Living in Hakuba

November 10th, 2009 by
Category: Events, Experience, Information, Miscellaneous

Hakuba 9th November, 2009

Geisha girl

Geisha girl playing the Shamisen

Hakuba has a lot of natural beauty however it does not have any Geisha girls living in the village. Today I took a drive to Togura Kamiyamada Onsen about 80 minutes away via Nagano. I was invited to the Kamesei Ryokan to sample their Kaiseki lunch where they have some local Geisha girls performing  traditional dance, song and play the shamisen. A great afternoon and definately worth checking out if you have a day off from your busy skiing schedule in Hakuba.  The area is a traditional onsen town and the Kamesei Ryokan has a beautiful soft water onsen bath to relax in before you sit down to your lunch.


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Getting to Karuizawa for less — just 2000yen.

October 25th, 2009 by
Category: Miscellaneous, Shopping, Sightseeing

Having recognized that alomost all the posts on this blog are realated to sightseeing within Nagano, I dare to post this info on tranportation from Tokyo as I thought this is quite useful & helpful for anyone planning on visiting Karuizawa and its nearby town. Most visitors to this site wants to know not only the places to visit but also how to get there and how much it costs! Believe or not, you can come to Karuizawa from Shinjuku, Tokyo by bus for just 2000yen!  It’s an amazing price and less than half of the cost of Shinkansen from Tokyo. But the down side is that it takes about 2 hours 30 min, which is about twice as long as Shinkansen. The bus arrives at a parking area win Karuizawa Price Shopping Plaza New East.

For details visit the bus reservation page at Rakuten Travel

(Find the bus route ” KR421 ” in the list. Using Japanese web sites for booking public transportation and hotels is always headache. And unfortunately this is not an exception. Price may vary by season and day of the week.)

Bus to Karuizawa

Bus to Karuizawa

Iijima Jinya: Nagano Pref… then and now

August 12th, 2009 by
Category: Experience, Information, Miscellaneous, Sightseeing

Just as Tokyo was known by a different name and was not always the capital of Japan, Nagano ken, or prefecture, was also known by another name and the kencho, or government office, was in another town.  There was a time during the Edo period when Nagano ken was “Ina-ken” and the kencho was Iijima Jinya in the town of Iijima.  The highest ranking official at the Jinya was a daikan, or substitute of the daimyo who controlled and ruled the area. Today, even Nagano-ken residents may not know about Iijima, but, way back then, the Iijima Jinya government office was front and center. The end of the Tokugawa Shogunate saw the closing of Iijima Jinya and the end of Ina-ken.  After some reorganizing, the prefecture became known as Nagano-ken.

16 years ago, the town of Iijima decided that Iijima Jinya deserved to be recreated and earn its rightful place in the history of our town.  After a lot of research and excavations,  Iijima Jinya was re-built in the original location and opened to the public as a museum, Iijima Jinya Kinenkan.p10000561

A few days ago Harold Critney and I visited the museum. Many of the artifacts on exhibit can be picked up and examined and you are welcome to take pictures inside. Harold had a little fun being the o-daikan sama.


p1000053On a quiet day, you may even be treated to a cup of tea at the irori seen here.

The museum is open from 9 to 5.  It is closed on Mondays, the day after national holidays, and from 12/15 to 3/14. It is about a 7 minute walk from Iijima train station on the Iida-sen. By car it is about 15 minutes from the Komagane or Matsukawa IC on Chuo Expressway.

Let us show you around.

July 6th, 2009 by
Category: Information, Miscellaneous, Sightseeing

The Ina Eigo Guide Club (IEGC) or Ina (City) English Guide Club is a group of local men and women who provide volunteer guide services in English to visitors to Ina City and the neighboring areas.  The group is basically a self-study group that meets twice a month to discuss and “rediscover” local points of interest and how they would best be presented to foreign visitors.  With the help of a native English speaker employed by the prefecture, the members of the group are working hard to improve their English hoping that they will someday have a chance to introduce the shrines and temples, food and festivals, or other places of interest in the Ina-dani Valley. Some of the members are already very fluent and are ready to welcome you and be your guide.  Printed pamphlets and guide books are very useful and full of information.  But long after the pamphlet is filed away and the guidebook is put back on the shelf, what will remain fresh in your mind is the friendly, face to face interaction and the “personal touch” of the local volunteer guide.  Let me know if you are going to be in this area and would like someone to show you around.   I’m sure we an arrange something for you.

In April, IEGC and some of the assistant language teachers working throughout Nagano prefecture got together for 0-hanami at Takato Park.

iegc iegc-21

Flower kids factory – omocha-ya-san

June 30th, 2009 by
Category: Miscellaneous, Shopping

For parents who have small kids or babies, rainy season is kind of headache because they can’t take their children out to a park or even just outside home. In  Karuizawa, the Flower kids factory is one of the few recommended places where kids can help ” kill ” their time. The toy store or omocha-ya-san is in the Prince Shopping Plaza (New West building 37A) by the JR Karuizawa Station. When we moved to Nagano from Tokyo, I was wondering how people residing out of town spend a day when it’s raining. Maybe thier kids do get so bored staying in thier house because the size of their houses is usually bigger than those of Tokyo? Anyway, there is a  wonderful Thomas the Tank Engine railway at the toy store. It’s 200yen per round but a Thomas card is given too! It’s not only for boys. Every time I take my son there, I also see some girls riding the Thomas. Of course you adults can ride too. Free admission to the mini theme park!

Link to Flower Kids Factory (Japanese only)


Jazz in Toyooka Village

June 1st, 2009 by
Category: Experience, Miscellaneous, Outdoor Activities

It happens all the time.  You meet someone and then you lose contact for a while and then suddenly you run into them again.  It happened to me the other day.  Not with a person–with a dog.  I first met Jazz about 12 years ago when he was  with his first owner, Ms K.  The second owner was Mr Y and I knew him, too.  To make a long story short, Jazz is smart, handsome, and gentle and that’s why everybody loves him and wants him.  So, when Jazz needed a new home after Mr Y died,  a Mrs. K whom I had never met called me and asked me if I could help her to get Jazz and she explained why she and her husband were good candidates.    That was five years ago–and I had totally forgotten about it.  Until today.  I was on my way to Iida (largest city in southern Nagano prefeture) when I decided to turn and use an older, less traveled road.  I like the surprises and the discoveries that come when you to stay off the beaten track.   I saw a small hand-painted wooden sign by the side of road with an arrow pointing up towards the mountain.  It said SORA KUBO, coffee shop & gallery.  For some reason the name sounded familiar, but I couldn’t imagine why because I had never been this way before.  The sign seemed old–beaten up by rain and sun and time–and my first thought was that probably the only thing remaining was indeed this old sign.  But, I wanted to be surprised, so I followed the arrow.  I stopped once to ask an old lady who was planting rice and she told me to just keep on going. and that I would find it at the top of the mountain.   I drove about 10 more minutes and when I could go no further, there it was.  It was a log house  sitting on top of the hill, surrounded by blue sky and trees and flowers leading up to the doorway. And there he was!! Jazz!  Suddenly, all the pieces of the puzzle fell into place and I knew.  This is the lady that had called me and who had explained why she and her husband and their place would make a good home for Jazz.  p10002901

Not only is Sora Kubo a great place for Jazz, it is a great place, period.  Mr K is a potter and Mrs K makes glass beads and accessories. Their shop doubles as the gallery and if you make reservations you can try your hand at making glass beads or pottery.   Mrs K will serve you a homemade lunch or dinner right there from her own kitchen.  After lunch, I walked behind the house and looked down to see the whole of Ina Valley.   It’s easy to see why the K’s gave up their big city life in Osaka and moved to Toyooka Village–and why they and Jazz are so happy here.p10002861


By the way, pets are always welcome at Sora Kubo.

Tsuruya’s Original Kurogoma Butter

May 31st, 2009 by
Category: Miscellaneous, Shopping

Our family love the Tsuruya’s Original “Kurogoma Butter” (Black Sesame Butter). It’s a private brand by Tsuruya, the largest super market in East Nagano (Toshin) area. There is a variety of butter and jams for bread available at Tsuruya, but we never buy other than this Kurogoma Butter. It’s actually not like butter with black sesame but rather like less soft spread, sesame paste with a bit of butter flavor. I believe that Kurogoma Butter is really healthy as the label says it contains calcium, iron and dietary fiber. However, every time I pick it up from the shelf, I think of any better name for the product, because something + butter sounds it contains a lot of butter.  Anyway, if you go to the super market,  you’ll find tons of the Kurogoma Butter bins. And Shirogoma Butter (white sesame) too! As far as I know, Tsuruya Karuizawa sells Kurogoma one more than Shirogoma one. One Kurogoma Butter bin with 210g costs less than 400yen.


Kurogoma Butter

Koinobori,the Carp Streamers and Agricultural Trainees

May 17th, 2009 by
Category: Events, Miscellaneous, Seasonal Topics
carps swimming in the wind
carps swimming in the wind

As there have been  entries in this blog site about the girls’day,Hinamathsuri,another one,it might be only fair to introduce the boys’day,too.

Now, the Children’s Day is (“was”actually,for this year the day has passed)on 5th May amid the so-called Golden Week.
On this day people have celebrated the happy growth of  the boys in their households.
In our village the season is from 5th May to 5th June.
A Chinese legend says that one carp,among those gathered at the bottom of a waterfall , succeeded in swimming up the flow.
Thus, to hope for a successful life of the boy in the family, people put out the carp streamers outside their home. 
So if you see the Koinoboris swimming outside a house, you can say the family has a boy/boys of age about up to the end of elementary school or so.
Koinoboris this big are something that country people can  boast to urban people.
I mean, you can surely see Koinoboris swimming in the Tokyo sky if you visit there around the Golden Week, but they are much more smaller compared to our huge ones.
trainees from Jilin,China

trainees from Jilin,China

My own son is now 19 years old ,and we have stopped putting out his streamers long since.
But I had a perfect pair to make my children’s day photo this year; our Chinese sons.
We have been accepting the so-called,”agricultural trainees” from Jilin,China every farming season for 4 years now.
They are my sons,because they call me “Oka-san”, which means mother,
and because they help me on the farm like they really care to farm.( They are from farming families.)
When it was the first year for us to have the trainees 4 years ago, I was so fascinated by the diligent boys
that a friend of mine  labeled me ” an empty nester”, who was filling her empty nest with the boys.
And it turned out to be true! Except that I was doubly empty-nested when they went back to China in Autumn.
Every year different trainees come, and this year it seems the boys are as good boys as the first year, and I am looking forward to working with them through the season.

Deserted but fun to wander…

April 17th, 2009 by
Category: Information, Miscellaneous, Shopping

Today, I went to the Tsuruya the large super market near my house. As you can see on the photo, there was no one else walking in the section. (the photo is taken at the beer & other alcohols section ). We saw some people in some other sections but still not so many. In terms of the size and variety of foods, the Tsuruya in Karuizawa is the “super” largest super market which I have been to in Japan. All the ones with other corporates in Tokyo are smaller as you may know. There are a few convenience stores in / around Karuizawa but any one who is planning on staying a few days or more in Karuizawa, I recommend Tsuruya to buy breakfast meals such as dairy foods and meats and even row fish. Today (still in April) we felt the store was deserted but it was just fun to wander around the store. But make sure to remember that there will be huge number of people especially in July and August.


March 31st, 2009 by
Category: Events, Miscellaneous

I was in Okinawa the other day for our daughter’s wedding. One more milestone. Yeah! Speaking of Okinawa, did you know that Okinawa women live longer than the women of the other prefectures? Guess who’s #1 for the males? That’s right–Nagano. Not that it’s a race but, Go! Nagano. (Sorry, couldn’t resist 🙂 And while it may be just a little trivia, living a long, healthy life is no trivial matter.

With their low-salt, healthy, plenty of fruit diets and their laid-back, “don’t worry, be happy” lifestyle in a warm and sunny climate, it’s not hard to imagine that the people of Okinawa would live long lives. Compare that to relatively harsh and cold Nagano where we eat a lot of tsukemono (salted pickles), miso (soybean paste), and soy sauce and you wouldn’t expect a long life. It’s a paradox, I know. I like to think that it’s the clean air and water, lots and lots of vegetables, and apples. Yes, apples. While Okinawa grows mangoes and pineapples, Nagano grows apples. Tons of ’em. Nagano pref. is Japan’s 2nd largest producer of the biggest, sweetest, juiciest apples. Just plain deee-licious! We’ve all heard the saying, “an apple a day keeps the doctor away”. Well, Nagano-ites are living proof of that.


You’re probably wondering what this picture has anything to do with what I’ve written above but it does. Like the people of Okinawa, it is not unusual to find Nagano people well into their 70’s working their rice fields, tending their gardens, and generally staying active. And when they’re not working, they’ll find something fun to do. Like golf. No, not Tiger Woods golf, but golf just the same–all 18 holes of it. It’s called maretto gorufu (mallet golf) played with a stick, the mallet, and a ball the size of an orange. The game is so popular that I would venture to say that almost every town in Nagano-ken has at least one course. This is a group from my neighborhood that I ran into while I was out walking the other day. Average age of these players? 75 years young! In my next entry I’ll write more about the game and about the Senninzuka Maretto Gorufu Sekai Taikai = The Senninzuka Mallet Golf World Tournament to be held in May. The tournament is open to anyone. Drop me a line if you’re interested.