Autumn Leaves Viewing in Karuizawa

October 5th, 2010 by
Category: Cuisine, Events, Experience, Information, Miscellaneous, Outdoor Activities, Seasonal Topics, Sightseeing


Autumn comes early in Karuizawa, which is at an altitude of 1,000 meters on average.  You can enjoy beautiful red and yellow leaves in many parts of Karuizawa.  Today I would like to introduce two popular spots for autumn color viewing.  The peak of autumn colors is usually from the end of Oct (maple trees) to the beginning of Nov (larch trees).


(1) Kumoba Ike (Kumoba Pond)


dcp_7443 (Photo: Kumoba Pond)


Kumoba Pond is within easy access from Karuizawa Station and is one of the most popular autumn destinations in Karuizawa.  Around the pond is a twenty-minute walking trail, on which you can stroll under the beautiful red and yellow leaves.  The autumn colors reflected on the water surface are breathtaking as well. 

[Access] Go out of Karuizawa Station North Exit and walk straight on for about 500 meters.  Turn left at the traffic signal called “Shinonome”.  Keep walking along the street for about 500 meters.  Then you will see the pond on your right.  About 15 to 20 minutes from the station.



(2) Kyu Usui Toge Miharashidai (Kyu Usui Pass Observation Platform)


dcp_0758r  (Photo: Usui Toge Yuran Hodo hiking trail)


Kyu Usui Toge Miharashidai (Kyu Usui Pass Observation Platform) is located on the border of Nagano and Gunma Prefectures and boasts a fine view of towns and mountains below your eyes.  Near Miharashidai, there is an old shrine called “Kumanokotai Jinja” worth visiting.  If you feel hungry, you can take a rest at one of the traditional Japanese-style tearooms that serve famous “Chikara Mochi” rice cakes.  You can go to this Miharashidai by bus or your own car, but you can also get there by following a hiking trail called “Usui Toge Yuran Hodo”.  The hiking trail is like a tunnel of splendid fall foliage. 

[Access] You can take a Karuizawa Kotsu bus from Mampei Hotel, Karuizawa Kanko Kaikan, or other bus stops.  Karuizawa Kanko Kaikan, whose first floor is Tourist Information, is in the middle of Karuizawa Ginza Shopping Street.  Buses are seasonally operated, so it is better to check the operation schedule in advance.  An about 30-minute bus ride will take you up to Kyu Usui Toge Miharashidai.  If you like to take “Usui Toge Yuran Hodo”, the hiking trail, the entrance is near Nitebashi Bridge at the eastern end of Karuizawa Ginza Shopping Street.  You hike uphill for about 90 minutes under beautiful fall foliage.



Karuizawa Autumn Festival:

From October 2nd to November 3rd, Karuizawa Autumn Festival is being held.  During the festival period, various special events are held and special discounts are applied to some museums and Japanese-style inns if you have discount tickets that are attached to the leaflet of Karuizawa Autumn Festival.


Access to Karuizawa:

It takes about 70 minutes by JR Nagano Shinkansen from Tokyo.  You can check the following URL, too.


For more information, contact Karuizawa Tourist Information Offices:

URL: (Click “English” button)

TEL: 0267-42-5538 (Old Town) or 0267-42-2491 (Karuizawa Station) or 0267-45-6050 (Naka Karuizawa Station).   

If you like to join private or group tours to see Karuizawa and nearby areas, there are some organizations that provide guided walking tours, cycling tours, bus tours, and taxi tours depending on the day.  Some are guided in Japanese and others in Japanese and English.


I hope you will enjoy autumn beauty in Karuizawa.





Kamikochi by Taxi

October 4th, 2010 by
Category: Events, Information, Miscellaneous, Outdoor Activities, Report, Sightseeing

Last Saturday, there was a Kamikochi Monitor Tour run by Chuo Taxi. The tour was designed to meet the needs of inbound tourists who want to see several of Nagano’s top destinations in a short space of time, such as one weekend or a few days.

sany0613First up was a 9AM pick-up  at Nagano Station for an Ozzy from Tokyo with her Mum. Next, the taxi picked up a German guy from Tyler’s Onsen, and the team was on its way!

En route, they stopped off at Azusagawa Service Area before arriving at Kamikochi in time for lunch. Fortunate enough to enjoy bright sunshine and warm weather, the team was treated to great views of the Hodaka mountain range and Yakedake, the only active volcano in the Japan Alps.

After lunch at Nishitoya, everyone walked downstream to Taisho-ike Pond. This short hike along the Azusa river is a great favourite among Kamikochi visitors because it takes in a variety of natural attractions such as Tashiro marsh and Tashiro-ike Pond, and cultural ones such as the Weston Plaque and Yamanokami shrine.


After having a good luck around the National Park, everyone piled back on the bus to the next stop, which was the Fuketsu Wind Cave further down the valley on the way back towards Matsumoto. This natural cellar is used to store local Nihonshu, the Japanese sake for which Nagano is famous. It makes use of a unique set of geographical feature which keeps the temperature at a steady 5-6ºC even during the height of summer, and was once used by Nagano’s extensive sericulture industry.

sany0661 sany0623

Many thanks to all the organizers and participants that helped make this tour such a success. Watch this space for details of upcoming tours and events 🙂

Cheap Highway Busses from Tokyo to Nagano

September 21st, 2010 by
Category: Information, Miscellaneous, Onsens (Hot Springs), Sightseeing

Highway bus company “Harvest” offers 2 services from Tokyo to Nagano Prefecture and beginning October 1st, 2010, will start two more routes, including a new run from Shinjuku to Togura Kamiyamada Onsen.  The round-trip prices are as low as 3,800 yen. 


If you’ve been wanting to take a relaxing trip to an onsen but the cost of getting there has been too much, now is your chance!  The poor economy and worsening exchange rates has put a crunch on peoples’ travel budgets.  With a round trip price of only 3,800 yen, making a trip to Nagano has become a lot more affordable.  Take advantage of this opportunity to leave Tokyo’s hustle and bustle (not to mention concrete) and come out to Japan’s countryside for a rejuvinating stay at an onsen ryokan.

Harvest Tour highway bus, Nagano Routes

Route 1 to Nagano City with stops at Tomi City and Saku City

Route 2 to Tateshina, Shirakaba Lake and Kuruma-yama

Route 3 to Yatsugatake

Route 4 to Kamiyamada Onsen (details as follows)

Shinjuku – Kamiyamada run

Departs Shinjuku West Exit 10:00am
Arrives Kamiyamada in front of the footbath  1:25pm

Departs Kamiyamada in front of the footbath  1:35pm
Arrives Shinjuku West Exit 6:50pm

One-Way Price:  1,900 yen weekdays, 2,400 yen weekends

Term:  October 1st to November 30th, 2010.  Scheduled to change from Shinjuku to Tokyo Station for December.

Reservations:  Tel 03-3266-5959
Or try their website here.

Note:  We’re coming up on the popular fall foliage season so make your reservations early.

Experience Matsumoto Castle!

July 9th, 2010 by
Category: Culture Art, Events, Experience, Information, Miscellaneous, Report, Sightseeing

The other day I got the chance to play Last Samurai at Matsumoto Castle, one of the best preserved castles in Japan. The event was a photoshoot as PR for the 29th annual Matsumoto Castle Takigi Noh, an Outdoor Noh Performance by Kazufusa Hosho. Despite weighing in at around 25kg, the armour (or Kachu as it is known in Japanese) was surprisingly flexible, although it was also stiflingly hot even with the Aircon on – one luxury the Samurai didn’t have.

Unfortunately, trying on the Kachu was a one-off event to celebrate the Noh, but we are working on adding a Kachu experience to Nagano’s Menu of unique experiences. In the meantime, visitors to Matsumoto Castle can take a free guided tour (details here).

 The Noh is a special outdoor performance given right in the inner garden of Matsumoto Castle, starting in the early evening and continuing by lantern light after the sun sets. The venue is Honmaru Park in the Castle grounds on August 8th; there will be free admission from 3PM and the Noh starts from 5PM.  Samurai armour is not supplied but you are welcome to BYO J

Lettuce Harvesting Starts

June 26th, 2010 by
Category: Miscellaneous, Seasonal Topics
lettuces all over the village

lettuces all over the village

Although the farming this year has been slower than usual due to the cool weather and the ‘once -in-six-years’festival, the harvest season finally has come.

test-picked some of the lettuces to make sure they weigh enough

test-picked some of the lettuces to make sure they weigh enough

Tomorrow we are going to crop the first of our lettuces this year.


Lettuces in Nagano’s highland areas have enjoyed a dominant proportion of those sold during the Summer.

In fact, Kawakami village combined with the neighboring Nobeyama region boasts 80% of national production of lettuces during July and August.

Taking advantage of the cool weather in summer( we are in the area more than 1,000m above sea level), we used to enjoy relatively high prices of our production.

However, as usual,such days are gone and we are now always anxious about whether or not the price falls below the costs. The days have begun when we open the market price page first thing when reading the news paper.

Nonetheless, it always energizes us to be able to crop our production.

Well, we HAVE to have  energy to crop,you see.

I would like to add a post on our labor days with my two funny Chinese trainees later.

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

Read the rest of this entry »

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 & 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^-^

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 !

Is it safe?

December 28th, 2009 by
Category: Miscellaneous, Report

In looking back at the blog entries I made, I’m reminded of the people I met while I was out looking for something to write about, places that I visited, and events that caught my attention.  Writing for the blog gave me the chance to view Nagano through the eyes of a tourist or first time visitor.  One of the qualities that stands out about Nagano, especially rural Nagano,  is how safe it is and how trusting people are of each other.  It is only one isolated example, but to illustrate the point, I’ll tell you about mujin hanbai jo.

Mujin hanbai jo means unmanned selling place.  Japan is notorious for vending machines, but no, this is not a vending machine.  There is nothing electrical or mechanical about it. It’s usually a small wooden shed or a pre-fab storage shed by the side of the road where you can buy fruits, vegetables, cut flowers, pickles, or whatever the farmer or the farmer’s wife wants to sell there.  The ones pictured here all all within 5km of my house.

p10003321 p1000597

Right now you can buy apples and pears, Chinese cabbage, daikon, and a lot of other winter vegetables. Spring will come with its own array of greens and all kinds of flowers, and in summer you will find watermelons and corn.


The interesting part is that there is no one there.  You just drive up or walk up, choose whatever goods you want, drop your money  in the piggy bank, and walk away.  It is all based on honor and trust.  Isn’t that rare in this day and age? A few years ago when I first saw this, I was moved that people would be so trusting and wondered how long it would be before the hard-working farmers were forced to stop selling this way  because of people taking advantage of the system and walking away with the goods without paying for them.  It’s been a few years now and I am happy to say that the mujin hanbai jos are still around.

To rebut anybody who would say that this is such an impersonal exchange, look at this.  It’s a notebook hanging on a string and placed there for communication.   People leave comments about what they bought, they leave their names and other personal information, and they invariably say thank you–for the goods, yes, but also for this form of trust and this way of life.


Traveling in a foreign country, especially if you do not speak the language, can be scary.  Nagano ken,or Japan for that matter, is not known for its English speaking population.  If you do not speak Japanese, there may be times when you feel lost–but not necessarily scared for you physical being.  As I tried to point out, there is a general feeling of trust and safety that pervades. I hope you will come and experience it for yourself.