Experiencing the Japanese Countryside in Chikuma

November 30th, 2016 by
Category: Accomodations, Culture Art, Experience, Information, Outdoor Activities

Tyler shows our group some Showa era graffiti on a local earthern wall.

On a beautiful fall day, I joined a group of foreigners on a cycling tour of Togura Kamiyamada Onsen south of Chikuma City. The area was once home to several mountain castles and a post town so there is a wealth of history in the area. Our guide, local ryokan owner and area expert Tyler, took us along beautiful mountain roads and pointed out interesting relics and features along the way.
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The Night View Train to Obasute

September 28th, 2016 by
Category: Events, Information, Report, Sightseeing

The front of the Night View Obasute train.

Perched several hundred meters above Chikuma City is Obasute Station which boasts beautiful scenery of the Nagano valley. The Shinano line passes through this area on its way between Nagano and Matsumoto cities, and is considered one of Japan’s three best train line views.

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Come Get Those Tart Apricots in Chikuma City!

July 4th, 2014 by
Category: Experience, Outdoor Activities, Seasonal Topics

Fresh apricots are once again in season, and Chikuma City (just south of Nagano City) is Japan’s largest grower of apricots. 

Apricots are once again in season in Chikuma City

Called “anzu” in Japanese, apricots here actually come in an amazing array of varieties, from the tart heritage varieties to newcomers from North America such as the sweeter “harcot” variety. 

Chikuma City’s “Mori” district is known as “Anzu no Sato” (Apricot Village).  On the other side of the Chikuma River, just downriver from onsen town Togura-Kamiyamada, is Kyohoen‘s orchard.   I stopped  by the other day and the owner, Takamatsu-san, was in a great mood as apparently this year is a bumper crop.  The growers are especially thankful, as last year many of the trees were damaged by frost during the blossom season resulting in a decreased yield. 

Besides coming to an orchard and picking (and tasting!) fresh apricots straight from the tree, apricot jam making activities are also available.  The season should continue through mid-July.

Fruit Picking Season 2013 in Chikuma City is Here!

June 28th, 2013 by
Category: Experience, Outdoor Activities, Seasonal Topics

Ever wanted to  taste a tart apricot picked right off the tree?  Curious about how much minute care goes into growing an apple in Japan?  Want to see grapes as they are growing on the vine instead of at a supermarket counter?  Then Chikuma City is the place for you with a plethora of fruit orchards. Practically year-round there is some type of fruit picking that can be enjoyed:

Apricots and Cherries from late June to early July
Grapes from early September to early October
Apples from late September to December
Greenhouse Strawberries from December to early June

The fruit picking season for 2013 is now under way, with sweet, juicy cherries and fresh, tart apricots ready for you to come and pick.

Kamiyamada Cherry Picking 2013
Watashima-san (Kamiyamada’s Yasaka district)
Tel (026)276-1834 (Sorry — Japanese language only.)
Cherry Picking Start: Sunday 23-June
Cherry Picking End: Thursday 04-July
Price: 1500 yen for 30-minutes all-you-can-eat (while picking)
Quantities are limited, but feel free to contact me c/o Kamesei Ryokan tel# 026-275-1032 for help in making arrangements. 

Watashima-san's cherries (taken when I visited in 2012)

Mori and Sarashina Apricot Picking 2013

Here in Chikuma City, the Mori district is known as Japan’s #1 ‘apricot village’. The blossoms in early April are so famous that this year even the emperor and empress came to see them. Mori is a 20-minute drive from the main resort area, onsen town Togura-Kamiyamada. A short 15-minute walk away from the onsen, along the Chikuma River, are the apricot orchards of the Sarashina district. And Kyohoen Apricot Orchards are one of the most modern growers, trying to develop better varieties and using cutting-edge techniques to maximize yield.

This past April our area had some devastating low temperatures that are effecting the apricot trees’ production. But the folks at Kyohoen believe strongly in giving guests  the opportunity to enter the apricot field and pick fruit themselves. This year’s apricot picking schedule is as follows:

Kyohoen Orchard near Togura-Kamiyamada Onsen
Office: 1092-2 Wakamiya, Chikuma City, Nagano
Tel: (026)276-6018 Kaneko-san (limited English)
Apricot Picking Start: Around 24-June (Monday)
Apricot Picking End: Around 05-July (Friday)
Price: 1000 yen per Kilogram (Showa variety)

Our son Kenny eating as he picks at Kyohoen's apricot field this year.

For lovers of river fish cuisine: Tsukeba

June 23rd, 2013 by
Category: Cuisine, Information, Seasonal Topics

Do you like eating river fish? I mean really, really like it? And does the idea of eating river fish in a simple shack along side the river from where the fish came sound appealing? Then perhaps you should try eating at a “Tsukeba”.

Salt-rubbed grilled river fish 'haya' at Shomura Tsukeba fish shack

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A Togura Kamiyamada Handmade Cakes & Gelatos : An Onsen Ryokan Inn

February 16th, 2013 by
Category: Information

Patisserie 'L'avenir' from outside

I was to visit Nagano Prefectural History Museum the other day on the 11th.

They were holding a Hina Doll exhibition which had been owned by a rich merchant from Nagano pref.

To visit the History Museum if you drive there, you have to drop off from the highway at the Koshoku IC.

I somehow mistook the exit, and exited at the Sakaki IC, as a consequence encountering a delicious cake maker and the ‘famous-to-this-blog-readers Onsen Ryokan,’ Kamesei Ryokan.

Let me first intorduce the patisserie,’ L’avenir’. (the link is to the site that introduces the patisserie)

Although the cakes and gelatos are fancy and delicious, the entrance of the shop is not so flashy that you might miss it.

 

It ‘s owned by a sister-brother pair, the brother baking the cakes and the sister making gelatos.

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Onsen Town Togura-Kamiyamada’s Summer Festivals 2012

June 15th, 2012 by
Category: Culture Art, Events, Onsens (Hot Springs), Outdoor Activities, Seasonal Topics, Sightseeing

Our onsen town Togura-Kamiyamada’s 2 biggest events are coming up: the Kamiyamada Onsen Summer Festival and the Chikuma River Fireworks. The 2012 Dates for the two are as follows.  (Note:  Access is via Togura Station on the Shinano Railway line.)

Kamiyamada Onsen Summer Festival 2012: July 14-15
Saturday is more for us locals, with neighborhood parades and official ceremonies including the Geta Offering run by us members of the ryokan junior association.
Sunday is more for tourists, with a massive 50-person shi-shi lion and omikoshi shrines carried by groups of sweaty guys and gals, with the backdrop of a taiko drum performance and a fireworks display launched from the mountain behind town. You will never see so much intense energy in one spot anywhere else in Japan.

That's me with one of the "O-Mikoshi" parade shrines at last year's festival

Chikuma River Fireworks Display 2012: August 7th.
Northern Nagano’s largest fireworks show take place above the picturesque Chikuma River. Get up close for an awe-inspiring view as the brilliant flashes reflect off the surface of the river and the ‘boom’ of the explosions bounce off the surrounding mountains.

Fireworks over the Chikuma River

Apricot Blossoms in April, Apricot Fruit in June

June 15th, 2012 by
Category: Cuisine, Events, Experience, Outdoor Activities, Seasonal Topics, Shopping, Sightseeing

The city Togura-Kamiyamada Onsen belongs to, Chikuma-shi, is famous for apricots. The Mori “Anzu no Sato” (Apricot Blossom) district is Japan’s largest grower of apricots. In addition to Mori, the Sarashina district adjacent to our onsen town has a couple of apricot orchards that are getting bigger year by year.

In April, our area is blessed with the soft-white pink color of the apricot blossoms. Then in June, we get to pick the actual apricot fruit. This year’s apricot fruit-related events are as follows:

Come to Chikuma City in late June and early July for Japan's best apricots

*Sarashina Apricot Fair in Togura Station
June 17th (Sunday) and June 18th (Monday), 2012.
09:30~13:00 in front of Togura Station on the Shinano Railway Line.
Local orchardist Kyohoen will be selling their early variety sweet apricots 500 yen for 1kg. Limit 100 units. Last year, they sold out in a little over an hour, so get there early if you want some.
Other local produce and goods will be for sale, as well as specialty bento lunch box sets. The Yuagari dance troupe will perform, also.
Note: The Kyohoen Apricot Orchard in Sarashina transitions to tart ‘Heiwa’ variety from June 27th and sweeter ‘Harcot’ from July 1st. If you would like to try picking apricots yourself (plucking one and eating it right off the tree is an experience that can’t be beat), feel free to contact me and I’d be happy to make arrangements.  The orchard is across the Chikuma River from Togura Station.

*Mori ‘Apricot Village’ Apricot Picking 6/24-7/15
From 800 yen for all-you-can eat apricots + 1kg to take home.

*Mori ‘Apricot Village’ Apricot Jamming 6/27-7/15
9am-4pm. 1600 yen

Access via bus from Yashiro Station on the Shinano Railway.  For info, contact the Chikuma City Tourism Assoc., Tel +81(0)26-276-2241.

Family Fun for Children’s Day: Sarashina no Sato Ancient Experience Park

May 11th, 2012 by
Category: Culture Art, Experience, Information

Did everyone enjoy Childrens Day (May 5th)?  I took our kids for a bicycle ride to the Sarashina no Sato Ancient Experience Park, a 4.2km ride from our onsen town, Togura-Kamiyamada. 

Our kids wearing Jomon-era garb at the recreated prehistoric village

The park is set up to provide a glimpse of what life was like in prehistoric Japan, the Jomon era.  Besides a recreated Jomon village, there is a sort of historical museum.  Not only are there displays and an educational video on Jomon lifestyle, but there are a series of hands-on activities to experience.  Our oldest son tried making fire with sticks of wood, while our #2 son and daughter carved a soapstone into a pendant. 

Trying to make fire by rubbing sticks

Carving a soap stone pendant

 

Chikuma City is also fortunate to have a 1600 year old ancient tomb, the Mori Shogun Tumulus.  It appears in all 6th graders textbooks in Japan.  I’ll have to take our kids for another bike ride to go there next time.

Togura-Kamiyamada’s Foreboding Mountain Fortress — Arato-jo

January 24th, 2012 by
Category: Sightseeing

From down in our onsen town, Togura-Kamiyamada, you can see a wooden lookout tower at the top of Jo-Yama, the hill behind our town.  The tower belongs to Arato-jo, a mountain fortress.  The compound was rebuilt to match its presumed original configuration in 1995.

Arato-jo Fortress overlooking the Chikuma River and Togura-Kamiyamada Onsen

Arato-jo Fortress overlooking the Chikuma River and Togura-Kamiyamada Onsen

Most people typically picture a lowland castle like Matsumoto’s or Himeji’s when they think of a ‘Japanese castle’.  Those castles are more projections of the local lord’s power than actual defensive battlements.  They date back more to the end of the Warring States as well as Edo eras.

During the middle of the Warring States era, however, thousands of fortresses like Arato-Jo were constructed on hilltops throughout the country.  They were designed strictly for military purposes, with the majority of their structures built low to the ground so as not to be visible from down below. 

All of these mountain fortresses have since disappeared, destroyed by fires, battles or simple erosion.  Arato-jo is hence the only such fortress existing in a resemblance of it’s original shape.  Hence it is often used as the backdrop for historical TV shows.

I took a couple of guests up to Arato-jo for a tour.  This was my first time to go in the middle of winter.  With a touch of snow, the fortress has an even more foreboding feel to it.  The view from the top, with the Chikuma River valley below and the surrounding mountains in their winter state, had a surreal feel to it.

arato-jo-winter1

The guests and I wondered what life must have been like for the samurai posted here in the winter.  One whistfully fantasized about returning to that era and experiencing a samurai’s life for a day.

Down here at our inn, our guests often follow our recommendation and drive or walk up to see Arato-jo.  This time I was fortunate to see the fort with my own eyes, in its harsh winter guise.

Name Arato-jo (荒砥城) aka Chikuma City Jo-yama (‘castle mountain’) Historical Remains Park (千曲市城山歴史跡公園)
Description of business Public bath house
Address 3509-1 Kamiyamada, Chikuma City 389-0822
TEL (026)275-6653
URL (Japanese) http://www.chikuma-bunka.jp/joyama/index.html
Access From Togura Station on Shinano Railway Line take #9 bus to ‘Joyama Iriguchi’ (城山入口) stop (approx. 9 min.) and walk up the hill; castle parking lot entrance on right after the temple/shrine complex (25 min.)
Operating dates and hours 9am-5pm (Entrance until 4:30pm). Closed 28-Dec thru 03-Jan.
Prices ¥300 for adults; free for middle school and under
General information for Chikuma City Chikuma City on Wikitravel