48 Hours in Nagano City

August 18th, 2017 by
Category: Cuisine, Culture Art, Information, Sightseeing

In 1998, Nagano City hosted the Winter Olympic Games and introduced the world to the Japanese Alps, the Jigokudani Snow Monkey Park, and glorious Japanese powder (or, “japow”). But that isn’t all that the area has to offer. With beautiful Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines in the heart of Japan’s mountains, Nagano City is a hub of spiritual sites and natural splendor.

Take a model 2-day trip around Nagano City and enjoy another side of Japan!

National Treasure Zenkoji

The main hall of Zenkoji Temple

After arriving in Nagano, walk (or ride the colorful Gururingo bus) from the station to Zenkoji, following the wooden lanterns along Chuo-dori street. Eventually you’ll reach Motozen-machi with its cobbled streets and beautiful temple lodges. After passing through the Niomon and Sannomon gates, you’ll see Zenkoji—one of the largest wooden temples in Japan with over 1400 years of history.
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New Ninja Dojo in Nagano City — Mesmerizing fun for kids and adults!

June 23rd, 2013 by
Category: Experience

An NPO trying to find uses for empty houses and buildings around Zenkoji Temple in Nagano City hooked up with another NPO teaching ninjutsu to kids. The result is the Monzen Ninja Dojo.

Miyashita-ninja in front of Monzen Ninja Dojo by Zenkoji Temple in Nagano City

Officially open for business, the owner Miyashita-ninja gave me a tour of the dojo recently. The tour included crawling through holes in the walls and floor, jumping off the 2nd floor roof, and throwing shuriken darts — not your typical everyday experiences!
I am looking forward to taking our kids there for some father-son bonding through ninja training!

Ninja Training Lessons by Miyashita-san, a master of the Togakuredo school of Ninjutsu, are available to the public. He offers 3 lessons per week, on Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday mornings from 9:30 to 10:30am. Price is 2000 yen per person.

How to go up to the 2nd floor ninja-style

Lesson content varies according to the interests and abilities of the participants. Want to learn how to walk stealthily like a ninja? Or are you interested in learning some basic self-defense manuevers? How about throwing shurikens? Or climbing up walls to reach the roof of the building — and then jumping down from the 2nd story? The Monzen Ninja Dojo is the place for you!

Anyone can participate in the lessons — from kids to adults, and even kids WITH adults

For information and/or reservations, call or e-mail Miyashita-san at 090-3558-0179, 200111hayaki@ezweb.ne.jp.  (English OK)

Ninjas and Skunk Cabbage Awake: Togakushi Transitioning into the Green Season

April 18th, 2013 by
Category: Outdoor Activities, Seasonal Topics

Located on a perch at the foot of Togakushi Mountain high above the venerable Zenkoji Temple in Nagano City is Togakushi Kogen. Signs of spring are starting to appear throughout Togakushi as it transitions out of winter and into the green season. As the snow melts, the ‘mizubasho’ skunk cabbage and the Togakushi ninjas are coming out of hibernation. Even the bus from Nagano Station has switched destinations from the ski area to the entrance to the fabled Okusha (Inner Shrine). (See the updated Transportation Guide) And for people coming by car, it is only 60 minutes from our onsen town Togura-Kamiyamada to the entrance to Okusha when using the Expressway.

According to my Togukashi ninja connection, Yamaguchi-san of soba restaurant “Yamaguchiya”,

*Snow still remains along the approach to Okusha, but the roads are completely clear.
*The creamy white mizubasho flowers in the Togakushi Forest Reserve look like they’ll blossom a week early this year, around the end of April.
*The two ninja sites have announced their opening dates for 2013: Togakushi Ninpo Center will open on Friday April 19th and the Togakushi Chibikko Kids Ninja Park will start up again on Saturday April 27th.

Togakushi's Towering Cedar Trees Lining the Way to Okusha Inner Shrine

Nagano Prefecture as a whole is blessed with so much beautiful natural scenery, but within Nagano, Togakushi is special. The massive cedar trees lining the path to Okusha really impart a sense of the power of nature. Lately those famous trees are experiencing a boom of sorts as they have become known as a ‘power spot’ in Japan. But take one step off the path and into the Togakushi Forest Preserve, and you’ll have all that peaceful nature to yourself. The snowy white flowers of the unfortunately named skunk cabbage are especially delightful. And be sure not to miss Kagami-ike, aka ‘Mirror Pond’ which perfectly reflects the grand Togakushi Mountain peaks.

Serene Path through Togakushi's Forest Preserve

In addition to all the natural beauty, Togakushi is home to some of the best soba noodles in Nagano Prefecture, which itself is Japan’s soba mecca. Besides being a prime growing area for buckwheat, there is just something different about the noodles made here in the refreshingly clean mountain air using the crystal clear mountain spring water.

And, don’t forget the Togakushi ninjas. This is the home of the Togakure-do school of ninjutsu, and there are 2 locations to get a feel for what Togakure-do ninjutsu is like. They are the Togakushi Ninpo Center and the Togakushi Chibikko Kids Ninja Park.

Ninja Fun at Togakushi Ninpo Center

Togakushi is so much more than just nature, soba and ninjas. There’s the spiritual tradition (Chusha, the ‘Middle Shrine’, is especially rich in mysticism), bamboo ware and so much more. This green season, come and check and experience Togakushi yourself. For places to stay, there are some facilities in Togakushi (including ryokans and a Youth Hostel), and/or there are onsen resort towns nearby, including Togura-Kamiyamada.

戸隠高原 Togakushi

山口屋そば Soba Restaurant Yamaguchi-ya

Bus Schedule for Daytrips to Togakushi (With train connections for Togura-Kamiyamada Onsen)

Nagano’s Early Winter: Backpacker Comes for a Night, Stays 3 Days

November 19th, 2009 by
Category: Information, Outdoor Activities, Seasonal Topics
Mark enjoying early winter in Togakushi

Mark enjoying early winter in Togakushi

Mark from the States was one of our recent guests.  He came to Nagano to escape the concrete jungle of Tokyo.  Mark had planned on just spending one night, but when I explained about the snow monkeys of Jigokudani and the spiritual trees of Togakushi, he ended up staying 3 days and making day trips to the monkeys and Togakushi Mountain.  And by the look on his face, I’d say he enjoyed his travels in Nagano. 

Note: Nagano is starting to enter winter mode.  Up at Togakushi Mountain, the path to Okusha Shrine which is lined by impressively huge cedar trees, is starting to get covered in snow. 


Trailhead to Togakushi's Okusha Shrine

Trailhead to Togakushi's Okusha Shrine

 The Ninpo Center across the street from the trailhead will be open for business one last weekend Nov. 21-23 before the ninjas go into hiding (hibernation?) for the winter. 
Togakushi Ninpo Center transitioning to Winter. (Any ninjas hiding?)

Togakushi Ninpo Center transitioning to Winter. (Any ninjas hiding?)

 I just spoke with fellow Nagano Ambassador, Zeno-san in Shibu-Yudanaka.  He said the snow monkeys are now in their snowy element.  I saw the Japanese Alps yesterday when I went to Matsumoto for a workshop — the snow level looks like it’s down to around 1000 meters.  Down here in Togura Kamiyamada Onsen (elevation 370 meters above sea level), our hills are still in orangeish brown autumn leaf mode, quite a contrast with snowy-white Hakuba Mountain in the distance. 

This is a time of transition here in Nagano.  So come up and enjoy it, like Mark did!

Finally, a few more Togakushi Okusha pictures from Mark-san:

pb1601021 pb160110

A Togakushi Father’s Day

June 22nd, 2009 by
Category: Outdoor Activities, Sightseeing

A special Congratulations to all of you Dads out there on this Father’s Day. I hope all of you spent a fun day with your families. We sure did here at the Lynch household — we went for a drive up to Togakushi.
Our Togakushi trips tend to follow this formula:

delicious soba noodles at Yamaguchi-ya,


ninja fun at the Ninja Center,


and feeling the power of mother nature among the massive, ancient cedar trees lining the path to Okusha Shrine.

This time, however, we immersed ourselves a little further into the Togakushi experience (a bit too literally at one point). After ooh-ing and aah-ing at the Okusha cedar trees, we decided to check out the Nature Reserve next to it. We had never been into the actual reserve before. The path towards Okusha isn’t exactly crowded with people, but it was amazing that just leaving the path and entering the reserve brought us to a world of lush greenery and intense stillness. Only the sound of the wind through the leaves and the birds chirping could be heard. The quietness of the woods and marshes was powerful. Once again, we were amazed by Togakushi and became even bigger fans of Nagano.

After stopping for icecream, we drove over to Kagami-ike (Mirror Pond) to watch the sun set over Togakushi Mountain. Togakushi and its western peak seemed like they were playfully streaming their fingers through the high clouds that were drifting by. The scene was beautifully reflected in the lake surface.


My wife and I were just thinking how romantic of a setting it was, when all of the sudden, Splash! Our #2 son, Kenny, had fallen into the pond.
Maybe we should have stopped after the first child. Just kidding!
After that little “happening”, we took bare-bottomed Kenny (who would have thought we’d need an extra pair of pants for an elementary school kid!) and the other kids for a real-life, hard-core Togakushi Ninja training. I will write more about that a later time, but let’s just suffice it to say that it was the real thing, and my entire body is in pain as a result.

Thanks to Togakushi, this was one of the best Father’s Days ever!

Togura’s Tengu

June 9th, 2009 by
Category: Culture Art, Outdoor Activities

Above Togura Station (on the local Shinano Railroad line, approx. 25 min. from Nagano Station), is Togurajuku Kitty Park.  The locals call it Tengu Koen (park), because of the huge Tengu statue at the top.  (For those of you who don’t know, a Tengu is a mythological goblin with supernatural powers.)


Last night I took some guests up to the Tengu Park above Togura Station, right at sunset. The soft light of the setting sun created a surreal scene of the Chikuma River and the surrounding mountains — it was strikingly beautiful. The huge Tengu statue was even more impressive than normal lit up by the setting sun.
One of the guests asked why the Tengu is holding a leaf. I was embarrassed to admit that I didn’t know. I did some research when I got back, and found out the Tengu uses the leaf to control the wind. Apparently they can create hurricanes with it.

There’s a really good description about Tengu on the Obakemono Project website. I was surprised to learn just how complex the mystical legends are about the Tengu. Besides the supernatural power to control the wind, I was fascinated to learn that the evolution of the Tengu is related to the conflict between Buddhism that was imported from China and Japan’s domestic, animistic Shinto religion. There’s also an interesting explanation on the background to the pom-pom’s on his coat, as well as mention that it was the Tengu that taught the ninjas their art. Maybe Togura’s Tengu was the one who taught the Togakure ninjas of Togakushi Mountain above Nagano City.

Now I’ll have much more appreciation of our Tengu the next time I see him above Togura Station!

Kappa, Ninjas, Tsukeba and Oni — 2009 Starting Dates

April 23rd, 2009 by
Category: Cuisine, Experience, Outdoor Activities, Seasonal Topics, Sightseeing

Now that spring is coming to Nagano, bears aren’t the only creatures that waking up after their winter hibernation.  Here is a list of several areas and their creatures that are starting their 2009 seasons:

Kappa (Kamikochi)
The Kappa (water sprites) of Kamikochi officially come out of their hibernation on the 27th of April every year. This year, the snowfall in the Alps has been less than average, and the road to Kamikochi is already snow-free. Kamikochi will hold its 41st annual official “Opening of the Mountains” festival, complete with Swiss horns, on Monday the 27th.

Click here for info on Kamikochi

River Fish (Tsukeba Fish Shacks)
Even people with the strongest aversion to river fish should be able to appreciate eating just-caught fish served in a Tsukeba river shack along the shores of the Chikuma River. Togura Kamiyamada Onsen’s main Tsukeba, “Shomura”, opened for business this season on the 20th of April, and serves “haya” and “ayu” prepared in various ways in their multi-course meal (prices 2000~3000 yen per person). Shomura will be open from 10am to 10pm until mid summer. You can make reservations through local ryokans (including Kamesei, tel 026-275-1032, English OK).

 Shomura Tsukeba Tel (080)5109-8901

Ninjas (Togakushi)
Togakushi’s ninjas came out of their winter hibernation on the 18th of April. That’s when the Togakushi Ninja Center opened for business for the year. At the Center, there is a ninja artifacts hall, a shuriken range, and a ninja fun house, where you go through the building finding the secret doors from room to room.

Ninja Center Tel(026)254-2395

Oni (Oni Oshi Dashi)
An Oni is a Japanese ogre. On the flanks of Mt. Asama is an area that looks like a bunch of volcanic matter was pushed out of the mountain by an oni, hence the park’s name, “Oni Oshi Dashi”. It is a fascinating example of geological forces at work. The park has been open since March — apparently that’s when the oni hibernation ended.
Easy access from Karuizawa.

Click here for the Oni Oshi Dashi website