Nagano’s 2018 Cherry Blossom Forecast

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

See our cherry blossoms article for 2019 here!
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.
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New Years Bonfire Tradition: Suzaka’s “Dondo-Yaki”

December 29th, 2017 by
Category: Cuisine, Culture Art, Events, Experience, Information, Outdoor Activities, Seasonal Topics, Sightseeing

After New Years, neighborhoods traditionally gathered the spent bamboo, dharma dolls and other decorations, piled them up and held a bonfire for an event called “Dondo-Yaki”.  While this tradition is becoming less common in urban areas, many communities in Nagano continue to put on “Dondo-Yaki”, usually around the holiday weekend at the beginning of January.

Suzaka Town’s “Dondo-Yaki” for 2018 will take place on Monday 08-Jan (“Coming of Age Day” national holiday) on the grounds of Suzaka Elementary School.  The bonfire will be lit at 5pm.  Participation is free.

It is said that if you eat mochi (sticky rice) roasted over the “Dondo-Yaki” bonfire, you will have good health for the year.  Many participants bring their own mochi rolled up in colorful balls and stuck to a branch for roasting over the coals.

Suzaka’s Guesthouse KURA can provide more details.  On Sunday, they will make mochi and prepare to roast it at the bonfire, so guests can enjoy a full “Dondo-Yaki” weekend.

Picking Grapes in Early Autumn

October 4th, 2017 by
Category: Cuisine, Experience, Information, Outdoor Activities, Seasonal Topics

One of Nagano’s original grape varieties, Nagano Purple!

One of the joys of early autumn is harvest season, when fruit hangs low on the tree and is ripe for picking. During September and early October, you can pick grapes in vineyards throughout Nagano.

There are a wide variety of grapes to choose from. You’ll be surprised by the different flavors of Delaware, Niagara, and Steuben grapes, as well as the monstrous size of Kyoho and Nagano Purple. Don’t forget fan favorites like Shine Muscat!
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New English Guides for Northern Nagano

March 12th, 2013 by
Category: Information, Onsens (Hot Springs)

Two towns in northern Nagano Prefecture have recently produced English-language brochures: Suzaka City and Takayama Town.

Suzaka’s brochure promotes the ‘kura’ earthen-walled storehouse district and Tanaka Honke Museum in the town’s center as well as the city’s natural attractions of the Yonago twin waterfalls and the Minenohara ski resort.

Takayama’s features the town’s many onsens, spectacular waterfalls and distinctive singular cherry trees.

Komiyama-san, the designer of the two new brochures, came by Kamesei Ryokan to show them to me.  Overall, they are very useful. One reason is that the English text isn’t simply a translation from Japanese, but a local American living in Suzaka wrote it all in native English.

Suzaka City recently saw “Guesthouse Kura” open, so English-speaking backpackers now have a place to stay. And also in Suzaka is Horakuan Temple whose monk is a German lady that offers zazen meditation as well as Buddhist studying and counseling in English and German.

Nagano’s tourism is becoming more and more international!

須坂市 Suzaka City

高山村 Takayama Village

Guesthouse 蔵 Kura

豊樂庵 Horakuan Temple

Taking the Tanaka Honke Museum’s Appeal Overseas

July 15th, 2010 by
Category: Cuisine, Culture Art, Experience

The Nagano Inbound Summit team members and I held our 3rd in a series of “Unique Nagano” cultural activities “monitor tours” today.  12 of us toured the Tanaka Honke museum in Suzaka, highlighted by not just eating, but experiencing their bento lunch recreated from a 300 year old menu. 

Entrance to Tanaka Honke museum

Entrance to Tanaka Honke museum

The Tanaka Honke museum is a unique place.  It is the residence of Suzaka City’s Edo-era merchant family.  The buildings and gardens will please lovers of Japanese traditional architecture and formal gardens.  Besides, that, the museum’s artifacts give you a glimpse into the lifestyle of  this wealthy merchant family.  Some samples of the fascinating stories we gleamed from curator Tanaka-san’s explanation:

The "Autumn Garden"

The "Autumn Garden"

*What was the 2nd storehouse originally used for?  (Hint: the ceiling was stained a pitch black.)
Answer:  sake making (smoke from cooking the sake rice blackened the
*What was the room next to the vegetable garden for?  (Hint: There is a channel with water running down the middle.)  Answer:  Mill room (there used to be a water wheel there.)
*In the tea items display, there was a bowl painted with a design of an elephant surrounded by monks.  If you see it, try to guess how many monks are there.
*There was a lidded bowl amongst the tea display.  It’s exterior was completely black exterior, but open the lid and the inside was decoreted with and autumn color leaves.
*The dolls in the antique toy display had caucausian, not Japanese features.  Why?  Because they were for export to Western countries.  In the past, toy export was as big an industry as car export is today. 

Cool architecture

Cool architecture

So what did us foreigners think of the esteemed Tanaka Honke museum?  Here are our results.

*760 year old tea items
*antique toys
*the Bento (more on this later)
*tools used to move the garden stones
*300 y.o. pines
*mill room
*sitting room
*sake making room
*plum juice

*Lack of English explanation

*audio guide in English

For us, the main draw besides the buildings, gardens and museum displays, was the bento lunch.  The museum painstakingly recreated the lunch from a 300 year old menu discovered in the premises.  It is a fabulous chance to see what a wealthy merchant in mountainous Nagano ate during the Edo period.  The bento was full of suprises, like mozuki seaweed — that must have been a delicacy, as it would have had to have been carried by horse up from the Sea of Japan, and salmon that had also been carried up from the ocean, where it would have been caught before the long trip up the rivers as opposed to salmon caught in the nearby Chikuma river that had already depleted their stored fat by climbing up the river.   So many amazing stories, that really took us back to the Edo period.  All while enjoying the beautiful formal garden and the classic construction of the buildings. 

Enjoying the 300 year old bento lunch

Enjoying the 300 year old bento lunch

More than a museum that serves a 300 year old bento, we felt the Tanaka Honke would be best considered as featuring the bento and also offering a tour of the museum.  It would be a great addition to a trip to Nagano, for example to see the snow monkeys.

Tanaka Honke Museum is located in Suzaka, the city renowned for its earthen walled storehouses, just to the east of Nagano City.  The 300 year old bento is 4000 yen (reservations required), museum admission is 700 yen.  Hours are 9am-5pm (shorter in winter), closed most Tuesdays (days of operation are shown on their website).  For more, see