Family Fun for Children’s Day: Sarashina no Sato Ancient Experience Park

May 11th, 2012 by
Category: Culture Art, Experience, Information

Did everyone enjoy Childrens Day (May 5th)?  I took our kids for a bicycle ride to the Sarashina no Sato Ancient Experience Park, a 4.2km ride from our onsen town, Togura-Kamiyamada. 

Our kids wearing Jomon-era garb at the recreated prehistoric village

The park is set up to provide a glimpse of what life was like in prehistoric Japan, the Jomon era.  Besides a recreated Jomon village, there is a sort of historical museum.  Not only are there displays and an educational video on Jomon lifestyle, but there are a series of hands-on activities to experience.  Our oldest son tried making fire with sticks of wood, while our #2 son and daughter carved a soapstone into a pendant. 

Trying to make fire by rubbing sticks

Carving a soap stone pendant


Chikuma City is also fortunate to have a 1600 year old ancient tomb, the Mori Shogun Tumulus.  It appears in all 6th graders textbooks in Japan.  I’ll have to take our kids for another bike ride to go there next time.

Chikuma City’s Apricot Village Trees in Full Bloom

April 18th, 2011 by
Category: Outdoor Activities

In the world of apricot blossoms, 2 days makes a huge difference. Last Thursday, I went  Apricot Village in Chikuma City’s Mori district to see if the namesake apricot trees were in bloom or not. They were only at 20-30% at that time. Then I went again on Saturday, and was happy to see that they were in full bloom! Weekend visitors were no doubt thrilled to be able to enjoy the apricot blossoms and their subtle pink beauty. Mori’s laid back farming village setting makes for such a quaint background to the apricot trees. I highly suggest a trip to see them.

Mori's apricot trees in full bloom

Mori's apricot trees in full bloom

Other Nagano flower info (as of Monday 18-Apr)

Togura Kamiyamada Onsen’s Chuo Park cherry blossoms: Full bloom
Togura Kamiyamada Onsen’s Wakamiya apricot blossoms along the Chikuma River: Full bloom

According to our weekend guests:
Ueda Castle cherry blossoms: Full Bloom

According to fellow Inbound Ambassador Andy, Matsumoto Castle cherry blossoms: Full Bloom (beautifully lit up at night)

According to Ina City Tourism Dept.:
Takato Castle cherry blossoms: Full Bloom


By Train:  From Yashiro Station on the Shinano Railway line there is regular bus service to the Mori area, or a 5 minute taxi ride, or 25 min. walk.

By car:  From Route 18 in Chikuma City’s central business area, take Route 403 / County 392 approx. 2km.

Close-up of the apricot blossoms

Close-up of the apricot blossoms

Three Spring Events at Onsen Town Togura-Kamiyamada

April 12th, 2011 by
Category: Events, Onsens (Hot Springs)

One old tradition, one new one, and one borrowed from overseas:  ’tis springtime in Togura Kamiyamada Onsen.  Three upcoming events for your consideration:

Chishiki-Ji Temple Spring Festival

Sunday 17-April 10am-Noon, Chishiki-Ji, Kamiyamada, Chikuma City

Chishi-ji Temple with its moss-covered thatched roof

Chishi-ji Temple with its moss-covered thatched roof

A simple, local festival featuring the airing-out of the temple’s ancient scrolls.  Several monks give a solemn chant as, along with local dignitaries, they ceremonially air-out the Buddhist scrolls.  This is the one time of the year that the sacred 11-Faced Goddess image is openly displayed for public viewing.   A sishi-lion dance performance by the Kamiyamada Okagura Preservation troupe will also take place (with Yours Truly on the flute).

Chishiki-Ji Temple, on Nagano Prefectural Route 55 approximately 2km (25 min. walk) from Togura Kamiyamada Onsen.  Nearest train station is Togura Station on the Shinano Railway Line.  


6th Annual Easter Egg Festival in Togura Kamiyamada Onsen

Sunday April 24th 1:30-3:30pm at the Togura Kamiyamada Onsen fountain park along the Chikuma River

Easter's Coming!

If you would like to see 100 kids’ smiling faces, and perhaps share a bit of Western culture, come check out Togura Kamiyamada Onsen’s Easter Egg Festival.  It’s held at the fountain park in front of the onsen town on the bank of the Chikuma River.  There will be a massive, 1000-egg hunt as well as games, egg coloring, egg omelets (courtesy of the ryokan chefs), horse buggy rides, and free onsen bath passes (courtesy of the Togura Kamiyamada Ryokan Association).    

To RSVP, contact the Chikuma Int’l Exchange Assoc. tel/fax 026-274-3150,  Access:  20 minute walk from Togura Station on the Shinano Railway Line.


30th Annual Pulled by an Ox to Zenkoji Walk

Thursday May 5th, Starts 7:30am from the Togura Kamiyamada Onsen fountain park along the Chikuma River

That's me from last year's Zenkoji walk

That's me from last year's Zenkoji walk

In commemmoration of the legend about an old lady getting pulled to the esteemed Zenkoji Tempe in Nagano City, our onsen holds an annual 30km walk from Togura Kamiyamada to Zenkoji.  Many participants dress in feudal-era pilgrim outfits for the walk, complete with straw sandals.  While you can wear your sneakers instead, you do have to RSVP by April 20th to the Chikuma City Tourism Bureau.

What’s going to happen with this year’s Apricot Festival in Mori’s ‘Apricot Village’?

March 21st, 2011 by
Category: Events, Outdoor Activities, Seasonal Topics, Sightseeing

With all the images of earthquake / tsunami victims on the TV, it is understandable that everyone loses a desire to enjoy a festival.  As a result, festivals throughout Japan are being canceled.  So what is going to happen to Togura Kamiyamada Onsen / Chikuma City’s banner festival, the Mori ‘Apricot Village’ Apricot Festival?

According to the city’s tourism association, the apricot trees will bloom despite the natural disaster, and people will come and see the blossoms.  So if the festival organizers don’t set up a minimum of road signs and parking facilities, there will be chaos.  Hence there will be road signs and parking set up, but all festival advertising and things like the evening light-up event will be canceled.

In other words, a non-festive festival.

If you ask me, though, coming to see the ephemeral light pink apricot blossoms will raise people’s spirits.  There is something about the scene of the quaint valley of Mori filled with the light pink blossoms of thousands of apricot trees.  It will give everyone a desperately needed dose of happiness.

This is what the Mori 'Apricot Village' looks like in full bloom

This is what the Mori 'Apricot Village' looks like in full bloom

The apricot blossoms are predicted to be in bloom from April 2nd thru April 16th, 2011.  And after enjoying the beauty of the apricot blossoms, be sure to stop at Togura Kamiyamada Onsen for a bath!

Click here for apricot blossom updates.

Happy Girls Day + Hina Doll Info for Northern Nagano

March 4th, 2011 by
Category: Culture Art, Events, Seasonal Topics

March 3rd was ‘Hina Matsuri’ day.  So, Happy Girls Day to all you young (and young at heart) ladies out there. Here is our daughter Misaki posing with our Hina Dolls. I’d like to take this opportunity to pass on some information about a few of the area’s many Hina Doll related events.
‘Burari’ Northern Nagano Hina Tour
This is an event involving various Hina Doll displays along the Nagano Dentetsu Railway from Yashiro Station to Yudanaka Station. Besides a ‘stamp rally’, the event features a travelling ‘relay’ display of new dolls by local popular doll artist Mayumi Takahashi. Relay dates and locations are as below:

1. Matsushiro Town
3/03-3/09 Matsushiro Machi Aruki Center
Original Hina Dolls made of local Matsushiro-yaki pottery will be featured.

2. Suzaka City
3/10-3/16 Kura-no-machi Kankou Koryu Center
To be held in conjunction with the Hina Doll Festival at Tanaka Honke Museum.

3. Yamanouchi Town
3/17-3/21 Kaede no Kan

4. Chikuma City
3/22-3/25 Yashiro Station ‘Welcome Station’
Also on display will be Hina Dolls made out of ‘haniwa nendo’, a local clay. One day during the event, participants will be able to make their own clay dolls. Contact the Welcome Station for more info: tel(026)272-3223.

5. Obuse Town
3/26-3/30 Kurian Fumido

6. Nakano City
3/31-4/03 Nakano Jinya & Kencho Memorial Hall
Don’t miss the ‘Hina Ichi (Market)’ festival. It takes place every year on March 31st and April 1st, and features clay dolls painted by local artists in a tradition that has been handed down over hundreds of years. People come from all over the country to add to their tsuchi-bina (clay doll) collections.

Finally, one more local Hina Doll event:
6th Annual Sakaki Kobina Festival
2011 Dates: 2/19-3/19
Features historical Hina Dolls displayed in the Sakakijuku Furusato History Hall, Tel(0268)82-4193.

Unique Souvenirs from Onsen Town Togura Kamiyamada

July 9th, 2010 by
Category: Onsens (Hot Springs), Shopping

When travelling abroad, it’s tempting to buy some souvenirs for the folks back home, or for yourself as a momento from your trip.   But finding the right item can be tricky.  You want something made locally rather than mass produced in some other country.   And you want something compact so as not to take up room in your pack.  Well, here in Togura Kamiyamada Onsen, we are fortunate to have 4 local shops producing some pretty unique items.  Guests to our onsen town can enjoy shopping for these 4 locally-made items:

Manju, Miso, Kanroni and Pottery:  Togura Kamiyamada Onsen's Unique Souvenirs

Manju, Miso, Kanroni and Pottery: Togura Kamiyamada Onsen's Unique Souvenirs

Sasasuzu Manju with the Rokumonsen Mark
You can find manju pastries with the purple adzuki bean paste inside at pretty much any onsen town, but you can only find manju with the Rokumonsen mark of the local Sanada samurai family at Sasasuzu here in Togura Kamiyamada Onsen. You can also try your hand at branding the manju yourself with a hot branding iron. Baked freshly every day, so they are extra delicious. On Ginza Dori. Tel(026)275-1228.

Shimaya Kanroni Marinated River Fish
Nagano Prefecture doesn’t have an ocean, so river fish are an important part of the local cuisine. Shimaya takes ayu, the main fish from the Chikuma River, as well as wakasagi and haya, two other local types of river fish, and marinates them in a sweet sauce “kanroni” style. You can see how the kanroni process is done when visiting their shop, as well as try a sample of some of their creations. They are constantly making new batches, so if you’re lucky you can try some just-made kanroni, too. The kanroni is available for sale in take-home vacuum packs. On Ginza Dori. Tel(026)275-1175.

Nakajima Miso’s “Homare” Label Shinshu Miso.
Shinshu, the classic name for Nagano, is one of Japan’s major producers of soybeans. So the prefecture has naturally become known for the quality of its miso paste, Shinshu Miso. Here in Togura Kamiyamada, we have our own maker of Shinshu Miso, Nakajima Miso. In their showroom and shop at the front of their factory, you can sample the different types of miso they make, as well as see some of the antique tools frpm their trade that they have on display. Be sure to try the shoyu mame, a local variety of processed soybeans. On Ginza Dori. Tel(026)275-1069.

Sarashina-Yaki Pottery at Takaraya
Our local pottery style, sarashina-yaki, has a distinct blue color resulting from the ash of applewood from the local orchards. Takaraya is a small, chic shop displaying lots of the beautiful sarashina-yaki pottery as well as Ueda Shishi lion wood carvings and wood block prints by local artist Mori Bakuro. At the western entrance of Ginza Dori. Tel(026)275-0778. Hours from 8am to 7pm.

So if you’re hunting for some souvenirs from your trip to Japan, items that you can only find here, come to Togura Kamiyamada Onsen and enjoy our unique shops. 

ACCESS:  Togura Station on the Shinano Railway line.  For information on Togura Kamiyamada Onsen, see

Bicycle Rentals at Togura Kamiyamada Onsen + Family Fun Ride

May 16th, 2010 by
Category: Events, Information, Outdoor Activities

It’s spring time — perfect weather to get out and ride a bike.  And if you have been doing the typical sightseeing and are sick of riding trains and busses, take a break, and take a ride on a bicycle. 

"Green" Rental Cycles at Togura Kamiyamada Onsen

"Green" Rental Cycles at Togura Kamiyamada Onsen

Here in Togura Kamiyamada Onsen, new for this year are rental bicycles available for hire at 5 different ryokans and (soon to be) at the Tourism Center.   Members of the Chikuma Cycling Club rescued several bikes that had been thrown away at area train stations.  We spruced them up and painted them all an “eco” green color and are offering them for use for the day.  Prices are 500 yen per bike, or 200 yen for guests of Togura Kamiyamada Onsen ryokans. 

Rental Bicycles at Togura Kamiyamada Onsen.  The bikes are available at the following 5 inns:

Taki no Yu (Tel 026-275-2120, )

Kamiyamada Hotel (Tel 026-275-1005, )

Fukujuso (Tel 026-275-1071)

Ueda-kan (Tel 026-275-1881,

Kamesei Ryokan (Tel 026-275-1032, *English OK*)

Chikuma Cycling Club riding along the Chikuma River

Chikuma Cycling Club riding along the Chikuma River



Suggested places for cycling include the Chikuma Cycling Road along the Chikuma River.  You can ride south from Togura Kamiyamada past a lavendar field through Sakaki as far as Ueda, or north along the river to the samurai town of Matsushiro.  My kids and I like to ride north to the Inariyama area of Chikuma City and wander the narrow streets amongst the classic earthen walled storehouses.


Exploring the Obasute Masumune sake brewery by bike (above Inariyama)

Exploring the Obasute Masumune sake brewery by bike (above Inariyama)

One other thing to mention is that the Chikuma Cycling Club has a “Citizens’ Cycling” event schedule coming up for at the end of May:

Family Fun Ride to the Sakaki Rose Festival
Saturday May 29th, 2010
Meet at Togura Kamiyamada Onsen Tourism Center at 9am

*Follow the Chikuma Cycling Road along the Chikuma River to Kogai Bridge (rest stop)
*Peddle through Sakaki Town (tour various sites related to Sakaki’s samurai hero, Yoshikiyo Murakami)
*Stop at Lobinia Chocolate Factory’s factory store
*Have lunch at the Sakaki Rose Festival site
*Return via the Chikuma Cycling Road, finish at 2pm.

For those without bicycles, the Togura Kamiyamada Onsen green rental bikes will be available, so come and enjoy this fun event with everyone!

Mori “Apricot Village” Apricot Blossom Festival Update #2

April 6th, 2010 by
Category: Seasonal Topics

Chikuma City’s signature event, the Apricot Festival in Mori’s “Apricot Village” officially started on April 2nd.  But how about the apricot blossoms?  Have they showed up on time for their own party?  Some of our guests that went on the 2nd came back disappointed, saying that the trees weren’t in bloom yet.  However, our town’s Tourism Association website said as of the 5th that the blossoms were at 20% (whatever that means!). 

Last evening, I went to see with my own eyes how Mori’s famous apricot trees were doing.  And the result?

Some of Mori's apricot trees already in full bloom

Some of Mori's apricot trees already in full bloom

Mixed, but worth seeing!

This tree's blossoms at 20%?

This tree's blossoms at 20%?

The majority of the trees, especially in the upper reaches of the valley, were still just in bud stage.  However, several of the trees, especially ones in sunnier spots, were already in full bloom.  So I would say it is definitely worth seeing now.  And with today’s nice weather (the high temperature is predicted to be 63F), more and more of the trees will start to bloom. 

For me, the real draw for Mori’s apricot festival is the quiet, pastoral setting of the valley.  It has a quaint, rural feel to it that is especially enhanced this time of year with the soft pink, delicate apricot blossoms.  And, of course, don’t miss the apricot ice cream!

New this year is a connector bus from Togura Kamiyamada Onsen, leaving every morning at 8:50am.  So if you stay the night at one of the onsen ryokans, you’ll have easy access to the apricot blossoms the next day. 

The Togura Kamiyamada Onsen to Mori's Apricot Village Connector Bus

The Togura Kamiyamada Onsen to Mori's Apricot Village Connector Bus

So don’t pass up this chance to see Japan’s largest number of apricot trees in bloom at Mori’s “Apricot Village”.

Mori’s Apricot Festival will run through April 16th.  Updated information on the Chikuma City Tourism Assoc. website (in Japanese only).

Mori “Apricot Village” Flower Update #1: Starting to Bud

March 22nd, 2010 by
Category: Outdoor Activities, Seasonal Topics

Every year around this time, we here in Chikuma City get excited about the apricot blossoms in Mori “Apricot Village”. We also get nervous about when exactly the flowers will bloom. Saturday I went to check out the progress in person — the buds were starting to form. With the weather forecasted to be a little irregular — warm, cold, warm, and cold again — for the next week, I have a feeling the blossoms will be according to the official festival dates: 02-April thru 16-April. Will keep you posted here! Also, Live Camera at the Chikuma City Tourism Assoc. website.

Mori's "Apricot Village" trees starting to bud

Mori's "Apricot Village" trees starting to bud

Mori “Apricot Village” is approx. 30 minutes by car from Togura Kamiyamada Onsen. There are shuttle busses from Yashiro Station during the Festival period.
New this year is a special connector bus from Kamiyamada Onsen to Yashiro Station, departing 8:50am. 500 yen one way.

Obasute Masamune Sake Brewery “Open Brewery” 13-March, 2010

February 20th, 2010 by
Category: Cuisine, Events

Togura Kamiyamada Onsen’s local sake brewery is Obasute Masamune.  Using rice grown in the legendary moon reflecting rice fields of Obasute Mountain, and clear water from a local spring, Obasute Masamune’s sake is recognized nation-wide and has won numerous awards.  The historical brewery buildings, located on the Edo-era Zenkoji Kaido (the old path between Matsumoto and Zenkoji Temple in Nagano City), are full of character with impressive earthen walls and traditional construction.
I have been fortunate to have had the opportunity to tour the brewery before, but normally it is not open to the public.  However, on Saturday March 13th 2010, Obasute Masamune will hold a special “Open Brewery” day so the public can tour the facilities.  Tours will start at 10 and 11am and 1, 2 and 3pm. 

Obasute Masamune's Sake Warehouse Entrance

Obasute Masamune's Sake Warehouse Entrance

Come and join me for a tour of this historical sake brewery — it’s a unique opportunity to see the traditional buildings and the inner workings.

Obasute Masamune's centuries-old pine tree

Obasute Masamune's centuries-old pine tree

Obasute Masamune Sake Brewery Access:
From Togura Kamiyamada Onsen by car, take Prefectural Road #77 north to Route 403 and turn left.  Climb for approx. 3.5km and the brewery will be on the left.  Or take bus #6 from Yashiro Station on the Shinano Railway line, approx. 25 min.

One of Obasute Masamune's storehouses

One of Obasute Masamune's storehouses