Exciting new developments in Yudanaka, gateway to the Snow Monkeys

February 12th, 2017 by
Category: Onsens (Hot Springs), Report, Shopping


Yudanaka and Shibu are a pair of onsen resort towns at the base of Shiga Kogen near the Jigokudani Wild Monkey Park (home of the Snow Monkeys).  If you go by train to the snow monkeys, you’ll likely pass through Yudanaka Station.  Yudanaka, as with many resort towns, is struggling with shops and inns closing up due to not having anyone to take over the businesses as the current owners retire.

Nagano’s largest bank has teamed up with an investment fund to create a civic improvement organization called Waku-Waku Yamanouchi.  (“Waku-waku” means to be excited.)  They purchased 4 such businesses, renovated them, and are in the process of reopening them repurposed as guesthouses, a restaurant, an art-themed boutique-ryokan, and a coffee shop.  I recently toured the new shops and certainly found them to be “waku-waku”!

“Madapow” at Madarao Kogen and Tangram

January 27th, 2017 by
Category: Information, Outdoor Activities, Report, Seasonal Topics

The Northern Nagano valley opens up behind the Madarao Kogen hotel.

The Madarao and Tangram ski resorts sit between Iiyama City and Shinano-machi in Northern Nagano prefecture on opposite faces of Mt. Madarao. They are interconnected and you can ride both resorts in the same day with the 5,000 yen “Mountain Pass.” They resorts are medium-sized with well-rounded courses that suit all levels of skiers and snowboarders. Smooth pistes, moguls, and terrain parks are all available, but these resorts’ specialties are trees and powder, often referred to locally as “Madapow.”

Tangram’s resort has several steep sections, but plenty of wide-open terrain for beginner/intermediate riders.

Mt. Madarao’s proximity to the Sea of Japan, which you can see from the summit on a clear day, blesses it with plentiful powder snow which is left ungroomed on over half of its courses. A number of tree runs are open throughout both resorts, and the overall geography of the area prevents anyone from getting helplessly lost in the side country. Courses such as Crystal Bowl in Madarao and Anzu in Tangram are quite wide, making it easy to find powder even into late morning and early afternoon. Both resorts have also introduced entry level tree runs for intermediate level skiers/boarders and families.

One of Tangram’s tree run courses, “Momo,” with emergency contact information dispersed throughout.

Park rats can enjoy beginner to intermediate level jibs and kickers here as well, with ride-on and jump-on rails and boxes, and jumps from 3 to 8 meters in length. The sidewall of the park has also been pruned into a gentle (but powdery) quarter pipe. Those looking for more extreme or natural features may be interested in the Ninja course, which begins with a sizeable drop off of a log into the valley below.

Granted the biggest part of the burger is definitely the bun, it’s still delicious (and really messy).

For lunch, there are plenty of restaurants on the Madarao side to try, and Tangram offers delicious Japanese standards at their Hotel cafeteria. At Madarao, my personal recommendation is the Big Burger from Restaurant Tirol (1,400 yen). In Tangram, try the Tarekatsu-don (1,100 yen). If you would like a view, grab a window seat at Restaurant Heidi to watch as people wipe out in the park.

If you’d like to take a break from skiing, you can also try snowshoeing, snow rafting or snowmobiling while you’re here. Snowmobiling runs from 2,000 to 6,000 yen depending on the course. Snow rafting is 500 yen. Kids can enjoy sledding in the kid’s park area for 500 yen.

Our first time riding together and we already had matching outfits.

Madarao and Tangram have something for everyone, which is why you can find me there almost every weekend. The range of terrain and tree courses can keep you entertained for days and the mountain pass is a great value. With increasing English language service, good public transportation, and activities for kids and non-riders too, this is a highly recommended area for any ski trip. Hope to see you there!

Access

The closest station to Mt. Madarao is Iiyama Station, and from there you can reach Madarao and Tangram ski resorts by bus or car. See here for the bus timetable.

Additional Information

See the resorts’ English webpages for more detailed information: Madarao Kogen, Tangram.

Madarao 1 Day ticket: 4,500 yen
Tangram 1 Day ticket: 4,200 yen
1 Day Mountain Pass: 5,000 yen

The Night View Train to Obasute

September 28th, 2016 by
Category: Events, Information, Report, Sightseeing

The front of the Night View Obasute train.

Perched several hundred meters above Chikuma City is Obasute Station which boasts beautiful scenery of the Nagano valley. The Shinano line passes through this area on its way between Nagano and Matsumoto cities, and is considered one of Japan’s three best train line views.

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Impressions of the Onbashira Festival

July 13th, 2016 by
Category: Culture Art, Events, Report

Locals watch as the first pillar is lifted into place at the Harumiya shrine.

The Onbashira festival is finally at an end. After months of preparation and twelve long days of labor, the sixteen onbashira pillars have reached their resting places at the corners of the four shrines of Suwa Taisha.

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Highland Trekking in Kirigamine Kogen

July 6th, 2016 by
Category: Outdoor Activities, Report, Sightseeing

Our guide Uchino-san points out distant blue mountains.

On Saturday we set out for a tour of Kirigamine Kogen, one of Nagano’s central highland areas connected by the Venus Line[1]. The name Kirigamine means “the misty peak,” because the warm airs of Suwa regularly rise up here and condense into fog. On clear days, however, you can enjoy an amazing view from the top of Kurumayama, the tallest point of the Kirigamine area.

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The State of Nagano Skiing this December

December 18th, 2015 by
Category: Information, Outdoor Activities, Report, Seasonal Topics
The beautiful northern alps are covered in snow, but green still shows in the valley.

Hakuba's mountains are beautifully covered in white.

Areas around the globe have been experiencing some crazy weather over the past month due to the dreaded El Niño effect. Wintery parts of the world have been unusually warm and green, and some areas of Japan have been reaching highs of 25℃ or more. It has also meant a late winter for Nagano prefecture, but don’t fear, folks: winter is here. The mountains are capped in white and ski resorts are open for business. Soon enough, your breath will be visible in your apartment and your shampoo will be freezing overnight.

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Candle Night in Matsumoto Museum of Art

July 6th, 2014 by
Category: Culture Art, Events, Report

On Friday night of June 20, which is one day before the summer solstice, the “Candle Night”​ event was held at Matsumoto Museum of Art.

The “Candle Night”​ is held on the summer and winter solstice every year to enlighten people on environmental issues. But it is also a nice (and free of charge!) event to enjoy the fantastic night by only the light of candles on green glass in the yard of the museum with art and live music.

Matsumoto is popular with its oldest castle in Japan and surroundings of beautiful nature, but also it is a town of a modern culture of music, art, and crafts.

Kids enjoyed running around and adults enjoyed sitting on turf in my favorite courtyard of the museum.

A big objet d’art “The Visionary Flowers” by the world famous modern artist Yayoi Kusama, who is from Matsumoto, was also lit up by candles. and more mysterious​ than usual during Candle Night.

Candles in natural spring water flow

The building of the museum designed by a Japanese famous architect is also fancy

All Kinds of Craftwork Gathered in Craft Town Matsumoto

June 15th, 2014 by
Category: Culture Art, Events, Report, Shopping

Matsumoto, in the center of Nagano Prefecture, is now getting more popular by Matsumoto Castle, oldest in Japan, with beautiful mountain views. But, it is also famous for “Craft Town” among many Japanese.

Not only folk handicraft makers, shops and the Matsumoto Folkcraft Museum, now some popular craftspersons escaped from urban life and live in Matsumoto and the neighbor town Hotaka, Azumino. You can see and buy such craftworks and “Matsumoto furniture” in some shops in Nakamachi Street.

Once in every year, during the last weekend of May, “Craft Fair Matsumoto“, which is the biggest and oldest craft fair in Japan, is held in beautiful park “Agatanomori”.

300 craft artists selected among 1000+ applicants from all over Japan exhibit and sell all kind of their craft products including lacquer ware, pottery, silk, wood, dyeing, etc.

Here are photos of this year’s Craft Fair; Read the rest of this entry »

Cross Country Skiing at Nabekura Highlands

January 20th, 2014 by
Category: Experience, Outdoor Activities, Report, Seasonal Topics, Sightseeing

Spending an afternoon cross-country skiing in Nabekura Highlands is the perfect respite. Fields of white powder snow welcome you as you follow the trail which is surrounded by mountains. Unlike the fast-pace of downhill skiing, cross country provides a chance to slow-down and experience the nature first-hand. In your light-weight skis and boots you can glide peacefully down the path.

Details:
Nabekura Highlands, Mori-no-Ie 0269-29-2888
Address: 1571-15 Teruoka, Iiyama-shi, Nagano-ken 389-2601
Access: 40 minutes from the IC Toyota-Iiyama on the Joshin-etsu Expressway
Cross Country rental available: 2,500 Yen per day (2,000 yen half-day)
Snowshoe rental is also available. Guides can be arranged for an additional fee.

“Arena” Bathhouse at Nozawa Onsen Grand Re-Opening

December 12th, 2013 by
Category: Onsens (Hot Springs), Report
Nozawa Onsen’s bathhouse “Arena” is celebrating it’s Grand Re-Opening today, 12-December 2013.
In addition to the original mens and womens onsen baths and saunas, the renovated Arena now features a new style of onsen bathing — brand new outdoor baths for soaking while wearing bathing suits. 
Arena also has a “Relax Room” for unwinding after a soak, as well as restaurant facilities. 
And coming Summer 2014:
*A waterfall pool next to the new outdoor baths
*A kiddy pool
*A new garden featuring native trees and plants.
More pictures and map on the Nozawa Onsen Ski Resort website (in Japanese)
http://www.nozawaski.com/winter/facilities/arena.php