64th Kamikochi Weston Festival, June 5th-6th

June 1st, 2010 by
Category: Events, Experience, Information, Outdoor Activities, Report, Seasonal Topics, Sightseeing

Walter Weston, a British missionary who introduced modern mountain climbing to Japan, first visited Kamikochi in 1891, and returned repeatedly over the course of the 15 years he lived in Japan to escape the summer heat and climb the surrounding peaks. Today, he is commemorated by the annual Weston Festival on the first Sunday of June, preceded by a group hike the day before which traces the original route into Kamikochi up and over the Tokugo Pass from Azumi.


 In an academic paper which Weston presented in 1910 to the Japan Society of London, he declared of the Chubu region “that the neighbourhood is probably one of the richest in Japan for variety and abundance of Alpine plants.” Now a national park, the Japan Alps (Chubu Sangaku) area remains one of Japan’s biodiversity hotspots and well worth a visit before the summer crowds set in.


To join the hike, meet at the Azumi branch of the Matsumoto City office in time for a 6AM departure on 6/5.  For more details on Weston see here.

Matsumoto-Jo Nagano’s Unmovable BattleCruiser

May 31st, 2010 by
Category: Culture Art, Experience, Sightseeing

As part of my job as foreign liaison in Snow Monkey Village-Yudanaka I often have to show people around and soften some of the cultural challenges…

usually I have at least a little background knowledge and am reasonably well prepared,…but not today….

ah ow, I was about to crash into Matsumoto-Castle, almost literally^-^…Not even knowing where the entrance was, was going to be a challenge for me.

It’s strange how every day brings new & different drama.

Luckily I had met one of the other Go-Nagano Bloggers the week before and had a phone number…

Around 8:30am Tom Jones answered his phone, and we agreed to meet (together with my slightly unusual guests) at 10:40am by the Family Mart near the Castle.

I was so thankful to have someone who had a few clues about the place…

10:30 Coming off the highway from Yudanaka my phone starts to shake & ring,

pulling off the road it’s Tadachi-san from the local government government…

…”I’ll be your guide today….” – super, another guide can’t hurt^-^.

Mike & Jacky our English Montaineering guests were very impressed they now had 3 guides!

But wait there’s more^-^

Some god must have been watching my looks of agony as I tried to sleep the night before dreading the unknown castle,

when we reached Family Mart carpark, and Tadachi-san showed me the City Council parking he said “let me introduce you to my guide for the day”

It was like Mike & Jacky (who are actually guides themselves) had started an atomic chain reaction…first me, then Tom, within minutes Tadachi-san, and then in the final moments before entering…the best guide inthe universe ‘Aoki-sensei’.

I hope the students that Mike & Jacky bring, enjoy Nagano’s people as much as I did today.

Matsumoto-Jo was a very impressive military creation, but more impressive was Aoki-sensei’s,  Tadachi-san’s, and my new friend Tom Jones’, explanation.

Tom Jones having a PHD in Forests & Wood, Tadachi-san’s care & courtesy and Aoki’s detail + quite ripe jokes made this an absolutely unforgettable experience…

if I can work out how to put some pictures up here…please enjoy…also see Katsuo Marushige’s 100year old Bonsai trees below too^-^warming-up-before-castle

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Koiwa Weaving Workshop in Ueda

May 31st, 2010 by
Category: Culture Art, Experience, Information, Report


After a request from an Australian guest, Ryokan-keeper Tyler Lynch arranged a hands-on tour of the Koiwa Workshop, where traditional Ueda Tsumugi techniques are still in use. As well as learning about the history of silk production, which flourished during the late Edo era, participants were able to take a seat at the craftsman’s loom and weave a souvenir piece of their own. The authentic buildings and warm welcome make this a great day-out for anyone in the Ueda area.

For more information, check out Koiwai’s website.
Silk weaving workshop available most days, but reservations are recommended.  Prices start at 2,500 yen to make a small place mat (30-40 minutes).

Recycle me anytime!

May 29th, 2010 by
Category: Experience, Information, Miscellaneous, Outdoor Activities, Sightseeing
Looking up at the sky, Thinking about having to rip out the (slightly sexy) thermal underwear the night before…
I was kind of excited to go cycling with Tyler and the Kamiyamada-Cycling Adventurers…
I didn’t realize just what I was in for, or atleast who I would meet until the ride finished for me.

I thought I was out for a quick test ride on Kami-Yamada Village’s Courtesy Cycles….but it was more than that.

What I got was a chance to meet a great bunch of local cyclists, who were keen enough on cycling to donate their time and effort:

Introduced to me with a name like "Yeeee heeeeee", one Kamiyamada's Characters fuels up
Introduced to me with a name like “Eeeee Gaaaaa”, one Kamiyamada’s Characters fuels up

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The Salt road festival

May 26th, 2010 by
Category: Experience, Outdoor Activities

At the beginning of May, the  Golden week holidays herald the arrival of cherry blossom season in Hakuba.  Every year the Salt road festival celebrates the ancient salt road that passes through Otari, Hakuba and Omachi.

The Salt road runs from Itoigawa on the Japan sea all the way inland to Shiojiri near Matsumoto. Until roads were developed salt was ferried by oxen and human from the sea to the interior and sold at markets. The biggest market was in Shiojiri near Matsumoto.

The most intact stretch runs through from Otari to Hakuba and we joined thousands of others on the 3rd for the walk of 10kms.

The old road winds through beautiful countryside and clusters of thatched farmhouses. Along the way local people sing folk songs, play taiko (Japanese drumming) and hand out free refreshments of tea and local sukemono (pickles). The old village of Chikuni at the half way point houses the salt road museum where you can see the history of the salt road and “Pay a toll” to the tollbooth staff for passage by getting your map stamped. Everyone dresses in traditional costumes and you get a real feel for what it was like 100’s of years ago on the salt road.

The old salt road winds through paddies and traditional villages

Salt road load bearers

Cherry blossom in full bloom

Official's exacting a "toll" on salt road users

en-route Fundoushi clad shrine bearers at chikuni shrine

Whole family getting traditional

Thatched japanese farmhouse en-route

Kamikochi 2010 season

May 25th, 2010 by
Category: Events, Experience, Information, Outdoor Activities, Report, Seasonal Topics

Kamikochi, the southern hub of the Japan Alps National Park, opened for the 2010 season on April 27th with Swiss horns and a Lion dance, but the unofficial start line has just been crossed as the spring-like Nirinsou Anemone burst into life across the forest floor. The beds of white flowers takes their name from the twin stalks (Ni meaning two) and can be seen at Tokusawa, a popular extension route to the Myojin trail that takes around 2 hours round-trip from the Bus Terminal.

 To get to Tokusawa, take a bus to Kamikochi then cross over the Azusa River at the centrally-located Kappabashi Bridge. Next, stroll upstream along the boardwalk through the Dakezawa Marsh, which looks murky enough to house a Kappa, the mythical water imp after whom the famous bridge was named. Follow the path upstream for 1 hour to Myojin, stopping off outside the shrine to pay your respects (and a 300Yen entrance fee). Nearby, Kamonji Goya marks the spot where Walter Weston’s Guide, a local hunter by the name of Kamijo Kamonji,  lived from 1880 onwards – you can still see the British Missionary’s original ice axe hanging above the fire-place. Cross over Myojin bridge then head on upstream to Tokusawa (60 mins one way).

Kobayashi-san’s Agricultural Village Idea

May 25th, 2010 by
Category: Accomodations, Experience, Information, Miscellaneous, Outdoor Activities, Seasonal Topics, Sightseeing
The number of local people who went out of their way to show us interesting things was amazing!

The number of local people who went out of their way to show us interesting things was amazing!

The train ride earlier helped top off a fun day with Kobayashi-san from Seishun-Agricultural Village in Ueda.

Kobayashi-san understands that solely growing rice & vegetables is not enough in today’s Japan,  so he is leading the way around Ueda with a new idea…

Tourism Farming will allow us to better make use of our downtime – or something along these lines, I never trust my understanding of many conversations we have…

Kobayashi-san told me (and teachers/guides Mike & Jacky from England) so much in a very short time, unfortunately the time between talking and writing this blog means I’ve lost it – sorry:  but do check out www.murada.com & visit him for more info.

Kobayashi-san also has a custom built Eco-study-lodge for rent if you’re interested in local agriculture & staying near Ueda.

This is a must buy for me, I am sure my parents could always holster a '.....' like this, could be useful weeding around kiwifruit vines?
This is a must buy for me, I am sure my parents could always holster a ‘…..’ like this, could be useful weeding around kiwifruit vines?

After visiting several locations Mike & Jacky were keen that their kids would enjoy many of the experiences they were seeing in Nagano

The problems we have are the same everywhere^-^

The problems we have are the same everywhere^-^

Kobayashi-san together with one school was doing some volunteer work in Nepal, as is Mike (and me too…in 1991!!)…

It was a real thrill to meet the calibre of people today!

Mike actually was paid to climb Mount Everest, and met my kiwi hero Edmund Hillary before he died.

The characters today, Kobayashi, Mike, Jacky and Yoda-sensei (& Edmund) – it was an awesome coincidence!!!

and students were so full of energy!!

and students were so full of energy!!

Keep running guys!!^-^

Rain came down heavy on the rice field outside, but was cosy inside the school library^-^

Rain came down heavy on the rice field outside, but was cosy inside the school library^-^

Upcoming Katana (?) Making Events in Sakaki

May 16th, 2010 by
Category: Events, Experience

As previously mentioned, the Katana Museum in Sakaki Town offers knife making lessons using katana techniques from time to time.  The next lesson is scheduled for Sunday July 4th at the Tetsu no Tenjikan (http://tetsu.town.sakaki.nagano.jp).  There will be 2 sessions, a morning one starting at 10am, and an afternoon one at 1:30pm.  Price is 500 yen and children elementary school age and older are encouraged to participate (accompanied by an adult). 

Katana (err, knife) - making lesson at Sakaki

Katana (err, knife) - making lesson at Sakaki

In addition, on Sunday June 6th, the same Museum will offer a tour of an actual katana workshop.  The 2 hour tours will be held twice, 10am and 1:30pm.  Museum admission (400 yen) is required.   The swordsmith is Miyairi-san, son of a national living treasure (and destined to become one himself).  This is a unique opportunity to see inside a classic, historical sword making workshop.

Bear! Bear!

April 2nd, 2010 by
Category: Experience, Miscellaneous, Outdoor Activities

During my very first time in Japan, I was staying one day in a Japanese Inn in the country side when I heard one of those announcements for the population made by the public hall.

It said: “Your attention please! A Circus is in town tonight and the main entertainment of the show will bears!…” Later on, when I asked the owner about where and when this exciting performance would take place, he grinned at me and said: “Wild bears have been seen in the area today, It was just a warning”…

This story is certainly shameful but it shows how unlikely was the existence of wild bears in Japan for me at that time, in complete opposition with my people-crowded image of the country. Fortunately, my Japanese skills are a bit better now, and in the meantime I have learn that Japanese wild life still hosts many of those animals too.

Since I live in Togakushi, in the Joshinetsu National Park, my knowledge about the so called “Tsuki no Waguma”, the most common Japanese bear, as well as chance to meet one of them became definitely higher. I know that some are living not so far from the house and I have got a few calls from my neighbors to tell me to be careful when I go for my daily walk, because they have seen a bear on that day. This perspective might be frightening, but bear rather fear humans, and wearing a bell when you are taking a walk is the best way to announce your presence and give him time to go away.

The best season to avoid such an encounter is winter, because as everybody knows, bears are hibernating. But surprisingly, winter is also the best season here in Togakushi, to know more about the customs of this animal. One of them is what local people here call Kuma-dana, literally “Bear shelf”. You might see some when you go on a back country tour (Some Telemark ski schools offer such tours).

Kuma-dana is a pile of broken branches on top of a tree, easy to notice during the cold season when no leaves remain. In order to eat berries and nuts of trees he likes in particular, a bear climbs up in the highest part, bends the branches to reach the fruits, and one after the other makes a seat of the “used” branches. It looks from the ground like a kind of huge bird nest.

Here is the kuma-dana, but where is the bear?

Here is the kuma-dana, but where is the bear?

like a big nest, high in the tree…

like a big nest, high in the tree…

a bear’s signature !

a bear’s signature !

Kamesei ryokan, Kamiyamada Onsen

March 9th, 2010 by
Category: Accomodations, Experience, Information, Onsens (Hot Springs), Report, Sightseeing

Kamesei Ryokan 100303_09330001
Kamesei ryokan                       open air bath made by Tyler and big wooden turtle


Last week I was passing  Kamiyamada Onsen and decided to take bath in Kamesei ryokan.

I had 2 reasons:
– it’s only one ryokan in Nagano which runs foreigner  (Tyler, born in Seattle) together
with his wife and her mother
– it’s only one ryokan in Nagano with open air bath made by foreigner (Tyler)

After soaking and special feeling in Tayler’s open air bath, relaxing on old massage chair I noticed interesting things and decided to stay over night.

Not just because warm hospitality of the staff, beautiful old Japanese building with many gardens, Onsen with great smell, beautiful room with new tatami mats, very foreigner welcoming  atmosphere, Seattle cookie in the room and very reasonable rates,
but also because I  like that Tayler:
– keep the old Japanese beauty of ryokan
– brings a bit of western “smell”
– try to promote local art in the ryokan
– does a LOT not just for Kamesei ryokan abut also Kamiyamada Onsen and whole Nagano  prefecture.

100303_09270001 local art in guest rooms                               Signs in front of Kamesei ryokan

“Kame” means “turtle” so you can find signs of turtle in many ways and many places around the ryokan

100303_09310001 100303_09360001