Nagano’s 2018 Cherry Blossom Forecast

March 22nd, 2018 by
Category: Information, Seasonal Topics

See our cherry blossoms article for 2019 here!
Ogawa Village’s reddish pink Tachiya cherry blossoms contrast with the snowy peaks of the Japanese Alps.
As the snow slowly melts from the streets and sprouts begin to poke their heads out from under the ground, we’re all beginning to wonder: when will the cherry blossoms come? According to a new forecast announced last Tuesday, it looks like many areas of Japan will be seeing their cherry trees bloom a full ten days earlier than last year.
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Five Unique and Memorable Hot Springs

November 3rd, 2017 by
Category: Information, Onsens (Hot Springs)

You can bathe in some wild and wonderful places around Nagano.

One of Japan’s greatest charms is its natural hot springs and bathing culture. While sitting naked in a bath with a bunch of strangers can be intimidating at first, once you take a dip in an onsen you’ll never feel the same. Unlike a hot tub or Jacuzzi, the water is completely natural and isn’t treated with harsh chemicals; the water leaves your skin feeling smooth, natural minerals revitalize your senses, and the heat warms you from the inside out.

In Nagano, there’s a huge variety of hot springs to choose from. Different springs offer baths of different temperature and mineral composition, which offer various health and beauty benefits. Some facilities are new and shiny while others are made from old wood caked in years of mineral build-up. You could spend years here and not visit them all! Since your time here may be short, I’d like to introduce some particularly memorable and unique hot springs around Nagano to visit.

1. Build your own Hot Spring at Kiriake Onsen

Bring a shovel and dig your own onsen out of the river.


Would you like to be an onsen pioneer and dig up your own bath in the wilderness? Natural spring water wells up from the ground into the Nakatsu River on the border of Nagano and Niigata. There are several hotels along the river that rent out shovels to visitors so they can build their own outdoor baths! You can adjust the temperature to your liking by rearranging rocks around your spot. Let in more river water to cool it down, or block the flow for a steamy +40°C hot tub.

Access

To reach Kiriake Onsen, a car is recommended but it is also possible by public transportation. Take the JR Iiyama line from Nagano Station to Morimiyanohara Station (103 min.), and then take the Minami Echigo Kanko bus bound for Kayama Onsen to Akiyamago Kiriake Onsen (60 min., see timetable). By car, it is 70 minutes via route 117 from the Joshin’etsu Expressway Toyota-Iiyama IC exit.

2. Meet “the One” at Shosenkaku’s Omiai Buro

Take a chance at love at Shosenkaku’s Omiai Buro.

In Shosenkaku’s outdoor hot spring, a small shrine with a window connects the men and women’s outdoor baths. Women can open the window blind and chat with men on the other side. For shy couples, it may be a chance to enjoy the hot spring together, and for singles, a chance to meet the love of their lives! So far, the Omiai window has been responsible for three marriages. Who will be next?

Details and Access

Shosenkaku is south of Nagano City near Imai and Kawanakajima Stations. You can take a 12 min. taxi from Kawanakajima Station, or walk for 30 min. from Imai Station. It is open year-round from 12:00 to 20:00 on weekdays (11:00 to 20:00 on Saturdays and holidays). Entrance fee is 650 yen for adults (250 for children).

3. Relax in Japan’s Highest Outdoor Bath at Honzawa Onsen

Soak in relaxing waters at 2,150m high.


At 2,150m high, this natural outdoor bath is a unique and wild destination. A car will only take you so far; instead, you’ll have to hike on foot for over two hours to reach it. After your hike, you’ll be rewarded with a beautiful view of Yatsugatake’s mountains and a steamy, sulfurous bath to sooth your tired muscles. You can travel up for just the day, or you can spend the night in the Honzawa Onsen lodge and tackle Mt. Akadake, Mt. Iodake, or Mt. Tengu.

Details

The lodge and onsen are open year-round, but winter travel is not recommended unless you have winter climbing experience. A night in the lodge ranges from 8,700 to 11,200 yen, and the outdoor bath is 600 yen. Be aware that there are no changing rooms for the outdoor bath!

Access

From JR Koumi Station, take the Matsubarako line bus to Inagoyu. From there, it’s a 3 hour hike to the hot spring. If you’re traveling by car, park at Honsawa Onsen Iriguchi. From there it’s a 2 hour and 15 minute walk.

4. Bathing with Apples around Nagano

Nakadanaso’s apple bath is an ode to first love.


Among Japan’s 47 prefectures, Nagano takes second place for both apple production and number of hot spring areas (don’t even get us started on all of Nagano’s other “second place” rankings…), so it was only natural that someone eventually combined the two. The colorful floating apples not only please the eye, but fill the bathroom with a sweet, autumnal aroma.

The first place to offer an apple-filled bath is said to be Nakadanaso in Nagano’s Komoro City. The owners filled the hot spring with apples in homage to one of Shimazaki Toson’s poems called “First Love,” a story about a young boy who falls in love with a girl tending her apple orchard. Now, guests can enjoy the apple bath at Nakadanaso between October and May of every year, and other hot springs around the prefecture have followed suit.

Details and Access

Nakadanaso can be reached on foot from Komoro Station in just 15 minutes. The hot spring is open to visitors from 11:30 to 14:00, and costs 1,000 yen for adults (500 for children).

Another option is Toyono’s Ringo no Yu which has apple baths on the 5th, 15th, and 25th of each month (open from 11:00 to 22:00, closed on the 4th Tuesday of every month). Entrance is 410 yen for adults (300 for children). It’s just a 12 min. walk from Toyono Station.

5. Take a Dip with Monkeys at Korakukan?

The monkeys love hanging around the outdoor baths of Korakukan and drinking from the pools.


Jigokudani Yaen Koen is famous for its hot-spring-bathing snow monkeys, but the phenomenon originated at the nearby Korakukan inn. Monkeys occasionally traveled into the valley to warm themselves during the harsh winters, sitting in small pools by the side of the river. Over the years, some of the monkeys became accustomed to the sight of people who were relaxing in the inn’s outdoor baths, eventually taking a dip themselves!

Korakukan is located beside the monkey park and offers great views of the area. Monkeys also treat the inn as a jungle gym and are not shy about hanging around the inn’s baths. After watching monkeys taking a dip at the Snow Monkey park, head to Korakukan and take a dip while monkeys watch you!

Details and Access

Korakukan can be found next to the Snow Monkey Park. The inn’s hot springs are open for visitors from 12:00 to 15:00 and the entrance fee is 600 yen for adults (300 for children). Indoor and outdoor baths are available. There is a women’s only outdoor bath and a mixed bath. Special bathing suits are available to rent for women.

Learn More about Japan’s Hot Springs

A vacation to Nagano wouldn’t be complete without a visit to one of its over 200 hot spring areas. Tourists flock to hot spring resort areas such as Nozawa, Shibu, Shirahone, Bessho, and Hirugami, and there are plenty of hot springs in arm’s reach of ski resorts and hiking trails for outdoor enthusiasts. Before visiting one yourself, or just to brush up on your hot spring knowledge, take a look at our blog on how to enjoy hot springs.

And as always, if you have any questions, feel free to leave us a comment below!

The Real Deal — Nagano Soba next to Komoro Castle

June 20th, 2011 by
Category: Cuisine

Nobody does soba noodles as well as Nagano.  If you come to Nagano, it is absolutely against the rules to not try our buckwheat noodles.  But with more soba restaurants than one could count, how do you know which one to go to?  Well, Kusabue in Komoro City has been around for over 400 years, so that’s a good sign that they know their noodles.  They have 6 locations from Nagano City to Saku City, but the main store is in Komoro right next to the famed ‘hole castle’ Kaikoen.  (Most castles tend to be perched on the top of a hill.  When you see Komoro’s distinctive configuration, you’ll know where it’s nickname comes from.) 

Kusabue's main store's facade

Kusabue's main store's facade

Komoro’s Kaikoen is a popular tourist destination in Nagano.  And with its location adjacent to the  castle, Kusabue makes a great spot for lunch.

I recently made my Kusabue debut.  Of course I had heard about the restaurant (they’re especially known for their generous volumes), but this was my first time to put chopsticks to their noodles.  So how was it?  Now I know why Kusabue is so well-known and well-regarded.  There’s something about the flavor, the environment (being made in an area with such clean air and water), the shop’s ambience, and the history that makes Kusabue’s soba stand out.  And I should know — I’ve had lots of Nagano soba. 

For guests coming from out of the prefecture (or from overseas for that matter) and wanting to try Nagano’s soba, I can confidently say that Kusabue is a duly suitable representative for our famed soba. 

Kusabue’s main restaurant faces Kaikoen’s parking lot just to the west of ‘San no Mon’, the castle’s distinctive gate.  Just minutes by foot from Komoro Station on the Shinano Railway line.  Kusabue’s website is here.

*Tel# 0267-22-2105
*Hours:  10am-3:30pm or until they sell out.  (From 11am in winter.)
*Open year-round.

Nakadanasou – Japanese-style Inn in Komoro –

January 31st, 2011 by
Category: Accomodations, Cuisine, Information, Onsens (Hot Springs)
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“Hatsukoi Ringo Buro” (Hatsukoi Apple Bath).  Apples are floated on hot spring water.
 
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Outlook of “Heiseikan” accommodation building. 

“Nakadanasou” is a Japanese-style hot spring inn in Komoro city founded in 1898.  This 113-year-old traditional inn is especially renowned for its association with Shimazaki Toson (1872-1943), a prominent Japanese author and poet.   Toson loved to stay here and enjoyed its hot springs which contain healing power.  Nakadanasou even appears in Toson’s famous poem called “Chikumagawa Ryojou No Uta”.  

The main buildings of Nakadanasou are “Taishokan” (accommodation where Toson stayed and wrote the above poem), “Heiseikan” (new accommodation), and “Harikoshitei” (Japanese restaurant).  While the whole site is filled with a classic and tranquil atmosphere, its modern and convenient amenities ensure your comfortable stay at the same time.

I had lunch at the restaurant Harikoshitei.   The building of Harikoshitei, designated as important cultural property, is a large old house in the Edo period.  When I visited there, many dolls were beautifully displayed for the coming Girl’s Festival on March 3rd.   It is a Japanese custom to exhibit special dolls called “hina dolls” to celebrate the festival.  The restaurant serves Japanese country-style food using fresh local ingredients.  I had a set lunch called “Hatsukoi Gozen”.  Many small plates, such as tempura, fish and simmered vegetables, were served in a beautiful basket.  Furthermore, sashimi (raw fish), chawanmushi (steamed egg custard in a cup), soba noodles and a Japanese-style dessert were served.  I truly enjoyed the tasty and beautiful meal while looking at the pretty dolls. 

I also experienced its famous “Hatsukoi Ringo Buro”, which literally means “first love apple bath”.  The word “hatsukoi” was named after Toson’s poem in which apples appear.  From October to May, apples are floated on the hot spring water.  The sweet smell of apples really relaxed both my mind and body.  The hot spring bath is available throughout the year (from June to September with no apples), to both overnight guests and day visitors.  Please contact the inn to confirm the opening hours for day visitors.   

Finally, let me add that the inn is conveniently located for sightseeing.  Komoro station and Kaikoen Park are just 15 minutes’ walk.  Karuizawa, a popular mountain resort good for shopping, skiing and other leisure activities, is 20 minutes’ train ride.  “Asama 2000”, a ski resort at the altitude of 2,000 meters with natural powder snow, is 30 minutes’ drive by car. 

Why not experience traditional culture and cuisine in Nanadansou? 

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A large guest room that has Japanese rooms and a Western room with a great garden view. 
 
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The restaurant “Harikoshitei”, designated as important cultural property, was decorated with pretty hina dolls for the Girl’s Festival. 
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In front of Nakadanasou. Landlady in traditional kimono will give you a warm welcome.

 

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Set lunch "Hatsukoi Gozen" at "Harikoshitei" restaurant. Soba and dessert are also served.

Taishokan Nakaniwa

"Taishokan" accommodation building can be seen behind trees and flowers in the inner garden.

 

Name of the facility Nakadanasou
Description of business accommodation (capacity of 70 guests), restaurant, public hot spring bath  
Tel 0267-22-1511 (Japan country code: 81)
Fax 0267-22-9191 (Japan country code: 81)
Email nakadana@komoro.co.jp
URL http://www.nakadanasou.com (Click “ENGLISH WEBSITE”)
Address Kojou Nakadana, Komoro, Nagano, 384-8558, Japan
Reservations and inquiries Please contact by email or use the inquiry form on website.
Access
  • If you get off Nagano Shinkansen at “Sakudaira” station, change to JR Koumi Line and get off at “Komoro” station (last stop).
  • If you get off Nagano Shinkansen at “Karuizawa” station, change to Shinano Tetsudo (Shinano Railway) and get off at “Komoro” station.
  • Nakadanasou can be reached from Komoro station either by taxi (5 minutes) or on foot (15 minutes).
  • You can find a map on website.
Operating dates and hours
  • Nakadanasou (accommodation part) is open every day of the year. 
  • Harikoshitei (restaurant) is open daily from 11:30 to 14:00 except Wednesday. Reservation needed for dinner from 17:00 to 21:00.
Room rates and other prices
  • Minimum room rate is JPY11,000 per person per night including dinner and breakfast.  Room rates are changeable depending on the season, so please contact the inn.
  • A variety of souvenirs are available at the shop, including “nigorizake” (unrefined sake) at JPY1,680, “Harikoshi manju” (original Japanese-style buns with red bean paste filling) at JPY450, “umeshu” (plum liquor) at JPY1,100, and original wine at JPY2,800.

曲水の宴 Kyokusui no utage Poetry and Tea Ceremony at Manns Winery in Komoro City

June 11th, 2010 by
Category: Cuisine, Culture Art, Events
My koto teacher, Masaki Hara, in the outdoor tea ceremony area

My koto teacher, Masaki Hara, in the outdoor tea ceremony area

This past Saturday, Manns Winery in Komoro city opened its traditional Japanese garden to tea ceremony and the Heian period poetry game kyoku sui no utage. I was invited by my koto teacher who played the accompanying music for the festivities. But it wasn’t until yesterday that we exchanged notes on the ornate and relatively rare Heian game which can be difficult to fully understand even for locals like my teacher who took part in the ceremony.

tea_kimonocrowd

For me, with limited Japanese and even less context to Saturday’s events before arriving, wandering into the winery’s expansive green lawn felt like Japanese historical reenactment meets Sunday brunch and polo game. Kimono clad guests shaded themselves with lace parasols and colorful umbrellas while peering into the landscaped lower garden. Below, honorary participants were seated under lacquer red parasols in decadent deep purple and orange robes, gleaning with silver and gold threads. Attendants with long platted hair circled around the camera men, journalists, and participants in a reserved, but constant motion.

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Hein period costumes are used in kyoku sui no utage because it is originally a Heian period game for nobles, particularly of the imperial court. Saturday’s version was a combination of formal ceremony for nobles and informal community gathering with tea.

tea_walkingAfter the Heian processional played kyoku sui no utage and received tea, hundreds of guests strolled the garden and struck up conversation. One woman and I discovered that we live in neighboring villages. Later she wrangled her grandson over, one of my elementary school students, to practice his English which was sticky but proudly spot on despite his ice cream lined lips and ruffled energy which comes from summer play.

曲水の宴 Kyoku sui no utage: The Hein Poetry Game:

Heian period robes were worn during the festivities for Kyoku Sui no Utage, a Heian period poetry game.

Heian period robes were worn during the festivities for Kyoku Sui no Utage, a Heian period poetry game.

As the koto music played, announcements were read, and dancers danced, the honorary few, in robes and make-up, wrote wakas, or Japanese poems. Kyoku sui no utage is basically a game where participants compose a poem and use a sprout of bamboo to catch a small saucer of sake floated down stream to them. In this instance, assistants brought the sake to those composing the poems, I assume because they were enacting the role of nobility, but after the formal ceremony finished, all of the guests were invited to partake. Seated on straw mats that felt like lily pads, guests leaned over the garden’s small stream reaching for the multi-colored ducks carrying sake in sip sized red saucers.

Three women try to catch sake floatd down stream to them as part of kyoku sui no utage, the Heian period game

Three women try to catch sake floatd down stream to them as part of kyoku sui no utage, the Heian period game

tea_streamOnce the enacting imperial court and corresponding formality had finished, kyoku sui no utage really felt more like a game. The sweets, drink, and playfully novel objective of catching your sake with  the bamboo stick (which was easily floated by at hands reach) was all pleasantries: a characteristic you might suspect from a 12th century game for nobles. Also, many of Saturday’s poems were simple and sweet without much verbose language or ambiguity. Even my poem, written in bad Japanese, reading “today gave me many good feelings. I love summer. Thank you!” seemed to fit in alongside the other guests’ poetry who also thanked the organizers for the fun day or depicted summer drawings.

野点Nodate Outdoor Tea Ceremony

A lace hankerchief used to guard against spilling the day's bento (lunch) down the kimono front.

A lace hankerchief used to guard against spilling the day's bento (lunch) down the kimono front.

After kyoku sui no utage, guests strolled around the gardens and reserved seats to receive tea. Because only twelve or so people could be served at a time, we experienced a two hour wait for our tea. However, after coffee in the winery restaurant and a bento of oden, rice, and seafoods  (shrimp, scallop, and battered squishy maybe octopus piece), the time passed quickly before we were seated at the nodate outdoor tea ceremony.

nodate-outdoor-teaIn traditional tea ceremony style, every detail of setting, utensils, and decorations were taken into consideration by the host for the guest’s delight and enjoyment. During this event, ikebana, fresh flower arrangements were designed and trimmed for each set of guests seated. A small scroll with seasonally appropriate poetry was hung upon the guest of honor’s red parasol. And the utensils used to prepare the tea were of course chosen for the occasion and displayed after use for the guests to admire as they left.

Sweets are always served before recieving tea. The man in the background is striking up conversation as he is sitting in the honorary guest position.

Sweets are always served before recieving tea. The man in the background is striking up conversation as he is sitting in the honorary guest position.

Before receiving tea, it is customary to eat a small sweet to enhance or balance the green tea which can sometimes be bitter. Saturday’s nodate served a skillfully chosen sweet in the shape of a fish and water, which were both seasonally and setting appropriate as guests were seated to the side of a flowing waterfall and pond.

More traditional tea in the indoor tea house was also served with ikebana flower arrangement, scroll, and delicious flower shaped sweets.

All of this at a winery…in Komoro…in Nagano prefecture…

kimono_pocketIt may seem like an event like this, shrouded in Hein costumes and entrenched in traditional ritual, should take place in Kyoto, Japan’s capital for traditional arts and culture. However, the local and community feel at the winery was all Nagano. The fact that it was held at a winery, a seemingly counterintuitive location for a traditional Japanese ceremony, reflects the creative confluence and contemporary practice of traditional culture in day to day Nagano life. Reporters and ice cream stained elementary schoolers are perfect reminders that traditional arts in Japan are thriving without being romanticized freeze frames unrelated to normal life.

Access to Manns Winery:

384-0043 375
0267-22-6341
From 9:00 am to 5:00 pm
komoro@manns.co.jp
http://www.mannswine-shop.com/winery/komoro/access.htm