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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Mystical Togakushi in transition from winter to spring

May 11th, 2016 by
Category: Experience, Outdoor Activities, Seasonal Topics, Sightseeing

Togakushi is special any time of year, but this transitional period, after winter has departed and before the trees have grown their leaves in the spring, is magical.  The creamy white flowers of the mizubasho plants (known in English very un-romantically as skunk cabbage) serve as a reminder of the recently melted snow, while the cacophony of ground plants are a harbinger of vernal green.

Mizubasho, aka “skunk cabbage”

My wife and I made a post-Golden Week day trip to Togakushi.  We started off at Yamaguchi-ya for some soba noodles.  Located near Chu-sha (Togakushi’s Middle Shrine), this restaurant’s eating area provides a spectacular view of the Togakushi Mountain Range.  Today, unfortunately, the mountain was hiding behind clouds, fitting in a way since the peak has traditionally been home to hermit monks hiding in its depths.  Even without the normal scenery, the noodles were still fantastic.  There is just something different about noodles made with local buckwheat and Togakushi’s clear mountain water.  The fresh mountain air seems to add to the experience, too.
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Norikura Nature Walk, Snowshoe-style

March 7th, 2016 by
Category: Accomodations, Experience, Information, Onsens (Hot Springs), Outdoor Activities, Seasonal Topics

The Japanese Alps are a treasure trove of natural wonder, and knowledgeable guides at Little Peaks in Norikura are just the ones to  reveal the splendor.  Today I had the pleasure of joining in a magical snowshoeing tour of Norikura.

Here is how the adventure went:

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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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