Suwa Taisha Spiritual Cycling

June 11th, 2019 by
Category: Culture Art, Experience, Outdoor Activities, Report

Suwa Taisha is one of Japan’s oldest sanctuaries, so old that nobody knows when it first came to be. Its origins are object to much speculation and some say the history of the shrine goes back thousands of years. What we do know is that it’s mentioned in the Kojiki, Japan’s oldest written text to date, so well… pretty old.

Suwa Taisha has always had a big influence in the local community, so we got the idea to create a guide tour to the two upper shrines of Homniya and Maemiya which would shed light on the most interesting points of Suwa’s history and culture.
To make it more fun we decided to use bikes!

Here’s a report from this spring:
(Skip to the end of the articles for the tour details)

The meeting point for the tour is the Tourist Information Center at Chino Station, where the tourism bureau has started renting bikes, pedalecs to be precise (*bikes where the pedaling is assisted by a small electrical motor). Get your bike, make a few adjustments and you’re ready to go. The guide will take you through back alleys and less trafficked roads to your first destination. The highlight of the cycling course is the tract along Miyagawa river which is lined with dozens cherry trees and has a great view on the Yatsugatake Mountains.

Before heading for Suwa Taisha shrine, stop by a kanten shop selling agar agar, the local specialty. You can taste raw agar and get a few explanations on how it’s produced. We’ll see more of kanten later on, but for now let’s move to Maemiya.

Suwa Taisha is made up of 4 complexes, two upper shrines on the Eastern side of Lake Suwa and two lower shrines on the Western side. This tour will take you to the upper shrines, Maemiya and Honmiya. Maemiya is considered the most ancient and that is reflected in its eclectic layout which sets no definite boundaries between the shrine spaces, the nature spaces and the human spaces. The prayer hall is positioned uphill at the border of the woods, but no sweat, with the pedalecs getting there will be a piece of cake!

I have a strict no spoiler policy, so I’m not going to give out the juicy bits, but Suwa Taisha is a unique place where the Shinto of modern Japan and the animism of ancient Japan coexist. And there is no better place than Maemiya to show that: massive centenarian trees stands behind every shrine, no matter how small, the chozuya where you wash hands and purify your body is a natural pool of water fed by a mountain stream and the towering wooden pillars erected during the primeval festival of Onbashira protect the shrine.

After uncovering the millenary secrets of Suwa Taisha, we’ll proceed toward Moriya Jinchokan Historical Museum and a quirky teahouse cluster. The museum which contains some of Japan’s oldest scriptures is the first building designed by the local architect Fujimori Terunobu, famous worldwide for his fantastical architecture which seems to melt into the surrounding nature. The teahouses are works by Fujimori as well, the oldest -Takasugi-an (“The too-high teahouse”) has been listed by The Time’s among the world’s 10 most precarious buildings.

 

 

 

 

We’re close to our final stop for the day, but you must be thirsty by now so why don’t we take a break? There is a local café right next to Honmiya run by a local stonemason’s wife with a delightful Japanese garden. The owner will serve some delicious traditional food such as home-made Japanese pickles and colorful agar cakes (you remember agar?) with a nice cup of tea.

Our tour will end at Honmiya, the biggest of Suwa Taisha’s shrines. Wash your hands with fuming hot spring water, admire the detailed carvings decorating the shrine and pay your respect once more to the gods. Then, hop on your bike one last time and follow the guide back to the station while enjoying the scenery.

Tour details
Period: From April to late November
Duration: 3h
No. of participants: Min. 2 persons Max. 6 persons
Price: JPY 5,000 (tax excl.)/ person
Included in the price: Guide, Bike rental, Tea break, Insurance
Access: 1 min on foot from JR Chino station
(*Chino station is 30 min from Matsumoto by special express)
Reservations: https://chinotabi.jp/en/activity/111/

Cycling and Cherry Blossoms in Spring: the Alps Azumino Century Ride

April 24th, 2018 by
Category: Events, Information, Outdoor Activities, Report

Taking a break at the Alps Azumino Park aid station

The 10th annual Alps Azumino Century Ride cycling event was held last weekend. Beginning in Azumino and extending as far as the ski resorts of Hakuba, the event course weaved through rice fields, orchards, and the lakes of Omachi. While the course was the same for all participants, there were different lengths available, ranging from 70km to 150km. Somehow, I found myself participating in the race along with one of my coworkers. But at least it was on the “friendlier” 70km tour.
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New Walking and Hiking Guide for Karuizawa

November 2nd, 2013 by
Category: Information, Outdoor Activities

Aussie expat and fellow Go-Nagano ambassador has been at it again. He just published his 3rd book in his Hiking, Walking & Biking Nagano Guide — the Karuizawa edition. Joining the Chikuma City and Ueda City editions, Peter’s guide gives detailed information on lots of well-researched courses from walks around town to vigourous hikes in the nearby mountains.

New Guide Book for Karuizawa


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Onsen Town Togura-Kamiyamada News: Taiko Concerts, New Cycling Tour and Free Onsen Baths

April 28th, 2013 by
Category: Culture Art, Events, Information, Onsens (Hot Springs), Outdoor Activities

This year onsen town Togura-Kamiyamada is celebrating its birthday.  The Togura side is 120 years old, and the Kamiyamada side 110 years.  On April 21st, we celebrated with an event that included a performance by our town’s geisha guild and lion dance troupe as well as free pottery and stained glass making lessons.  And on the 26th of each month from April to September, 2013, all of the inns and hotels will be offering free onsen baths.  Register at the Tourism Hall (tel 026-276-1056)  from 12:30, and enjoy onsen-hopping until 3pm. 

Togura Kamiyamada Onsen's Anniversary Celebration

Also coming up is a taiko drum concert series by our local troupe, Kamuruki-daiko.  They will perform at the main stage by the Kara-Koro onsen footbath in the park in the middle of town.  The energetic performances will take place most Saturday nights in June and September (specifically June 8th, 15th, 22nd and 29th, and September 7th, 14th, 21st and 28th).  The concerts will start at 8:30pm and last approximately 30 minutes, with a chance at the end for people from the audience to come up on stage and try drumming with the group.  Kids will especially love it.

Taiko Drum Concert Series June and September 2013

One other exciting item is starting in May, guided cycling tours of the onsen town will be offered every Saturday morning.  The tours will start at the Kara-Koro onsen footbath at 10:30 am and will last approximately 1-1/2 hours.   ‘Mama-chari’ rental cycles will be provided.  The tour will cover everything from Designated National Cultural Treasures to hidden secrets and will take in the beautiful scenery of the Chikuma River and the surrounding mountains. The tour will also include a footbath stop and each participant will get a manju sweet to eat.  The tour will be led by an English-speaking guide for your full enjoyment.
Tours will take place every Saturday morning from May through November.
Price is 1200 yen, including cost of the rental cycle, insurance, and the manju sweet.
Maximum 8 people per tour, so reserve early!
To reserve, contact the Chikuma City Tourism Association.

Guided Cycling Tours of Togura-Kamiyamada Onsen Every Saturday Starting in May

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, www.takinoyu.net )

Kamiyamada Hotel (Tel 026-275-1005,  www.kamiyamada.com )

Fukujuso (Tel 026-275-1071)

Ueda-kan (Tel 026-275-1881, www.uedakan.com)

Kamesei Ryokan (Tel 026-275-1032, www.kamesei.jp *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

Route:
*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!