Kamiyamada’s quaint Fall Festival to be held on September 26th

August 17th, 2010 by
Category: Culture Art, Events, Experience

Kamiyamada Onsen is overlooked by the centuries-old Habeshina Shrine. Every year, the shrine holds an Autumn Festival that usually takes place on the autumnal equinox, 23-Sept. However, this year the Fall Festival has been moved to the weekend and will be held on Sunday 26-September.

The Okagura lion dance troupe members

The Okagura lion dance troupe members

Habeshina Shrine’s Fall Festival is a unique opportunity to see a small local festival here in the Japanese countryside. It is a time for the locals to give thanks for the harvest and enjoy some traditional fun. The day’s schedule varies by year, but is generally something like this:

8am: Opening banquet at a nearby community center
10am: Ceremonial Procession departs the center.
12noon: Procession arrives at Habeshina Shrine
1pm: Adults sumo
2pm~: Kids sumo
Evening: Karaoke contest
8pm: Ending ceremony featuring an “okagura” shi-shi lion dance

Kids Sumo -- fun to watch!

Kids Sumo -- fun to watch!

The kids sumo is very entertaining to watch, and for the adults sumo, often times there are not enough participants. I have twice had the dubious honor of joining their ranks. You drink your way through the 8am banquet, parade around town in your ‘fundoshi’ g-string, then when your name is called, enter the ring and hope your opponent had more sake than you did.

Adults sumo -- not as easy as it looks!

Adults sumo -- not as easy as it looks!

(If you, too, are interested in being a sumo wrestler for a day, contact me here at Kamesei Ryokan and I can see about getting you an invitation.)

There are a few food and toys booths set up for the festival, and a lot of drinking goes on (sake is an important part of Japanese ‘matsuri’). After it gets dark, at some point the sounds of the shi-shi flutes and taiko drums can be heard, as the okagura lion dance troupe finishes up its tour of the town and arrives back at the shrine. The elders gather in front of the shrine’s main building holding ‘chochin’ lanterns, and the lion dance takes place in the center.

The lion dance by lantern-light is a pretty powerful experience. I was really moved by it when I first saw it right after moving here. Later, when the the leader of the troupe invited me to join, I was honored to accept. I’ll be there this year trying to keep up with the other flutists.

Habeshina Shrine is located on the southeastern edge of Togura Kamiyamada Onsen.  Follow Koen-Dori street past Joyama-dori up the hill and you’ll see the ‘torii’ arch on the right.

When is “Shin” (New) Soba

October 22nd, 2009 by
Category: Cuisine, Seasonal Topics

There’s a saying in Japanese that basically translates as, “Wives and tatami mats are best when they are new.”  Here in Nagano, I think there is one more thing that people get excited about when new: soba.  Nagano is proud of its buckwheat noodles, and it seems everywhere you look nowadays, there’s a Soba Festival going on somewhere in Nagano.  Our guests often ask “When does Shin (New) Soba start?”  So I checked with my soba man, Yamaguchi-san of Yamaguchi-ya soba restaurant in Togakushi.  He told me that harvest has already started, but it takes time to process the soba and verify the quality of the crop.  So his restaurant plans on starting New Soba on the first of November.  Other restaurants may have already started serving New Soba, but you might want to verify whether or not they use local buckwheat.

A nagano buckwheat field waiting to be turned into yummy soba noodles

A nagano buckwheat field waiting to be turned into yummy soba noodles

So in order to get New Soba, you have to wait a little while longer.  I promise, though, it will be worth the wait. 

Click here for the website of Yamaguchi-ya soba restaurant in Togakushi

Grape U-Picking has started in Kamiyamada

September 4th, 2009 by
Category: Cuisine, Experience, Outdoor Activities, Seasonal Topics

Kamiyamada’s Grape Season started today. One thing I really like about living here is the parade of fruits we get to enjoy. Apricots in June from nearby Mori, Kawanakajima’s famous peaches in July and August, grapes in September, Kogyoku and other early apples in October, and fuji apples in November. And we are blessed with numerous grape and apple orchards within a 5 minute drive of our inn here at Togura Kamiyamada Onsen. That means we get to talk with the growers directly, and hear all about how this year’s heavier-than-usual rain affected the harvest, new varieties, how the inoshishi wild boars are becoming more of a pest, and all kinds of things. Through talking with the growers, you get a sense of connection with the Earth.

Grower Ken-san checking out this year's grape crop

Grower Ken-san checking out this year's grape crop

Kamiyamada got hit by a hail storm in the early growing season. Yesterday I went to the Nakajima Orchard and saw firsthand how the tsugaru summer apples and the grapes were damaged by the hail. The damage is strictly cosmetic, and doesn’t affect thet taste at all (which, by the way, is fantastic!).

Kamiyamda U-Pick Grape Info:

Nakajima Orchard

Nakajima Orchard's Sign

Nakajima Orchard's Sign

Arayama area
Tel (090)4461-4091 (Ken-san)
Hours: 9am – 5pm (Call ahead)
Varieties: Kohyo (purple), Ouka (green), Shinano Smile (red)
Season: 03-Sept. to 27-Sept.
Orchard Entrance Fee: 1000 yen (incl. 1kg grapes to take with you) OR U-Pick 750 yen per kg (less for hail damage grapes)

Crown Orchard
Tel/Fax (026)275-0929; cell (090)9357-9565 Fujita-san
Varieties/Season: Kohyo (mid-Sept. ’til early-Oct.), Shinano Smile (late Sept. ’til mid-Oct.)
Orchard Entrance Fee: 500 yen (incl. 1 bunch of grapes to take with you)
Note: Crown Orchard uses minimal pesticides and practices organic growing methods.
Note: English and German spoken

'Ouka', 'Shinano Smile' and 'Kyoho' Grapes

'Ouka', 'Shinano Smile' and 'Kyoho' Grapes

Come and get in touch with nature by picking grapes in Kamiyamada!

Nagano Ski Lifts in the Green Season

August 24th, 2009 by
Category: Outdoor Activities, Seasonal Topics, Sightseeing

What do ski lifts do in the Green Season?  Just sit around waiting for the snow to fall to bring skiiers?  Not here in Nagano.  Many snow resorts operate lifts in the summer, too, providing access to alpine wonderlands usually not easily reached.  The lifts can give you a break from the stifling summer heat by taking you up to mountain tops where it’s several degrees cooler than down below.

Some mountain resorts attract guests by planting fields of flowers on the ski runs, such as lilies in Hakuba’s Iwatake, and cosmos flowers at Kurohime (in bloom from mid-July to mid-October).

Lilies at the top of Hakuba's Iwatake lift -- Even prettier on a sunny day

Lilies at the top of Hakuba's Iwatake lift -- Even prettier on a sunny day

Our family recently rode the lift at Hijiri Kogen.  There the attraction wasn’t the flowers, it was the 360-degree panorama view (as well as the slider ride on the way back down).  Hijiri Kogen is best reached by car (approx. 25 min.) from Omi IC on the Nagano Expressway.

Panorama View from Top of Hijiri Kogen Lift

Panorama View from Top of Hijiri Kogen Lift

Riding the Lift Up

Riding the Lift Up

Riding the Slider Down

Riding the Slider Down

 

Shiga Kogen Heights offer alpine trekking easily reached by a series of lifts and even escalators (at Yokoteyama).  One such route is described here.

As Nagano transitions from summer to fall, the greens are replaced by golden yellows, browns and reds as the fall foliage comes on.  Even more reason to ride Nagano’s ski lifts in skiing’s off-season!