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

from Hong Kong…to Kamikochi!

October 20th, 2010 by
Category: Events, Experience, Information, Outdoor Activities, Report, Seasonal Topics, Sightseeing

Although the Ozzies bagged the No.2 spot for inbound overnight stays in Nagano Prefecture last year (thanks to the colony of snow bums camped out in Hakuba:)  the vast majority of overseas visitors are still from East Asia. Taiwan claimed top spot – AGAIN! – in 2009 and Hong Kong came in No.3., so I was glad of the chance to join a recent tour of some of Hong Kong’s top journalists to visit Kamikochi and get an Asian perspective on the Nagano inbound scene.

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Kamikochi was looking at its most picturesque, with the mountains reflected in the still pondwater of Taisho-ike. Also, we were able to enjoy a Guided tour, with colourful explanations of the plantlife and local legends (do YOU know where the secret tennis court is?!?)

After a loop hike to Myojin, and a meeting with the wild monkeys, we stopped for Lunch by Kappa Bridge then headed on back down to Taisho where the sun was dropping down behind the volcano.

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Takayama-Kamikochi

October 12th, 2010 by
Category: Culture Art, Events, Experience, Outdoor Activities, Report, Seasonal Topics, Sightseeing

   The Autumn is a great time to travel around Japan, coz there is a brief window of opportunity when it’s not too hot and not too cold AND plus you get to check out the falling leaves into the bargain. Unfortunately, although that was the theory behind last weekend’s trip to Takayama, the reality was a little different…

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First off the rain came down cats and dogs,  forcing visitors off the streets into the coffee shops and Hida-gyu restaurants of Takayama. No problem there, since there are street upon street of hidden gems to choose from. Next, though, when the sun did come out on Sunday it seemed like the rest of the  world and his dog had the same idea as us, maybe because the festival (always held on the 9th and 10th) had by chance fallen on a 3 day weekend this year!!! Anyway, the event lived up to its billing as one of the Big 3 Float Festivals in Japan (be warned! there is also a Big 3 of Illumination Festivals/Ice Festivals/Floating Ice Festivals…).

As well as the festival itself, we also had a great time picking our way through the morning market and checking out the old town. There were loads of international tourists from all around the world, and plenty of locals as well.pa100426 Maybe it has something to do with their Kansai nature, but the locals aren’t shy in the slightest but are ready to mix it up with the inbounds, and as much as bartering for local goods the market is just a great place to swap stories and photos.       Note: Takayama is on the West and Matsumoto the East side of the Japan Alps, with the mountains making up the border between Kansai/ Kanto in olden days Japan. Nope, I didn’t know that either until I visited 🙂

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On the way back from the Takayama festival, we stopped off at Kamikochi, in time to catch the best weather of the 3 day holiday and see the golden Autum colours. If you haven’t seen the falling leaves of the Alpen forest it’s well worth a visit but best be quick about it as Kamikochi closes for the winter from early November. (The easiest way to do the Takayama-Kamikochi route by public transport is the Alpico 4 Day bus pass (Alps Wide Shinshu/Hida Free Passport) which costs  Y10,000 and gives unlimited travel between Matsumoto,  Kamikochi, Takayama and the Hida area).

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The 4-day Alps pass is available at the following 4 locations: *Matsumoto Bus Terminal, *Shin-Shimashima Station (the gateway to Kamikochi), *Takayama Bus Center, *Gero Bus Center.

Enjoying Singular Cherry Trees in Shinshu Takayama Village

April 21st, 2010 by
Category: Seasonal Topics, Sightseeing

This time of year, many of our guests stay here at our inn as they drive around Nagano enjoying the flowering trees.  First the apricot blossoms in nearby Mori’s “Apricot Village”, and lately, the cherry blossoms.  Most come to see the cherry trees at Ueda Castle, or our local spots such as the Tengu Park above Togura Station, or even Chuo Park behind our inn here in Togura Kamiyamada Onsen.  However, lately, a few guest mentioned they are on crusades to see “Ippon sakura”, or singular cherry trees. 

When I did the translating work for Nagano Prefecture’s official foreign language tourism site, there was a passage on these singular cherry trees in southern Nagano.
To be honest, while writing the description in English, I was wondering what the attraction would be in seeing just one, individual tree blooming.

One of our guests, Komoriya-san, gave me a list of “Ippon sakura” in northern and eastern Nagano.  I had a bit of extra time on Sunday, so I took our kids to check out one of them in Matsushiro, the weeping willow type sakura tree at Myotoku-ji temple.  Seeing the hundreds-of-years old tree made me understand the majesty of the blossoms on such an ancient tree.

Myotoku-ji's ancient cherry tree (Matsushiro)

Myotoku-ji's ancient cherry tree (Matsushiro)

Komoriyama-san explained the 3 main reasons for “Ippon Sakura”.  One is that many are located at a temple.  More specifically, by the graveyard of a temple.  People plant them so their ancestors can enjoy the annual cherry blossom show.  Another is that the trees are located in the middle of a rice field area.  The blossoms come on around the same time as the fields need to be prepared for planting.  So farmers judge the rice planting timing around when the tree’s flowers bloom.  Finally (and this one is a bit harder to believe), some famous samurai plant trees when they cross over a mountain pass.  Then whenever they go over the pass again, they can tie their horses up to the tree.  Hmmm.

Anyways, here is Komoriyama-san’s list of suggested “Ippon Sakura” in Northern and Eastern Nagano:

Nagano City / Suzaka
(trees bloom 6-7 days later than Togura Kamiyamada.  2010’s peak should be 18-April)
*Myotoku-ji’s shidare (Matsushiro, Pref. Rt. 35)
*Enmei-ji’s shidare (Pref. Rt. 34 before Hoshina Elem. School)
*Endai-ji’s shidare (Omuro)
*Benten-sama’s shidare (Suzaka, below Yonago Fudo Shrine)

Takayama Village (10 days later than Togura Kamiyamada)
*Mizunaka’s shidare (Pref. Rt. 54 in town)
*Kurobe’s edohigan (near the Issa Hall in town)
*Tsuboi’s shidare (Pref. Rt. 54 on the way to Nakano)

Ueda/Tateshina/Saku (6-7 days later than Togura Kamiyamada)
*Daien-ji’s shidare (Ueda’s Shioda Plain, Pref. Rt. 65)
*Nagahisaho’s shidare (Nagawa Town, Matsuo Shrine)
*Muryou-ji’s shidare (Saku City, Motoima Post Town, Rt. 142)
*Fukuo-ji’s shidare (Saku City, south of above)
*Gohongi’s sakiwake (Saku City, Hot Park Asashina Rest Area, Rt. 142)

Another view of the Myotoku-ji tree

Another view of the Myotoku-ji tree

NOTE ON SAKURA TYPES
Shidare: Prunus pendula f. pendula (weeping willow type)
Edo Higan: Prunus pendula (similar to above but an older variety?)
Sakiwake: ??? (pinkish and white blossoms on the same tree?)