Soba-Making Lessons in Nagano

March 10th, 2017 by
Category: Cuisine, Experience, Information

Make your own delicious soba in Nagano!

Soba noodles can be eaten throughout Japan but they are especially famous in Nagano. With abundant buckwheat and fresh water from the mountains, Nagano’s artisans make simple yet incredibly aromatic soba. After a plate or two or three, you find yourself hooked on this deceptively delicious dish.

And while it’s not necessarily true that the soba you make yourself is more delicious—let’s be honest, our crudely cut soba noodles pale in comparison to a soba master’s—the experience is a whole lot of fun and makes for a great memory. There are a number of places throughout the prefecture where you can try making soba for yourself and learn to appreciate soba made by the professionals.
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Togakushi’s Mirror Pond

June 23rd, 2014 by
Category: Outdoor Activities, Sightseeing

Togakushi's Kagami Ike in late spring.

If you ever find yourself in the Togakushi area, be sure to stop by and see the beautiful Kagami-ike.  The name, meaning “mirror pond”, is fitting, as it offers a wonderful reflection of the Togakushi Range.  Any time of the year is a good time, with autumn being the most popular. And if you go in winter, you won’t regret the views — you’ll just have to get there by snowshoe or cross-country ski.

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)

Daiza-Hoshi-ike in June

June 15th, 2012 by
Category: Information

Not much to write about, today.  Just a really great photo of Daiza-hoshi-ike pond that I took on the way back to the house after taking the kids to kindergarten yesterday morning.

Daiza-Hoshi-Ike pond in June 2012

For anyone not familiar with where this pond is, it is on the Togakushi Birdline, the main road taking drivers up from Nagano City to Togakushi.  If you take the Nana-Magari road from the Zenkoji area, you’ll see this pond on the left just as you reach the uppermost part of the climb up the mountain.  If you are coming from the Uematsu area of Nagano City, take the Asakawa Loop Line all the way up and turn left when you get to the Iizuna Kogen Ski Area.  Drive past the Arcadia Hotel (currently closed) and at the stop sign, the pond will be across the street in front of you.

If the weather is nice, spend the day here.  There are plenty of spots to take a walk and have a picnic.

May 10th, 2011 by
Category: Events, Information, Onsens (Hot Springs), Outdoor Activities, Report, Seasonal Topics, Sightseeing

As the snow in the highlands starts to melt, Nagano shifts from white season to green season. 

The Kurobe-Tateyama Alpen Route opened on 16-April, the gateway to the Northen Alps, Kamikochi ‘opened’ on 27-April, and Togakushi’s Ninja House opened in time for Golden Week. 

Many train and bus schedules are adjusted for the green season. I have updated the schedules connecting our onsen town, Togura Kamiyamada with Togakushi and Jigokudani for post-white season.

Note: Togakushi has been undergoing a ‘power spot’ boom from last year resulting in overflowing parking lots. If you go, taking the bus from Nagano Station may actually be more convenient. Feel free to use this schedule.

Selected Bus and Train times for Nagano Station to Kanbayashi, trailhead for Jigokudani and the snow monkeys

Selected Bus and Train times for Nagano Station to Kanbayashi, trailhead for Jigokudani and the snow monkeys

Note: Jigokudani’s snow monkeys are cute even when there’s no snow. They still soak in the onsen baths in the summer, and the new babies will be born soon so you’ll be able to enjoy seeing the little fur balls running all over the place. Hopefully this schedule will make sense out of the bus and train options.

Selected bus times between Nagano Station and Togakushi

Selected bus times between Nagano Station and Togakushi

Togakushi Kodo Trail

June 14th, 2010 by
Category: Experience, Information, Outdoor Activities, Report, Sightseeing

There have already been several posts about Togakushi, and with good reason; the area is one of Nagano’s worst-kept secrets, and best-loved attractions. However, the flip side of its popularity has been a rash of cars at peak periods bringing traffic jams and pollution to this sacred site. Although allegations that the line of cars waiting for one famous Soba restaurant stretched all the way back to Zenkoji have been denied, it is clear that something must be done.

Step forward the Togakushi Tourism Association, who in 2007 devised an ingenious way of getting guests out of their automobiles and into the pristine mountain air: the Togakushi Kodo.  This  trail  follows an ancient pilgrim route that loops around 30 dedicated marker posts dotted around the Togakushi Highland area. Having first bought the book, follow the trail to the Okusha (central shrine) stopping off at each marker to fill in the rubbing as you go.

 

Buy the book for¥500 at tourist information windows in and around Togakushi. It makes a great souvenir and can also be hung on the wall to remind you that you still have another 29 marker posts to go. 28…27…26…  Reccommended for families and Junior Ninjas :)

Nagano’s Early Winter: Backpacker Comes for a Night, Stays 3 Days

November 19th, 2009 by
Category: Information, Outdoor Activities, Seasonal Topics
Mark enjoying early winter in Togakushi

Mark enjoying early winter in Togakushi

Mark from the States was one of our recent guests.  He came to Nagano to escape the concrete jungle of Tokyo.  Mark had planned on just spending one night, but when I explained about the snow monkeys of Jigokudani and the spiritual trees of Togakushi, he ended up staying 3 days and making day trips to the monkeys and Togakushi Mountain.  And by the look on his face, I’d say he enjoyed his travels in Nagano. 

Note: Nagano is starting to enter winter mode.  Up at Togakushi Mountain, the path to Okusha Shrine which is lined by impressively huge cedar trees, is starting to get covered in snow. 

 

Trailhead to Togakushi's Okusha Shrine

Trailhead to Togakushi's Okusha Shrine

 The Ninpo Center across the street from the trailhead will be open for business one last weekend Nov. 21-23 before the ninjas go into hiding (hibernation?) for the winter. 
Togakushi Ninpo Center transitioning to Winter. (Any ninjas hiding?)

Togakushi Ninpo Center transitioning to Winter. (Any ninjas hiding?)

 I just spoke with fellow Nagano Ambassador, Zeno-san in Shibu-Yudanaka.  He said the snow monkeys are now in their snowy element.  I saw the Japanese Alps yesterday when I went to Matsumoto for a workshop — the snow level looks like it’s down to around 1000 meters.  Down here in Togura Kamiyamada Onsen (elevation 370 meters above sea level), our hills are still in orangeish brown autumn leaf mode, quite a contrast with snowy-white Hakuba Mountain in the distance. 

This is a time of transition here in Nagano.  So come up and enjoy it, like Mark did!

Finally, a few more Togakushi Okusha pictures from Mark-san:

pb1601021 pb160110

When is “Shin” (New) Soba

October 22nd, 2009 by
Category: Cuisine, Seasonal Topics

There’s a saying in Japanese that basically translates as, “Wives and tatami mats are best when they are new.”  Here in Nagano, I think there is one more thing that people get excited about when new: soba.  Nagano is proud of its buckwheat noodles, and it seems everywhere you look nowadays, there’s a Soba Festival going on somewhere in Nagano.  Our guests often ask “When does Shin (New) Soba start?”  So I checked with my soba man, Yamaguchi-san of Yamaguchi-ya soba restaurant in Togakushi.  He told me that harvest has already started, but it takes time to process the soba and verify the quality of the crop.  So his restaurant plans on starting New Soba on the first of November.  Other restaurants may have already started serving New Soba, but you might want to verify whether or not they use local buckwheat.

A nagano buckwheat field waiting to be turned into yummy soba noodles

A nagano buckwheat field waiting to be turned into yummy soba noodles

So in order to get New Soba, you have to wait a little while longer.  I promise, though, it will be worth the wait. 

Click here for the website of Yamaguchi-ya soba restaurant in Togakushi