What do you get when you spell Tokyo backwards?

November 12th, 2018 by
Category: Information

What do you get when you spell Tokyo backwards? You get out the Oykot, a tourist train that runs through the Japanese countryside of Northern Nagano.

The Oykot runs along the Iiyama line from Nagano to Tokamachi Station, passing the Chikuma River, the Sekida mountains, and idyllic farms and rice paddies.

For just 520 yen on top of your regular train fare, you can enjoy the Oykot’s elegant interior while gazing out over beautiful rural scenery.
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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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Spring Flowers in the Japanese Countryside: the Iiyama Nanohana Festival

May 2nd, 2018 by
Category: Events, Information, Seasonal Topics

The flowers grow high enough to make a veritable maze of yellow.

As the cherry blossoms fade away, other flowers take the spotlight around Nagano. In Iiyama, nanohana blossoms cover the fields along the Chikuma River, turning everything a sunny yellow.

The annual Nanohana Festival is held during the latter part of Golden Week, this year from May 3rd to 5th, during which there are musical and dance performances and plenty of activities to enjoy. It all takes place at the Nanohana Park in Iiyama City on the far side of the Chikuma River. The park is located on a small hill and has great views of the surrounding countryside. The Sekida mountains were mostly bare of snow this year, but as the clouds cleared we could see the brilliant white visage of Mt. Myoko in the distance.
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Nagano’s Hidden Ski Resorts

December 22nd, 2017 by
Category: Information, Outdoor Activities

Excellent glades and powder at one of Nagano’s hidden ski resorts: Madarao Kogen.

If you’ve ever considered a ski trip to Nagano, chances are you’ve heard of Hakuba Valley and Nozawa Onsen. But what about the others? While there’s certainly a lot of fun to be had at some of the more popular resorts, the recent spike in tourism has led to crowded lifts. Besides, you never know what you’ll find if you trek off the beaten path. If you’re thinking of making a trip to the land of the rising sun, here are a few lesser known resorts you need to visit.
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Summer in Nagano: SUP on a Mountain Lake

July 20th, 2017 by
Category: Experience, Information, Outdoor Activities

Iiyama’s heart-shaped Hokuryu Lake is hidden in a valley on mystical Kosuge Mountain.  Not fed by any rivers or streams, the pristine lake is filled only with snow melt run-off and natural springs.

Romantic heart-shaped Hokuryu Lake

Recently my daughter and I had the opportunity to appreciate the lake doing SUP.
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5 Great Winter Festivals in Nagano

December 9th, 2016 by
Category: Events, Information, Seasonal Topics

Enjoy fire festivals, illuminations and more in this winter wonderland.

Winter is here. Snow is falling steadily up in the mountains and people around Nagano are bringing out their kotatsu tables, kerosene heaters and nabe pots. Once again, it’s that time of year for skiing, hot springs and great winter festivals. Why stay inside when you could warm up in front of a magnificent fire festival or in the company of Japan’s many spirits?

Make some wonderful memories this winter with some of the festivals below!
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The Shin-etsu Trail 信越トレイル

August 19th, 2013 by
Category: Experience, Outdoor Activities, Seasonal Topics, Sightseeing

The Shin-etsu Trail 信越トレイル

Nestled along the Sekida Ridge (about 1,000m above sea level) on the border of Nagano and Niigata Prefectures, the 80km Shin-etsu trail served as an important link from the coast into the interior areas. The rich beech forests give away to beautiful mountain vistas on this lush trail. The trail is open from roughly mid-April until mid-November.

This route helped transport salt and sea products from Niigata to Nagano. And, mustard seed oil and Uchiyama paper from Nagano to Niigata. During the Warring States period, the famous warlord Uesugi Kenshin reportedly led tens of thousands of men to fight the Battle of Kawanakajima around the mid 1500`s. The trail is divided into 6 sections and can be easily accessed by any of the 5 visitors’ centers. Camping is available along the trail.

Access: For the southern part of the trail via Madarao Kogen:

20 minutes drive from IC Toyota/Iiyama

or 20 minute taxi ride from JR Iiyama Station on the Iiyama Line

Link: Shin-etsu Trail Club


Guided tours are available: TEL: 0269-69-2888     office@s-trail.net

Spring trip to Iiyama — Nanohana Blossoms and

May 19th, 2011 by
Category: Culture Art, Information, Seasonal Topics

Our family took a drive to Iiyama City north of Nagano City and adjacent to Niigata Prefecture. We timed it to see yellow fields of nanohana blossoms.

(Nanohana also has an unfortunate name in English: rapeweed. Allow me as I stick to the Japanese name, nanohana, which has a much more elegant feel.)

Iiyama's Nanohana blossoms with the Chikuma River and Mountains in the Background

Iiyama's Nanohana blossoms with the Chikuma River and Mountains in the Background

I had seen pictures of the fields filled with yellow flowers with the Chikuma River and Nagano’s ‘five northern peaks’ in the background. But pictures don’t do the flowers justice. For one thing, seeing them in person means you can enjoy the sweet scent of the flowers wafting on the breeze.

And for another reason, Iiyama’s main nanohana park, called simply enough ‘Nanohana Park’, has a nanohana maize allowing you to immerse yourself in the field amongst the plants bursting with yellow color.

Lost in the maze

Lost in the maze

The flowers normally bloom between mid April and early May, with special events scheduled from May 3rd to the 5th coinciding with Japan’s Golden Week holiday. This year, however, the blossoms are about a week later than usual.

Our drive to Iiyama had another purpose: to see the Mayumi Takahashi Doll Museum.

Mayumi Takahashi Doll Museum Facade

Mayumi Takahashi Doll Museum Facade

Opened just in April of last year, the museum has attracted visitors from all over Japan to see Mayumi-san’s unique dolls that adroitly depict the type of country bumpkins one is apt to see in Iiyama’s backroads.

The museum itself has limited display space, but that is more than compensated by the enjoyment that can be had from looking at each individual doll’s expression and composure, especially in relation to the background displays.

The doll museum is set in a neighborhood filled with traditional Japanese buildings. Especially impressive is ‘Butsudan-dori (street)’. A Butsudan is a Buddhist altar that most families in Japan have in a prominent place in their houses. I had heard that Iiyama is a major manufacturer of Butsudan, but I wasn’t aware that there was a whole street of Butsudan shops! I guess it makes sense, though, to have a Butsudan shopping district here in Japan.

Butsudan Shopping Street

Butsudan Shopping Street

There was an interesting phenomenon that came out of seeing the doll museum. Driving around the town and in outlying farming areas afterwards and seeing the old ladies bent over in the fields or the old gentlemen walking along the back streets, I started to get a sense of where Mayumi-san got the inspiration for her dolls!

Mayumi Takahashi Doll Museum
2941-1 Iiyama Oaza, Iiyama City
Tel (0269)67-0139
Hours: 9:00-17:00 (Apr-Nov); 10:00-16:00 (Dec-Mar)
Closed Wednesdays
600 yen for adults, 400 yen for middle and elementary school students