Matsumoto and Asama Onsen Attractions

April 10th, 2009 by
Category: Cuisine, Onsens (Hot Springs), Outdoor Activities, Sightseeing

I had to go into Matsumoto for a meeting at Asama Onsen. It was a lunch meeting, and I was treated to Matsumoto’s specialty, “sanzoku-yaki” (see below). We also stopped by the bicycle specialty shop there (also see below). After the meeting, I scooted over to Matsumoto Castle. A guest the previous day had said the castle’s cherry blossoms were starting to bloom. Plus the sky was clear, and the Alps still had snow, so I figured it would be a beautiful sight.
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Video! A Short Walk Around Anzu no Sato

April 8th, 2009 by
Category: Events, Outdoor Activities, Seasonal Topics
Apricot blossoms in Mori, April 2009

Apricot blossoms in Mori, April 2009

Yup, I am posting yet another update about the apricot blossoms in Mori, Anzu no Sato.  I took a trip up there after a lesson today and strolled around for about twenty minutes taking photos and, yes, video of what I saw.  It was a clear blue sky and the North Alps in Hakuba could be seen clearly across the valley below.

The weather today was great, with lots of sun and very little wind, and there were harldy any visitors.  The entire area is a madhouse on weekends, so if you are able to visit, a weekday would more likely result in having the place to yourself.

Video is here:

Mountain medicine

April 7th, 2009 by
Category: Information, Outdoor Activities
The gods of Mt. Ontake

The gods of Mt. Ontake

A March 31st article in the Shinano Mainichi Shinbun 信濃毎日新聞 introduces a plan to create a hyakusou-no-mori 百草の森 in Otaki village.  The project is a joint venture between the Otaki village government and the “Nagoya Citizens Ontake Vacation Village” (Nagoya-shimin-kyuka-mura 名古屋市民おんたけ休暇村), which is located in Otaki.

Hyakusou is a traditional herbal medicine with a history stretching back to the Edo Period (1603-1867).  The medicine was first developed by mountain ascetics who were devoted to, and did religious practice on, Mt. Ontake (御嶽山), Japan’s second highest volcano and long an object of reverence in Japan.  Hyakusou, which literally means “one hundred plants” was first given to villagers in Otaki by the ascetic Fukan-gyouja (普観行者) after they assisted him in “opening” Mt. Ontake for religious practice.  Read the rest of this entry »

Anzu no Sato, We’ve Got Blossoms!

April 6th, 2009 by
Category: Events, Outdoor Activities, Seasonal Topics
Apricot Blossoms in Anzu no Sato (Doguchi), April 6, 2009

Apricot Blossoms in Anzu no Sato (Doguchi), April 6, 2009

This is now my third post on the topic, and though I have reported on the coming blossoms, and then the snow, and then, well, maybe some flowers, followed by snow again, I am pleased to say that the apricot blossoms are now looking great and the tourists are coming to the area to enjoy their beauty.

My wife, Tomomi, took the kids up to her mother’s house in Mori today and came back telling me that the apricot blossoms are mankai, or full bloom, in the lower elevations of the valley.  At her mother’s house, which is further up the hill, the blossoms are about half in bloom (go-bu-zaki), while the upper areas are about one-third in bloom (san-bu-zaki).

While there are plenty of nice blossoms to see in the lower valley, the best spots are uphill, around the area of the Uwadaira tembo-dai, or the Uwadaira Viewpoint.  This area has hundreds if not thousands of apricot trees all bunched together, with lots of farm truck roads — both paved and unpaved — that you can walk on.  And on a clear day, you can see the Alps in Hakuba to the west.

Because of the higher elevation here, this coming weekend, April 11-12 will likely be the point at which the upper apricot trees are in full bloom.  If the weather is nice, come on up and see it for yourself.  As cliché as this may sound, the valley in full bloom looks as if someone stroked the treetops with a giant brush of pink.

The Apricot Blossoms are coming! — UPDATE

March 21st, 2009 by
Category: Events, Outdoor Activities, Seasonal Topics, Sightseeing
Anzu no Sato Apricot Blossoms starting to show.

Anzu no Sato Apricot Blossoms starting to show.


I just went up to Anzu no Sato to teach an English lesson, and I was delighted to see that the apricot blossoms are starting to show.  It looks like the couple of warm days we have been experiencing here are leading to a slightly earlier-than-usual blooming.

Anzu no Sato, a popular spot for o-hanami, or “blossom viewing”, is located in Chikuma, just south of Nagano City, and is jam-packed with tourists during the first and second weekends of April, when the whole area seems to turn pink with beautiful apricot flowers.  And now that the flowers are already showing, you may be able to get your first good sight of the blossoms next weekend, March 28-29.

Apricot Trees in Mori.

Apricot Trees in Mori (photo taken in 2007)

Anzu no Sato, which means “apricot village”, is really a collection of villages — Mori, Kurashina, Ikegaya and Doguchi — where residents have been raising apricots for centuries.  Most visitors go to Mori and Kurashina, as these two areas have the highest concentrations of apricot trees.  Be sure to go to the viewpoint at Uwadaira (I have also heard it called “Kamidaira”), located way up the slope in Mori.  This viewpoint offers a beautiful vista of the entire valley that is Mori.  And while you are there, be sure to get some apricot soft-serve ice cream!

You can get there by train, on the Shinano Railway, and the nearest stations are Yashiro and Yashiro Koko Mae.  They are a 30+ minute walk from the apricot groves, so either take a taxi or bus from there.  You can also drive, but expect traffic if you do.  There is plenty of parking available (for a fee).

Feel free to walk around and take lots of photos, but remember that the apricot groves are almost entirely private property.  Do not go off the streets or walking paths into the groves.  Enjoy your visit!  Hopefully the weather will be good and you’ll get a nice view of the North Alps as a bonus!

UPDATE (March 27, 2009):

SNOW!?!?  Yes, I woke this morning in Chikuma City to see about 3-4 cm of snow all over the place.  So much for an early blossom viewing season.  Looks like Mariko was right!

Something I learned when I first came to Nagano was the old saying San Kan Shi On, which means “Three days of cold, four days of warm”.  It is a weather pattern that happens here every spring.  We will have a few warm days followed by a few cold ones and the pattern will repeat, gradually getting warmer until finally after Golden Week, the weather seems to be warm all the time.

So, this weekend probably is not a good time to go to Anzu no Sato.  Perhaps next weekend.  Sigh…

The Lesser Pandas Say “Hi”

March 4th, 2009 by
Category: Information, Outdoor Activities

Last weekend we took advantage of the sunny weather and took our kids to the Chausuyama Zoo in Nagano City.  The zoo is on a hill above Shinonoi Station with great views of Nagano City and the Shiga Kogen Heights in the distance, and is famous for its Lesser Pandas. The Lessers sure were cute, but we were more impressed by the lions and the tiger near the entrance. They sure are huge in real life. Nearby was a section with both giraffes and zebras  in it. The 4~5 meter tall giraffes made the zebras look like pygmies. We had the most fun at the Urangutan exhibit. He was eating lunch when we saw him, and he would come right up to the window, face to face with our Misaki. She was so scared she started crying!

Most of the critters were enclosed behind bars in concrete cages, but it didn’t seem as cramped as most other zoos in Japan.  And it seemed like you could see the animals pretty close up (too close in some instances, like Misaki and the urangutan!).  The kids liked the petting zoo, and there were the great views of Nagano City below.

Chausuyama Zoo’s website is here

Andy and Kenny with their Zoo Tickets

Andy and Kenny with their Zoo Tickets

 (limited English).

Access:  Closest train station is Shinonoi, 4 stops from Nagano Station.  Bus Access from Shinonoi Station is available, but very sparse.  It would be a long (7~8 km) and steep hike, so if you don’t have a car, I would splurge for a taxi.

Karuizawa Snow Resort

March 2nd, 2009 by
Category: Experience, Information, Outdoor Activities
At the foot of Karuizawa snowy mountain

At the foot of Karuizawa snowy mountain

A gang at the foot of Karuizawa snowy mt.

Last month, I took my son out to the Karuizawa Snow Resort. Well we usually call the place “Karuizawa no Ski-jo”. Robert-san posted recently on this place. Have we met there? Anyway, the weather was nice and there was not much wind there. But I could not have any chance to go down the slope because my son did not want to go up to the hill by lift! Instead, he just walked around the bottom of snowy mountains with my goggles. There are a lot of ski slopes in Nagano such as Hakuba, Shiga Kogen and Nozawa etc. But for people living in Tokyo, I would recommend Karuizawa for a bit of joy, as it provides an easy access from Tokyo (it only takes a little more than one hour from Tokyo Station.)


Hitting the Slopes with the Kids

March 1st, 2009 by
Category: Outdoor Activities
On the slopes in Karuizawa

A family ski trip and what we learned along the way

There are a lot of places to ski in Nagano, with locations appealing to everyone from the beginning Kansai visitor to the most advanced Nagano native. But have you ever gone skiing with small kids? It’s a challenge, to say the least, yet it is well worth the time and effort if you know how to prepare and what to do. I learned a lot in this regard in the handful of times I have taken my kids to the slopes around Nagano. Our most recent trip was to Karuizawa.

Of course, we had been to Karuizawa on numerous occasions for shopping, I have seen the little ski area just south of Karuizawa Station (English website here). Run by the Prince Hotel, the Prince Snow Resort is a small mountain, certainly by Nagano’s standards, and I had long thought it not worth the lift ticket price, which is about the same as all the other big spots in Nagano. But despite its small size and large number of visitors from Kanto, it turned out to be a delightful place.

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Snow Monkey Park (Jigokudani Yaenkoen)

February 25th, 2009 by
Category: Onsens (Hot Springs), Outdoor Activities

Snow Monkey © Zeno


Open air bath for Monkeys © Zeno

Also clever Japanese monkeys know, what is the best for body and relax !

Only one place in the World where monkeys (Jap. Macaque) are taking hot bath !!!
It is located in Yamanouchi town, just between famouse hot spring area Yudanaka-Shibu Onsen and the oldest, largest Ski area in Japan Shiga Kogen. It is harsh environment where snow covers the ground during the winter season. People named the area Jigokudani (Hell’s Valley) because the steep cliffs and hot water, bursting from the earth’s surface, resembled hell. However, this place is paradise for Snow monkey, around 200 of monkeys inhabit the area at present.