A Summer’s Day of Sup at Iiyama’s Lake Hokuryuko

July 23rd, 2017 by
Category: Experience, Outdoor Activities, Seasonal Topics, Sightseeing

Lake Hokuryuko is located in the northern part of Iiyama City. You can get a bus up there from Iiyama Station. I reckon strong cyclists could ride up to it in less than an hour from Iiyama station too. It is famous for being heart-shaped, but honestly, I couldn’t really notice from the shore. That doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty of things to love about it.

A local outfitter rents kayaks and SUP (stand-up paddle) boards there. You can get lessons and guides as well. I am pretty confident in a kayak, but I had yet to try SUP so I thought I would give it a go. We had five in our group, so we could try the super SUP. It is massive! Apparently it can hold eight people, but we only had six on it including our guide. It is a really fun experience. I feel there aren’t many things nowadays, as an adult, which give you that same excitement and joy that you felt as a kid. Super SUP is sure to make you laugh and scream like you were six again. It’s not that hard to do, but it is just such a foreign feeling. Everyone’s little movements affect everyone else. There is no real sense of fear; the worst that could happen is that you fall in the lake, but we are all in life jackets anyway, so no danger. But there’s something about it, perhaps just the ridiculousness of the whole thing, which really brought a smile to my face.

There was another group doing super SUP too. We raced, chased, and rammed each other across the lake. You never get going that fast and it takes a lot of effort and communication to maneuver that thing, so it is pretty funny trying to manage all that without falling down.

You don’t, of course, have to paddle the thing like a maniac. With just five people on it, there’s plenty of space for everyone to sit with your legs in the water or even lie down to work on your tan.

Once we got our super SUP legs stable, we took a crack at normal SUP. It is about the size of a longboard surfboard. Standing on super SUP is a little tricky, but standing on SUP is hard. It is much more responsive and much less forgiving. I got the hang of it pretty quickly, but I was by no means good. Unlike kayaking, where you have a double-sided paddle, you only have a single paddle for SUP. This means that you have to keep switching sides every few strokes, if you want to have any semblance of going straight. Our guide could somehow paddle on just one side and go straight, but I couldn’t at all.

Again, something cool about SUP is that it is entirely up to you how you would like to experience it. If you want to take it easy, it feels perfectly stable from a seated or kneeling position. You can leisurely float about and relax on the lake. Or if you are feeling lively and want a thrill, you can try paddling as fast as you can, try different stance positions, and try to turn as sharply as you can. You can even challenge another SUPer to a match of SUP sumo!

To wrap this up, in my opinion, SUP is much more comfortable than other paddle sports, simply because you don’t have a “seat.” This may seem counter intuitive, but most of the water crafts that I’ve been in are kind of cramped, have very limited seating or position options, and are just not comfortable. But SUP is very free. You can sit or lie any way you wish.

Lake Hokuryuko also has camping, a café, and a rather nice looking hotel and restaurant with onsen hot springs boasting great views of the lake and the Chikuma river valley. In closing, Lake Hokuryu is a great place to spend a summer’s half-day or even a few days if you want to explore hiking around Kosuge as well. Definitely consider it if you are taking a trip out to Iiyama City or Nozawa Onsen Village.

Summer in Nagano: SUP on a Mountain Lake

July 20th, 2017 by
Category: Experience, Information, Outdoor Activities

Iiyama’s heart-shaped Hokuryu Lake is hidden in a valley on mystical Kosuge Mountain.  Not fed by any rivers or streams, the pristine lake is filled only with snow melt run-off and natural springs.

Romantic heart-shaped Hokuryu Lake

Recently my daughter and I had the opportunity to appreciate the lake doing SUP.

Stand-Up Paddling, a combination of surfboarding and canoeing, is a relatively new sport but it is gaining in popularity and is scheduled to make it’s Olympic debut at the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo.  Despite it being our first time, thanks to some skillful coaching by Powerdrive R117‘s charismatic owner, Gyaruman, we got the hang of SUP surprisingly quickly.  Soon we were skimming across Hokuryu Lake and enjoying the mountain scenery.  As we got more comfortable with the paddling, we tried a few rounds of SUP Sumo.  Losing was actually rewarding as it meant falling into the lake for a refreshingly cool splash.

Nagano is blessed with many scenic mountain lakes, and SUP is a perfect way to appreciate their natural beauty.  Friendly outfitters make it easy to enjoy even for beginners.  Besides Gyaruman and Powerdrive R117 at Hokuryu Lake in Iiyama, other popular alternatives include Evergreen Outdoor Center / Hakuba’s Lake Aoki and Sunday Planning / Nojiri Lake in northern Nagano.

Polynesian demigod? No, charming Gyaruman the SUP pro.

Japan Alps Art Festival at Omachi, Nagano

June 30th, 2017 by
Category: Culture Art, Events, Experience

 

Located at the foot of the 3000+ metre Kita Alps mountain range in the Northwest of Nagano Prefecture in the town of Omachi, The Japan Alps Art Festival (JAAF) is conceived to showcase unique and imaginative natural artworks, commissioning many international artists, that complement and highlight the region’s epic natural landscapes and features. Planned to continue on a triennial basis, the inaugural 2017 event is currently nearing the midway point of its approximate 7-week course (June 4-July 30) and is on  track for over 20,000 attendees.

Being a proud Omachi resident of 3 years, I was invited to join the bloggers tour for a day sampling some of the art installations (and 1 or 2 local restaurants). The exhibition is far too large to see every exhibit in one day – there are 38 primary exhibits [you can preview the complete catalogue at the JAAF website] distributed all over Omachi in 5 separate sections {eastern mountains, three lakes, headwaters, dam, downtown} – transport of some kind is required – with a private car, progressing through the exhibition sequence at a relaxed enjoyable pace, we were able to see about a dozen exhibits over 8 hours. For visitors, at least two and probably three days is recommended to see it all comfortably. A special bus and a special taxi servicing the entire span of exhibits runs daily for the duration of the festival. Car rentals are available, offering more flexibility and time efficiency. (These require an international driver’s permit for foreign visitors).

Following is a small sample of a few of the exhibits we have seen thus far. We will cover the remainder over the remaining month of the festival.

Pre-opening jazz music act:

 

Exhibit 30:

Tangible Landscape by Japanese artist

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Exhibit 33:

Bamboo Waves by Russian artist Nikolay Polissky

 

 

 

 

 

 

Exhibit 15:

Arc ZERO is by Australian “Land-and-Light” artist James Tapscott (who, we were astonished to learn, hails  from our former suburb back in Australia – quite a coincidence in this part of the World.)

 

Exhibit 16:

Trieb – Forest in Rain by Japanese artist  Toshikatsu Endo

 

Exhibit 34:

Hameau d’ellipes by Swiss artist Felice Varini

 

Exhibit 29:

Located at Reishoji Temple, a collection of fantastically ornate wood sculptures and a sound+light show by the highly accomplished local Omachi resident artist Sadao Takahasi.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Exhibit 14:

Tatsu by Italiian artist Patrick Tuttofuocu


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

Special thanks go to the many, many organizers and volunteers from the Omachi community and to the various local, regional, national and even international corporate and government sponsors of this impressive event – in its inaugural instance, the Japan Alps Art Festival appears to have exceeded all expectations and bodes well for a burgeoning tenure in the years and decades ahead.

Soba-Making Lessons in Nagano

March 10th, 2017 by
Category: Cuisine, Experience, Information

Make your own delicious soba in Nagano!

Soba noodles can be eaten throughout Japan but they are especially famous in Nagano. With abundant buckwheat and fresh water from the mountains, Nagano’s artisans make simple yet incredibly aromatic soba. After a plate or two or three, you find yourself hooked on this deceptively delicious dish.

And while it’s not necessarily true that the soba you make yourself is more delicious—let’s be honest, our crudely cut soba noodles pale in comparison to a soba master’s—the experience is a whole lot of fun and makes for a great memory. There are a number of places throughout the prefecture where you can try making soba for yourself and learn to appreciate soba made by the professionals.
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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.
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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.
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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.

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.

Nagano’s Quiet Samurai Town

June 21st, 2016 by
Category: Accomodations, Experience, Sightseeing

Matsushiro castle in spring.

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.

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Summer Fun Around Lake Suwa

May 27th, 2016 by
Category: Experience, Information, Onsens (Hot Springs), Seasonal Topics, Sightseeing

A view of the lake from the rooftop of the Clasuwa restaurant.

In a land-locked prefecture, the Suwa area is surprisingly blessed with water. The surface of lake Suwa offers beautiful, reflective views of the surrounding mountains and sky. Hot springs bubble up from the grounds of Kami and Shimosuwa and feed over 150 public bathing facilities in the area. And, fresh water from the highlands helps brew Suwa’s many award-winning rice wines.

Visitors to the area have been increasing in advent of the 2016 Onbashira festival, so I thought I’d take a closer look at Suwa’s activities and sights.

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