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.

The grandfather of the current head of the family as a boy

Items used in sake making

Imported toy train

Café “Ryusen”

Tachibana Bento

Various other dishes made using local ingredients

Thanks to family heirlooms that were passed down from generation to generation, the family retained recipes of meals that were served over 200 years ago. Dishes at this café have been recreated based on these recipes. The Tachibana Bento is an exquisite example of artistic Japanese cuisine (Reservations should be made 5 days in advance). You can enjoy a variety of dishes as well as green tea and coffee or sweets while taking in the view of the traditional Japanese garden.

Japanese Garden

 

Each season features a distinct atmosphere with various colors. Enjoy cherry blossoms in the spring, morning glories in the summer, red and yellow autumn leaves in the fall, and white snow with glimpses of vibrant red berries in the winter. Visit the website’s four season gallery here!

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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Beating the Summer Heat in Shigakogen

August 26th, 2016 by
Category: Information, Outdoor Activities, Seasonal Topics

One of Shigakogen’s many jewels in summer.

In another attempt to beat the summer heat, I headed up to Shigakogen with a group of friends to enjoy the highland weather and the area’s unspoilt nature. There are a total of 19 trails around Shigakogen that climb its many peaks, wander its marshlands and cut through its forests. In addition to its beautiful ponds and mountains, the views of the Nagano Plain below are stunning.

We drove up Shigakogen separately and met in the Kuma-no-yu area by the Sanzen Ski lifts. There is plenty of parking next to the ski lift and by the hotels across the street. A bus stop is also nearby, so those without a car can use the Shigakogen line bus from Nagano or Yudanaka station to get here.

One of Shiga’s many marshes.

Our course for the day was the Ikemeguri Trail (#6 on Shigakogen’s list here) which passes through Shiga’s marshlands and ponds before reaching Onuma-ike. The whole course takes about four hours total. You can either walk straight through the course and ride a bus back from the ending point, or double back from Onumaike to Kuma-no-yu. If you do the latter you can enjoy a dip in the local Kuma-no-yu hot springs[1] .

The weather was great and Shigakogen was a pleasant 27°C. A few clouds hung high in the sky and a gentle breeze blew over the fields below. The trail was shaded by birch and pine forests and interposed with sections of man-made boardwalks across delicate marshes.

The beautiful waters of Onuma Pond.

About 2 hours into our hike, we came to a clearing above the striking, cerulean-blue waters of Onuma-ike. As we descended towards the shore the water changed colors, becoming more vibrant and green one moment, calm and clear the next. When we finally reached the shore we walked out towards the bright torii gate in front of the pond’s Shinto shrine. The contrast of the lacquered wood and water made for a great photo op.

Gnarly forests.

The rest of the trail continued through shaded woods, lasting about another hour and a half. When we resurfaced on the main road we took a friend’s car back to our starting point. As a reward for our outdoorsiness we planned to take a dip in the hot spring there but it was inundated with high schoolers on vacation. Instead, we headed down the mountain and got gelato at one of my favorite places in Nakano City[2], then parted ways to our separate air-conditioned apartments.

Additional Information

Thanks for reading! If you’d like to visit Shigakogen yourself but don’t have your own vehicle, check our Shigakogen line bus timetable.

Shigakogen Trails list

See this page for a list of all of Shigakogen’s hiking trails (Japanese only).


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Kuma-no-yu Hotel

This hotel at the base of the Kumanoyu ski resort is known for its jade-colored hot springs. The water contains a variety of minerals and a relatively neutral pH. A great place to soak after a long day on the slopes or in the mountains.

Entrance Fee: 1000 yen for Adults
Hours: 12:30 to 15:30 (Weekdays), 12:30 to 15:00 (Weekends)
Website: http://www.kumanoyu.co.jp/hotel/english/


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Fiore Gelato Shop

This small shop in front of the Tsuruya in Nakano City is conveniently located on the main road towards Shigakogen. They have a rotating selection of flavors including local specialties Nagano Purple (Grape) and Shinshu Ringo (Apple).

Holidays: Closed on Wednesdays
Hours: 10:00 to 18:00
Location: See Google Maps

Summer Mountain Biking in Nagano

August 19th, 2016 by
Category: Outdoor Activities, Seasonal Topics

Suzushii naaa!

When I tell people that I live in Nagano, they always respond with an envious, “Suzushii naaaaa (How Refreshing)!” But while they’re imagining all of the grassy highland fields gently undulating in the cool breeze, I’m sitting in my apartment in Nagano city sweating profusely on my couch. I’ve been doing my best recently to get out of the city and into the cooler parts of Nagano, and this weekend I visited Hakuba for some outdoor adventures.
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Fantastic Views from Mt. Chougatake

July 22nd, 2016 by
Category: Outdoor Activities, Seasonal Topics

The Chougatake mountain hut facing Kamikochi and the Northern Alps.

The rainy season has ended and the time for hiking is officially here. Monday’s weather was perfect, so a couple of us decided to climb Chougatake, a 2,677 meter high mountain in Azumino. Bordering Kamikochi to the Southeast, it has splendid views of the Northern Japanese Alps.

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Summer Fun Around Lake Suwa

May 27th, 2016 by
Category: Experience, Information, Onsens (Hot Springs), Seasonal Topics, Sightseeing

A view of the lake from the rooftop of the Clasuwa restaurant.

In a land-locked prefecture, the Suwa area is surprisingly blessed with water. The surface of lake Suwa offers beautiful, reflective views of the surrounding mountains and sky. Hot springs bubble up from the grounds of Kami and Shimosuwa and feed over 150 public bathing facilities in the area. And, fresh water from the highlands helps brew Suwa’s many award-winning rice wines.

Visitors to the area have been increasing in advent of the 2016 Onbashira festival, so I thought I’d take a closer look at Suwa’s activities and sights.

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Mystical Togakushi in transition from winter to spring

May 11th, 2016 by
Category: Experience, Outdoor Activities, Seasonal Topics, Sightseeing

Togakushi is special any time of year, but this transitional period, after winter has departed and before the trees have grown their leaves in the spring, is magical.  The creamy white flowers of the mizubasho plants (known in English very un-romantically as skunk cabbage) serve as a reminder of the recently melted snow, while the cacophony of ground plants are a harbinger of vernal green.

Mizubasho, aka “skunk cabbage”

My wife and I made a post-Golden Week day trip to Togakushi.  We started off at Yamaguchi-ya for some soba noodles.  Located near Chu-sha (Togakushi’s Middle Shrine), this restaurant’s eating area provides a spectacular view of the Togakushi Mountain Range.  Today, unfortunately, the mountain was hiding behind clouds, fitting in a way since the peak has traditionally been home to hermit monks hiding in its depths.  Even without the normal scenery, the noodles were still fantastic.  There is just something different about noodles made with local buckwheat and Togakushi’s clear mountain water.  The fresh mountain air seems to add to the experience, too.

Soba noodles at Yamaguchi-ya featuring Togakushi-grown buckwheat.

 

After our late lunch, we were treated to a guided tour of the Togakushi Ninpo Center, one of two ninja-related sites in Togakushi, by a real-life Togakure-ryu ninja.

Entrance to the Togakushi Ninpo Center

Technically called Togakushi Minzoku-kan (戸隠民俗館 The Museum of Togakushi Folklore) inside a recently re-thatched schoolhouse displaying traditional local tools, clothing, etc.

Lots of stories inside this old schoolhouse-turned-folklore museum.

Hemp weaving used to be Togakushi’s main enterprise. Now it’s outlawed due to its byproduct – marijuana.

as well as Togakure-ryu Ninpo Shiryo-kan (戸隠流忍法資料館 The Museum of Togakure School of Ninpo [Ninja Arts]), a ninja museum, ninja fun house, and shuriken throwing range.  As is common in Togakushi, not everything is what it seems.  Several of the tools displayed as artifacts in the folklore museum can be used as weapons by ninja.  Conversely, the items displayed in the ninja museum used for making poisons would also have been used by the hermit monks to make medicines.  When you go, take the time to look at each object and imagine what its uses were.

Farm tool that can double as a weapon — popular among the Togakure-ryu ninjas

Even the ‘kunoichi’ (female ninjas) had tricks up their sleeves, or, hidden in their brooms.

By the way, the ninja fun house and athletic activities are enjoyable even for adults — my wife and I can attest to that.

Wind your way through the mazes and trap doors of the fun house to this crazy room.

No trip to Togakushi would be complete without visiting Oku-sha, Togakushi’s Inner Shrine.  The trail to the shrine is lined partway through by ancient cedar trees.  This time, we skipped that landmark, and rambled the boardwalks through the forest preserve (戸隠森林植物園 Togakushi Shinrin Shokubutsuen).

Boardwalk over the mizubasho marsh

The previously mentioned mizubasho flowers were in full bloom, but the majority of visitors were there for something else — bird watching.  Before the trees grow their leaves is when the forest’s birds are the most visible.  Our guide wasn’t looking up at the trees, though, but at the various plants sprouting up through the marsh down below.  He showed how similarly-looking plants could have drastically different effects if eaten.

On the left: Alpine leek (Allium victorialis). The Japanese name is Gyouja-ninniku 行者にんにく, which loosely translates ‘hermit garlic’, as the mountain hermits used to eat the shoots as an energy snack. On the right: V.album var.grandiflorum (geranium molle?), in Japanese Baikeisou 梅恵草, which is poisonous. Their shoots look almost identical.

At the top: Anemone flaccida (wind flower, nirinso 二輪草), which is edible and puts out pretty little white flowers.
The serrated-leaf plant at the bottom: monkshood (Aconitum, “torikabuto” トリカブト), which is, err, not edible.

And he explained that the English name for mizubasho makes sense — the flowers have a skunk-like disagreeable aroma.  Apparently bears do eat the flowers to regulate their stomachs after coming out of hibernation, but otherwise they are not attractive for eating.  Fortunately that leaves lots of beautiful flowers to enjoy viewing.

Everything in Togakushi seems to have a mysterious story behind it.  Come discover for yourself!  (It’s a convenient 1 hour bus up from Nagano Station, with 12 runs a day during the green season.)

Cherries and Sumo Wrestlers Coming Back to Matsumoto and Saku Early April

March 26th, 2016 by
Category: Events, Seasonal Topics

Last year's cherries with the Matsumoto Castle (April 9th)


According to the latest ‘Cherry Blooming Forecast’, cherries in major spots (except for highlands) in Nagano Prefecture would begin blooming March 28th (Iida, Tenryu Gorge in Southern Nagano) till April 14th (Omachi, etc in Northern Nagano) and full-bloom around 4th to 19th.

At the popular spot, Matsumoto Castle, they might start blooming on April 3rd according to the forecast. An event ‘Nighttime Cherry Blossom Viewing’ will be held from three days after cherries begin blooming and continue 8 days (so possibly around April 6th till 13th)
The special illumination for the cherries will start from the same day and will continue two days longer (10 days).

On April 7th, maybe a little before full-blooming of cherries, ‘Sumo road-show’ will be held again in Matsumoto and on April 19th it will be held in Saku City. The last year’s road-shows in Matsumoto and Nagano City were heated because of a new hero ‘Mitake-umi’ from Kiso in Nagano Prefecture. You might see some sumo wrestlers viewing cherries somewhere in Matsumoto after the show if you are very lucky.
See here about the time, venue and ticket of the show in Matsumoto.