Hakuba Happo One Ski Resort and the 2017 IVSI Congress

March 29th, 2017 by
Category: Information, Outdoor Activities, Report

Ski instructors from around the world train together during IVSI.

While the slopes are relatively quiet during late March, the Hakuba area welcomed delegations of ski instructors from around the world during the 2017 IVSI Congress (International Federation of Snowsport Instructors) for a week of skiing workshops, demonstrations, and lectures. Held every four years, this was the 13th congress and the second one to be held in Japan (Shigakogen in 1989).

My coworker and I visited Hakuba Happo One on the last day of the congress. The weather was perfect as instructors competed in slalom and showed their respective countries’ ski demonstrations. Some highlights included Hakuba’s mascot, Victoire Cheval Blanc Murao III, racing on skis; several Austrian team members donning ski equipment from the early 1900s; and skiers flying through the air on parachutes. Everyone cheered exuberantly for the demonstrators as they made their way down the course.

The same equipment was used when skiing was first introduced to Japan around 1912!

One of many great demonstrations during the farewell ceremony.

After the closing ceremony finished, some headed straight to nearby lodges to begin their après-ski evenings while others hurried back up the hill for a few more runs. I headed to the top of the mountain to enjoy the scenery of the Hakuba Sanzan: Mt. Shirouma, Mt. Shakushi, and Mt. Yari. From the top of the ski resort, the snow-capped mountains felt incredibly close.

View from the top of Hakuba Happo One.

As I skied down the mountain, the Hakuba valley opened up before me. On skier’s right were Hakuba Goryu and Hakuba 47, cutting swaths through the woods at the base of Mt. Goryu. On the left were the Hakuba Sanzan Mountains and Iwatake Ski Resort. There was another great spot for photos and relaxing: Usagidaira terrace, equipped with comfortable sofas, a fire pit, and plenty of beer. The cafeteria next door had great views as well.

The Corona Bar in the Usagidaira terrace.

Sanzokuyaki fried chicken at the Usagidaira Terrace restaurant.

Overall, I was impressed by the speed of the lifts and how easy it was to reach the top of the mountain no matter where I happened to be. I managed to do several top-to-bottom runs in no time at all! I mainly followed the Reisen slalom course and some of the forest trails that branched from it, but there were also numerous mogul courses, steep advanced courses and some tree runs as well. Another course that I didn’t get to try was Happo Banks, a playground of smooth banked edges for freestyle skiers and snowboarders to enjoy.

Wide open runs near the top of Hakuba Happo One.

Even so, the clear weather and beautiful views were satisfying enough, and I could easily see why the IVSI chose Hakuba, and Hakuba Happo One, as their destination for the 2017 IVSI Congress. I hope they enjoyed their last day on the slopes as much as I enjoyed mine!

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.”
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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.