A Haven for Craft Beer in the Japanese Alps

April 7th, 2017 by
Category: Cuisine, Information, Shopping

Specialty beer spotted during last year’s Onbashira Festival. (Reijin Brewery)

While beer is a relatively new beverage in Japan, it wasn’t long before locals embraced it and created the crisp, refreshing lagers that its major breweries are known for today. The Sapporo, Kirin, Asahi, and Suntory brands can be found in grocery and convenience stores around the world, and one by one, new breweries are making their international debuts.

And recently, Japan’s own craft beer scene has been booming. As of 2015, there were over 200 craft breweries operating across the country and new craft beer festivals popping up in cities, towns, and even mountain resorts! To meet customers’ ever-evolving tastes, Japan’s major breweries have begun producing seasonal ales and experimental brews as well.

A glass of Shigakogen Beer’s imperial stout.

Luckily for beer lovers in Nagano, the Snow Monkey Beer Live festival is held annually in the Shigakogen ski resort area. This year, Japanese lagers took a backseat to fruity ales, creamy stouts, and hoppy IPAs. Breweries showcased their creativity with experimental styles such as the Early Grey beer by Johana Beer (Toyama), a Scottish ale infused with coriander by Hair of The Dog (North America), and the Apple Hop malt by Minami Shinshu Beer (Nagano). The host brewery, Shigakogen Beer (Nagano), kept upping the ante with stronger drafts, from the 10% Takashi Imperial Stout to their 13% the Far East. Many people came from faraway prefectures, Japanese and foreigners alike, to enjoy the show and try the wide variety of beers available.

And while only a few of Nagano’s breweries joined the event this year, there are over six breweries in the region, many of which have been active since the beginning of the craft beer boom.

One of Japan’s main hop-producing regions, Nagano saw its first small-scale breweries in 1996, two years after tight restrictions on beer production were relaxed. Minami Shinshu Beer (Komagane), Oh! La! Ho! Beer (Tomi City), and Yo-Ho Brewing (Karuizawa) all began operating at that time. Three years later in 1999, the sake brewery Reijin (Suwa City) began producing a line of beer called “Shinshu Roman,” and in 2004 Tamamura Honten (Yamanouchi) created “Shigakogen Beer.” Hotel Kisoji in the Kiso Valley also began brewing Kisoji beer on its premises.

A staff member at Yo-Ho Brewing carefully inspecting fresh cans.
Used with permission from Yo-Ho Brewing.

And recently, more craft breweries have been opening up around Nagano prefecture. You may not be able to find their brews in stores, but you can visit their pubs/taprooms and try delicious, locally-made beers. There’s LIBUSHI in the heart of Nozawa Onsen Village, the Hakuba Brew Pub in—you guessed it—Hakuba, and the Matsumoto Brewery on Matsumoto’s picturesque Nakamachi-dori street.

Throughout Japan, new craft breweries are opening one after another and ushering in a new era of beer culture in the country. Japanese artisans are known for their passion for their craft and a deep respect for their environment and ingredients. Here in Nagano where mineral-rich springs, pure mountain water, and zesty hops are available in abundance, it’s no wonder that so many locals have challenged themselves to make delicious beer. If you have a chance, grab one and enjoy the taste of Shinshu!

More about Nagano’s Breweries

Learn more about Nagano’s breweries and where you can taste them for yourself!


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1. Tamamura Honten Shigakogen Beer (Yamanouchi Town)

The exterior of Tamamura Honten. Museum and tasting areas are inside.

Tamamura Honten is a sake brewery at the base of Shigakogen and has been in operation since 1805. In 2004, they began brewing beer as Shigakogen Beer and are the hosts of Snow Monkey Beer Live. You can find their beers in convenience stores in Northern Nagano and most liquor stores, or can try some on tap at their brewery in Yamanouchi or at Teppa Room, their tap room in Shigakogen during winter.

A line-up of Tamamura Honten’s sake for tasting. Beer can be purchased here as well.

Tamamura Honten Shop

Address: 1163 Hirao, Yamanouchi Town, Shimotakaigun, Nagano Pref. 381-0401
Hours: 9:00 to 18:00
Holidays: New Year’s Day
Access: Take the Okushigakogen or Yokoteyama line bus from Yudanaka Station and get off at the Shibu Onsen stop (between Yudanaka and Snow Monkey Park). A five minute walk from there.

Teppa Room (Winter Location)

Address: Hotel Chalet Shiga 1F, Ichinose, Shigakogen
Hours: Mon. to Fri./ 15:00 to 23:00, Weekend/ 12:00 to 23:00
Holidays: None during winter
Access: Located on the first floor of Hotel Chalet Shiga in Shigakogen’s Ichinose area.


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2. Oh! La! Ho! (Tomi City)

OH!LA!HO Beer
Used with permission from OH!LA!HO Beer.


OH!LA!HO Brewery opened in 1996 in Tomi City. They produce a variety of pale and medium-bodied ales which have won numerous gold and silver awards in international competitions. You’ll often find their “Captain Crow” extra pale ale in stores around Nagano. You can also enjoy OH!LA!HO Beer at their pub restaurant in Tomi, conveniently located next to a hot spring spa.

Brewery Restaurant Oh! La! Ho!

Address: 3875 Kano, Tomi City, Nagano Pref. 389-0505
Hours*: Weekdays/ Lunch 11:30-14:30, Dinner: 17:30-21:00,
Weekend/ Lunch 11:30-15:30, Dinner: 17:30-21:00
(Last call is 30 minutes before closing)
Holidays: Wednesdays, December 31st and January 1st
Access: Take a taxi from Oya or Tanaka Station (10 to 13 minutes).
*Hours are subject to change during winter, please contact the restaurant in advance.


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3. Yo-Ho Brewing (Karuizawa Town)

Yo-Ho Brewing’s main four beers.
Used with permission from Yo-Ho Brewing.


Yo-Ho Brewing opened in 1996 in Karuizawa. Their motto is, “Flavor in beer, Happiness in people,” and are well known for their Yona Yona ale, which can be found widely throughout the Japan and has won many international competitions. Others include Suiyobi-no-Neko (Wednesday’s Cat), Tokyo Black, and Indo-no-Aooni (Indian Blue Demon).

They have opened several restaurants in Tokyo where you can try these beers and more, so you have no excuse not to visit on a trip to Japan! They now have five locations in the greater Tokyo area. See their website for details.


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4. Kisoji Beer (Nagiso Town)

Kisoji Beer
Used with permission from the Kisoji Hotel.

In the heart of the Kiso Valley, Hotel Kisoji offers pleasant accommodations, cuisine, hot springs and freshly-brewed beer. With Kiso’s renowned spring water and 100% wheat malt, hotel staff brew a range of craft beers that can be enjoyed on-site (as a hotel guest) or bought online.

Hotel Kisoji

Address: 2278 Azuma, Nagiso Town, Kisogun, Nagano Pref. 399-5302
Access: Free shuttle bus from Nagiso Station.


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5. Reijin (Suwa City)

Exterior of the Reijin Brewery in Kami Suwa.

Reijin first opened in 1789 and is one of Suwa’s five major sake breweries. Recently, these masters of Japan’s traditional sake-making craft have turned their skills to beer brewing as well. The pure well water they use to make sake is blended with mineral-rich onsen water of Suwa to bring out the best flavor in their beers.

Reijin’s Rindo beer, brewed in the old-fashioned style common in Dusseldorf.

Suwa’s five sake breweries line the road beside Kamisuwa Station (more information here) and make for a perfect pub crawl. Each one offers a unique flavor of sake, and at Reijin you can try their beer own tap as well.

Reijin Brewery

Address: 2-9-21 Suwa, Suwa City, Nagano Pref.
Hours: Weekdays/ 8:30-18:00, Saturdays/ 9:00-18:00, Other/ 9:00-16:00
Holidays: January 1st
Access: 11 minute walk from Kami Suwa Station.


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6. Minami Shinshu Beer (Komagane City)

Minami Shinshu Beer’s Christmas Ale.

Minami Shinshu beer opened in 1996 and is considered Nagano’s first craft brewery. With pure mountain water, wheat and hops, they brew four regular beers and a variety of seasonal ones. Their Apple Hop malt features Nagano-grown apples and is quite popular.

If you’re visiting Senjojiki Cirque, stop by the Minami Shinshu Beer Ajiwai Kobo[6]. Enjoy lunch or dinner with Minami Shinshu Beer direct from their brewery!
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Minami Shinshu Beer Ajiwai Kobo Restaurant

Address: 759-447 Akaho, Komagane City, Nagano Pref. 399-4117
Hours: Lunch/ 11:30 to 15:30, Dinner/ 17:00 to 21:00
Holidays: Closed for dinner on Mondays
Access: From Komagane Station, take the Komagatake Ropeway bus to the Suganodai bus center. The restaurant is across the street.


Thanks for reading! Cheers!

Beating the Summer Heat in Shigakogen

August 26th, 2016 by
Category: Information, Outdoor Activities, Seasonal Topics

One of Shigakogen’s many jewels in summer.

In another attempt to beat the summer heat, I headed up to Shigakogen with a group of friends to enjoy the highland weather and the area’s unspoilt nature. There are a total of 19 trails around Shigakogen that climb its many peaks, wander its marshlands and cut through its forests. In addition to its beautiful ponds and mountains, the views of the Nagano Plain below are stunning.
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The State of Nagano Skiing this December

December 18th, 2015 by
Category: Information, Outdoor Activities, Report, Seasonal Topics
The beautiful northern alps are covered in snow, but green still shows in the valley.

Hakuba's mountains are beautifully covered in white.

Areas around the globe have been experiencing some crazy weather over the past month due to the dreaded El Niño effect. Wintery parts of the world have been unusually warm and green, and some areas of Japan have been reaching highs of 25℃ or more. It has also meant a late winter for Nagano prefecture, but don’t fear, folks: winter is here. The mountains are capped in white and ski resorts are open for business. Soon enough, your breath will be visible in your apartment and your shampoo will be freezing overnight.

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Shiga Heights Ski Resorts after 2 ft Big Snowfall Downtown

March 15th, 2014 by
Category: Outdoor Activities, Seasonal Topics

I went skiing in Shiga Heights Ski Resorts February 22. It was one week after big snowfall in Nagano, so the ski courses were covered with wonderful natural snow. We (five Japanese, one from America, and one from Britain) really enjoyed skiing and snowboarding in the best condition.

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Shigakogen 50km Trail Run

August 4th, 2011 by
Category: Events, Experience, Information, Outdoor Activities

For information visit the PowerSports OSJ webpage

Nagano mountains are....beautiful

Nagano mountains are....beautiful

“BANZAI BANZAI BANZAI”
Clouds parted after torrential rain moments before – 7hours30minutes into the race… feelings of conradmanship & luck.
Just happy to be there.
This time Lake Onuma, but many other rewarding places waiting for you around Nagano, Mount Asama & Shigakogen, the Northern Alps.
This event was almost completely un-advertisied but still 400 participants:
Hope to see more of you running & walking in Nagano soon^-^
Around 20 new friends & 4 toe-nails later…it was amazing.
Better than NZ Ironman, or Obuse Marathon (which is also great fun – see here)

For more information about hikes around Shigakogen ask the Guide-KUMIAI (registered guides) at 98 Hall – Olympic Memorial & Conservation Center (see Tylers entry)

Shiga Kogen’s Nature Preservation Center and Olympic Memorial Hall

March 10th, 2011 by
Category: Outdoor Activities

People come to Nagano from far and wide to enjoy its natural beauty.  And within Nagano, it doesn’t get much better than Shiga Kogen.  With its majestic mountains and deep forests, not to mention the famous snow monkeys and other wildlife, Shiga Kogen’s wilderness is sure to delight your senses and instill a sense of awe. 
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Secret river-onsen: Kiriake

September 28th, 2010 by
Category: Onsens (Hot Springs), Outdoor Activities, Seasonal Topics

Onsen water coming up out of a river bed?
You take a shovel to make your own bath?
And you adjust the water temperature by mixing in river water?

Sounds like something out of an onsen legend. But it’s not just a myth — it actually exists: Kiriake Onsen in the northern corner of Nagano Prefecture near the borders with Niigata and Gunma Prefectures.

Relaxing in the Kiriake river-onsen

Relaxing in the Kiriake river-onsen

You park your car at the lone ryokan, Yusenkaku, grab a shovel, cross the suspension bridge, walk down to the river, take care to avoid the onsen hot spots (the onsen temperature is supposedly a toe-tingling 57 deg C), find an area where the temperature is to your liking and move the rocks around until you have your own little onsen pool.

The other day, after we visited the snow monkeys, our family and some friends drove up and through Shiga Kogen and Oku-Shiga Kogen along the windy mountain road to Kiriake (approx. 45km and 2hours from Shibu-Yudanaka Onsen area).

Actually, I’d come here about 17 years ago. Back then, the road to Kiriake was a bumpy gravel one. It’s been paved since then, which may be the reason it’s lost some of it’s ‘hidden’ charm. Judging by the number of celebrity signatures, and by how many other people were there that day, the secret is out.

I had always wanted to have our kids experience this onsen-in-the-middle-of-a-river where you build a bath yourself. Plus, I was needing a relaxing break from the summer holiday rush. For me, this combination of natural setting and onsen is perfectly sublime.

Kiriake Onsen:
You do actually use a shovel to make your own bath.
The onsen water does actually bubble up right in the middle of the river.
You do actually adjust the temperature yourself by mixing in river water.
And, being that it’s an all-natural phenomenom, the onsen keeps bubbling up in different spots. First over there, then over here, then, Ooh la la!, right here!

Onsen water bubbling up

Onsen water bubbling up

Grab a shovel...

Grab a shovel...

 

...Cross the bridge...

...Cross the bridge...

...and dig your own onsen bath

...and dig your own onsen bath

 

 

 

 

Although Kiriake is enjoyable any time of the year, being that it is located in the Akiyama (“autumn mountain”) District, it’s is probably at its prettiest when the fall leaves are in color. It’s location is very inconvenient, but that makes finding it that much more enjoyable. There really isn’t any bus access, so a car is highly recommended.  Or, if you book a stay at Yusenkaku, they provided limited pick-up service.

Click here for the Kiriake Onsen / Yusenkaku Ryokan website.

The Shiga-Kusatsu-Karuizawa Loop

October 13th, 2009 by
Category: Onsens (Hot Springs), Outdoor Activities, Seasonal Topics
The colors of Shiga Kogen in Autumn

The colors of Shiga Kogen in Autumn

I was all prepared to write about seeing the autumn leaves in Shiga Kogen and then noticed that Zeno beat me to it a week earlier and came back with some beautiful photos!  So rather than try to steal the spotlight, I will tell of the wonderful drive I took my family on today — a drive up to Shiga Kogen, heading into Gunma and back into Nagano at Karuizawa.

As has been the trend in my family lately, we packed up the hiking boots, the day packs and the kids and headed to the mountains for some short hikes with beautiful views.  We drove up from Nakano on Route 292 and continued on that road past the junction of Route 471.  There are a number of marshes with boardwalks built over them in this area, as well as some nice little trails heading off into the autumn foliage.  We took a stroll along a small trail near an onsen that you can clearly see belching steam on the right side of the road as you head in the direction of Gunma Prefecture.  You’ll see lots of reds, oranges and yellows here, as well as the white birch trees and the green pines scattered throughout.

The view from Yokote-yama

The view from Yokote-yama

Back in the car, we head further uphill.  And before long, we found ourselves in Gunma Prefecture, but not before reaching the highest point of the trip, on the slope of Yokote-yama, where the view down toward the rest of Shiga-Kogen, Nakano and Nagano City is absolutely spectacular!

Continuing on, we arrived at Shirane-san in Gunma (yeah, I know, this is a Nagano blog, but Shirane-san is in Shiga-Kogen and really is most easily accessible from Nagano, so let’s leave it be).  Shirane-san is an active volcano that has a rather unique feature:  a poisonous, acid pond in its crater.  The sulfur and other gases in the area turn the water in the crater a light, pastel blue and it is great to see. 

Shirane-san

Shirane-san

However, due to recent volcanic activity(yikes!) it is no longer safe to take the nearer course up to the crater.  We walked up the, slightly farther away route available, but still got to enjoy the view.  Our five-year-old was afraid the mountain would start erupting fire, and she was anxious to get off the mountain as soon as possible, but other than that, it was a great hike up.  Our almost-three-year-old daughter was able to walk all the way up on her own, but as always, she wanted to be carried back down.  Whatever course you take, it is steep in places, but paved, either with concrete or with round stones, as was the route we took today.

Later, we headed down to Kusatsu, an onsen village well-known to people in Japan and one that always seems to be jammed with traffic whenever we go.  Kusatsu has a very large, yet delightful public rotenburo (or, outdoor bath) in a park you can visit.  Its town center features a large area devoted to gathering sulfer and other minerals found in the water there (more info on Kusatsu here).  Aside from picking up some onsen manju, we didn’t stop in Kusatsu on this trip, and instead headed on, passing through lots of rolling forest land and back into Nagano along the Shiraito Toll Road to Karuizawa.  There was a lot of wonderful autumn colors along the Shiraito Toll Road, and it looked as if that area has yet to reach its peak as of this posting. 

It was a great day trip, and I recommend it, even if you are too late for the autumn colors.  Our course was the Nagano Expressway to Shinshu Nakano Interchange.  Then Route 292 all the way through Shiga Kogen and beyond Kusatsu Onsen.  After that, we took Route 146 back into Nagano Prefecture and then turned left onto the Shiraito Toll Road, which took us straight into the center of Karuizawa.

Only one word of warning:  Be sure to dress warmly!  It is cold up there, and the one word I heard most that day was “Samui!”

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!