Full of Fun at Obuse Half Marathon

July 12th, 2019 by
Category: Events, Experience, Information, Outdoor Activities

It’s that time of the year again—the fun and wacky half marathon in Obuse town is on this Sunday 14th July. In it’s 17th year, it’s sure to amuse and entertain the runners, walkers and bystanders alike. 

Whether you’re a committed competitor or a weekend warrior, the Obuse Mini Marathon is a fun-filled family event held every summer in Nagano prefecture.

If you’re new to marathons in Japan and you want to witness one then you can’t go past the Obuse Mini Marathon, a 21.0975km race around Japan’s chestnut capital. It’s not your average marathon—participants are encouraged to run in colourful costumes and characters. The race held every summer on the second Sunday of July is well-known among locals and competitors with local celebrities and guest runners lending support. Don’t miss out on the spectacle throughout the day and award ceremonies such as the Best Costume Award. Here are photo highlights from the 16th Obuse Mini Marathon—just a preview of what to expect this Sunday.

Spectators hang around the starting line hoping to catch the elite runners set off at 6 a.m.

Obuse Town’s huggable mascots will be on the side of the road to cheer you on or simply make you say “kawaii”.

Look it’s Brook from One Piece minus his partners in crime.

Anpanman’s Melonpanna is pushing his trusty car Gou instead of riding it.

Recognise this character from Ghibli’s Porco Rosso (Kurenai no Buta)?

Japan’s well-known robot, Gundam, warms up his gun … and legs.

Colours and creativity is the aim of the game … race in this case.

Lace them up real tight for maximum grip and minimum slip.

Obuse’s fire brigade trumpet corp rehearses along Obuse Station, the point where runners have been gathering since 5:20 a.m.

It’s almost 6 a.m. and Group A runners are getting ready at the starting line, a couple of metres behind the Obuse electric cars.

And they’re off! Runners participate in the marathon to share the fun with friends, families and co-workers.

Now that costume is jaw-dropping!

The Obuse marathon is a well-established and organised event and as part of its safety-first rule, doctors are on run-by.

How far do you think the Swedish character Moomin went in last year’s half marathon?

The last man to begin!

Along with refreshment stations, expect to see entertainment along the course like the all-women gospel group who raised every runner’s spirits.

Superman prepares to fly through the finishing line which is just 50m away.

Adults, school kids or adult school kids can enter the race.

Spiderman relies on his legs this time and not his web to finish the race.

Wait for your families and friends cross the finish line at Obuse Park.

Hundreds of volunteers make the spectacular marathon possible.

Group A runners are expected to finish the race under one and a half hour—so they should be done by 7:30 a.m!

Whether you come first or last, the Obuse half marathon is all about fun with the f a.m.ily.

For some laughs and entertainment on a Sunday, wake up early and bring the family along to the 17th Obuse Mini Marathon!

Details:

Opening ceremony begins at 5:40 a.m. Start time is at 6 a.m. near Obuse Station. Finish area is Obuse Park so be there just after 7 a.m. to catch the winners. Award ceremony is at 8 a.m. Costume award ceremony is at 9:30 a.m. Closing session is at 10:30 a.m.

Shuttle buses will operate from 4 a.m. No convenient parking lot available around the marathon area.

For more details, visit the Obuse Marathon Official Website.

The Moss Forest (+ info on guide tour in English)

June 25th, 2019 by
Category: Experience, Information, Outdoor Activities, Sightseeing

If you happen to be in the Yatsugatake area in summer, you don’t want to miss the Moss Forest. This little gem, still pretty much unknown among international travelers, is a small Yakushima up in the mountains.

Mononoke Forest

The fairytale-like forest which looks like it just came out of Hayao Miyazaki’s anime world is located on the Northern side of the Yatsugatake Mountains, a massive range originated from a long-extinct volcano. Here, all around the quiet pool of Shirakoma Pond, a fluffy carpet of moss envelopes everything in sight from the gnarly roots of the conifer trees to the scattered igneous rocks, as an almost sacred atmosphere pervades the woods.

Shirakoma Pond

Despite its elevation (2200m), this spot can easily be reached by car or local bus, which means you don’t have to be a trekker to visit it. The trails which winds through the forest while all around Shirakoma Pond is quite flat and, albeit slippery at times, is easy to walk- it takes about 45 min to complete-.

Hiking through the forest on your own is pleasing enough, but if you’d like to look discover its secrets or simply enjoy the company and knowledge of a guide, we offer a guide tour in English.

A closer look to one type of moss

… and to another type of moss

The “macro” forest made of gnarly trees cloaked in green is lovely indeed, but why don’t we take a closer look? Just here under our noses there is another forest, a “micro” forest that many people pass by without realizing. The green layer of moss which extends over the entire length of the forest is made up of hundreds different species as varied as the plants in a botanical garden. Our guide will introduce to both forests and the way they interact. You will discover what makes this place so special, how it came to be and how it’s changing.

Observation with a loupe

Moss details through the loupe

Like any explorer worthy of the name, you will have your tools to help you in this adventure. In this case, it will be a loupe so you can take a good look at the moss leaves and see for yourself how complex and varied the “micro” forest really is.
Of course, this is not a science lesson and we want to keep our exploration fun. That’s why halfway through we will take the time to take some cute or silly pics of moss using mall-scale model figures of animals and anime characters. We have an on-going challenge among participants on who can take the best pic.

Guide tour details:

Period: June to mid-November
Duration: 3h
No. of participants: Min. 2 persons Max. 15 persons
Price: Adults-JPY 3,000~5,000 (tax excl.)
Children- JPY 1,500~3,000 (tax excl.)
Included in the price: Guide service, Coffee break, Insurance
Access: 60 min by bus from JR Chino station
(Schedule:https://navi.chinotabi.jp/assets/uploads/2019/06/Mugikusa-Touge-Line.pdf )
50 min by car from Suwa IC
*Free transfer available for small groups on the days the bus is not running
*The activity may be cancelled in case of severe bad weather
For reservations visit our website: https://chinotabi.jp/en/activity/93/

Snowy Spring in the Ina Valley: Senjojiki Cirque, Weeping Cherry Blossoms, and Strawberry-Picking

April 30th, 2019 by
Category: Information

Spring is one of the most beautiful seasons to visit Japan. At the end of a long winter, colorful flowers burst forth from underneath the snow, and fluffy clouds of cherry blossoms fill its parks and hillsides.

In Nagano, cherry blossoms cover the prefecture from the beginning to the end of April, while snow still covers the mountains and ski resorts are still open for business. It’s a perfect place to see the changing of the seasons, whether you are visiting the ski resorts and parks around Hakuba or taking in the views of the Northern Alps and cherry blossoms at Matsumoto Castle.

While not yet well known among international visitors, the Ina Valley is a great place to enjoy Nagano’s spring and snow. Tucked between the Central and Southern Japanese Alps, it has majestic mountainous views, plentiful cherry blossom spots, and many spring activities. Here, you can take ropeways to incredible heights and enjoy snowshoeing in spring, visit beautiful cherry blossom spots in ancient temples and castles, and pick fresh strawberries in its warm greenhouses.

Below is our two-day trip to the Ina Valley.
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Icy Gourmet: Frozen Tofu

December 4th, 2018 by
Category: Cuisine, Experience, Information, Seasonal Topics

Tofu is by far one of the most well-known Japanese foods.
But have you ever heard of Frozen Tofu?

Frozen tofu

Frozen tofu, called “koori-dofu” in Japanese, is a specialty of frosty regions.
Just like its more famous cousin, frozen tofu is made with soy milk which is made to coagulate and solidify by adding bittern to it. For those wondering, bittern is a bitter-tasting solution rich in minerals obtained from seawater. Unlike regular tofu, though, it uses less water and more soy beans, making it richer in proteins.
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Schoolyard Ice Skate

November 22nd, 2018 by
Category: Experience, Outdoor Activities, Seasonal Topics

Winter is coming…
And we expect another glacial season in Suwa area.
Although Nagano prefecture is widely known as a snow country where you can enjoy fluffy soft snow, this area is a little different, a kingdom of frost with nights as cold as -20 (brr~!).

Schoolyard Ice Skate Rink

Water pipe


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The ultimate soba experience

October 28th, 2018 by
Category: Cuisine, Experience

Distilled in one plate of noodles an unwavering commitment to quality.

The master

Meet a soba master who embodies the philosophy of  “from field to table”. In order to achieve top quality with his soba, he has mastered the whole production process from farming to cooking. Who better to introduce you to soba tradition in Nagano?
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Discover the local gastronomy: Cook with the local grannies!

August 31st, 2018 by
Category: Cuisine, Experience

Sasahara grannies

My motto is “when traveling, eat like a local”. No tourist menu for me.
And well, if you want to go for the authentic taste, what better way to dive into a new cuisine than to learn from a local grannie.

Sushi, ramen, tempura etc. are great, but if you want to go off the gastronomy beaten track and like a good explorer also discover the cuisine of a small mountain village, then you should try out this experience. Below is a report of this activity from this summer.

The meeting point is Chino station. From here we get a lift to one of the small rural villages that lie at the foot of the Yatsugatake Mountains.

Yatsugatake Mountains

Seeing the scenery unfold and change as we drive up toward the mountains is part of the fun. The landscape around the station is very urban, but it slowly turns into countryside as we reach an elevation of about 1000m. Terraced rice fields flow in succession, like a staircase rising toward the mountains.

Sasahara village

In about 20 min. we reach a small village mostly made up of old folk houses and traditional kura storehouses. The massive body of the Kita-Yatsugatake right above us, on the opposite side the Japanese Alps parade in the distance. Waiting for us at the village community center are two cute grannies who accompany us to one of their homes, a lovely traditional house which faces a Japanese garden.

Kura storehouse detail

First, they tell us about this area and its climate. This is apparently the coldest place in Japan below Hokkaido. In winter the temperature drops way below zero (colder than  -10°), but there is little snow. The locals, unable to do any farming from November to April, thought up a smart way of preserving food by making the best of the severe winter weather. They use a natural freeze-drying technique to turn agar weed into kanten (a firm vegan jelly-like substance) and make frozen daikon and frozen tofu.
Today we are going to use kanten and frozen daikon as ingredients. They call this gastronomy the culture of frost.

 

The culture of frost:
Kanten, Frozen Tofu, Frozen Daikon and Kampyo

We are also going to use kampyo, a dried vegetable that looks like a string of straw (often used in sushi) and as part of the activity we are going to help making next year’s kampyo.

The main ingredient is this huge gourd called yugao. We peel it and cut in wheels. Afterwards, we put it on a special cutting board with a groove running along its length and push it against the knife to get regular long shaves. We hang the shaves to dry in the sun like laundry . This kanpyo will only be ready in a week, so we get some from last year’s as a gift.

Yugao

Kampyo shaving

Next, we start cooking. We are going to make tenyose, a jelly-like cake made with kanten, both savory (with vegetables and pickles) and sweet (with azuki beans); simmered vegetable with yugao and frozen daikon; vegan sushi with kampyo and other vegetables and soup with hand-made miso and mushrooms picked in the satoyama.
The grannies show us what to do while telling us stories about the village and the local food.

Kampyo sushi

Tenyose is eaten for celebrations and kampyo sushi is prepared for a village festival which takes place around this period.

Summer menu example (July-September)
(azuki tenyose, salad tenyose, sake lees pickles, mushroom miso soup, nota mochi (a sort of rice cake with edamame sauce on top)

When everything is ready, we all sit together at the table and eat. The taste is simple but delicious. There are so many foods I have never seen before and so many textures and tastes I have never tried before.

Lunch together

The locals’ life follows the rhythm of nature, so the food culture varies with every season: the “culture of frost” in winter, wild vegetables picking in spring, farming in the summer and preserves in autumn. The menu is always different!
To be able to see the real Japanese countryside and cook together with the locals is priceless.

Tobuki picking (June)

Details:
Period: all year
Access: 20 min from JR Chino station (pick-up from station available)
Time: 3h
Capacity: Min. 2 persons Max. 30 persons
Price: 5,000 yen + tax /1 person
Includes: activity cost, lunch or dinner
*An English-speaking guide is available at an extra cost
Vegetarian and vegan options are available.
Please inform us in advance if you have any allergy or special dietary requirements.

For further information, contact Chino Tabi at ask8@chinotabi.jp

Outdoor Activities for the Whole Family in Northern Nagano

July 31st, 2018 by
Category: Outdoor Activities

Many Japanese people long for their furusato, a place with rolling hills, picturesque mountains, and clear rivers. Where their grandparents pickle vegetables in barrels covered with heavy stones and make soba noodles carefully by hand. Where life is slow and the weather is fine. Somewhere they can get back in touch with nature.

Iiyama in Nothern Nagano is just that: a beautiful countryside area surrounded by nature and outdoor activities. Thanks to the introduction of the Hokuriku Shinkansen a few years back, access to Iiyama and nearby Nozawa Onsen have become even easier than before. In just two and a half hours, you can escape the hustle and bustle of Tokyo and take in the idyllic scenery of Japan’s furusato. Explore the Chikuma River, the Sekida Mountains, Iiyama’s temple cities and farms!
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Planting Rice and Tasting Sake in Hakuba

May 22nd, 2018 by
Category: Events, Information, Report

Rice is Japan’s main staple. It shows up nearly every meal, morning, day and night, and is used in the production of many of Japan’s flavorings, desserts, and drinks. Among Japan’s most famous rice products is, of course, sake, and over the centuries, agriculturalists have bred and refined rice varieties especially for its production.
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Escaping the Slopes for a tour of Japan’s Samurai Past

February 15th, 2018 by
Category: Events, Experience, Information, Sightseeing

Matsushiro’s white plaster walls and thatch roofs are reminiscent of a former Japan.

During Nagano’s Lantern Festival, I visited Matsushiro with a group of tourists from Hakuba to enjoy some of the area’s traditional activities. We walked through the streets of this quiet castle town to learn more about its samurai past.
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