Golden Week — Nagano Style

May 3rd, 2015 by
Category: Cuisine, Events, Experience, Information, Onsens (Hot Springs), Seasonal Topics, Sightseeing

Happy Golden Week, everyone.

Or is it?  With practically everyone and her brother having the week off, it seems wherever you go there will be crowds, crowds, and still more crowds.

Here in Nagano, the major attractions such as Matsumoto Castle, the Utsukushigahara ridge drive, the resort town of Karuizawa etc. also tend to be jam-packed during peak holidays.  And the many major events taking place in Nagano during Golden Week, such as the hot air balloon festival in Saku, the rape blossom festival in Iiyama and, especially, the once-every-seven-years Gokaicho at Zenkoji Temple in Nagano City, will likely draw hordes of visitors.

Don’t despair — the prefecture has plenty of off-the-beaten-path places and simple, local events to enjoy in a quiet, Nagano-like fashion.
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Hiking in Japan

October 21st, 2014 by
Category: Information, Outdoor Activities
Hakuba
Spectacular views at Happo Ike

Hakuba’s main attraction during the warmer months is the hiking and the most popular day hike would be Happo Ike ( Happo Pond). Each day hundreds of people of all ages ascend up into the mountains to this spectacular viewing platform. I would rate it on a world scale at “as good as it gets”.  The journey starts with a Gondola ride and then 2 chairlifts that are lowered after the winter which brings you closer to the natural foliage. The top of the resort by itself has some amazing views for those not up to the hiking and is certainly worth the trip. For the more adventurous the 45 minute hike along some rocky pathways and boardwalk steps will offer up some breathtaking vistas along the way. The route follows the ridgeline so there are many vantage spots for photos and even the most novice of photographers will be taking professional shots here. The rocky step sections along the way can be a little difficult to manoeuvre so take your time on the hike and absorb the environment. Once you reach the pond the views will amaze you with the stunning back drop of 3000 meter peaks. This is truly a special place.

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Heavenly Trekking and Wildflowers in Hakuba

July 4th, 2012 by
Category: Experience, Outdoor Activities, Sightseeing

I was recently treated to a trekking tour of Hakuba Village’s Mt. Happoone.  First I stopped at one of the Happoone Onsen bathhouses in Hakuba Village’s Happoone district. One gondola and two ski lift rides later, I was at 1830-meter Happo-Ike Sanso (Happo Pond Mountain Hut).

Trekking to the peaks on Happoone Ridge


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Digital Brochures of Matsumoto and Hakuba

September 26th, 2010 by
Category: Information

Matsumoto Tourism and Convention Association added an “e-Brochure” to the left side of Matsumoto Official Tourism Website “Matsumoto Welcomes You!“. You can see a digital brochure of the English Matsumoto Walking Guidebook which they newly issued this March. The way to read the brochure is very easy and interesting like digital books such as Apple’s iPad and Amazon’s Kindle.
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Cortina

September 1st, 2010 by
Category: Experience, Information
If you are thinking of skiing in Japan you should put Cortina on your list

If you are thinking of skiing in Japan you should put Cortina on your list

Cortina is one of the Jewels in Hakuba’s crown. Situated at the northern end of Hakuba, in the Japanese Alps, the ski resort of Cortina links up with  another resort called Norikura on the southern side. It takes about 25 minutes from the center village area of Hakuba to reach the resort  Cortina is renowned for it’s powder and is in fact listed as one of Japans top snow fall resorts. The micro climate of the area tends to draw more snow into the resort so a small amount down the valley could be a lot more up that end.  Cortina is a great place for a day trip when the powder is deep. Other days you might want to be on one of the big mountain resorts that have a bit more variety like Happo One. The tree skiing at Cortina though is some of the best you will find in Hakuba and at the end of the day take in a soothing onsen before moving back into the town center to enjoy the restaurants and nightlife of Echoland.

Edible Mountain Vegetables and Hakuba’s Hills in Summer

July 4th, 2010 by
Category: Cuisine
Tsukaike Ski Hill, Hakuba

Tsukaike Ski Hill, Hakuba

In addition to Hakuba’s winter popularity for snow sports, many locals know that Hakuba’s ski mountains make picturesque hiking and mountain biking trails throughout summer and early fall.

Some also know that the ski hills have some of the tastiest mountain vegetables and plants in summer.

On a small walk in June, friends and I ran into two Nagano locals picking the mountain vegetable (sansai) huki, or Japanese butterbur on Tsugaike mountain.

Huki or Fuki

huki_

Huki, of Japanese Buttebur on Tsugaike Mountain

Coincidentally, later that day a friend brought huki to our music practice in my town.

Like the couple picking huki in Tsugaike, my friend had discarded the elephant ear like leaf in favor of huki’s long, thin stems.

The stems are often diced, cooked in a soy sauce type sauce, and resemble a taste similar to other Japanese pickled vegetables.

Huki can seem fairly easy to pick and eat and can easily be found in gardens, hills, and mountain side’s throughout Nagano.

Though ! I wouldn’t recommend picking and digesting wild mountain vegetables without a local’s supervision and guidance.

Eating Sansai Mountain Vegetables in Nagano

For those without time or access to picking their own sansai, or mountain vegetables, any soba

A Nagano couple picking Huki mountain vegetables on Hakuba's Tsugaike mountain

A Nagano couple picking Huki mountain vegetables on Hakuba's Tsugaike mountain

restaurant throughout the prefecture should most likely have sansai on their menu.

Sansai are commonly served with udon or soba noodles and occassionally as tempura.

In Hakuba, Zen Soba House, for example, is known for their soba and sansai and conveniently located just across from the 7-11 at the bottom of Happo One village.

The Salt road festival

May 26th, 2010 by
Category: Experience, Outdoor Activities

At the beginning of May, the  Golden week holidays herald the arrival of cherry blossom season in Hakuba.  Every year the Salt road festival celebrates the ancient salt road that passes through Otari, Hakuba and Omachi.

The Salt road runs from Itoigawa on the Japan sea all the way inland to Shiojiri near Matsumoto. Until roads were developed salt was ferried by oxen and human from the sea to the interior and sold at markets. The biggest market was in Shiojiri near Matsumoto.

The most intact stretch runs through from Otari to Hakuba and we joined thousands of others on the 3rd for the walk of 10kms.

The old road winds through beautiful countryside and clusters of thatched farmhouses. Along the way local people sing folk songs, play taiko (Japanese drumming) and hand out free refreshments of tea and local sukemono (pickles). The old village of Chikuni at the half way point houses the salt road museum where you can see the history of the salt road and “Pay a toll” to the tollbooth staff for passage by getting your map stamped. Everyone dresses in traditional costumes and you get a real feel for what it was like 100’s of years ago on the salt road.

The old salt road winds through paddies and traditional villages

Salt road load bearers

Cherry blossom in full bloom

Official's exacting a "toll" on salt road users

en-route Fundoushi clad shrine bearers at chikuni shrine

Whole family getting traditional

Thatched japanese farmhouse en-route