A Summer’s Day of Sup at Iiyama’s Lake Hokuryuko

July 23rd, 2017 by
Category: Experience, Outdoor Activities, Seasonal Topics, Sightseeing

Lake Hokuryuko is located in the northern part of Iiyama City. You can get a bus up there from Iiyama Station. I reckon strong cyclists could ride up to it in less than an hour from Iiyama station too. It is famous for being heart-shaped, but honestly, I couldn’t really notice from the shore. That doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty of things to love about it.

A local outfitter rents kayaks and SUP (stand-up paddle) boards there. You can get lessons and guides as well. I am pretty confident in a kayak, but I had yet to try SUP so I thought I would give it a go. We had five in our group, so we could try the super SUP. It is massive! Apparently it can hold eight people, but we only had six on it including our guide. It is a really fun experience. I feel there aren’t many things nowadays, as an adult, which give you that same excitement and joy that you felt as a kid. Super SUP is sure to make you laugh and scream like you were six again. It’s not that hard to do, but it is just such a foreign feeling. Everyone’s little movements affect everyone else. There is no real sense of fear; the worst that could happen is that you fall in the lake, but we are all in life jackets anyway, so no danger. But there’s something about it, perhaps just the ridiculousness of the whole thing, which really brought a smile to my face.

There was another group doing super SUP too. We raced, chased, and rammed each other across the lake. You never get going that fast and it takes a lot of effort and communication to maneuver that thing, so it is pretty funny trying to manage all that without falling down.

You don’t, of course, have to paddle the thing like a maniac. With just five people on it, there’s plenty of space for everyone to sit with your legs in the water or even lie down to work on your tan.

Once we got our super SUP legs stable, we took a crack at normal SUP. It is about the size of a longboard surfboard. Standing on super SUP is a little tricky, but standing on SUP is hard. It is much more responsive and much less forgiving. I got the hang of it pretty quickly, but I was by no means good. Unlike kayaking, where you have a double-sided paddle, you only have a single paddle for SUP. This means that you have to keep switching sides every few strokes, if you want to have any semblance of going straight. Our guide could somehow paddle on just one side and go straight, but I couldn’t at all.

Again, something cool about SUP is that it is entirely up to you how you would like to experience it. If you want to take it easy, it feels perfectly stable from a seated or kneeling position. You can leisurely float about and relax on the lake. Or if you are feeling lively and want a thrill, you can try paddling as fast as you can, try different stance positions, and try to turn as sharply as you can. You can even challenge another SUPer to a match of SUP sumo!

To wrap this up, in my opinion, SUP is much more comfortable than other paddle sports, simply because you don’t have a “seat.” This may seem counter intuitive, but most of the water crafts that I’ve been in are kind of cramped, have very limited seating or position options, and are just not comfortable. But SUP is very free. You can sit or lie any way you wish.

Lake Hokuryuko also has camping, a café, and a rather nice looking hotel and restaurant with onsen hot springs boasting great views of the lake and the Chikuma river valley. In closing, Lake Hokuryu is a great place to spend a summer’s half-day or even a few days if you want to explore hiking around Kosuge as well. Definitely consider it if you are taking a trip out to Iiyama City or Nozawa Onsen Village.

Japanese Summer Festivals and Fireworks in Nagano

July 21st, 2017 by
Category: Events, Information, Seasonal Topics

An archer in the Nyakuichi Oji Festival in Omachi City.

The vibrant, lively atmosphere of summer festivals is one of the most memorable parts of Japan. The streets are filled with the bright colors of yatai stalls, yukata robes, and paper lanterns, and the sky lights up with brilliant fireworks. Musicians play traditional flute and drum songs as performers entertain festival-goers with dances and theater.

As summer approaches its peak, Nagano gears up for exciting festivals of its own. Enjoy traditional Japanese summer festivals along with events that are unique to Nagano.

1. Japan Alps Art Festival (Omachi City)

“Shinano Omachi Tangible Landscape” by the creative team “Me.”


Utilizing traditional kominka houses and the rich nature at the base of the Japan Alps, Omachi City is hosting the first Japan Alps Art Festival with over 30 artists from around the world. Until July 30th, you can see beautiful works of art that explore the relationship between humans and nature.

“Windy” by Kuei-Chih Lee

Tickets can be purchased for 2,500 Yen and include one admission to every work as well as discounts on certain activities and restaurants. The event runs from June 4th to July 30th, 2017. You can learn more about the festival on the event’s official multilingual website, or see firsthand photographs from one of our bloggers here.


2. Iida Puppet Festival (Iida City)

Japanese and international puppet troops perform over the course of 6 days during the Iida Puppet Festival.


All of Iida City becomes host and stage of the biggest puppet festival in Japan. Bringing together puppet theater troupes from across Japan, Asia, and as far away as Europe, the fair features all forms and styles of puppetry from traditional ‘bunraku’ hand and shadow puppets to newer forms of object theater, pantomime, and ventriloquism. Audiences of all ages are fascinated, entertained, and enchanted with the puppet shows hosted at more than 100 venues throughout the city. In addition, there are a parade, workshops, and a midnight theater.

This year’s puppet festival will be held between Tuesday, August 1st and Sunday, August 6th. See our event page or their english website for more details.


3. Nagano’s Dancing Festivals (Various Locations)

A snapshot of the dance performed at Nagano’s Binzuru festival.


Around August, major cities throughout Nagano celebrate summer dance festivals. Locals join large groups of classmates, coworkers or friends, each with their own unique and colorful happi coats, and dance through the streets late into the evening. The simple melodies are contagious and friendly groups often invite you to dance along. Enjoy the lively atmosphere, snack on fried festival foods, and dance away the summer heat.

Ueda City celebrates its Wasshoi festival on Saturday, July 29th. Nagano (Binzuru), Matsumoto (Bonbon) and Iida cities (Ringon) celebrate their festivals on the same day, Saturday, August 5th.


4. Omachi Nyakuichi-Oji Festival (Omachi City)

A young boy trying traditional “yabusame” archery from horseback.


Omachi City’s Nyakuichi-Oji Shrine not only has a history of over 700 years, but its main building and pagoda are designated national important cultural properties. The shrine’s annual festival features a “yabusame” horseback archery competition. One of the top 3 such competitions in the country, Nyakuichi-Oji’s is the only one by young boys. The boys dressed in period costumes also perform a procession through the town as part of this colorful festival.

This year it will be held on July 22nd to 23rd. See more information on our event page.


5. Sakaki Festival (Mochizuki-juku in Saku City)

A long exposure photograph of flaming torchs being thrown into the river during the Sakaki Festival.


With burning pine torches in their hands, local youth run down from the mountain to the Kakuma riverbed, and together throw their torches into the river in an exciting spectacle. This festival is held on August 15th every year in Mochizuki-juku, a former post town of the Nakasendo. Through the cleansing fire, locals pray for their health and a bountiful harvest. It is said that a long time ago, the warring states general Takeda Shingen mistook the festival’s torchs for an ambush and immediately retreated with his troops.

The festival is held every year on August 15th. See more information on our events page.


6. Suwa Fireworks Festival (Suwa City)

A shot from the 2013 Suwa Experimental Fireworks festival.


Suwa’s fireworks display, held in mid-August every year, is hailed as one of the largest displays in all of Japan. Over 40,000 devices are exploded over the lake, with the sound reverberating off the surrounding mountains. The grand finale is a 2-kilometer long “niagara” of cascading sparkles. In early September, a second fireworks display is held featuring new experimental types. Suwa’s fireworks display was started shortly after World War II in the hopes of lightening people’s spirits in the aftermath of the war.

The Suwa Fireworks Festival is held every year on August 15th. The Suwa Experimental Fireworks festival is held on September 2nd. See more information on our events page.


7. Yuzawa Shrine Lantern Festival (Nozawa Onsen Village)

The performer dressed as Sarutohito no Mikoto dances while twirling a large bundle of burning hay.


During Yuzawa Shrine’s religious Lantern Festival, a parade of large poles weighted with plentiful lanterns extends through the streets of Nozawa Onsen. The Shinto deity Sarutohiko-no-Mikoto performs the purifying ritual called “Shimekiri,” where he rhythmically swings a large bundle of fire before cutting a ceremonial rope with a katana. Throughout town you can see performances of the Sarutahiko-no-Mikoto dance, the dance of the 36 great poets, and the dance of the lion. Also, from 19:30 yatai stalls fill the streets and fireworks light the sky. The next day an omikoshi float makes its rounds through the whole town.

This year, the festival will be held on September 8th and 9th.


Additional Information

Summer festivals are one of Japan’s most memorable experiences. Wear your own yukata, enjoy delicious street food and marvel at the sight of Japanese fireworks. People of all ages are out and about so you can meet locals and enjoy an authentic slice of life in Japan. If you’re interested in learning more about Nagano’s summer festivals and activities, take a look at some of the other resources below!

Links

Rafting with Cherry Blossoms in Spring

May 1st, 2017 by
Category: Information, Outdoor Activities, Seasonal Topics

Last week at the height of cherry blossom season, we headed down to Azumino to enjoy some early spring rafting! The combination of fast currents, snow-capped mountains, and blooming cherry trees are perfect for an exciting and scenic day on the water.
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Hanami with a Tengu

April 19th, 2017 by
Category: Outdoor Activities, Seasonal Topics

The Togura Tengu looks out over the Chikuma River Valley from his perch above Togura Station.  The park around him, Togura Kitty Park, is ablaze in pink at the moment, clearly pleasing the Tengu.

The park is within walking distance from Togura Station on the Shinano Railway Line, in between Ueda and Nagano Stations.  Besides the Tengu, there are a gazillion rabbits, 3 goats, 2 sheep and a godzilla.  Plus the longest slide you’ll ever see, a mini zip-line and other playground toys.  All with a great view of the valley below.  And all bathed in pink with cherry blossoms now.

A Nagano Winter Pastime: Greenhouse Strawberry Picking

February 2nd, 2017 by
Category: Cuisine, Outdoor Activities, Seasonal Topics

One scrumptious way to beat the winter cold in Nagano is to go strawberry picking.  You can pick all-you-can-eat strawberries inside a toasty-warm greenhouse.  One such location is Agri-Park in Chikuma City.  I went there recently with some bloggers from Taiwan.  They really enjoyed picking the berries, dipping them in some condensed milk, and popping them into their mouths.  Deliciously sweet berries and a warm escape from the cold — a perfect winter day in Nagano.

One of Agri-Park’s greenhouses with the Northern Alps in the background.

Agri-Park is located in the vicinity of the Mori Shogunzuka ancient burial mound, so you can indulge in prehistoric history after you’ve had your fill of yummy strawberries.  For further historical intrigue, the Nagano Prefecture Historical Museum is adjacent to the burial mound’s visitors center.

Nagano Prefectural History Museum’s prehistoric village in the springtime with peach blossoms.

Access via public transportation is from Yashiro Station on the Shinano Railway.  Bus service from the station is infrequent so either taxi (approx. 7 min., 800 yen) or on foot (2km, 25 min.).  By car, Koshoku IC on the Nagano Expressway is approx. 6 min. 3km.

 

“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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A Trip through Time: Tanaka Family Museum

December 27th, 2016 by
Category: Cuisine, Culture Art, Experience, Seasonal Topics, Sightseeing

 Preserving a Family Legacy

Entrance to the Tanaka Family Compound

The Tanaka Family Compound, located in Suzaka City, is run by the 12th head of the Tanaka Family which was a family of merchants in Edo-period Japan. Here you will find their family heirlooms on display. The galleries are constantly updated as items are brought out of storage and rotated through. Items include traditional Japanese dolls, clothing, paintings, both Japanese and European style ceramics, and toys imported from overseas. The compound consists of a museum, café, shop, and gardens.
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5 Great Winter Festivals in Nagano

December 9th, 2016 by
Category: Events, Information, Seasonal Topics

Enjoy fire festivals, illuminations and more in this winter wonderland.

Winter is here. Snow is falling steadily up in the mountains and people around Nagano are bringing out their kotatsu tables, kerosene heaters and nabe pots. Once again, it’s that time of year for skiing, hot springs and great winter festivals. Why stay inside when you could warm up in front of a magnificent fire festival or in the company of Japan’s many spirits?

Make some wonderful memories this winter with some of the festivals below!
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Fall Foliage Collaborates with Yayoi Kusama’s Artwork on Matsumoto Museum of Art

November 17th, 2016 by
Category: Culture Art, Seasonal Topics

Now fall foliage is at the final stage in downtown Nagano.

This morning, at the entrance of Matsumoto City Museum of Art, I was surprised to see beautiful red colored trees collaborating with Matumoto-born Yayoi Kusama’s artwork on the building. Nature’s red and yellow colors are competing with artificial red and yellows.

The artwork was created before fall foliage starts. Is it just coincidence, or calculated art by Yayoi Kusama? Genius!

You can enjoy the Kusama world in the permanent exhibition inside the building.

Autumn Colors in Nagano’s Golden Season

October 24th, 2016 by
Category: Information, Seasonal Topics, Sightseeing

Beatiful autumn colors from Togakushi over the weekend.

While some of the mountaintops are already experiencing a spell of winter, Nagano’s valleys are finally enjoying the sights of autumn. Red, yellow and golden hues are descending from the highlands and a cool wind is blowing through the valleys.
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