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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Summer Mountain Biking in Nagano

August 19th, 2016 by
Category: Outdoor Activities, Seasonal Topics

Suzushii naaa!

When I tell people that I live in Nagano, they always respond with an envious, “Suzushii naaaaa (How Refreshing)!” But while they’re imagining all of the grassy highland fields gently undulating in the cool breeze, I’m sitting in my apartment in Nagano city sweating profusely on my couch. I’ve been doing my best recently to get out of the city and into the cooler parts of Nagano, and this weekend I visited Hakuba for some outdoor adventures.
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Highland Trekking in Kirigamine Kogen

July 6th, 2016 by
Category: Outdoor Activities, Report, Sightseeing

Our guide Uchino-san points out distant blue mountains.

On Saturday we set out for a tour of Kirigamine Kogen, one of Nagano’s central highland areas connected by the Venus Line[1]. The name Kirigamine means “the misty peak,” because the warm airs of Suwa regularly rise up here and condense into fog. On clear days, however, you can enjoy an amazing view from the top of Kurumayama, the tallest point of the Kirigamine area.

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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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Summer Fun Around Lake Suwa

May 27th, 2016 by
Category: Experience, Information, Onsens (Hot Springs), Seasonal Topics, Sightseeing

A view of the lake from the rooftop of the Clasuwa restaurant.

In a land-locked prefecture, the Suwa area is surprisingly blessed with water. The surface of lake Suwa offers beautiful, reflective views of the surrounding mountains and sky. Hot springs bubble up from the grounds of Kami and Shimosuwa and feed over 150 public bathing facilities in the area. And, fresh water from the highlands helps brew Suwa’s many award-winning rice wines.

Visitors to the area have been increasing in advent of the 2016 Onbashira festival, so I thought I’d take a closer look at Suwa’s activities and sights.

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Unique Wasabi Farm in Summer

August 18th, 2014 by
Category: Cuisine, Sightseeing


I visited the Daio Wasabi Farm in Hotaka, Azumino on August 15th.

It is Japan’s largest genuine wasabi (sometimes called as “Japanese horseradish”) farm and also a popular “sightseeing” spot located between Matsumoto and Hakuba. One reason it is popular among Japanese and also foreigners is that you can stroll around the farm like a park without an admission fee.


The best season to visit there is spring because you can see cute wasabi flowers and there is no covering to protect the wasabi against strong sunlight (see this spring photo).

But in summer, the watery stream with the green of trees and grasses is beautiful and cool. The water is a natural spring, so it is extremely clear. You can take a boat trip to peek at the water and fish through the boat’s transparent bottom.


Wasabi can be grown only in clear and cool water so it matches with the Hotaka area, abundant in natural springs.

Not only the picturesque fields and streams, but also the Wasabi Farm’s unique wasabi culinary delights are popular. Visitors can try wasabi ice-cream (the most popular), wasabi tempura, wasabi soba noodles, wasabi beer, wasabi wine, and so on. This time, I tried wasabi croquette and wasabi juice.

I think the Daio Wasabi Farm is a must-visit place if you visit the Nagano area and like nature and unique agricultural and food culture.

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)

Lake Nojiri(ko) in the Summer

June 18th, 2013 by
Category: Experience, Outdoor Activities, Seasonal Topics, Sightseeing

While Nagano is one of the few prefectures in Japan that lack ocean access, Lake Nojiri (or Nojiri-ko) in Shinano-machi offers respite from the hot and humid summer days.

Although it is the 2nd largest lake in the prefecture after Lake Suwa, this glacial lake has the most volume of water. Nojiriko gained popularity as the Christian missionaries vacationing in Karuizawa were looking for a new place to escape the heat from the Japanese summer. Fossil remains of the Neumann elephant have been found as well.

 Summer marine sports are abundant here: pleasure cruises, paddle boats (shaped like ducks) and row-bows are just some of the options for summer fun. It is a popular spot for fishing too. A swimming area is accessible by boat.

 Access:

Car: IC Shinano-machi Exit off of the Joshin-etsu Expressway.

Or Route 18: to Shinano-machi to Nojiriko bypass to Nojiriko

 Train: JR Kurohime Station on the Shin-etsu Line. Approx. 10 minute taxi  ride.

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)