Nagano’s Quiet Samurai Town

June 21st, 2016 by
Category: Accomodations, Experience, Sightseeing

Matsushiro castle in spring.

Matsushiro was once the domain of the Sanada clan, the samurai family starring in NHK’s newest historical drama, Sanada Maru. The Matsushiro domain covered the largest area of the Shinano province and thrived as a castle town during the Edo period. Now the Matsushiro area is a sleepy, undeveloped town with pristine artifacts of its Samurai history.

A group of us visited Matsushiro recently to learn more about its history and enjoy some cultural activities and local food.

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Nothing But Flowers

March 14th, 2016 by
Category: Events, Information, Seasonal Topics, Sightseeing
Wild white flowers bloom above the green leafy brush of a mountain clearing

Cherry blossoms aren’t the only thing to see in Nagano, whose wide variety of climate and terrain is suitable for all sorts of beautiful flowers and plants. During Spring, fields bloom in dazzling shades of yellow, red, pink and purple as the white-capped Japanese Alps stand majestically in the distance. It’s a great time to visit Nagano’s sightseeing spots and enjoy its natural beauty.

Below are some of Nagano’s best and most beautiful orchards and gardens to visit during the Spring months. See some of Japan’s largest apricot orchards, azalea parks and more!

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Nagano’s Top Cherry Blossom Spots

March 4th, 2016 by
Category: Events, Outdoor Activities, Seasonal Topics, Sightseeing

(This was originally posted in 2016, but dates and timetables have been updated for the 2017 season.)

Cherry blossoms and snow make a beautiful pair.

Spring is on its way and that means it’s time to break out those blue tarps, make some rice balls and drink plenty of local beer and sake. It’s cherry blossom viewing time! There are a lot of beautiful spots to enjoy them here in Nagano prefecture, where the mountains add a beautiful touch of white to the spring scenery. Who knew you could see sakura and snow at the same time?

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The Onbashira Festival 2016

December 4th, 2015 by
Category: Culture Art, Events, Information
the Onbashira festival

One of Japan's most unique and exciting festivals

Once every seven years, the Suwa area (in central Nagano) holds the Onbashira festival. In this festival, thousands of locals participate in moving 16 massive fir tree trunks from the surrounding mountains to the shrines of Suwa. These fir trees are usually 17 to 19 meters long, 1 meter wide and weigh around 7.5 tons each. These trees become the new great pillars, or Onbashira, in the corners of each Suwa shrine.
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Snow Monkeys Not Worth Seeing When No Snow? This Cutie Disagrees.

April 26th, 2014 by
Category: Information, Outdoor Activities, Seasonal Topics

“Are the snow monkeys worth going to see even when there is no snow?”

I get asked that question often.  And my answer is, “Of course!”  One reason is that the macaque babies that are born in the spring time are just the cutest little furballs that you’ll ever see.  They run all over the place, chasing each other around and jumping into the onsen bath. 

Hagiwara-san at the Jigokudani Wild Monkey Park confirmed that the mother monkeys have started giving birth this spring.  So for visitors to Nagano during the green season, make sure to include a stop at Jigokudani to see cute little baby monkeys.

Mama Macaque Holding a cute Baby Snow Monkey (Picture courtesy of P. Harnett)

20th Roukaku Plum Garden Flower Festival

April 1st, 2014 by
Category: Events, Experience, Information, Outdoor Activities, Seasonal Topics, Sightseeing

Dates: April 5th (Sat)-12th, 2014 (festival events on 4/5 and 4/6)

Place: Roukaku Bai-en, Shinshu-Shinmachi, Nagano-City

長野市信州新町「ろうかく梅園」

In early April spring returns to Nagano as the snow finally melts away. Come see nearly 600 plum trees in blossom during the festival and fragrance fills the air as people gather to enjoy the relaxing Shinshu spring.

 

Season of Reflection Scenes on Rice Paddy Fields

May 5th, 2013 by
Category: Seasonal Topics

Matsumoto, May 3, 2013


May is one of my most favorite months in Nagano Prefecture. We can see beautiful mountains which are still covered with snow, various flowers and fresh green.

Besides, May is the season when you can see beautiful reflection scenes on rice paddy fields in many places in Nagano. Farmers are starting to plant rice after filling rice paddy with water. The paddy fields become like ponds and reflect mountains upside down. There is a term “水鏡” (water mirror) for this scene.

Enjoy seeing the water mirror if you are lucky to visit Nagano in May!

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)

Hanamomo peach blossoms in Achi village

May 10th, 2012 by
Category: Outdoor Activities, Seasonal Topics, Sightseeing

“Hanamomo Kaido(road)” is well-known for its beautiful “hanamomo” or ornamental peach blossoms. In the southern part of Nagano prefecture,  ranging from Iida city in Ina valley to Nagiso village in Kiso valley, there are thousands of  well-cared hanamomo trees.

They are usually at their best from April through early May, almost for a month. This year, because of the unseasonal cold weather in April, the best season started late April.

Hanamomo peach in Hirugami onsen-kyo

 

The photo above is taken in Hirugami onsen-kyo. It is a relatively new hot spa resort, the source of its hot water happened to be discovered  in the trial boring to construct a national railroad through  a huge mountain in 1973.

It would be fun if you spend some time on the riverbed of the Achi-gawa.

people enjoying themselves by the Achi (Achi-gawa)

 

The following is the hanamomo peach blossoms in area named Tsukikawa. You will be greeted by blossoms in crimson, pure white, rose pink , and most impressively, white blossoms tinged with pink. There are several paths lined with two thousand hanamomo trees in total, on which you can walk comfortably.

Hanamomo peach paths in Tsukikawa area, Achi

 

Newborn Snow Monkeys (Video)

April 29th, 2012 by
Category: Information, Report, Seasonal Topics, Sightseeing

Though I have guided tours to the SNOW MONKEY PARK many times, it was my first time to see real tiny shaky fragile newborns. I could not resist taking photos and videos of the monkeys to show you.

a new born monkey (right) with its mother (left)

The baby above was making its first unsteady steps. Read the rest of this entry »