New Train Pass for Exploring Karuizawa, Nearby Hot Springs, and More!

March 1st, 2018 by
Category: Cuisine, Culture Art, Information, Miscellaneous, Report, Shopping

Click on the image to see the full PDF flyer.


The Shinano Railway Banzai Two-Day pass offers great savings for anyone interested in spending time in the eastern Nagano area. The pass covers the Shinano Railway line between Karuizawa and Yashiro Stations and costs 1,000 yen for adults—already 300 yen cheaper than the one-way fare between the two! The pass is currently going through a trail run from February 1st to March 31st, 2018, but organizers are hoping to turn it into a year-round option.

When using the Banzai pass, you can enjoy eastern Nagano’s fresh foods, wine, and culture. I recently had a chance to explore more of the area, and I’d like to recommend a three-day course between Nagano and Karuizawa:

Day One

Enjoy the Outdoors and Shopping in Karuizawa



On your first day, take the Hokuriku Shinkansen train* from Tokyo to Karuizawa in about an hour. Right next to the station is Karuizawa Prince, with its 240-store outlet shopping mall, hotel, and ski resort. Try skiing at the resort or head to Karuizawa Garden Farm (15 minutes by taxi) for strawberry-picking. Have lunch at the shopping plaza and spend the afternoon looking for souvenirs and discount brand-name goods. Finally, head over to the recently renovated Karuizawa Prince East hotel for dinner at the Karuizawa Grill. Spend the night in Karuizawa.

Day Two

Ueda Castle and Bessho Onsen


In the morning, head to Karuizawa Station and purchase the Banzai Pass from the Shinano Railway ticket window. From there, take the train to Ueda.

Ueda Castle is just 12 minutes on foot from the station. While the castle’s keep was destroyed long ago, you can see reconstructions of the castle walls and main gate that repelled the Tokugawa army twice. The Omotenashi Squad welcomes visitors to the castle while wearing the regalia of famous Sanada warriors and ninja, and you can take photos with them for a fun memory of your trip.


At nearby Yanagimachi Street, you can see Ueda’s old townscape from its days as a castle town and pick up a snack from one of the bakeries, restaurants, or local brewery. If you’re hungry, stop at Kakurega En for some delicious yakitori slathered with Ueda’s special Oidare sauce.


Bessho Onsen is just 30 minutes from Ueda via the private Bessho Onsen train line*. The area is called the “Kamakura of Shinshu” due to its many beautiful temples and tranquil atmosphere. Among them, Anrakuji temple is home to a Japanese National Treasure—a three-story, eight-sided pagoda, the earliest extant example of its kind in the country. Enjoy the heart of the Japanese countryside from the comfort of a hot spring bath. (See more about spending time in Ueda and Bessho here!)

Tour the Countryside by Bicycle


After soaking in the sights of Bessho, return to Ueda and take the Shinano Railway train to Togura Station. A Showa era hot spring town called Togura Kamiyamada Onsen can be found here. One of the local inn owners is an American who loves Japanese culture and history, and is happy to share his knowledge with international guests. You can take a tour by bicycle and learn about the area’s sites and history while interacting with the locals. After a tough ride, enjoy the healing waters of Togura’s springs and stay at Kamesei Ryokan for the night.

Day Three

Snowshoe through Togakushi’s Sacred Forest


On your last day, take the train from Togura to Nagano Station*. From the station, take the Alpico Togakushi bus* to Togakushi Ski Resort (70 minutes), rent some snowshoes and take a walk to the area’s Okusha Shrine. Stop at the Okushamae Naosuke restaurant for soba, Togakushi’s specialty. Afterwards, take the trail to the shrine and be awed by huge 400-year-old cypress trees and the precipitous face of Mt. Togakushi looming above.

Visit Zenkoji and Experience Buddhism through its Temple Lodges


Get off at the bus at Zenkoji Daimon and head towards Zenkoji Temple. It is Japan’s third largest wooden temple and a national treasure, attracting thousands of pilgrims every year. There are 39 temple lodges around the main temple where pilgrims can spend the night. Some offer workshops as well, like Gyokushoin, where you can make your own bracelet or kaleidoscope. Some also double as restaurants where you can eat Shojin Ryori, Buddhist vegetarian cuisine. You can spend the night and continue your adventure, or take the shinkansen* back to Tokyo in just 90 minutes.

*The Banzai Two-Day Pass only covers travel on the Shinano Railway between Karuizawa and Yashiro stations.

There are many other places that I couldn’t cover here that are well worth a trip. In Toumi and Komoro, there are four different wineries producing a range of delicious wines. Rue de Vin and Villa d’Este Gardenfarm are both about 12 minutes away from Toumi’s Tanaka Station by taxi, and Mann’s Winery is just 10 minutes from Komoro Station. Each winery has its own restaurant where you can taste their wines paired with fresh local cuisine. And like Bessho and Togura Kamiyamada, there are many other hot spring areas to see as well!

Take a look at the Banzai Two-Day Pass brochure for a list of participating stores and more ideas! And if you happen to use the pass, share your photos online using the hashtag #banzai2dayspass.

A Haven for Craft Beer in the Japanese Alps

April 7th, 2017 by
Category: Cuisine, Information, Shopping

Specialty beer spotted during last year’s Onbashira Festival. (Reijin Brewery)

While beer is a relatively new beverage in Japan, it wasn’t long before locals embraced it and created the crisp, refreshing lagers that its major breweries are known for today. The Sapporo, Kirin, Asahi, and Suntory brands can be found in grocery and convenience stores around the world, and one by one, new breweries are making their international debuts.
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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”!

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 »

Antiques Sale in Inariyama – Yeah!

November 16th, 2013 by
Category: Events, Shopping

On the northern tip of Chikuma City is the historical Inariyama neighborhoood.  Dozens of classic earthen-walled storehouses line the narrow streets, giving a sense of what the area was like during its heydays as a transportation and distribution hub during the late Edo era.  Tucked away in nooks and crannies of those storehouses are a wealth of antique pottery, furniture, cookingware and a myriad of other objects.  Once a year, the storehouses are ‘opened’ and the antiques put up for sale.  This year will be the 2nd annual such Inariyama Antiques Sale, to be held as per the following:

Inariyama Antiques Sale
Sunday 17-November, 2013
From 8am to 2pm
Inariyama’s Aramachi street, in front of okonimiyaki restaurant “Silky”.

Flier for the Inariyama Antiques Sale, depcting some of the items you can expect to find

Antiques tend to be popular in the West, and it always amazes me there aren’t more antique shops here in Japan, especially with all the skillfully crafted furniture and other objects here.  So Inariyama’s Antiques Sale is sure to be a great opportunity to pick up some classic Japanese artifacts!

Location:

https://maps.google.co.jp/?ll=36.538816,138.104882&spn=0.003116,0.006947&t=m&z=18&brcurrent=3,0x601d82bf6683bedb:0x8170c7cb1059822,1

UPDATE

On the 17th, I dragged one of our sons to Inariyama for the antiques sale. I was looking forward to seeing what kind of treasures would come out of the nooks and crannies of Inariyama’s old storehouses, and I wasn’t disappointed.

At the 2013 Inariyama Antiques Sale, with local civic leader Takamura-san

Pictured are a couple of the items I picked up. Any guess what that item with the hook is? It’s a portable scale called a “hakari”. Traveling salesmen used to sell some objects by weight and used this kind of scale to measure, not kilograms, but “kan”. (1 kan = 3.75kg). Apparently ‘kan’ were used along side kilograms from the Meiji era until 1959 until being phased out and totally replaced by the metric system in 1966.


A bit of history for only 500 yen!

And the Japanese umbrella in the background was also 500 yen. 

After discovering these great treasures, I am already looking forward to next year’s antiques sale at Inariyama!

Apricot Blossoms in April, Apricot Fruit in June

June 15th, 2012 by
Category: Cuisine, Events, Experience, Outdoor Activities, Seasonal Topics, Shopping, Sightseeing

The city Togura-Kamiyamada Onsen belongs to, Chikuma-shi, is famous for apricots. The Mori “Anzu no Sato” (Apricot Blossom) district is Japan’s largest grower of apricots. In addition to Mori, the Sarashina district adjacent to our onsen town has a couple of apricot orchards that are getting bigger year by year.

In April, our area is blessed with the soft-white pink color of the apricot blossoms. Then in June, we get to pick the actual apricot fruit. This year’s apricot fruit-related events are as follows:

Come to Chikuma City in late June and early July for Japan's best apricots

*Sarashina Apricot Fair in Togura Station
June 17th (Sunday) and June 18th (Monday), 2012.
09:30~13:00 in front of Togura Station on the Shinano Railway Line.
Local orchardist Kyohoen will be selling their early variety sweet apricots 500 yen for 1kg. Limit 100 units. Last year, they sold out in a little over an hour, so get there early if you want some.
Other local produce and goods will be for sale, as well as specialty bento lunch box sets. The Yuagari dance troupe will perform, also.
Note: The Kyohoen Apricot Orchard in Sarashina transitions to tart ‘Heiwa’ variety from June 27th and sweeter ‘Harcot’ from July 1st. If you would like to try picking apricots yourself (plucking one and eating it right off the tree is an experience that can’t be beat), feel free to contact me and I’d be happy to make arrangements.  The orchard is across the Chikuma River from Togura Station.

*Mori ‘Apricot Village’ Apricot Picking 6/24-7/15
From 800 yen for all-you-can eat apricots + 1kg to take home.

*Mori ‘Apricot Village’ Apricot Jamming 6/27-7/15
9am-4pm. 1600 yen

Access via bus from Yashiro Station on the Shinano Railway.  For info, contact the Chikuma City Tourism Assoc., Tel +81(0)26-276-2241.

Matsumoto Bus Terminal & ‘Ario’ Department Store Renovated and Largest Bookstore Opened

January 7th, 2012 by
Category: Information, Shopping

New Entrance of the Bus Terminal

In front of Matsumoto Station, the former Espa Department Store containing the bus terminal was renovated and renamed as “Ario” in the late December.

The ticket counter in the bus terminal has been moved from the basement to the first floor, so you don’t have to go downstairs and upstairs before riding your bus any more. The bus terminal has been a little cleaner though it was a little dirty.
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“Shinshu Tourist Destinations ‘Kizuna’ Declaration” Report #2: Nozawa Onsen Snow Resort

December 12th, 2011 by
Category: Cuisine, Events, Experience, Information, Miscellaneous, Onsens (Hot Springs), Outdoor Activities, Report, Seasonal Topics, Shopping, Sightseeing

 — For Japanese translation of this article, click here (authorized link by Nagano Prefecture) — 

yamabiko_top1
The top of Yamabiko Course is the highest point in Nozawa Onsen Snow Resort. Enjoy the great panoramic view.
 
resthouse_yamabiko
Reconstructed “Rest House Yamabiko”. Enjoy food and drink in the cheerful atmosphere. The popular menu is “Nozawana Cabbage Rice Topped with Steak”.

Shinshu Tourist Destinations ‘Kizuna‘ (Bonds) Declaration

This is “Shinshu Tourist Destinations ‘Kizuna‘ (Bonds) Declaration” Report #2.  As reported in Report #1, “Shinshu Tourist Destinations ‘Kizuna‘ (Bonds) Declaration” was issued in Nozawa Onsen Village by Nagano Prefectural Federation of Societies of Commerce and Industry and all of Nagano’s seventy Societies of Commerce and Industry on 24th Oct, 2011.  It aims at strengthening ‘Kizuna’, which means bonds or ties, among the tourist destinations in Nagano (Shinshu) and powerfully promoting tourism and business again to cope with the influences of the earthquakes in March.

This Report #2 focuses on “Nozawa Onsen Snow Resort”, which has been fully recovered from the damage of the earthquakes.  At the time of the quake on 12th March, 2011, ceilings of the restaurant “Rest House Yamabiko” on Nozawa Onsen Snow Resort fell to the ground and some of the ski lifts got damaged.  But the ski resort made great efforts to continue its operation until the scheduled end of the previous snow season, May 2011.  Now, with “Rest House Yamabiko” beautifully reconstructed as the photo above and all the skiing facilities fully recovered, Nozawa Onsen Snow Resort is entering the 2011-2012 snow season this month with hope of welcoming many domestic and international guests. 

 

Fully Recovered “Nozawa Onsen Snow Resort” — A Paradise for Skiers and Snowboarders 

Nozawa Onsen Snow Resort is one of the largest skiing and snowboarding resorts in Japan with modern facilities: The longest course or slope boasts a distance of 10,000 meters; The vertical drop is 1,085 meters; The steepest slope is at 39 degrees; The number of courses is as many as 36 in addition to a snow park; Modern and comfortable ski lifts and gondolas are equipped; A variety of restaurants are waiting.  The view from the snow resort is also breath-takingly gorgeous.  When you go down the slopes, you can enjoy a great panoramic view of close and far mountains and the hot-spring downtown before your eyes.  Furthermore, the year 2012 is the 100th anniversary of introducing skiing, so there are various celebrating events.

 

The World’s Precious Combination — Large-Scale Ski Slopes and Traditional Hot-Spring Downtown

With my own experience of skiing and staying in Nozawa Onsen, I can say that this village is very fascinating not only for the Japanese but also for overseas visitors.  One reason is, of course, its perfectness as a skiing and snowboarding resort with large-scale slopes, high-quality snow, the beautiful scenery, and modern facilities.  The other reason is that Nozawa Onsen downtown maintains unchanged Japanese culture.  In other words, the villagers have proudly kept their own lifestyle in the mountains over a long period of time, not accommodating themselves to other cultures.  For example, they have 13 public hot-spring baths called “sotoyu” (the 14th bath will open on 15th Dec, 2011).  The village is blessed with a large amount of hot springs and the public baths are kindly opened to anyone free of charge.  When you go into such a hot-spring bath, a shop, a restaurant or an inn or walk around the streets, you can experience their traditional Japanese lifestyle and will feel human warmth.  Such experience often turns to be the most unforgettable memory of your trip.  I think it is very rare in the world for one village to have such a large-scale ski resort and a genuine traditional hot spring downtown.  Please visit revitalized Nozawa Onsen Snow Resort!

 

This Report #2 mainly introduced Nozawa Onsen’s attraction as a skiing and snowboarding resort.  There is more to follow in “Shinshu Tourist Destinations ‘Kizuna‘ (Bonds) Declaration” Report #3.  

skyline_course
On Skyline Course, a 3500-meter super long slope, you can go straight down from the mountaintop with a great view of Hokushin Gogaku mountains and the hot-spring downtown.   
 
ski_ushikubi
Ushikubi Course, looking down the hot-spring downtown, will satisfy advanced skiers and snowboarders.
snow_shoeing3

Snowshoeing is another fun. While walking a snowfield, you may meet wild animals like a serow or a rabbit!

 

oyu3

After skiing, warm yourself in a public hot-spring bath. This "Oyu" bath is well-known among the 13 baths.

 

 

nozawana_osaramoritsuke2

Why not get famous Nozawana-zuke, or Nozawana cabbage pickles, for souvenirs?

Name of the facility NOZAWA ONSEN SNOW RESORT
Description of business Skiing and snowboarding resort
Address 7653 Toyosato, Nozawaonsen-mura, Shimotakai-gun, Nagano-ken, 389-2502
TEL / FAX
  • TEL: 0269-85-3166 (Japan country code: 81)
  • FAX: 0269-85-2201 (Japan country code: 81)
E-mail
URL http://www.nozawaski.com/ (Click English button)
Access
  • If by car, 25 minutes from Toyota Iiyama Interchange of Joshinetsu Expressway.
  • If train (JR Nagano Shinkansen), 1 hour and 15 minutes by bus from Nagano Station.
  • If train (JR Iiyama Line), 20 minutes by bus from Togari Nozawaonsen Station
Operating dates Dec 2011 to 6 May 2012.
Prices of Lifts and Gondolas 1 day pass: Adult JPY4,600, Children (Junior high students or younger) JPY2,100, Senior (over 60) JPY3,500.  Refer to the website for more types of tickets.
How to contact Tel or fax
General information of Nozawa Onsen Village Contact NOZAWA ONSEN Tourism Association. http://nozawakanko.jp/ (Click “English” button.)  FAX: 0269-85-3883   Email: info@nozawakanko.jp  

Special thanks to: Nagano Prefectural Federation of Societies of Commerce and Industry, The Community of Commerce and Industry of NOZAWA ONSEN, NOZAWA ONSEN Tourism Association, and residents and concerned people of Nozawa Onsen Village.

Karuizawa Ueno Museum

October 28th, 2011 by
Category: Culture Art, Information, Shopping, Sightseeing
haiokutoshojo
“A ruined house and a girl” (from postcard)
 
kitaalps
“The Northern Alps” (from postcard)

“Karuizawa Ueno Museum — Museum of God’s small sign—” is the painter Mr. Michio Ueno’s personal museum located in the beautiful southern part of Karuizawa. The museum was born from Mr. Ueno’s lifetime wish that he wanted to convey life experiences by painting.  His works heal people’s mind and give joy and hope.

Mr. Ueno, born in 1936, used to be a junior high school teacher of art for 38 years.  He was awarded in many exhibitions, including those of Geneva in Switzerland, Paris in France, Venice in Italy and Yasui Award.  He also received Chunichi Exhibition’s Grand Award.

He studied under Mr. Paul Ambille, the President of French Academy.  Mr. Ambille called Mr. Ueno “the expressionist of the East and the Middle East.”  Mr. Ueno’s painting style is characterized by his sharp brush strokes.

Mr. Ueno says he welcomes every visitor who is interested in Japan or Japanese culture and art.  You can also purchase his pictures, books, postcard and so on at the museum.

heinoaruie
“A house with a wall” (from postcard)
 
kimono
“Kimono, standing in the corner” displayed in the museum.
gaikan

The appearance of Karuizawa Ueno Museum.

 

portrait

Portrait of Mr. Michio Ueno.

 

naikan

The inside of Karuizawa Ueno Museum.

Name of the facility Karuizawa Ueno Museum — Museum of God’s small sign—
Description of business Museum, sale of paintings and art related goods
Address 1166-15 Hocchi, Karuizawa-machi, Kitasaku-gun, Nagano-ken, 389-0113 Japan
TEL / FAX
  • 052-611-5439 [Tel and fax] (Japan country code: 81)
  • 0267-48-5411 [Tel and fax] (Japan country code: 81)
  • 090-7684-7002 [Mobile phone] (Japan country code: 81)
E-mail
URL
Access 8 minutes by car from Karuizawa Station or 10 minutes by car from Usui Karuizawa Interchange. Located 30 meters east of Karuizawa Town Shokubutsuen (Botanic Garden) and Kazakoshi Park.
Operating dates and hours 9:00-17:00 from May 1 to the beginning of Nov. Winter closure from Dec to Apr.
Prices Admission: JPY500 (adults), JPY300 (children).
How to contact Tel
General information of Karuizawa Contact Karuizawa Tourist Information Offices: TEL: 0267-42-5538 (Old Town) / 0267-42-2491 (Karuizawa Station) / 0267-45-6050 (Naka Karuizawa Station). http://karuizawa-kankokyokai.jp/ (Click “English” button.)