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.

And recently, Japan’s own craft beer scene has been booming. As of 2015, there were over 200 craft breweries operating across the country and new craft beer festivals popping up in cities, towns, and even mountain resorts! To meet customers’ ever-evolving tastes, Japan’s major breweries have begun producing seasonal ales and experimental brews as well.

A glass of Shigakogen Beer’s imperial stout.

Luckily for beer lovers in Nagano, the Snow Monkey Beer Live festival is held annually in the Shigakogen ski resort area. This year, Japanese lagers took a backseat to fruity ales, creamy stouts, and hoppy IPAs. Breweries showcased their creativity with experimental styles such as the Earl Grey beer by Johana Beer (Toyama), a Scottish ale infused with coriander by Hair of The Dog (North America), and the Apple Hop malt by Minami Shinshu Beer (Nagano). The host brewery, Shigakogen Beer (Nagano), kept upping the ante with stronger drafts, from the 10% Takashi Imperial Stout to their 13% the Far East. Many people came from faraway prefectures, Japanese and foreigners alike, to enjoy the show and try the wide variety of beers available.

And while only a few of Nagano’s breweries joined the event this year, there are over six breweries in the region, many of which have been active since the beginning of the craft beer boom.

One of Japan’s main hop-producing regions, Nagano saw its first small-scale breweries in 1996, two years after tight restrictions on beer production were relaxed. Minami Shinshu Beer (Komagane), Oh! La! Ho! Beer (Tomi City), and Yo-Ho Brewing (Karuizawa) all began operating at that time. Three years later in 1999, the sake brewery Reijin (Suwa City) began producing a line of beer called “Shinshu Roman,” and in 2004 Tamamura Honten (Yamanouchi) created “Shigakogen Beer.” Hotel Kisoji in the Kiso Valley also began brewing Kisoji beer on its premises.

A staff member at Yo-Ho Brewing carefully inspecting fresh cans.
Used with permission from Yo-Ho Brewing.

And recently, more craft breweries have been opening up around Nagano prefecture. You may not be able to find their brews in stores, but you can visit their pubs/taprooms and try delicious, locally-made beers. There’s LIBUSHI in the heart of Nozawa Onsen Village, the Hakuba Brew Pub in—you guessed it—Hakuba, and the Matsumoto Brewery on Matsumoto’s picturesque Nakamachi-dori street.

Throughout Japan, new craft breweries are opening one after another and ushering in a new era of beer culture in the country. Japanese artisans are known for their passion for their craft and a deep respect for their environment and ingredients. Here in Nagano where mineral-rich springs, pure mountain water, and zesty hops are available in abundance, it’s no wonder that so many locals have challenged themselves to make delicious beer. If you have a chance, grab one and enjoy the taste of Shinshu!

More about Nagano’s Breweries

Learn more about Nagano’s breweries and where you can taste them for yourself!


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1. Tamamura Honten Shigakogen Beer (Yamanouchi Town)

The exterior of Tamamura Honten. Museum and tasting areas are inside.

Tamamura Honten is a sake brewery at the base of Shigakogen and has been in operation since 1805. In 2004, they began brewing beer as Shigakogen Beer and are the hosts of Snow Monkey Beer Live. You can find their beers in convenience stores in Northern Nagano and most liquor stores, or can try some on tap at their brewery in Yamanouchi or at Teppa Room, their tap room in Shigakogen during winter.

A line-up of Tamamura Honten’s sake for tasting. Beer can be purchased here as well.

Tamamura Honten Shop

Address: 1163 Hirao, Yamanouchi Town, Shimotakaigun, Nagano Pref. 381-0401
Hours: 9:00 to 18:00
Holidays: New Year’s Day
Access: Take the Okushigakogen or Yokoteyama line bus from Yudanaka Station and get off at the Shibu Onsen stop (between Yudanaka and Snow Monkey Park). A five minute walk from there.

Teppa Room (Winter Location)

Address: Hotel Chalet Shiga 1F, Ichinose, Shigakogen
Hours: Mon. to Fri./ 15:00 to 23:00, Weekend/ 12:00 to 23:00
Holidays: None during winter
Access: Located on the first floor of Hotel Chalet Shiga in Shigakogen’s Ichinose area.


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2. Oh! La! Ho! (Tomi City)

OH!LA!HO Beer
Used with permission from OH!LA!HO Beer.


OH!LA!HO Brewery opened in 1996 in Tomi City. They produce a variety of pale and medium-bodied ales which have won numerous gold and silver awards in international competitions. You’ll often find their “Captain Crow” extra pale ale in stores around Nagano. You can also enjoy OH!LA!HO Beer at their pub restaurant in Tomi, conveniently located next to a hot spring spa.

Brewery Restaurant Oh! La! Ho!

Address: 3875 Kano, Tomi City, Nagano Pref. 389-0505
Hours*: Weekdays/ Lunch 11:30-14:30, Dinner: 17:30-21:00,
Weekend/ Lunch 11:30-15:30, Dinner: 17:30-21:00
(Last call is 30 minutes before closing)
Holidays: Wednesdays, December 31st and January 1st
Access: Take a taxi from Oya or Tanaka Station (10 to 13 minutes).
*Hours are subject to change during winter, please contact the restaurant in advance.


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3. Yo-Ho Brewing (Karuizawa Town)

Yo-Ho Brewing’s main four beers.
Used with permission from Yo-Ho Brewing.


Yo-Ho Brewing opened in 1996 in Karuizawa. Their motto is, “Flavor in beer, Happiness in people,” and are well known for their Yona Yona ale, which can be found widely throughout the Japan and has won many international competitions. Others include Suiyobi-no-Neko (Wednesday’s Cat), Tokyo Black, and Indo-no-Aooni (Indian Blue Demon).

They have opened several restaurants in Tokyo where you can try these beers and more, so you have no excuse not to visit on a trip to Japan! They now have five locations in the greater Tokyo area. See their website for details.


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4. Kisoji Beer (Nagiso Town)

Kisoji Beer
Used with permission from the Kisoji Hotel.

In the heart of the Kiso Valley, Hotel Kisoji offers pleasant accommodations, cuisine, hot springs and freshly-brewed beer. With Kiso’s renowned spring water and 100% wheat malt, hotel staff brew a range of craft beers that can be enjoyed on-site (as a hotel guest) or bought online.

Hotel Kisoji

Address: 2278 Azuma, Nagiso Town, Kisogun, Nagano Pref. 399-5302
Access: Free shuttle bus from Nagiso Station.


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5. Reijin (Suwa City)

Exterior of the Reijin Brewery in Kami Suwa.

Reijin first opened in 1789 and is one of Suwa’s five major sake breweries. Recently, these masters of Japan’s traditional sake-making craft have turned their skills to beer brewing as well. The pure well water they use to make sake is blended with mineral-rich onsen water of Suwa to bring out the best flavor in their beers.

Reijin’s Rindo beer, brewed in the old-fashioned style common in Dusseldorf.

Suwa’s five sake breweries line the road beside Kamisuwa Station (more information here) and make for a perfect pub crawl. Each one offers a unique flavor of sake, and at Reijin you can try their beer own tap as well.

Reijin Brewery

Address: 2-9-21 Suwa, Suwa City, Nagano Pref.
Hours: Weekdays/ 8:30-18:00, Saturdays/ 9:00-18:00, Other/ 9:00-16:00
Holidays: January 1st
Access: 11 minute walk from Kami Suwa Station.


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6. Minami Shinshu Beer (Komagane City)

Minami Shinshu Beer’s Christmas Ale.

Minami Shinshu beer opened in 1996 and is considered Nagano’s first craft brewery. With pure mountain water, wheat and hops, they brew four regular beers and a variety of seasonal ones. Their Apple Hop malt features Nagano-grown apples and is quite popular.

If you’re visiting Senjojiki Cirque, stop by the Minami Shinshu Beer Ajiwai Kobo[6]. Enjoy lunch or dinner with Minami Shinshu Beer direct from their brewery!
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Minami Shinshu Beer Ajiwai Kobo Restaurant

Address: 759-447 Akaho, Komagane City, Nagano Pref. 399-4117
Hours: Lunch/ 11:30 to 15:30, Dinner/ 17:00 to 21:00
Holidays: Closed for dinner on Mondays
Access: From Komagane Station, take the Komagatake Ropeway bus to the Suganodai bus center. The restaurant is across the street.


Thanks for reading! Cheers!

A Taste of Hawaii in Downtown Nagano

April 30th, 2012 by
Category: Information
Mountain Burger at Mountain Q restaurant in Nagano.

Mountain Burger at Mountain Q restaurant in Nagano.

People who are familiar with Hawaii probably know about all the little, family-run, popular-with-the-locals type of diners found throughout the state, well away from the resort areas.  They serve great food in generous portions at very affordable prices.

Well, Nagano City has just such a place, found right on Chuo Dori, the road leading up to Zenkoji.  The name is “Mountain Q”.  I have no idea why it is named as such, but it is very easy to find.  Just look for the place decorated with lots of Hawaiian stuff.  Not really over the top, but just enough to get your attention.

Walk in the door and the staff cries out, “Irasshaimase!  ALOHA!!” and from there you go to your seat, either at a table or at a booth.  Music from Hawaiian artists plays on the sound system.  Sometimes you get live radio from Honolulu, and can hear the latest traffic reports about how the cars are flowing on Kalakaua Avenue.  Place an order and during the surprisingly short time before your food arrives, you can browse some of the Hawaii-related travel magazines they have.  Or gaze at the images of Hawaii on the flat-screen TV on the wall over the booth area.  But it won’t be long before you are eating!

The menu has entrees like the ever popular Loco Moco, a grilled hamburger patty drenched in gravy on top of rice with sunny-side-up egg.  These are served in a wooden plate shaped like a pineapple.  Though delicious, loco moco is very high-calorie, so be careful!  Then there is the Mountain Burger.  Far surpassing anything you’ll find at McDonald’s, this large, messy, yet very tasty meal is a grilled hamburger on a lightly toasted bun served with lettuce, tomato and pickles and other add-ons you can choose from.  It is served with a side of shoestring fries, which, if you ask me, are, on their own, worth a trip to this restaurant.  There are other burgers, sandwiches and, perhaps most unique…Taco Rice.  Though the name suggests it contains octopus (in Japanese tako means octopus), it does not.  It is a popular Okinawan dish of Tex-mex flavored ground beef served on top of rice.  It’s…REALLY good!

Desserts are just as impressive.  You can order an ice cream sundae and not only have it topped off with whipped cream, fresh fruit and a tropical flower, but inside, mixed between scoops of ice cream, where Japanese usually put some corn flakes, you’ll find — no joke — Cheerios.  Funniest of all is that, in keeping with the quirky way in which they serve food at this place, our sundae today was served in a glass measuring cup.  It brought a smile to everyone’s faces.

Though well stocked with plenty of adult beverages, we always go with the kids for lunch and opt for juice or iced coffee with our meal.  Drinks come in large glasses and the pineapple juice was a big hit with our daughters, age 8 and 5.  Guava juice would be a welcome addition to their menu, but mango juice always will suffice for me!  A fun place to be during the day, I would bet it’s even more fun to be here at night.  The bar counter itself is very small, but this whole place has the look and feel of a fun night-time pub.  Give it a try!

And when it is time to hit the road, the staff will bid you farewell with as much energy as they did when you came in, calling out, “Arigato gozaimashita!  MAHALO!!”

Mountain Q, located at 1398-1 Kitaishidocho in Nagano City, is found on Chuo Dori.  On foot, from Nagano Station, head over to Chuo Dori and head up in the direction of Zenkoji about 350 meters or so.  After passing a Lawson convenience store on a street corner on the right, keep going up the same street and you’ll see the restaurant on the right, just after a bus stop.  If you are arriving by car, the nearest parking is at the JA building, one block to the west.
Mountain Q is open daily from 12:00 – 23:00 but closes on weekdays between 15:00 and 17:00. You can see its location on a map here.

Queen’s bakery cafe in Karuizawa

November 26th, 2011 by
Category: Cuisine, Information, Report
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Queen’s bakery cafe’s popular menu “Morning Set” is available until 11:00 a.m.
 
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For “Today’s Lunch”, you can choose the main dish from 3 choices, including pasta like this photo.  

For many travelers, definitely me, it’s a great pleasure when we find a cafe that has a warm atmosphere to enter and provides voluminous, delicious meals with reasonable prices.  If you want to find such cafe in Karuizawa, I would like to introduce “Queen’s bakery cafe”, which faces the main street extending from Karuizawa Station.

The cafe has two functions.  One is “bakery”, where various kinds of freshly-baked bread are displayed for sale on the shelves.  The other is “cafe”, where you can order the cafe’s original menus or eat some bread you’ve just bought at the bakery part. 

The popular menu at the cafe is “Morning Set”, which can be ordered from the opening time to 11:00 a.m.  This menu includes scrambled eggs, ham and sausage, freshly-picked vegetable salad, bread and drink (a choice from coffee, tea, orange juice or grapefruit juice).  And it’s only 880 yen!  It must be nice to start your new day with delicious breakfast.

Another recommendation is satisfying “Today’s Lunch”.  You can choose the main dish from three options.  On the day I visited, the main dish choices were pasta with tomato sauce with bacon and eggplant, hamburger steak and chicken sauteed with basil.  Whichever main dish you may take, you will also be served freshly-picked vegetable salad, bread and drink. 

When you come to Karuizawa, why don’t you drop in at Queen’s bakery cafe for bread, meals or coffee?

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Bread flavored with pizza taste, ham and cheese, baked curry and onion gratin, all from bakery.
 
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Croissants and sandwiches from bakery.
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Hamburger steak from Today's Lunch.

 

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How about a cup of coffee at the terrace?

 

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Chicken with basil from Today's Lunch.

Name of the facility Queen’s bakery cafe
Description of business Bakery and cafe restaurant
Address 386-4, Karuizawa, Karuizawa-machi, Kitasaku-gun, Nagano-ken, 389-0102 Japan
TEL / FAX 0267-42-2666 [Tel and fax] (Japan country code: 81)
E-mail queensbakerycafe@orange.plala.or.jp
URL http://www13.plala.or.jp/queensbakery/
Access 7 minutes on foot from Karuizawa Station. Go straight on the road starting from Karuizawa Station North Exit.  Go past traffic lights “Shinonome” and walk 700 meters.  Then you will see it on your left. 
Operating dates and hours 7:30-17:00 (7:00 – 18:00 from the end of Apr to Sep)
Prices Morning Set: JPY880, Today’s Lunch: chicken JPY980, pasta JPY1100, hamburger steak JPY1280, Season’s salad: JPY 700
How to contact E-mail, Tel or Fax
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.)

Ramen Restaurant “Menya Marubozu” in Karuizawa

October 6th, 2011 by
Category: Cuisine, Information, Miscellaneous, Report
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Power Ramen. The Ramen has a plenty of volume and a flavor of garlic. Soup is spilling over.
 
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Wafu Niboshi Ramen. This Japanese-style soup is well flavored and made from 5 fish.

// A high school student Keisuke wrote this article under supervision of Chie Nagashima.  He chose this topic, so please enjoy what is recommended from a local student’s point of view.  This article was produced in cooperation with Nagano Prefecture Karuizawa High School and acknowledged by Nagano Prefecture.  // 

I (Keisuke) would like to introduce tasty Japanese food “Ramen noodles” to international tourists.  I often go to a very good Ramen restaurant called “Menya Marubozu” in Karuizawa.  Let me introduce the restaurant here.  The following is my interview with Mr. Tsuchiya, the owner.

Q (Keisuke): What do you think is important for this restaurant?

A (Mr. Tsuchiya): Always to be vital and cheerful, and to provide delicious meals. 

Q: What are your recommendation dishes?  And what is your important thing about Ramen?

A: The menu “Tsukemen” is using elastic noodles that are cut and crumpled by hand.  The thick dried bonito soup matches with them. “Power Ramen” has meat, vegetables, garlic, and lard on the noodles.  The soup spills over into a saucer.  The soup of “Ton-no Ramen” is made from a skull of pig simmered 12 hours, from which a unique smell is removed.  “Wafu Nigori Ramen” is using the paitan soup made from stewed pig bones and the soup made from stewed dried bonito.  The soup of “Wafu Niboshi Ramen” is well flavored and is made from 5 dried fish.  For a person who wants to eat rice, I recommend set meals.  My policy about Ramen is to provide delicious food approved by me with confidence.   

Q: How do you develop a new menu?

A: I make a new meal that I want to eat.

Q: What is Ramen for you?

A: It is like my child.  I try to grow it up with care.

Q: Thank you very much.

Please also enjoy photos we took at Menya Marubozu.  I hope you will go to the restaurant and enjoy tasty Ramen in Karuizawa.

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Putting the lard on Power Ramen. This process is a point to make Ramen delicious.
 
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This is an outward appearance of Menya Marubozu in front of Naka-Karuizawa Station.
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The inside of the shop is stylish. There are 18 seats.

 

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Mr. Tsuchiya is answering our questions.

 

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I am eating Power Ramen. Very good!

 

Name of the facility Menya Marubozu
Description of business Ramen noodle restaurant
Address 3225 Nagakura, Karuizawa-machi, Kitasaku-gun, Nagano-ken, 389-0111 Japan
TEL / FAX
  • TEL: 0267-46-6226 (Japan country code: 81)
  • FAX: 0267-46-6226 (Japan country code: 81)
E-mail
URL
Access 30-second walk from Naka-Karuizawa Station (Shinano Railway)
Operating dates and hours Lunch 11:30-14:30, Dinner 17:30-22:00. Irregularly closed.
Prices Wafu Niboshi Ramen JPY700, Ton-no Ramen JPY700, Wafu Nigori Ramen JPY700, Noko Wafu Tegiri Tsukemen Small: JPY630 / Large: JPY900, Power Ramen JPY750  
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.)

Cottage Inn Log-cabin and Barbecue Restaurant LOG-TEI in Karuizawa

September 30th, 2011 by
Category: Accomodations, Cuisine, Information, Miscellaneous, Report
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Barbecue (Yakiniku) dinner with prime quality beef.
 
shabushabu
Shabushabu dinner with prime quality beef. You boil beef and vegetables and eat them with special sauce.

Are you interested in staying at a cottage-type room, rather than a normal hotel room, and having delicious barbecue dinner in Karuizawa? If yes, I recommend you to stay at “Cottage Inn Log-cabin” (accommodation), which has “Barbecue Restaurant LOG-TEI” (restaurant) on the same site.

An only 5-minute walk from Naka-Karuizawa Station takes you to Cottage Inn Log-cabin and Barbecue Restaurant LOG-TEI surrounded by the nature.  All of the guestrooms are wooden cottages with bath and toilet, so you can fully enjoy your private time. As they have different types of cottages, anyone can enjoy a comfortable stay, from couples, friends, families to a large group of 20.

One of the great advantages to stay at this inn is that you can enjoy delicious barbecue and other dishes in the restaurant on the same venue. The restaurant LOG-TEI is known for providing high-quality meat dishes, such as Barbecue (in Japanese “Yakiniku”, grilled meat and vegetables cooked at a table) and Shabushabu (a hot-pot with thinly-sliced meat and vegetables boiled at a table). The restaurant is open to the public, so those who don’t stay at this hotel are also welcomed.

I hope you will enjoy a special resort holiday here!

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Appearance of “Barbecue Restaurant LOG-TEI”.
 
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All the rooms of “Cottage Inn Log-cabin” are cottages made of natural logs.
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"Family Cottage" with a loft for 3 or 4 guests.

 

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"Romance Cottage" for 2 guests.

 

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If you want to enjoy a large bathroom, "Family Bath" is available on site.

Name of the facility Cottage Inn Log-cabin (accommodation) / Barbecue Restaurant LOG-TEI (restaurant)
Description of business Accommodation (capacity: 50 guests), restaurant
Address 3148-1, Naka-Karuizawa, Karuizawa-machi, Kitasaku-gun, Nagano-ken, 389-0111
TEL / FAX
  • TEL: 0267-45-6007 (Japan country code: 81)
  • FAX: 0267-45-0365 (Japan country code: 81)
E-mail karuizawa@log-cabin.co.jp
URL http://www.log-cabin.co.jp/ (Click “English”)
Access
  • From Naka-Karuizawa Station (Shinano Railway): 5 minutes on foot
  • From Karuizawa Station (JR Nagano Shinkansen): 7 minutes by taxi  *Free pickup is also available, so please contact.
Operating dates and hours
  • Cottage Inn Log-cabin: open every day
  • Barbecue Restaurant LOG-TEI: Closed on Wednesday except for summer (Open every day in summer), 11:00-14:00 for lunch, 17:00-21:00 for dinner
Prices
  • Cottage Inn Log-cabin (room rate per person for a group of 2 guests): JPY6,000 without meals on weekday, JPY6,500 without meals on weekend, JPY8,500 with dinner and breakfast on weekday, JPY9,000 with dinner and breakfast on weekend
  • Barbecue Restaurant LOG-TEI: Barbecue dinner with prime beef at JPY6,090 (price for 2 guests), and much more menus
How to contact http://www.log-cabin.co.jp/reserve.html for on-line reservation (in Japanese). You can also make inquiries by “contact us” form on the English website or by e-mail above.
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.)

Ueda City’s “Can’t Miss” Eateries

December 8th, 2010 by
Category: Cuisine, Shopping

Ueda City, Nagano Prefecture’s third largest city, has a central “downtown” core just up from the main station.  It has narrow cobblestone-like side streets with interesting nooks and crannies that beg to be explored.  Amongst them are two “can’t miss” shops that arguably define Ueda City.

Ueda's venerable "Katana-ya" Soba Shop

Ueda's venerable "Katana-ya" Soba Shop

First is a soba restaurant with a 300-year history, “Katana-ya“. This place has been a restaurant longer than the country of my birth — the United States — has been a country! The very first time I came to Nagano, I was treated to a lunch at this venerable noodle shop; that was my introduction to the famous buckwheat noodles of Nagano. Katana-ya remains popular with the locals to this day, and is known for the large volume of their soba dishes. Come to think of it, that’s probably why my host at the time choose Katana-ya (she probably figured my over-sized body came with an over-sized appetite).

Lining up for Jiman-yaki

Lining up for Jiman-yaki

After shopping in the area, we finished up at Ueda’s main shopping arcade, “Unnomachi”, to buy “Jiman-yaki” pastries at Fuji Ice. While the shop does sell ice cream, their main attraction are their little pastries filled with custard creme or adzuki bean paste.  Their tasty creations tend to attract a line of customers. Apparently the shop had just been featured on TV recently, so the normally long line of people was extra long today, so many customers that the street out front was turning into the shop’s private parking lot.

Anyways, a lot of our tourists stop in Ueda to check out the castle and get a taste of the city’s samurai history. I highly suggest taking a walk around the core shopping area, with a visit to Katana-ya if you’re hungry (really hungry) for soba, and/or joining the line at the pastry shop in Unnojuku.