Namaste, Iiyama!

July 23rd, 2017 by
Category: Information

One bright, hot summer morning was the perfect time to escape to the cool of Iiyama’s Nabekura Highlands for some outdoor yoga in a beautiful beech tree (buna) forest.

Wide open vistas of green rice paddies

Taking advantage of the very convenient shuttle bus from Iiyama Station, our little group was in high spirits. It’s a pretty route, through wide open valleys of rice fields with old “samurai hat” houses and their immaculate kitchen gardens. The bus arrives at the Mori no Ie visitor centre in plenty of time to get changed into your yoga things, and get some water. After picking up our yoga mats, which were provided, we followed our instructor down a well-kept forest trail. Birds were singing, butterflies flittered around and we even surprised a little grass snake, sunning himself on the trail. Well, perhaps it was us who were more surprised!

The buna forest

A little forest therapy: the trails are really well-managed, so it’s easy walking with your yoga mat

After arranging our mats carefully in the clearing, we were instructed to lay down and breathe the peace of the forest right down into our fingers and toes. Aaah! I felt calmer already, listening to the wind rustling the green leaves overhead, and the little stream burbling behind. Despite one of us being a complete beginner, and the others being pretty rusty, the lesson was gentle, but challenging enough for us to feel a sense of satisfaction. Afterwards, I felt like a whole new person, ready to take on the day. Namaste!

And….breathe…

Forest yoga

There are a variety of easy, well maintained walking trails around Nabekura and we took the chance to enjoy the buna forest of well established old-growth beech trees a little longer.

Hug a tree!

While it would be easy to spend the afternoon there, and try the lunch plan at Mori no Ie, which looks delicious and very healthy, we had other plans and so we made our way to the nearby Kosuge area, to try the local soba noodles at Asabanoan restaurant.

Straight out of Ghibli

Asabanoan is located right at the entrance to the trail that leads to Kosuge’s Okusha temple, a trailhead that looks like it came straight out of a Miyazaki movie, with huge ancient cedar trees lining the time-worn granite steps along a straight line that, if it were followed, leads from the temple itself, to the point where the sun sets exactly behind Myoko Mountain on the summer solstice. The Kosuge area is designated a national cultural heritage property. There’s a lot of history, and perhaps a little magic in this spot. But, more importantly, the morning’s workout had left us ravenously hungry, so we hurried inside to eat big bamboo baskets of chilled soba noodles with wasabi and spring onion dipping sauce and light, crispy tempura vegetables dipped in salt. After eating we added some of the noodle cooking water to our cups of sauce to make a drink known as soba no yu. Delicious, and restored some much needed electrolytes too.

Baskets of chilled soba noodles at Asabanoan

The restaurant has a pretty Japanese garden

Back to downtown Iiyama, to try our hands at washi paper making. The paper making centre is a little tricky to find at first, tucked behind a community centre off the main temple street. Japanese paper, or washi, has been made in this area for centuries, prized for its bright whiteness, owing to being bleached in the sun and snow. Truly, the culture of Iiyama relies on the deep snows of winter.

Our instructor explaining how paper is made

Demonstration time

Made by hand from the bark of paper mulberry trees, which have been dried on snow banks and then pounded into a pulp, and then mixed with another plant extract that makes a kind of liquid wallpaper paste, giving washi has a unique texture and natural colour. The friendly staff showed us how to dip wooden frames into large tanks to carefully layer up our paper. Then we decorated it with dried flowers, leaves and small pieces of coloured washi. Finally the finished frames were vacuumed dry and suddenly our designs brightened into life. A short spell in the dryer and our creations were ready to take home. At only 210 yen for a postcard sized card, these make great lightweight gifts to put in your hand luggage and take home or could even be posted.

Taking the plunge

Our finished paper all ready to dry

To round off the day, no visit to Iiyama would really be complete without a trip to Patisserie Hirano, the city’s renowned cake shop. Glass displays cases are filled with the most tempting-looking fancy cakes with glistening glazes, swiss rolls filled with flavoured cream and delicate pastries. Most people buy things to take home, or gifts for friends and family, but in the cafe you can also order any of the cakes on display with “drink-bar”; unlimited self-service coffee, tea and juices, or even go for one of their extravagant parfaits, with layers of cream, ice-cream and seasonal fruits.

Choices, choices

So pretty

 

I really can’t finish up this blog without saying a big thank you to the staff at Iiyama Station’s Shinshu Iiyama Tourism Bureau, who arranged the booking for everything and were really prompt in replying to emails in English and calling me back to answer all my questions. Arigatou and namaste!

Start your Adventure at the Shin’etsu Shizenkyo Actitity Center

July 23rd, 2017 by
Category: Information

The Shin’etsu Shizenkyo Actitity Center, located on the ground floor of Iiyama Station, is the perfect place to start your adventures. They have maps, information on all sorts of places and activities, and all the gear you could need to explore the area.

They rent hiking boots, helmets and just about everything in between. Rain gear and camping equipment is also available so you don’t need to lug all that stuff on the plane and around Tokyo before you check out the mountains.

Their selection of bicycles is very good too. All looked really clean and high quality. A city cycle for around town is only like 1500 yen for a day. They have sweet road bikes, fat bikes, and even some tandems! The products for purchase are pretty neat too. I picked up an all-natural insect repellant body spray and it really worked!

I spoke with the staff about cycling routes, canoe ports, and hiking trails. Satoru, a staff member, was really helpful and enthusiastic about explaining everything and he gave me some hints that I probably would have never found on my own. They can even help with booking, so you don’t have to worry about arranging everything too much in advance.

If you are coming to Iiyama or starting your adventures from the station, I definitely recommend checking out the activity center and talking with the staff before you venture off.

Iiyama’s Rest Stop for Food and Culture: Michi no Eki Hananoeki Chikumagawa

July 23rd, 2017 by
Category: Information

The Michi no Eki road stop is located right off the 117 highway, about halfway between Iiyama station and Nozawa Onsen. It’s really only practical to get to if you are cycling or driving. But if you are passing through, you should really check it out. Michi no Eki are kind of a new part of Japanese culture. They are a rest stop (24 hour free toilets, whoo!) and provide tourist information, but they are really so much more. All of the local culture and specialties are on display, and many things are available for purchase. So if you are limited for time, you don’t really need to go digging around a whole city to see what the place is like, just stop by the local Michi no Eki and you will have a really good idea.

This Michi no Eki is also like a farmer’s market. Lots of fresh local produce and products are on sale and CHEAP! There is also a very reasonably priced restaurant and café. Soft-serve ice cream is a big deal in Japan and everywhere tries to make unique flavors. Iiyama really knocked it out of the park with their Snow Carrot Ice Cream. The city gets so much snow in winter that carrots are buried up to 3 meters deep. Under these conditions, the carrots produce a lot more sugar than usual. These sweet carrots are then made into ice cream. It is light orange in color and quite sweet, but in an almost fruity way. It is definitely worth a try!

The Michi no Eki has other local specialities too like oyaki (Nagano’s dumpling) and sasa-zushi (vegetarian sushi on a bamboo leaf).

 

Kosuge: An Ancient Land of Harmony

July 23rd, 2017 by
Category: Information

Kosuge is a little hamlet tucked away in a high corner of Iiyama City.   A super steep road rising up from the Chikuma River takes you under tori gates and into the heart of this ancient village. You can walk right up from the Sekizawa bus stop, but be prepared for a bit of a climb. It’s worth it though.

At first glance, Kosuge may seem like another little farming village, but it is so much more. I felt like I walked into one of Miyazaki’s Ghibli films. Scenes from Kosuge hardly feel like they could exist outside of some fantasy. Cedar trees wider than your out-stretched arms line the narrow roads. Slanting rock walls of large irregular but perfectly interlocking stones form the shapes of flowers at their seams. Water always flowing, dripping, pooling seems to be inviting you to be with it. And the imposing mountains looking down on you are not threatening, but reminding you of your place.   It is easy to see why local people believe that it is a land of gods, and it has been known as such for over a thousand years.   It was particularly famous as a training ground for natural ascetic monks, the ones who would live in solitude in the mountains and meditate under the pelting of waterfalls.

For those with a little time and leg strength, you must climb up to the mountain top shrine, the Kosuge Okusha Honden, and walk in the steps of so many pilgrims before you.

I highly recommend reading up a little on its history before making a visit. I am by no means an expert on it, so there may be some mistakes here, but I will try to explain a little. The Kosuge area received patronage from a rich and powerful daimyo who financially supported its development. However, when he was transferred to a different region, all of the records were taken with him and never recovered, so many exact dates for structures are lost to time. With the ebb and flow of politics, noble families of Kyoto sometimes fell from favor. Many of them moved to Kosuge for refuge. Then I believe at the start of the Edo period, Buddhism and Shinto gods were separated from one another. Prior to that, they dwelled together and received worship together. Kosuge then became strictly a Shinto only place. Many of the Buddhist images and relics were destroyed, buried, or hidden. Luckily some remain, like the three massive statues in the Koudou building. There is also a rock at the base of the Okusha trail with ancient Buddhist carvings that was discarded and buried, but recently is has rediscovered and put on prominent display. The local people are trying to recover and preserve as much of Kosuge as they can, both the Shinto and Buddhist aspects. So this is one of the few places in Japan where you can experience the ancient harmony of Shinto and Buddhism.

There is so much history and importance here and it is just quietly waiting for you to discover it.

Japanese Summer Festivals and Fireworks in Nagano

July 21st, 2017 by
Category: Events, Information, Seasonal Topics

An archer in the Nyakuichi Oji Festival in Omachi City.

The vibrant, lively atmosphere of summer festivals is one of the most memorable parts of Japan. The streets are filled with the bright colors of yatai stalls, yukata robes, and paper lanterns, and the sky lights up with brilliant fireworks. Musicians play traditional flute and drum songs as performers entertain festival-goers with dances and theater.

As summer approaches its peak, Nagano gears up for exciting festivals of its own. Enjoy traditional Japanese summer festivals along with events that are unique to Nagano.

1. Japan Alps Art Festival (Omachi City)

“Shinano Omachi Tangible Landscape” by the creative team “Me.”


Utilizing traditional kominka houses and the rich nature at the base of the Japan Alps, Omachi City is hosting the first Japan Alps Art Festival with over 30 artists from around the world. Until July 30th, you can see beautiful works of art that explore the relationship between humans and nature.

“Windy” by Kuei-Chih Lee

Tickets can be purchased for 2,500 Yen and include one admission to every work as well as discounts on certain activities and restaurants. The event runs from June 4th to July 30th, 2017. You can learn more about the festival on the event’s official multilingual website, or see firsthand photographs from one of our bloggers here.


2. Iida Puppet Festival (Iida City)

Japanese and international puppet troops perform over the course of 6 days during the Iida Puppet Festival.


All of Iida City becomes host and stage of the biggest puppet festival in Japan. Bringing together puppet theater troupes from across Japan, Asia, and as far away as Europe, the fair features all forms and styles of puppetry from traditional ‘bunraku’ hand and shadow puppets to newer forms of object theater, pantomime, and ventriloquism. Audiences of all ages are fascinated, entertained, and enchanted with the puppet shows hosted at more than 100 venues throughout the city. In addition, there are a parade, workshops, and a midnight theater.

This year’s puppet festival will be held between Tuesday, August 1st and Sunday, August 6th. See our event page or their english website for more details.


3. Nagano’s Dancing Festivals (Various Locations)

A snapshot of the dance performed at Nagano’s Binzuru festival.


Around August, major cities throughout Nagano celebrate summer dance festivals. Locals join large groups of classmates, coworkers or friends, each with their own unique and colorful happi coats, and dance through the streets late into the evening. The simple melodies are contagious and friendly groups often invite you to dance along. Enjoy the lively atmosphere, snack on fried festival foods, and dance away the summer heat.

Ueda City celebrates its Wasshoi festival on Saturday, July 29th. Nagano (Binzuru), Matsumoto (Bonbon) and Iida cities (Ringon) celebrate their festivals on the same day, Saturday, August 5th.


4. Omachi Nyakuichi-Oji Festival (Omachi City)

A young boy trying traditional “yabusame” archery from horseback.


Omachi City’s Nyakuichi-Oji Shrine not only has a history of over 700 years, but its main building and pagoda are designated national important cultural properties. The shrine’s annual festival features a “yabusame” horseback archery competition. One of the top 3 such competitions in the country, Nyakuichi-Oji’s is the only one by young boys. The boys dressed in period costumes also perform a procession through the town as part of this colorful festival.

This year it will be held on July 22nd to 23rd. See more information on our event page.


5. Sakaki Festival (Mochizuki-juku in Saku City)

A long exposure photograph of flaming torchs being thrown into the river during the Sakaki Festival.


With burning pine torches in their hands, local youth run down from the mountain to the Kakuma riverbed, and together throw their torches into the river in an exciting spectacle. This festival is held on August 15th every year in Mochizuki-juku, a former post town of the Nakasendo. Through the cleansing fire, locals pray for their health and a bountiful harvest. It is said that a long time ago, the warring states general Takeda Shingen mistook the festival’s torchs for an ambush and immediately retreated with his troops.

The festival is held every year on August 15th. See more information on our events page.


6. Suwa Fireworks Festival (Suwa City)

A shot from the 2013 Suwa Experimental Fireworks festival.


Suwa’s fireworks display, held in mid-August every year, is hailed as one of the largest displays in all of Japan. Over 40,000 devices are exploded over the lake, with the sound reverberating off the surrounding mountains. The grand finale is a 2-kilometer long “niagara” of cascading sparkles. In early September, a second fireworks display is held featuring new experimental types. Suwa’s fireworks display was started shortly after World War II in the hopes of lightening people’s spirits in the aftermath of the war.

The Suwa Fireworks Festival is held every year on August 15th. The Suwa Experimental Fireworks festival is held on September 2nd. See more information on our events page.


7. Yuzawa Shrine Lantern Festival (Nozawa Onsen Village)

The performer dressed as Sarutohito no Mikoto dances while twirling a large bundle of burning hay.


During Yuzawa Shrine’s religious Lantern Festival, a parade of large poles weighted with plentiful lanterns extends through the streets of Nozawa Onsen. The Shinto deity Sarutohiko-no-Mikoto performs the purifying ritual called “Shimekiri,” where he rhythmically swings a large bundle of fire before cutting a ceremonial rope with a katana. Throughout town you can see performances of the Sarutahiko-no-Mikoto dance, the dance of the 36 great poets, and the dance of the lion. Also, from 19:30 yatai stalls fill the streets and fireworks light the sky. The next day an omikoshi float makes its rounds through the whole town.

This year, the festival will be held on September 8th and 9th.


Additional Information

Summer festivals are one of Japan’s most memorable experiences. Wear your own yukata, enjoy delicious street food and marvel at the sight of Japanese fireworks. People of all ages are out and about so you can meet locals and enjoy an authentic slice of life in Japan. If you’re interested in learning more about Nagano’s summer festivals and activities, take a look at some of the other resources below!

Links

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.

Best Museums and Galleries in Nagano

July 12th, 2017 by
Category: Culture Art, Information, Sightseeing

Zhuge Liang puppet in the Kawamoto Kihachiro Puppet Museum

It’s Japan’s infamous rainy season and that means that unpredictable, sudden squalls are just around every corner. You’ll get soaked, your laundry won’t dry, trains and buses may be delayed, and it can be hard to do anything outdoors on the weekends. When it’s too wet to climb mountains or have picnics, what else is there to do in Nagano?

Cafés, karaoke, and staring at the ceiling are some possible options, but there are also plenty of museums and galleries around the prefecture that feature interesting historical artifacts and beautiful paintings. Spend some of your rainy days brushing up on Japanese history and art in one of Nagano’s many museums.


1. The Hokusai Museum

Entrance to the Hokusai Museum

Katsushika Hokusai is one of Japan’s most famous artists, known throughout the world for his woodblock print “Kanagawa-oki Nami Ura (the Great Wave off Kanagawa).” At one point during his travels he visited the town of Obuse and fell in love, eventually living there for many years. The Hokusai Museum was established in his memory, and many of his works are stored there.

Also in Obuse, Gansho-in Temple features one of Hokusai’s original paintings which can be seen on the ceiling of its main hall. Its vibrant color, size, and dynamic composition are stunning. It is called the “Happo Nirami Ho’oh-zu (the Phoenix Staring in all Directions).”

The Happo Nirami Ho’oh-zu on the ceiling of Gansho-in in Obuse

Details

Address: 381-0201 Nagano-ken, Kamitakai-gun Obuse-machi, Oaza Obuse 485
〒381-0201 長野県上高井郡小布施町大字小布施485
Hours: 9:00 to 17:00 (until 18:00 during July & August)
Holidays: Dec. 31st, Irregular
Price: Adults/800 Yen
High School/500 Yen
Under/ Free
Access: From Nagano Station, take the Nagano Dentetsu train to Obuse Station. From there, a 12 min. walk
Website: http://www.hokusai-kan.com/


2. The Matsumoto City Museum of Art

“Maboroshi no Hana” (2002) by Kusama Yayoi

Matsumoto City is the birthplace of Yayoi Kusama, known internationally for her polka-dot-covered works. The Matsumoto City Museum of Art has a permanent exhibition of her work, featuring among others an outdoor sculpture of gigantic, colorful flowers. Even the buses in town are decorated in colorful polka dots!

Details

Address: 390-0811 Nagano-ken, Matsumoto-shi, Chuo 4-2-22
〒390-0811 長野県松本市中央4-2-22
Hours: 9:00 to 17:00
Holidays: Mondays; Dec. 29 to Jan. 02
Price: Adults/410 Yen
Students/200 Yen
Middle School & Under/ Free
Access: From Matsumoto Station, walk 12 minutes or take the East Course Town Sneaker bus
Website: http://matsumoto-artmuse.jp/


3. Silkfact Okaya

Exterior of the Silkfact Okaya Museum

During the beginning of the Meiji Period, the people of Okaya created the Suwa silk-reeling machine and the area prospered in silk manufacturing. There are many historical buildings related to the industry in Okaya, and the Silkfact Okaya museum stores important artifacts and machines related to it. The museum is attached to an operating silk mill, and visitors can see silk cultivation from silk worm breeding to silk spinning.

At Silkfact Okaya, you can see live silk-spinning demonstrations at the adjoining Miyasaka silk factory.

Details

Address: Nagano-ken, Okaya-shi, Goda 1-48
長野県岡谷市郷田1-4-8
Hours: 9:00 to 17:00
Holidays: Wednesdays; Dec. 29 to Jan. 3
Price: Adults/400 Yen
High/Middle School/200 Yen
Elementary/100 Yen
Access: From JR Okaya Station, a 20 min. walk
Website: http://silkfact.jp/


4. The Sanada Treasures Museum

Exterior of the Sanada Treasures Museum.

The Sanada clan, which was featured in the NHK Taiga Drama Sanada Maru, ruled the domain of Ueda, and later the Matsushiro area until the beginning of the 20th century. At the Sanada Treasures Museum in Matsushiro, you can see samurai armor, weapons, and articles of everyday life used by Japanese people during the Edo Period. Matsushiro is home to a number of Sanada historical sites, like the Sanada-tei residence and the Bunbu Military Academy.

The armor of Sanada Nobuyuki

Details

Address: 381-1231 Nagano-ken, Nagano-shi, Matsushiro-machi, Matsushiro 4-1
〒381-1231 長野県長野市松代町松代4-1
Hours: 9:00-17:00
Holidays: Tuesdays
Price: Adult/300 Yen
Children/120 Yen

Sanada-tei, Bunbu Gakko Combo Ticket:
Adult/500 Yen
Children/200 Yen
Access: From Nagano Station, take the Matsushiro bus to Matsushiro Station. A 3 min. walk.
Website: http://www.sanadahoumotsukan.com/


5. The Takahashi Mayumi Ningyokan

The Takashi Mayumi Ningyokan

This museum is dedicated to the work of Takahashi Mayumi, who creates lifelike figures of Japan’s elderly countryside residents. These adorable dolls show slices of everyday life in Japan’s rural areas, from scenes of farming to socializing with neighbors.

Display of Takayashi Mayumi’s life-like dolls

Details

Address: 389-2253 Nagano-ken, Iiyama-shi, Iiyama 2941-1
〒389-2253 長野県飯山市飯山2941-1
Hours: 9:00-17:00 (10:00-16:00 from Dec. to Mar.)
Holidays: Wednesdays
Price: Adults/610 Yen
Children/410 Yen
Access: a 5 min. walk from JR Kita-Iiyama Station
Website: https://www.ningyoukan.net/


6. Mizuno Museum

Southeastern Exterior of the Mizuno Bijutsukan

This museum south of Nagano City is home to a large collection of traditional Japanese artworks, from ukiyo-e portraits of women in kimono to shimmering landscapes on golden screens. Another feature of the Mizuno Museum is its beautiful landscape garden which can be viewed from comfortable benches inside the museum.

“Kanzashi” (1938) by Uemura Shoen

Details

Address: 380-0928 Nagano-ken, Nagano-shi, Wakari 6-2-20
〒380-0928 長野県長野市若里6-2-20
Hours: 9:30 to 17:30 (until 17:00 from Nov. to Mar.)
Holidays: Mondays; most of Dec.
Price: Adults/800 Yen
Children/600 Yen
Elementary/300 Yen
Access: From Nagano Station, 10 min. by bus.
Nagaden Nisseki line
Nisseki, Matsuoka, Otsukaminami line
Website: http://www.mizuno-museum.jp/index.php


7. Kawamoto Kihachiro Puppet Museum

Exterior of the Kawamoto Kihachiro Puppet Museum

Iida was long a meeting point of Japan’s east and west, and was well known for its puppetry. Nowadays, the city holds a puppetry festival every summer where local and international troops stage performances. The Kawamoto Kihachiro Puppet Museum is dedicated to one such puppeteer who was enamored with the festival and helped create the NHK Puppet Theater series of “Sankokushi (Annals of the Three Kingdoms).” The museum houses a number of animations from the show, as well as 53 of the puppets used in production. The highly detailed puppets and costumes are a sight to behold.

Dolls featured in the NHK puppet drama “Sankokushi”

Details

Address: 395-0044 Nagano-ken, Iida-shi, Honmachi 1-Chome 2-Banchi
(〒395-0044 長野県飯田市本町1丁目2番地)
Hours: 9:30 to 18:30
Holidays: Wednesdays; End of the Year Period
Price: Adults/400 Yen
Children/200 Yen
Access: From JR Iida Station, a 12 min. walk.
Website: http://www.kawamoto-iida.com/index.html

Additional Information

Stay dry this rainy season while enjoying the artwork and history of Nagano. If you’re interested in reading more about Nagano’s museums and galleries, check out the links below. And if you have any questions or suggestions, don’t hesitate to include them in the comments below!

Hot Springs and Waterfalls in Matsukawa Gorge

June 29th, 2017 by
Category: Information, Onsens (Hot Springs), Outdoor Activities

The Matsukawa Gorge is especially beautiful during autumn.

The Matsukawa Gorge is a secluded area behind Takayama Village in Northern Nagano, and is a great stop for a day outdoors in nature. The steep walls of the valley hide a number of hot springs and waterfalls that are fed by mountain streams and volcanic activity, and the high altitude keeps the area cool even in summer.
Read the rest of this entry »

Japan Alps Art Festival 2017 to End 30-July; Omachi’s Rich Culture and Beautiful Alpine Scenery Endless.

June 27th, 2017 by
Category: Information

The Japan Alps Art Festival 2017 is taking place in Omachi City until 30-July.  Produced by Furamu Kitagawa (creator of the Echigo-Tsumari Triennale), Omachi’s festival is also planned to take place once every 3 years.  For its inaugural exhibition, the Festival sure managed to attract some world class artists for some absolutely stunning art installations.  Some pieces will likely remain permanently, but you’ll have to come before 30-July to see all the artwork.

What makes Omachi’s art festival so unique is the way the artists incorporated local material and cultural heritage into the make-up and thematic design of the art.  While enjoying the visual and emotional beauty of the art installations, visitors get new perspectives and appreciation of Omachi’s Alpine beauty as well as it’s rich culture.

I was invited to take place in a Go-Nagano bloggers tour of the art festival, and would like to share some pictures and thoughts on Omachi.

Among the various festival locations spread out throughout the city, our first stop was Takagari Mountain.  Located to the east of the city’s center, the 1164-meter tall mountain features a lookout point at the top featuring a panoramic view of the Northern Japanese Alps across the valley.  Taking advantage of this trademark mountain vista is arguably the most noteworthy artwork of the festival, Mé.  This is a typical old-fashioned farmhouse with white plaster walls and ebony posts and beams, where the walls have morphed into elliptical shapes engulfing the wooden frame in such a way as to draw your eyes to the beauty of the Alps in the distance.  I really hope this is one of the artworks that will continue to exist after the festival ends, as it is a visual treat, especially the way it pays homage to Omachi’s Alpine vistas.

Nearby Mé is “Windy” by Taiwanese artist Kuei-Chih Lee.  Taiwan and Japan share a proneness to typhoons, and the artist used materials found in the forest to make this typhoon-like swirl.  Majestic ferns were left in place and the existing trees used to support the structure.  See if you can resist the temptation to run around the verdant vortex!

Besides being the site of these Art Festival installations, Takagari Mountain is also a Lover’s Sanctuary, with the Northern Alps as a romantic backdrop.

After Takagari Mountain, we descended down to the Yasaka area, to enjoy the “Bamboo Waves” installation by Russian artist Nikolay Polissky.  Inspired by waves in ukiyo-e prints, the artist teamed up with area residents to use the locally-abundant bamboo.  Yasaka was apparently the main supplier of bamboo to the lord of Matsumoto Castle, and boasts some seriously huge bamboo.  Some used in this installation were 18-meters long!

Note the hills in the background used as “Borrowed-landscape”

The master craftsman demonstrating how the artist described the intended shapes

Collecting stamps at each installation.

Also on the east side of town are two other amazing installations:

“Hameau d’ ellipe” by Swiss/French artist Felice Velini, a series of psychedelic ellipses superimposed on 3 old farmhouses showcasing one of Omachi’s many tiny hamlets, and

“Corridor to Buddhist Temple” by local woodworking artist Sadao Takahashi whose pieces that combine wood carving and lacquer art majestically expound on the spacious interior of Reishoji Temple.  (The temple’s intricately carved gate is art in it’s own right.)

After that inspiration, we descended back down to central Omachi City, first to the Omachi Onsen District, where our tour of art complementing history and culture continued.  For example, “Invisible City: Long Goodbye” is like an ode to Omachi’s crystal clear winter nights as well as the town’s historical Salt Road roots,

and Maaria Wirkkala’s work “ACT” embraces the musical arts that so often take place on the Forest Stage.

One other thing the Japan Alps Art Festival also does so well is to highlight Omachi’s culinary heritage as well.  After all, viewing art work is bound to make one hungry.  As part of our tour, we had a lunch that featured bamboo shoots at Iroriya Yasaka (the place appropriately famous for bamboo)

and 3 o’clock tea ‘dolce’ infused with salt at the Omachi Salt Road Museum aka Choujiya.

If you want to see all 38 of the installations, make sure to come by 30-July.  However, Omachi’s historical, cultural and culinary heritage will proudly continue on.

NOTE:  For getting around, using a car is highly recommended.  Rental cars available at Shinano Omachi Station.  Regarding footwear, some of the installations are located in rugged areas so sturdy shoes would come in handy.  However, please keep in mind that several locations require removing your shoes and changing into slippers.

(Special thanks to Ogawa-san from Nagano Prefecture for the insightful tour.)

 

 

 

 

 

Rafting with Cherry Blossoms in Spring

May 1st, 2017 by
Category: Information, Outdoor Activities, Seasonal Topics

Last week at the height of cherry blossom season, we headed down to Azumino to enjoy some early spring rafting! The combination of fast currents, snow-capped mountains, and blooming cherry trees are perfect for an exciting and scenic day on the water.
Read the rest of this entry »