Anzu no Sato, We’ve Got Blossoms!

April 6th, 2009 by
Category: Events, Outdoor Activities, Seasonal Topics
Apricot Blossoms in Anzu no Sato (Doguchi), April 6, 2009

Apricot Blossoms in Anzu no Sato (Doguchi), April 6, 2009

This is now my third post on the topic, and though I have reported on the coming blossoms, and then the snow, and then, well, maybe some flowers, followed by snow again, I am pleased to say that the apricot blossoms are now looking great and the tourists are coming to the area to enjoy their beauty.

My wife, Tomomi, took the kids up to her mother’s house in Mori today and came back telling me that the apricot blossoms are mankai, or full bloom, in the lower elevations of the valley.  At her mother’s house, which is further up the hill, the blossoms are about half in bloom (go-bu-zaki), while the upper areas are about one-third in bloom (san-bu-zaki).

While there are plenty of nice blossoms to see in the lower valley, the best spots are uphill, around the area of the Uwadaira tembo-dai, or the Uwadaira Viewpoint.  This area has hundreds if not thousands of apricot trees all bunched together, with lots of farm truck roads — both paved and unpaved — that you can walk on.  And on a clear day, you can see the Alps in Hakuba to the west.

Because of the higher elevation here, this coming weekend, April 11-12 will likely be the point at which the upper apricot trees are in full bloom.  If the weather is nice, come on up and see it for yourself.  As cliché as this may sound, the valley in full bloom looks as if someone stroked the treetops with a giant brush of pink.

Zazen at 5am, Anyone?

April 3rd, 2009 by
Category: Experience
Kaigan-ji zazen room

Kaigan-ji zazen room

In the Yawata area of Chikuma City, in a forested area along the feudal Zenkoji Kaido road between Matsumoto and Nagano City is Kaigan-ji Temple. “Kaigan” means “Open Your Eyes”. The name is somehow very appropriate for this temple. You see, it is #13 on the Shinshu (Nagano) 33 Fudashou Temple Pilgrimage and has a history of several hundred years. The main building is supposedly over 400 years old. However, times change, and even this grand temple fell into disuse.

Fortunately, a man named Shibata-san retired from a job overseas (he lived in America for decades), came back and moved into the temple. He started fixing up the place, bringing Kaigan-ji back to its original grandeur. In 2005, he built a special room for zazen. The temple’s eyes were truly opened!

Yesterday morning, I joined Shibata-san for his 5am meditation session. It actually wasn’t as difficult to wake up as I thought it would be.
Following is a short Q&A regarding zazen meditation at Kaigan-ji

Q. What time is the meditation and how long does it last?
A. Shibata-san does his meditation at 5:15 every morning.  The meditation is for 30 minutes, with a break in the middle to stretch legs.

Q. Can even first-timers do zazen?
A. Shibata-san can teach meditation techniques, and in decent English. So yes, anyone can do it.

Q. What about kids?
A. Shibata-san welcomes kids, too.

Q. How can I get to Kaigan-ji?
A. The temple has its own bus stop: “Kaigan-ji Mae”. Unfortunately, Chikuma City’s website doesn’t show that particular route. I’ve sent a request for the data, and in English, and will post it if/when it becomes available.   However, the buses don’t run at 5am, so I would suggest staying at an inn somewhere in town and maybe taking a taxi.  There are two Japanese Inn Group member ryokans in Chikuma City that cater to guests from overseas.

Zen master Shibata-san

Zen master Shibata-san

Kaigan-ji Contact Info:

(Sorry, this is a traditional Buddhist temple —  no website or e-mail. )

57 Nakahara Yawata, Chikuma City, Nagano Pref. 387-0023

Tel (026)272-5019, Fax (026)272-5546 Attn: Shibata-san

It would be best to confirm ahead of time.  Shibata-san sometimes has to travel out of town to Tokyo (or Afganistan, his other area of activity!).

The Apricot Blossoms are coming! — UPDATE

March 21st, 2009 by
Category: Events, Outdoor Activities, Seasonal Topics, Sightseeing
Anzu no Sato Apricot Blossoms starting to show.

Anzu no Sato Apricot Blossoms starting to show.


I just went up to Anzu no Sato to teach an English lesson, and I was delighted to see that the apricot blossoms are starting to show.  It looks like the couple of warm days we have been experiencing here are leading to a slightly earlier-than-usual blooming.

Anzu no Sato, a popular spot for o-hanami, or “blossom viewing”, is located in Chikuma, just south of Nagano City, and is jam-packed with tourists during the first and second weekends of April, when the whole area seems to turn pink with beautiful apricot flowers.  And now that the flowers are already showing, you may be able to get your first good sight of the blossoms next weekend, March 28-29.

Apricot Trees in Mori.

Apricot Trees in Mori (photo taken in 2007)

Anzu no Sato, which means “apricot village”, is really a collection of villages — Mori, Kurashina, Ikegaya and Doguchi — where residents have been raising apricots for centuries.  Most visitors go to Mori and Kurashina, as these two areas have the highest concentrations of apricot trees.  Be sure to go to the viewpoint at Uwadaira (I have also heard it called “Kamidaira”), located way up the slope in Mori.  This viewpoint offers a beautiful vista of the entire valley that is Mori.  And while you are there, be sure to get some apricot soft-serve ice cream!

You can get there by train, on the Shinano Railway, and the nearest stations are Yashiro and Yashiro Koko Mae.  They are a 30+ minute walk from the apricot groves, so either take a taxi or bus from there.  You can also drive, but expect traffic if you do.  There is plenty of parking available (for a fee).

Feel free to walk around and take lots of photos, but remember that the apricot groves are almost entirely private property.  Do not go off the streets or walking paths into the groves.  Enjoy your visit!  Hopefully the weather will be good and you’ll get a nice view of the North Alps as a bonus!

UPDATE (March 27, 2009):

SNOW!?!?  Yes, I woke this morning in Chikuma City to see about 3-4 cm of snow all over the place.  So much for an early blossom viewing season.  Looks like Mariko was right!

Something I learned when I first came to Nagano was the old saying San Kan Shi On, which means “Three days of cold, four days of warm”.  It is a weather pattern that happens here every spring.  We will have a few warm days followed by a few cold ones and the pattern will repeat, gradually getting warmer until finally after Golden Week, the weather seems to be warm all the time.

So, this weekend probably is not a good time to go to Anzu no Sato.  Perhaps next weekend.  Sigh…

A Circus is Coming to Town

February 19th, 2009 by
Category: Events

In conjunction with this year’s Gokaicho at Zenkoji, and to commemorate the opening of new Chikuma Station on the local Shinano Railway line, the Kigure New Circus will be held in a tent near Chikuma Station from 20-March to 24-May.  Prices are 2700 yen for adults, 1500 yen for children, with discount tickets available in advance until 10-April.  Two to three shows daily (Thursdays off).


I’m not sure what a circus has to do with Zenkoji’s esteemed once-every-seven-years Gokaicho, but it sounds like it will be fun for kids.

Kigure circus website is here (Japanese, not English)

Chikuma City’s Funkiest Bridge

February 19th, 2009 by
Category: Sightseeing

Getting Wider, and Wider, and Wider, and ....

A relative of ours that’s here in the construction industry once told me that one of the things they have the most pride in building is a bridge.
But one of the things that’s difficult about bridge building is the river doesn’t always stay put. So what happens when the river you built a bridge over shifts its channel? You extend the bridge to cover the river’s new position. And if the river changes again? You extend the bridge again? And another change? Another extension.
Another tricky thing about bridge building is government building code tend to change, especially regarding the required width of the bridge. A long time ago, when there were few cars on the road, you could get away with a one-lane bridge. But as the years go by, the minimum width restrictions get increasingly wider.
So that’s why.
(Why what, you ask?)
Oh, I neglected to mention that this picture is of Kamuriki Bridge, just downriver from Togura Kamiyamada Onsen. This is the west end of the bridge, where it is a 1-lane deal. As you cross the bridge, the width changes. 4 times
If you want to experience a bridge that changes width 4 times, you’d better hurry. Nagano Prefecture is building a replacement for this inconvenient (?) bridge next to the existing one.
That means we’re losing another funky bridge from the world.