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.

Best Museums and Galleries in Nagano

July 12th, 2017 by
Category: Culture Art, Information, Sightseeing

Zhuge Liang puppet in the Kawamoto Kihachiro Puppet Museum

It’s Japan’s infamous rainy season and that means that unpredictable, sudden squalls are just around every corner. You’ll get soaked, your laundry won’t dry, trains and buses may be delayed, and it can be hard to do anything outdoors on the weekends. When it’s too wet to climb mountains or have picnics, what else is there to do in Nagano?

Cafés, karaoke, and staring at the ceiling are some possible options, but there are also plenty of museums and galleries around the prefecture that feature interesting historical artifacts and beautiful paintings. Spend some of your rainy days brushing up on Japanese history and art in one of Nagano’s many museums.


1. The Hokusai Museum

Entrance to the Hokusai Museum

Katsushika Hokusai is one of Japan’s most famous artists, known throughout the world for his woodblock print “Kanagawa-oki Nami Ura (the Great Wave off Kanagawa).” At one point during his travels he visited the town of Obuse and fell in love, eventually living there for many years. The Hokusai Museum was established in his memory, and many of his works are stored there.

Also in Obuse, Gansho-in Temple features one of Hokusai’s original paintings which can be seen on the ceiling of its main hall. Its vibrant color, size, and dynamic composition are stunning. It is called the “Happo Nirami Ho’oh-zu (the Phoenix Staring in all Directions).”

The Happo Nirami Ho’oh-zu on the ceiling of Gansho-in in Obuse

Details

Address: 381-0201 Nagano-ken, Kamitakai-gun Obuse-machi, Oaza Obuse 485
〒381-0201 長野県上高井郡小布施町大字小布施485
Hours: 9:00 to 17:00 (until 18:00 during July & August)
Holidays: Dec. 31st, Irregular
Price: Adults/800 Yen
High School/500 Yen
Under/ Free
Access: From Nagano Station, take the Nagano Dentetsu train to Obuse Station. From there, a 12 min. walk
Website: http://www.hokusai-kan.com/


2. The Matsumoto City Museum of Art

“Maboroshi no Hana” (2002) by Kusama Yayoi

Matsumoto City is the birthplace of Yayoi Kusama, known internationally for her polka-dot-covered works. The Matsumoto City Museum of Art has a permanent exhibition of her work, featuring among others an outdoor sculpture of gigantic, colorful flowers. Even the buses in town are decorated in colorful polka dots!

Details

Address: 390-0811 Nagano-ken, Matsumoto-shi, Chuo 4-2-22
〒390-0811 長野県松本市中央4-2-22
Hours: 9:00 to 17:00
Holidays: Mondays; Dec. 29 to Jan. 02
Price: Adults/410 Yen
Students/200 Yen
Middle School & Under/ Free
Access: From Matsumoto Station, walk 12 minutes or take the East Course Town Sneaker bus
Website: http://matsumoto-artmuse.jp/


3. Silkfact Okaya

Exterior of the Silkfact Okaya Museum

During the beginning of the Meiji Period, the people of Okaya created the Suwa silk-reeling machine and the area prospered in silk manufacturing. There are many historical buildings related to the industry in Okaya, and the Silkfact Okaya museum stores important artifacts and machines related to it. The museum is attached to an operating silk mill, and visitors can see silk cultivation from silk worm breeding to silk spinning.

At Silkfact Okaya, you can see live silk-spinning demonstrations at the adjoining Miyasaka silk factory.

Details

Address: Nagano-ken, Okaya-shi, Goda 1-48
長野県岡谷市郷田1-4-8
Hours: 9:00 to 17:00
Holidays: Wednesdays; Dec. 29 to Jan. 3
Price: Adults/400 Yen
High/Middle School/200 Yen
Elementary/100 Yen
Access: From JR Okaya Station, a 20 min. walk
Website: http://silkfact.jp/


4. The Sanada Treasures Museum

Exterior of the Sanada Treasures Museum.

The Sanada clan, which was featured in the NHK Taiga Drama Sanada Maru, ruled the domain of Ueda, and later the Matsushiro area until the beginning of the 20th century. At the Sanada Treasures Museum in Matsushiro, you can see samurai armor, weapons, and articles of everyday life used by Japanese people during the Edo Period. Matsushiro is home to a number of Sanada historical sites, like the Sanada-tei residence and the Bunbu Military Academy.

The armor of Sanada Nobuyuki

Details

Address: 381-1231 Nagano-ken, Nagano-shi, Matsushiro-machi, Matsushiro 4-1
〒381-1231 長野県長野市松代町松代4-1
Hours: 9:00-17:00
Holidays: Tuesdays
Price: Adult/300 Yen
Children/120 Yen

Sanada-tei, Bunbu Gakko Combo Ticket:
Adult/500 Yen
Children/200 Yen
Access: From Nagano Station, take the Matsushiro bus to Matsushiro Station. A 3 min. walk.
Website: http://www.sanadahoumotsukan.com/


5. The Takahashi Mayumi Ningyokan

The Takashi Mayumi Ningyokan

This museum is dedicated to the work of Takahashi Mayumi, who creates lifelike figures of Japan’s elderly countryside residents. These adorable dolls show slices of everyday life in Japan’s rural areas, from scenes of farming to socializing with neighbors.

Display of Takayashi Mayumi’s life-like dolls

Details

Address: 389-2253 Nagano-ken, Iiyama-shi, Iiyama 2941-1
〒389-2253 長野県飯山市飯山2941-1
Hours: 9:00-17:00 (10:00-16:00 from Dec. to Mar.)
Holidays: Wednesdays
Price: Adults/610 Yen
Children/410 Yen
Access: a 5 min. walk from JR Kita-Iiyama Station
Website: https://www.ningyoukan.net/


6. Mizuno Museum

Southeastern Exterior of the Mizuno Bijutsukan

This museum south of Nagano City is home to a large collection of traditional Japanese artworks, from ukiyo-e portraits of women in kimono to shimmering landscapes on golden screens. Another feature of the Mizuno Museum is its beautiful landscape garden which can be viewed from comfortable benches inside the museum.

“Kanzashi” (1938) by Uemura Shoen

Details

Address: 380-0928 Nagano-ken, Nagano-shi, Wakari 6-2-20
〒380-0928 長野県長野市若里6-2-20
Hours: 9:30 to 17:30 (until 17:00 from Nov. to Mar.)
Holidays: Mondays; most of Dec.
Price: Adults/800 Yen
Children/600 Yen
Elementary/300 Yen
Access: From Nagano Station, 10 min. by bus.
Nagaden Nisseki line
Nisseki, Matsuoka, Otsukaminami line
Website: http://www.mizuno-museum.jp/index.php


7. Kawamoto Kihachiro Puppet Museum

Exterior of the Kawamoto Kihachiro Puppet Museum

Iida was long a meeting point of Japan’s east and west, and was well known for its puppetry. Nowadays, the city holds a puppetry festival every summer where local and international troops stage performances. The Kawamoto Kihachiro Puppet Museum is dedicated to one such puppeteer who was enamored with the festival and helped create the NHK Puppet Theater series of “Sankokushi (Annals of the Three Kingdoms).” The museum houses a number of animations from the show, as well as 53 of the puppets used in production. The highly detailed puppets and costumes are a sight to behold.

Dolls featured in the NHK puppet drama “Sankokushi”

Details

Address: 395-0044 Nagano-ken, Iida-shi, Honmachi 1-Chome 2-Banchi
(〒395-0044 長野県飯田市本町1丁目2番地)
Hours: 9:30 to 18:30
Holidays: Wednesdays; End of the Year Period
Price: Adults/400 Yen
Children/200 Yen
Access: From JR Iida Station, a 12 min. walk.
Website: http://www.kawamoto-iida.com/index.html

Additional Information

Stay dry this rainy season while enjoying the artwork and history of Nagano. If you’re interested in reading more about Nagano’s museums and galleries, check out the links below. And if you have any questions or suggestions, don’t hesitate to include them in the comments below!

Samurai Sword Special Exhibition at Matsumoto City Museum

May 12th, 2017 by
Category: Culture Art, Sightseeing

Matsumoto City Museum, which is right next to Matsumoto Castle, is holding a special exhibition featuring samurai swords and other blades from the major sword making regions of Japan. The exhibition runs until June 4th, 2017. There isn’t much explanation about the swords and other items provided in English, but they are beautiful to look at.

Poster for the exhibition

In the exhibition you’ll find not only the typical samurai swords, but also an amazing full suit of samurai armor, the pieces and parts that are used to make the swords, art depicting the samurais with their weapons in action and some other blades such as a spearhead. Don’t miss it if you’re a Japanese history buff or just think samurais and swords are cool.

Up close look at the symbol etched into the base of a katana blade

Full suit of samurai armor

Samurai sword set consisting of the large blade and smaller sword.

Beautifully crafted blades

Rain covers for the swords

Parts of the hilt and a small knife.

Head of a spear and artwork depicting a samurai using it

Display of several swords in their sheathes.

Little-known Great Spots in Kiso Valley Samurai Trail

May 7th, 2017 by
Category: Outdoor Activities, Sightseeing

Nowadays, walking the old Nakasendo Road at Tsumago, Magome, and Narai is popular among foreign visitors, but they are crowded, especially in the early May ‘Golden Week’ holidays in Japan.

I visited the Uenodan area of the post town of Kiso-Fukushima (not Fukushima Prefecture) and Kozenji Temple near there to find some of the little-known great spots in the Kiso area. They are accessible by train (20 and 10 min walk from Kiso-Fukushima Station).

Uenodan is one of post towns in the Nakasendo Road. It is smaller than Tsumago and Narai, but very historical and cozy.

Some old buildings are used for restaurants and shops. I enjoyed soba noodles at Kurumaya, 300-year history soba restaurant.

 

Then, I went to Kozenji Temple to see a Japanese rock garden (zen garden).

It is called the widest zen garden in the east Asia and I was impressed by how it uses Kiso’s beautiful nature as ‘borrowed backdrop scenery’.

It is said that this garden represents mountains in a sea of clouds or in the cosmos, but I felt it represents the inner world of humanity.

Other Japanese gardens in the temple and approaches to the rock garden are also very beautiful.

I also visited Atera Gorge, which is famous for clear, emerald green water and its Kiso hinoki cypress forest. There is a groomed walking trail (access: one hour and twenty min walk from Nojiri train station), which I also recommend you visit.

Sunny Saturday on the Nakasendo Trail

February 9th, 2017 by
Category: Information, Outdoor Activities, Sightseeing

Last weekend, a few of us traveled from the Northern area of Nagano into the Kiso Valley to walk part of the Nakasendo trail. It was one of five major roads used during the Edo era and connected the former capital of Kyoto to the new capital of Edo (now Tokyo). While it may take weeks to travel the whole thing, we just walked between two post towns: Magome and Tsumago.

Saturday was a beautiful day so I’d like to share some of the photographs we took along the way!
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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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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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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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