimotsuki Festival have a primordial, almost timeless feel.  But time is not working in Shimoguri’s favor.  The village and its festival need to be treasured now.

What’s Happening in Hakuba for the 2018/19 Season

December 13th, 2018 by
Category: Events, Outdoor Activities

The Ski Season is upon us! While the snow accumulation has been limited thus far this year, The Hakuba Valley season will officially begin this weekend with Goryu opening the Sky 4 chair lift on Saturday. Happo-One will open the gondola but only for sight-seeing. The rest of the resorts will open for business as soon as there is enough snow, which hopefully will be before the Christmas season. Despite the slow start, there is much to look forward to this year in Hakuba. Here are the best events for the 2018/19 season.

First Base Party (January 11th)

Tom Tilley (Triple J presenter and client liaison member) and Hugo Gruzman’s (1/2 of the Flight Facilities duo) are taking a giant powder-packed leap into the pristine Japanese Alps with their “Vintage Après Soiree” First Base party in January 2019!

The First Base parties have become a mainstay during the Australian winter seasons and now the group will visit Japan. The duo frequently enlists great artists to perform with and some recent notable names include Hayden James, Confidence Man, Touch Sensitive, CC:DISCO and more.

46501750_2306396196099676_1293907568489398272_o-2

 

The Free Ride World Tour (January 19-26)

The Free Ride World Tour will come to Hakuba for a second straight year. The Free Ride World Tour is the worldwide circuit of freeride snowboarding and skiing with the best riders in the world competing on five of the most challenging alpine faces in some of the world’s most famous resorts. Happo-One will host the event and with it lots of festivities for free ride fans.

Free Ride World Tour (January 19 – January 26)

 

Burton Qualifiers Jan 26th

The Burton Qualifiers is the premiere amateur snowboard contest series offering local riders of all ability levels and ages the chance to come together for a fun day of riding, cash prizes and the opportunity to go all the way to the finals! Now in its fourth season, the FREE Burton Qualifiers series continues to grow with the addition of two new international stops and a huge increase in the already record prize purse with $30,000 in cash on the line.

Fire Festival February 22nd

The annual Happo Fire Festival will be held on February 22nd and will feature torch wielding ski performances, bonfires, raffles, and lots of FREE sake. This is a great way to take in some Japanese culture during your ski holiday.

Happo Fire Festival, February 22nd

Momiji-Lake: red maple leaf tunnel

November 4th, 2018 by
Category: Events, Information, Seasonal Topics, Sightseeing

Are you looking for a new red leaf spot in Nagano?Then you should come check out Minowa town!

The best time to visit is around mid Oct to Early Nov.

Location on google map: https://goo.gl/maps/YWJW9JFN25J2

This place is called “momiji no tunnel.” A lot of tourists and locals come to visit during this time of year. In the evening, the maple trees are lit up and they look really fantastic.

Before the tunnel, you drive around Lake momiji (momiji ko) after seeing the Minowa Dam. The maple trees around the lake are also beautiful!

 

On November 3rd, there is an festival of Momiji Lake at the event square of Minowa town. There are lots of food stalls and some fun activities to take part in. Also, a walking event is held in the morning so you can walk 8km around the whole lake and enjoy the autumn colors at a relaxed pace.

For more info, please visit Minowa town tourism association.

https://www.town-minowa.jp/ (in Japanese)

Summer in Nagano Means ‘Hanabi’ (Fireworks)!

August 10th, 2018 by
Category: Events, Information, Outdoor Activities, Seasonal Topics, Sightseeing

Cities and towns throughout Nagano put on fireworks displays in summer.  It’s a great excuse to wear a colorful yukata (summer kimono) and enjoy the relatively cool evening ambience.  The grand-daddy is the Lake Suwa Hanabi festival, held every year on 15-August.  It boasts over 40,000 fireworks reflecting in the lake surface.  Then in early September, a separate display featuring a competition of Hanabi-shi (professional pyrotechnics) takes place.  For details, see the official website.

Below is a picture of this year’s Chikuma River Fireworks Festival at Onsen Town Togura-Kamiyamada.  It’s about the 1/4th the size of Lake Suwa’s, but is an area favorite because the viewing are is so close to the action and the sound reverbrates off the surrounding hillsides, making for a very dynamic display.  The grand-finale includes a cascading ‘Niagara’ of fireworks along the upriver bridge (to the right in the picture).  It is held every year on the 7th of August.  (Photo is actually by my son, Andy, taken from the Kannon-ji Temple on the castle hill behind town.)

Planting Rice and Tasting Sake in Hakuba

May 22nd, 2018 by
Category: Events, Information, Report

Rice is Japan’s main staple. It shows up nearly every meal, morning, day and night, and is used in the production of many of Japan’s flavorings, desserts, and drinks. Among Japan’s most famous rice products is, of course, sake, and over the centuries, agriculturalists have bred and refined rice varieties especially for its production.
Read the rest of this entry »

Spring Flowers in the Japanese Countryside: the Iiyama Nanohana Festival

May 2nd, 2018 by
Category: Events, Information, Seasonal Topics

The flowers grow high enough to make a veritable maze of yellow.


As the cherry blossoms fade away, other flowers take the spotlight around Nagano. In Iiyama, nanohana blossoms cover the fields along the Chikuma River, turning everything a sunny yellow.

The annual Nanohana Festival is held during the latter part of Golden Week, this year from May 3rd to 5th, during which there are musical and dance performances and plenty of activities to enjoy. It all takes place at the Nanohana Park in Iiyama City on the far side of the Chikuma River. The park is located on a small hill and has great views of the surrounding countryside. The Sekida mountains were mostly bare of snow this year, but as the clouds cleared we could see the brilliant white visage of Mt. Myoko in the distance.
Read the rest of this entry »

Cycling and Cherry Blossoms in Spring: the Alps Azumino Century Ride

April 24th, 2018 by
Category: Events, Information, Outdoor Activities, Report

Taking a break at the Alps Azumino Park aid station

The 10th annual Alps Azumino Century Ride cycling event was held last weekend. Beginning in Azumino and extending as far as the ski resorts of Hakuba, the event course weaved through rice fields, orchards, and the lakes of Omachi. While the course was the same for all participants, there were different lengths available, ranging from 70km to 150km. Somehow, I found myself participating in the race along with one of my coworkers. But at least it was on the “friendlier” 70km tour.
Read the rest of this entry »

Escaping the Slopes for a tour of Japan’s Samurai Past

February 15th, 2018 by
Category: Events, Experience, Information, Sightseeing

Matsushiro’s white plaster walls and thatch roofs are reminiscent of a former Japan.

During Nagano’s Lantern Festival, I visited Matsushiro with a group of tourists from Hakuba to enjoy some of the area’s traditional activities. We walked through the streets of this quiet castle town to learn more about its samurai past.
Read the rest of this entry »