Icy Gourmet: Frozen Tofu

December 4th, 2018 by
Category: Cuisine, Experience, Information, Seasonal Topics

Tofu is by far one of the most well-known Japanese foods.
But have you ever heard of Frozen Tofu?

Frozen tofu

Frozen tofu, called “koori-dofu” in Japanese, is a specialty of frosty regions.
Just like its more famous cousin, frozen tofu is made with soy milk which is made to coagulate and solidify by adding bittern to it. For those wondering, bittern is a bitter-tasting solution rich in minerals obtained from seawater. Unlike regular tofu, though, it uses less water and more soy beans, making it richer in proteins.
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Schoolyard Ice Skate

November 22nd, 2018 by
Category: Experience, Outdoor Activities, Seasonal Topics

Winter is coming…
And we expect another glacial season in Suwa area.
Although Nagano prefecture is widely known as a snow country where you can enjoy fluffy soft snow, this area is a little different, a kingdom of frost with nights as cold as -20 (brr~!).

Schoolyard Ice Skate Rink

Water pipe


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Tasting Sake in the Japanese Countryside

October 25th, 2018 by
Category: Cuisine, Information

A ball of pine hung outside means, “There’s sake here!”

When visiting a foreign culture, you would be amiss not to taste the local cuisine and drink while you’re here. In Japan, that includes lots of delicious dishes like sushi, ramen, tempura, and, of course, sake.

Sake, called Nihonshu in Japanese, is considered by many to be a mysterious beverage. It is often referred to as rice wine in English, but that name doesn’t seem to fit quite right. It doesn’t look like wine, and it doesn’t really taste like wine either. It’s something completely of its own. How do you learn more about it? By drinking it, of course!

Whether you have experience tasting sake or not, you can expand your sake knowledge by tasting it right from the source. Japan’s many sake breweries that have been producing this complex libation for centuries, and can enlighten you on sake’s many styles and flavors, from floral, elegant Daiginjo to the straight-forward and dry Karakuchi.

Nagano has over 80 sake breweries around the prefecture—the second highest number of all prefectures in Japan—where you can taste local flavors slowly perfected over the centuries. Below are breweries and specialty shops where you can try a range of the prefecture’s most delicious sake.
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Discover the local gastronomy: Cook with the local grannies!

August 31st, 2018 by
Category: Cuisine, Experience

Sasahara grannies

My motto is “when traveling, eat like a local”. No tourist menu for me.
And well, if you want to go for the authentic taste, what better way to dive into a new cuisine than to learn from a local grannie.

Sushi, ramen, tempura etc. are great, but if you want to go off the gastronomy beaten track and like a good explorer also discover the cuisine of a small mountain village, then you should try out this experience. Below is a report of this activity from this summer.

The meeting point is Chino station. From here we get a lift to one of the small rural villages that lie at the foot of the Yatsugatake Mountains.

Yatsugatake Mountains

Seeing the scenery unfold and change as we drive up toward the mountains is part of the fun. The landscape around the station is very urban, but it slowly turns into countryside as we reach an elevation of about 1000m. Terraced rice fields flow in succession, like a staircase rising toward the mountains.

Sasahara village

In about 20 min. we reach a small village mostly made up of old folk houses and traditional kura storehouses. The massive body of the Kita-Yatsugatake right above us, on the opposite side the Japanese Alps parade in the distance. Waiting for us at the village community center are two cute grannies who accompany us to one of their homes, a lovely traditional house which faces a Japanese garden.

Kura storehouse detail

First, they tell us about this area and its climate. This is apparently the coldest place in Japan below Hokkaido. In winter the temperature drops way below zero (colder than  -10°), but there is little snow. The locals, unable to do any farming from November to April, thought up a smart way of preserving food by making the best of the severe winter weather. They use a natural freeze-drying technique to turn agar weed into kanten (a firm vegan jelly-like substance) and make frozen daikon and frozen tofu.
Today we are going to use kanten and frozen daikon as ingredients. They call this gastronomy the culture of frost.

 

The culture of frost:
Kanten, Frozen Tofu, Frozen Daikon and Kampyo

We are also going to use kampyo, a dried vegetable that looks like a string of straw (often used in sushi) and as part of the activity we are going to help making next year’s kampyo.

The main ingredient is this huge gourd called yugao. We peel it and cut in wheels. Afterwards, we put it on a special cutting board with a groove running along its length and push it against the knife to get regular long shaves. We hang the shaves to dry in the sun like laundry . This kanpyo will only be ready in a week, so we get some from last year’s as a gift.

Yugao

Kampyo shaving

Next, we start cooking. We are going to make tenyose, a jelly-like cake made with kanten, both savory (with vegetables and pickles) and sweet (with azuki beans); simmered vegetable with yugao and frozen daikon; vegan sushi with kampyo and other vegetables and soup with hand-made miso and mushrooms picked in the satoyama.
The grannies show us what to do while telling us stories about the village and the local food.

Kampyo sushi

Tenyose is eaten for celebrations and kampyo sushi is prepared for a village festival which takes place around this period.

Summer menu example (July-September)
(azuki tenyose, salad tenyose, sake lees pickles, mushroom miso soup, nota mochi (a sort of rice cake with edamame sauce on top)

When everything is ready, we all sit together at the table and eat. The taste is simple but delicious. There are so many foods I have never seen before and so many textures and tastes I have never tried before.

Lunch together

The locals’ life follows the rhythm of nature, so the food culture varies with every season: the “culture of frost” in winter, wild vegetables picking in spring, farming in the summer and preserves in autumn. The menu is always different!
To be able to see the real Japanese countryside and cook together with the locals is priceless.

Tobuki picking (June)

Details:
Period: all year
Access: 20 min from JR Chino station (pick-up from station available)
Time: 3h
Capacity: Min. 2 persons Max. 30 persons
Price: 5,000 yen + tax /1 person
Includes: activity cost, lunch or dinner
*An English-speaking guide is available at an extra cost
Vegetarian and vegan options are available.
Please inform us in advance if you have any allergy or special dietary requirements.

For further information, contact Chino Tabi at ask8@chinotabi.jp

Two Days of Driving Around the Roof of Japan

August 16th, 2018 by
Category: Accomodations, Culture Art, Information, Sightseeing

Driving among the clouds
Surrounded by the 3,000-meter-high mountains of the Japanese Alps, Nagano Prefecture is called “the Roof of Japan.” Its gorgeous alpine scenery and breezy highlands attract visitors year-round.

In Central Nagano, several highland areas extend from the base of the Yatsugatake mountains past Lake Suwa towards Matsumoto. Ranging in heights from 1,400 to 2,200 meters, the lofty plains here have panoramic views of the Northern, Central and Southern Alps. They’re the perfect place to escape the summer heat and enjoy a scenic drive. On these roads, you’re at eye level with the clouds—like you’re driving through the sky.

Chino City is at the entrance to these highlands. Starting here, you can enjoy beautiful drives on the Roof of Japan while seeing some of the area’s own unique history. A short two-day trip around the area is a great escape from the city, or as another leg on a longer journey around Japan.

Day 1: Chino and the Merchen Highway

On your first day, take a train to Chino Station and rent a car from one of the many agencies nearby (see car rental agencies in Nagano here). The start of the Venus Line is less than a kilometer from here, and a little farther up the road is the Merchen Highway.

From the station, take the Merchen Highway for about 50 minutes up to Shirakoma Pond.

Shirakoma Pond

Shirakoma Pond seen from the rocks above Takamiishi Lodge
At the top of Mugikusa Pass of Yatsugatake, Shirakoma Pond sits amidst beautiful forests covered in over 400 species of moss. The forest floor, fallen trees and rocks are carpeted in a rich green. It looks like something straight out of Ghibli’s “Princess Mononoke,” and even one of the woods here is named after the film. Its high altitude—2,115 meters above sea level—makes it a cool place to pass the time even during the hottest days of summer.
The paths around the pond are well-maintained and easy to walk.
The walk to the pond is just 15 minutes from the parking lot through mossy forest. You can stroll around the pond in another 40 minutes and stop for a bite or coffee at one several mountain huts on the shore. Several trails radiate out from the pond leading to other campsites. For a great view of the pond from above, taking the 45-minute trek to Takamiishi is highly recommended.
Bioluminescent moss found under a boulder on the way to Takamiishi Lodge
We may not be able to discern many of the different types of moss in the forest, but there are some cool ones that stand out. With moss, what it grows on is often more important than the shape of the plant itself. I saw many different mosses of all shapes growing on the ground, on living and dead trees, and hidden in cracks in rocks. If you’re lucky, you may also be able to see bioluminescent moss as well!

Togariishi Museum of Jomon Archeology

The museum has a large display of Jomon era pottery, figurines, and tools.
Next stop is the the Togariishi Museum of Jomon Archaeology. It is located on the Togariishi settlement where Jomon people lived over 5,000 years ago. At that time, the highland areas around Chino were home to as many as 1,000 unique Jomon settlements. Experts believe that the cooler weather and the abundance of obsidian, a precious commodity, made the Kirigamine Highlands and foothills of Yatsugatake an attractive place to settle.

In front, the Jomon no Venus figurine. In back, Kamen no Megami.
The museum has an extensive collection of Jomon pottery and clay figurines, including the “Jomon no Venus,” a National Treasure and the most exquisitive example of Jomon figurines found to-date.

Models of Jomon dwellings can be seen behind the museum on the Togariishi settlement.
Visitors may be surprised to find many of the organic, coiled patterns of the pottery strangely familiar. While little regard was given to the Jomon period and culture for much of the 20th century, its aesthetics have increasingly influenced Japanese art and pop culture. Comics and video games have paid homage to the shapes of the Jomon figurines and patterns of Jomon pottery, like the most recent installation in the Legend of Zelda franchise.

The Works of Terunobu Fujimori

Takasugi-an Teahouse
For the architecture enthusiast with interest in Japanese design and a sense of humor, Terunobu Fujimori’s buildings are a delight. They incorporate traditional materials that harken back to ancient Japan, even as far back as the Jomon Period, while staying light-hearted. The architect has built several museums and homes, and some of his first works can be seen in Chino City, including the Moriya Shiryokan Musem and several tea houses.

Moriya Shiryokan
The Moriya Shiryokan is a repository, housing documents related to the history of Suwa Taisha, one of Nagano’s most venerable shrines. Entrance to the repository is 100 yen, and it has a few small exhibits inside. For such a small fee, it is worth entering just to see the interior of the building itself, like the stairway that leads to an indoor drawbridge on the second floor.

Left to right: Takasugi-an and Soratobu-bune teahouses
Behind the museum is a small path that weaves through a few small fields up the hill towards a spot of land where Mr. Fujimori’s teahouses lie. They are called Soratobu-bune (Flying Boat), Takasugi-an (Too Tall Teahouse), and Hikusugi-an (Too Small Teahouse). From the names themselves it is easy to see that his creations are not your typical architectural fare.

Spend the Night in Tateshina Onsen

A fast-flowing river cuts straight through the hotel.
Heading back towards the Venus Line and Merchen Highway, stop in Tateshina Onsen to spend the night. There are a number of great hotels and inns here. Tateshina Grand Hotel Taki no Yu is just off the Venus Line and very close to the Kitayatsugatake Ropeway, making it a perfect place to spend the night. Its hot springs, facilities, and buffet meals are the cherry on top.

The Keiryu Rotenburo bath at night, offering views of the river below.
From the sound of the river that runs through the hotel, you can tell that the area is abundant in water. The hotel has several hot springs here to enjoy, whether you’re staying the night or just visiting for the day. There are two outdoor baths, one tiered bath with majestic views of the gorge, and another more intimate space with views of trees and flowers. There are also indoor baths and private baths for families or couples. (See below for day-use hours.)


Its dinner and breakfast buffets include a variety of Japanese and Western options, from roast beef and pizza to sushi and udon. In addition to being able to eat to your heart’s content, you can also choose what you like. Even the fussiest of eaters will be able to find something that they like here, and those adventurous ones can try plenty of Japanese traditional dishes.

Day 2: The Venus Line

The Venus Line connects Nagano’s central highland areas and enjoys amazing panoramic views of the surrounding area. Traveling at altitudes between 1,400 to 2,000 meters, you drive across vistas that seem to float in the clouds. The road cuts through Tateshina Onsen, heading towards Kirigamine Kogen and Lake Shirakaba. Just a 7-minute drive from the hotel is our next stop, the Kita-Yatsugatake Ropeway.

Kita-Yatsugatake Ropeway

The lower ropeway station looks like something pulled straight out of Bavaria
The Kita-Yatsugatake Ropeway travels up the Yatsugatake mountains to a 2,237-meter-high plateau. Beyond the ropeway station is an otherworldly garden of igneous rock and windswept pines surrounded by the peaks of the Yatsugatake mountains. Trails wind through the plateau’s garden and continue to the summits of nearby Mts. Yokodake and Shimakare. Even in the hottest days of summer, the weather here is cool.

The upper ropeway station seen from the Tsuboniwa garden

The forest on the hillside shows the shimakare phenomenon.
Here you can see a phenomenon called shimakare in Japanese, or fir waves in English. Looking at the mountainside, stripes of dead trees cut a swath through the forest. Over many years, these stripes move up the mountain as trees exposed to the wind begin to wither and new trees grow behind them.

Enjoy a refreshing kokemomo (mountain cranberry) juice at the ropeway’s cafe.
Back at the station there’s a café and an observation deck. From the observation deck, you can see all three ranges of the Japanese Alps and the rest of the peaks of Yatsugatake. Have a coffee and a treat like daifuku or soft serve made with mountain cranberries.

The Venus Line

A car drives along the Venus Line away from Lake Shirakaba.
After leaving the Kita-Yatsugatake Ropeway, continue up the mountain towards Lake Shirakaba. The Ikenotaira Hotel and Resort can be found here, offering many activities for families, from small amusement parks to water slides and petting zoos. Those who are just passing through can stop by an overlook just above the lake to enjoy the view.
Lake Shirakaba seen from an observation point on the Venus Line.
Day lilies in the plains of Kirigamine
Next stop is Kirigamine Kogen. In summer, bright yellow day lilies carpet the grasslands and during autumn silver cattails sway gently in the breeze. You can stop at the Chaplin Restaurant to see fields of them up close. Or, head to Yashima Shitsugen and walk along trails through the marshlands with day lilies, irises, thistles and more.

Gun for Sparrow OSAKA PUNCH by Bernhard Luginbühl
At the Matsumoto end of the Venus Line is the Utsukushigara Open-air Art Museum. 350 sculptures dot the grassy hillside, overlooking expansive mountain scenery. Whether the artworks or the natural vistas are more impressive is for you to decide!

Heading Home or Continuing your Journey

After the Utsukushigahara Open-air Art Museum, head towards Matsumoto or Ueda to return your vehicle (see more about car rental agencies in Nagano). You can continue your journey by visiting Matsumoto Castle, or you can head back to Tokyo using the Super Express Azusa from Matsumoto, or the Hokuriku Shinkansen from Ueda.

If you enjoyed this article and would like to learn more about the Central Nagano area, see some of the links below.

Related Blog Posts

Highland Trekking in Kirigamine Kogen
Climbing the Yatsugatake Mountains: Mt. Neishi-dake
The Japanese Alps are an Overlooked Gem
Summer Fun Around Lake Suwa

Notes

Back to Text.

Tateshina Grand Hotel Taki No Yu
Day Use Hot Spring

Hours: 13:00 to 21:00
Reception: 3rd Floor Reception Counter
Price: Adults/1,500 yen, Children/800 yen
Face Towel (purchase) 200 yen
Bath towel (rental) 300 yen

The Japanese Alps are an Overlooked Gem

July 17th, 2018 by
Category: Accomodations, Information, Miscellaneous

If you are planning a summer trip to Japan, blocking off time to spend in the Alps is a must!

On a recent two week trip to Japan, my wife and I spent three nights in Nagano prefecture. If your research has gone anything like ours did, very little information online or in travel books is devoted towards this area specifically- besides a mention of the world-class winter sports available during the winter months. As far as the summer, the recommendations are nearly non-existent.

We came to Nagano for a friend’s wedding; knowing little of the area beforehand, we were amazed at the region’s beauty when we first arrived. The green forests and lush mountains, whether set in sunrise or sunset, were striking against the canvas of pinks, purples, yellows, and blues in the sky. We spent much of our time taking in the panoramas of mountains unlike any others we had seen in the past. Aside from the views, we appreciated the mountain life. The slower pace was refreshing after being around the buzz of bustling Kyoto and Tokyo.

Suwa-Shi, Nagano The serene beauty of the lush forested mountains atop smaller towns and roads will take your breath away.

Hoshino Risonare Yatsugatake
Nearly in any direction you looked, glimpses of the multiple mountain ranges were visible.

Kobuchizawa Station, Hokuto
Even the stops at train stations and the interlays of shrines & statues were beautiful.

Hoshino Risonare Yatsugatake
The resort displayed a whimsical appreciation for the seasons with the fun display of colored umbrellas for the rainy season.

We ended up staying at a Risonare Yatsugatake in Yamanashi wine country. This resort was magnificent between phenomenal staff, a plethora of available events/activities, and the quality of the facilities. Whether you want to actually book nights there (which we highly recommend) or just decide to make the day trip, there is plenty to do. The Hoshino resort’s campus holds an array of activities including: shopping, cafes, restaurants, a wave pool, wine tastings, ropes course, horseback riding, bike rentals, arts & crafts, and even a public bath for those staying at the resort. While we were unable to venture out much during our stay, since all the wedding festivities were on campus, we never got bored due to the multitude of options available.

The awe-inspiring sacred mountain continued to warm our hearts and souls at all times of day.

Lastly, the resort and surrounding areas provided ample opportunity to catch glimpses of Fujisan even 75+ miles out. While we only spent slightly more than 48 hours in the Alps (of our 11 day trip), this region now holds some of our fondest memories. We wished we could have done more while there, but now we have even more of a reason to return in the coming months and years.


Bio

My name is Brandon Shell and I currently find refuge amongst the beautiful long leaf pines, lakes, mountains, beaches, and community of North Carolina in the United States. While my wife and I both grew up here, we have always had a passion for changing the trajectory of our families’ legacies through authentic travel experiences. The relationships made while traveling are the most satisfying aspect of our adventures.

We are passionate about leading relationally within our own professions and hobbies all the while blogging our passions on the side. We strive to share with the world how to live intentionally and ethically by seeing daily choices as opportunities for making an impact on communities, both near and far. We document our travels, health, and nutrition choices in a variety of capacities on our blog and on Instagram @wecausewecare. We hope that we can continue to travel for the rest of our lives and leave a legacy that even our grandchildren will one day be proud of!

Social Media:
We Cause We Care on Instagram

Let’s visit a blacksmith’s!

May 23rd, 2018 by
Category: Culture Art, Experience, Information

Samurai’s katana with their lethal beauty have fascinated generations of foreigners. In the collective imagination a Japanese sword is synonym of sharpness and the smiths who forge those blades are shrouded in mysticism and legends.

With the end of the samurai era swords stopped being a part of Japanese life, but the unsurpassed techniques which lay behind their forging keep living in modern blades such as kitchen knives and saws. As a matter of fact, Japanese knives are praised by top-level chefs all over the world for their performance.

Hammering the metal

Mass production may have almost taken over the world of blades, yet some stubborn blacksmiths who keep making their knives the old way still stand. In Chino, the area spreading at the foot of the Northern Yatsugatake Mountains, you can meet one of them.
Sadamasa, a local smith’s specialized in blades used in farming and everyday life, has been in business for about 100 years. In the past as many as 10 artisans used to work here, providing the locals with all the blades they needed from sickles to kitchen knives. Nowadays Yusuke, the owner’s son, is the only one left.

Workshop detail

The first time I stepped into his shop, I felt like I trespassed into another world. It looked stilled in time, as if it had not changed one bit since the early Showa era. The walls and tools blackened by years of forging, the smell of steel and iron, the dim light seeping through the windows to illuminate the work space, everything told the story of years of blade-making.
What if I told you that you too can visit this unique dimension? Or even better, you can witness the smith at work and under his guide forge your own Japanese knife?
From now, that’s possible!

There is an activity that over the course of 2 days (3 hours per day) allow you to unveil the secrets of 100 years of Japanese blacksmithing and bring back home a knife made with your own hands. You want to know more? Okay, follow me…

Forge

From Chino station we walk for about 10 minutes until we reach an old shop with a sign saying “Sadamasa”. To welcome us are Yusuke, the smith, and his father, the owner of the shop. We sit at a table on the back of the shop and Yusuke’s father starts telling us about the history of Sadamasa and how his ancestors opened it many years before. After that, Yusuke takes over and introduces us to that day and the following day’s task. He also explains the features of Japanese knives and what makes them so special.

Metal after first hammering

Once we have acquired more knowledge on the acclaimed blades, we prepare for the tasks at hand and cross the yard at the back of the shop that leads to the workshop. When we open the door, we are catapulted in the world of blade-making. I am stricken by the metallic smell, the blackened walls and the silence, full of promises, while I wait in trepidation.

We pass through the old machineries to reach Yusuke’s favorite work position. There he lights the fire of the forge and while we wait for it to burn stronger, he shows us the metal bars we are going to use, iron with a heart of steel. He then puts the hammer into motion, the old-fashioned pistons breaking the silence, and expertly moves the impossibly-red incandescent metal under its weight forth and back, right and left, over and over again, until the bar has taken the semblance of a blade.

Hammering by hand

The blade, at that point cooled in cold water, is passed to us. We are to complete the forging by hand. We plunge the blade in the burning forge, lay it on the anvil and hit it rhythmically with the hammer to achieve a smooth surface. Unexpectedly, brute force doesn’t help you in this process as iron is extremely sensitive and too much force causes small bumps to form on the surface. Luckily, Yusuke corrects our mistakes and the end result is amazing.

Drawing the edges

The next step is to get rid of the oxide film which has formed on the blade by passing it under a shower of sand dust. When that is done, Yusuke takes the blade once more for the normalization process, which requires the skillful hands of the smith. We then cut the excess metal and model the knife final shape.

Finally, we proceed to the last step (of that day), the tempering!
First, the blade is polished so that during the tempering the heat can propagate all the way to the core. Second, we coat the blade with a thick layer of mud and pass it above the fire to let it dry (this is done to protect the blade). At last, we immerge it inside a hot bubbling substance that looks like magma and conclude by letting it sink into a barrel of oil to rest for several hours.

The job for that day done, we leave (but can’t wait to continue on the following day).

———————————————————————————————————–

The next day finally comes and we enter the workshop one last time. The tempered blade is there waiting for us.
During the tempering the steel shrinks, so we start by adjusting the warps with a small hammer; except the warps are really difficult to spot. The same blade which seems perfect when I look at it is found in need of many corrections when Yusuke’s trained eyes inspects it. (Craftsmen have such great abilities!)

After polishing

Putting an edge

 

Sharpening the blade

What comes after is probably the most important process of all: putting an edge to the blade! To avoid overheating the metal, cold water is constantly poured on it during the whole process. There is so much beauty in seeing the steel appear from under the iron, the shinogi (ridge) slowly forming.

At last, we sharpen the edge by grinding it against a wet natural stone. (This too is a very delicate work). The steam rising from the hot blade when it meets the cold wet stone is mesmerizing.

And… it’s done! We have really made a knife with our own hands and it’s glorious. To check the sharpness, we hold a leaf in midair between our fingers and pass the knife through it from above: there is no resistance, as if we’re cutting through air!

The handle applied, we put the knife in a box, say farewell to Yusuke and get ready to leave.
Every time I cook with this knife, I’ll remember this experience.

Putting on the handle

 

Details:
Period: all year
Time: 3h x 2 days (total 6h)
Capacity: Min. 1 person Max. 3 persons
Price: 24,000 yen/1 person
25,000 yen/2 persons sharing 1 knife
Includes: activity cost, 1 kitchen knife, English-speaking guide

 

 

For further information, contact Chino Tabi at ask8@chinotabi.jp

The final result

Nagano’s 2018 Cherry Blossom Forecast

March 22nd, 2018 by
Category: Information, Seasonal Topics

Ogawa Village’s reddish pink Tachiya cherry blossoms contrast with the snowy peaks of the Japanese Alps.
As the snow slowly melts from the streets and sprouts begin to poke their heads out from under the ground, we’re all beginning to wonder: when will the cherry blossoms come? According to a new forecast announced last Tuesday, it looks like many areas of Japan will be seeing their cherry trees bloom a full ten days earlier than last year.
Read the rest of this entry »

Beautiful Winter Phenomena

January 19th, 2018 by
Category: Information, Seasonal Topics

Nagano’s forests covered in frost.

Winter is at once harsh, unforgiving, and mysteriously beautiful. While snow falls relentlessly on you, your precious baggage and the streets around you, it covers the landscape in pure, unifying white. While the cold seeps through your down jacket and numerous sweaters, it also freezes waterfalls and lakes in time, creating gleaming columns and plates of ice. While the wind burns and turns your face the color of ripe strawberries, it also covers trees in sparkling layers of frost. If you can brave the elements, the wonders of winter far outweigh the cold.

You can see winter’s charm all around Nagano, from beautiful snowy plains and white-capped mountains to frozen lakes and waterfalls. But there are some unique phenomena that are especially captivating during these chilly months.

Snow Monsters in Shigakogen

Trees in Shigakogen’s heights are buffeted by snow and wind, becoming towering, white beasts.


There are many legends of abominable snowmen, yeti, and other creatures ready to gobble up unsuspecting skiers and hikers during winter. Luckily, Japan’s snow monsters pose no such threat.

In Shigakogen’s Mt. Yokoteyama area, the tallest part of the highlands at 2,307 meters high, trees are swallowed up by mounds of snow and become amorphous, white monsters. Herds of them sit motionlessly on the mountain. Waiting for what? We do not know. You can view them from the mountaintop’s crumpet café, which sells delicious baked goods and coffee to warm up with while enjoying the scenery, or ski by them on your way down the mountain.

Utsukushigahara Highland’s Diamond Dust

Tiny snow crystals sparkle like diamonds in the morning sunlight.


Central Nagano faces the brunt of winter’s cruelty, regularly faced with subzero temperatures that freeze lakes, water pipes, and even your shampoo. But these frigid temps give rise to a fantastic sight called “Diamond Dust.” On very calm, cold mornings—around -15 degrees Celsius—the air is filled with millions of tiny snow crystals, which sparkle like diamonds when hit with the morning sun’s rays.

One of the best places to see this phenomenon is in the Utsukushigahara Highlands. Access to the highlands is very difficult during winter, but if you stay at Utsukushigahara’s Ougatou Hotel, you can enjoy this and other winter experiences first-hand.

The Omiwatari Lake Crossing

Lake Suwa’s Omiwatari is a rare phenomenon where ridges of jagged ice appear above the lake.


Lake Suwa in central Nagano has been a center of Shinto faith for over a millennia, being home of the shrines of Suwa Taisha (internationally known for their once-in-seven-year Onbashira Festival). Possibly due to the spiritual nature of this location, the lake has experienced a phenomenon called “Omiwatari” (roughly translated: the God’s crossing) for hundreds of years. When the lake freezes, sheets of ice expand and contract with changing temperatures, eventually cracking and forming a long, continuous ridge across the lake, usually between 30 centimeters and 1 meter in height.

Omiwatari usually occurs in late January or early February, but due to climate change there have been many years recently where it has not occurred. The last year in which the Omiwatari was seen was in 2013. Will it return in 2018?

Share your Favorite Winter Scenes of Nagano!

Did you have a chance to see some of these beautiful spectacles while traveling in Nagano? Share them with us on Instagram of Facebook with the hashtag #gonagano. If you have any other beautiful sights that we haven’t included, please let us know in the comments.

And if you enjoyed this topic, take a look at an earlier blog about five ways to enjoy the snow in Nagano.

Japanese Summer Festivals and Fireworks in Nagano

July 21st, 2017 by
Category: Events, Information, Seasonal Topics

An archer in the Nyakuichi Oji Festival in Omachi City.

The vibrant, lively atmosphere of summer festivals is one of the most memorable parts of Japan. The streets are filled with the bright colors of yatai stalls, yukata robes, and paper lanterns, and the sky lights up with brilliant fireworks. Musicians play traditional flute and drum songs as performers entertain festival-goers with dances and theater.

As summer approaches its peak, Nagano gears up for exciting festivals of its own. Enjoy traditional Japanese summer festivals along with events that are unique to Nagano.
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