What do you get when you spell Tokyo backwards?

November 12th, 2018 by
Category: Information

What do you get when you spell Tokyo backwards? You get out the Oykot, a tourist train that runs through the Japanese countryside of Northern Nagano.

The Oykot runs along the Iiyama line from Nagano to Tokamachi Station, passing the Chikuma River, the Sekida mountains, and idyllic farms and rice paddies.

For just 520 yen on top of your regular train fare, you can enjoy the Oykot’s elegant interior while gazing out over beautiful rural scenery.
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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…


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


Period: all year
Time: 3h x 2 days (total 6h)
Capacity: Min. 1 person Max. 3 persons
Price: 1 Person Making 1 Knife:  JPY 28,000 (tax excl.)/ person
2 Persons Making 1 Knife: JPY 39,000 (tax excl.)/ group.
Includes: activity cost, 1 kitchen knife, English-speaking guide


More information on our website: https://chinotabi.jp/en/activity/26/

To reserve contact us at ask8@chinotabi.jp

The final result

History of Fiber Faculty, Shinshu University

June 6th, 2014 by
Category: Information

lecture hall is designated as a national registered cultural asset

When I asked the library in the Ueda campus of Shinshu University to see some exhibitions regarding silk trade in the early Meiji period, I didn’t expect to be shown such beautifully pretty building !



A librarian Ms. Takei kindly welcomed us two, who had just casually asked her to show their archives showing the silk industry prevailed in this region some 100 years ago.

She even brought the key to this grande lecture hall which is still used in some ceremonial occasions such as graduation ceremonies to show us inside.

I was fascinated by its designs applied to tiny places like a block of ceiling, or in a tiny part on the front of a desk etc.

a pattern of mulberry leaves


After the nice detour to the lecture hall, we finally came to our destination, the archives showing the study of silk industry.
The faculty of Fiber in Shinshu university was established after Ueda Technical school for Silk Thread.
Ueda region boasts the first ever silk thread exported to Europe in the end of the Edo period.
This building was used as a storage for silk cocoons, and was just 3 years ago refurnished to become the archives to a nice small exhibition.

a picture scroll drawn painstakingly by the professors

Seeing the exhibitions, we can feel the zeal of the old day students and teachers.
Also we became to be aware that the silk industry was indeed connected to most of the people in the region back then.
If you are interested to learn about the history of silk industry, please contact the library of Fiber Faculty in Shinshu Univ. in Ueda city.


Special Multilingual Promotion for Matsumoto Taiko Drum Festival (July 30-31) and Iida Puppet Festival (August 4-7)

July 28th, 2011 by
Category: Events, Information

Leaflet of Taiko Drum Festival

Taiko Drum Festival at Matsumoto Castle will be held this weekend (July 30, 31) and Iida Puppet Festival will be held next week (August 4-7).
Taiko Drum festival is very popular among local foreign regidents and Iida Puppet Festival is now a large international puppet event (400 shows will be performed at 120 venues and 40,000 attendants will enjoy them!).

We made multilingual (English, French, Korean, Chinese, Thai) leaflets of the two events this year. You can get it in TICs, some hotels, and Narita Airport. Otherwise, you can download PDF files.
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Knife Making at Sakaki Katana Museum

July 6th, 2010 by
Category: Culture Art, Events
Visitors making a knife.

Visitors making a knife.

On Sunday, July 4th, the Sakaki Katana Museum held a special knife making event where visitors could learn how to fashion a 210mm carpentry nail into a small knife using ancient samurai sword-making techniques.

Both children and adults alike participated, signing up at the community hall adjacent to the Sakaki Katana Museum in Sakaki.  There were several anvils and a number of hammers which people used to pound the steel nails flat, slowly, one pound at a time, taking on the shape of a knife.  Several katana makers and apprentices were on hand to advise, correct and touch up the knives visitors were making.

Aside from pounding the nails flat on an anvil, the visitors used a grinding machine to sharpen the knives, cleaned the blades, wrapped cord around the unsharpened end to create a grip, and made a sheath out of newspaper.

In the end, what was once a nail turned into a small knife, much like a letter opener, but with a blade probably sharp enough for shaving!  A nice thing to take home at the end of the event, but definitely not something to give to your kids!

The Sakaki Katana Museum, located just up the road from Sakaki Station, features displays of samurai swords (katana) crafted by several different swordmakers, including one foreign-born master.  Almost all of the swords on display are without grips, guards or sheaths, and the blades range in sized from around 25cm to as long as 80cm.

Admission to the museum is 400 yen for adults.

Ueda Tsumugi Silk Weaving Workshop Details

June 3rd, 2010 by
Category: Culture Art, Experience

Last week, fellow Nagano Inbound Ambassador Tom-san wrote about Silk Weaving in Ueda.  Here are a few more details about this unique opportunity to experience one of Nagano’s traditional crafts.


Silk Weaving

In the Ueda Tsumugi Tradition


At Koiwai Tsumugi Studio, Ueda City


Come sit at a loom at an actual working silk weaving studio and weave your own hand-made creation.  Ueda Tsumugi is a silk weaving tradition with a 300 year history, and is considered one of the top 3 such traditions in all of Japan.  The family-run Koiwai studio maintains this hand weaving tradition to this day, incorporating the fabric into modern items such as neckties, purses and scarves.  The Koiwais would be happy to guide you on a tour of the studio so you can see the entire silk weaving process, from dyeing to spooling, then to the weaving on the handlooms. 


And, if you have the time and creativity, you too can choose the thread colors, sit at an actual loom, decide your own pattern, and pass the shuttle back and forth across the weft to make your own personal Ueda Tsumugi weaving.


Sericulture was a major industry in rural Japan starting in the middle of the Edo period and peaking in the Meiji era when silk accounted for 60% of Japan’s exports.  Silk production worldwide declined with the Great Depression in the 1930’s.  After a brief comeback post-WWII, Japan’s sericulture gradually disappeared.  In the Shiojiri neighborhood where the Koiwai Tsumugi Studio is located, you can still see many earthen-walled storehouses with their unique raised center ridges – indicating that silk worms had been grown there in the past.  And the Faculty of Textile Science and Technology at Shinshu University’s Ueda campus, celebrating its 100th anniversary in 2010 and one of only 2 such centers in Japan, continues to expand on Ueda’s silk history with futuristic research on fiber science and textile technology.


The Ueda Tsumugi silk weaving tradition has its roots in this local sericulture background.  Its unique characteristics are in the coloring (browns derived from apple tree bark and indigo blues) and design (checkered patterns are common).  The fabric is also known for its strength, which derives from the combination of single strands of silk in the weft with the thicker gathered strands (“tsumugi”) in the warp.  Many examples of fabric are on display and available for purchase at the small gift shop at the Koiwai Tsumugi Studio.  You can ask to see their book of patterns that dates back to the Edo period.  Those same patterns are still being made today.  While some are used to make kimonos and in other traditional ways, the Koiwais also use Ueda Tsumugi in making vests, hats and other more western styles, too.


Ueda Silk Weaving Workshop

Koiwai Tsumugi Studio offers silk weaving workshops, where even beginners can experience making Ueda Tsumugi on an actual wooden handloom.

*40 Minute Course  Learn basic weaving techniques and make a small place mat, approx. 20x30cm.  2,500 yen.

*60 Minute Course  Using basic weaving techniques, make a larger 30x50cm wall hanging.  4,500 yen.

*Independent Course  Make a weaving to the size that you desire, such as an obi for kimono.  Prices and times are negotiable.

NOTES:  Workshops are available on most days from between 9am and 5pm.  Please contact the Studio for a reservation at least 1 day in advance.  Children from 10 years and older are welcome.  Minimum 1 person.  For groups, there are 3 looms available, so participants can either take turns making individual weavings or team up to make one or more weavings.


Gathering at the entrance to Koiwai Tsumugi Studio

Gathering at the entrance to Koiwai Tsumugi Studio

Location / Contact Info

Koiwai Tsumugi Studio

40 Kamishiojiri, Ueda City, Nagano Pref. 386-0042

Tel (0268)22-1927 

E-Mail:  koiwai-tsumugi@po13.ueda.ne.jp

Website: www13.ueda.ne.jp/~koiwai-tsumugi/

Access: 15 minutes by car from Ueda Sugadaira IC on the Shin’etsu Expressway via Ueda Bypass and Route 18; by train, 7 minutes walk from Nishi Ueda Station on the Shinano Railway.

Nearby Points of Interest:  Shiojiri Neighborhood (Narrow streets lined with classic earthen-walled storehouses, in the area surrounding the Koiwai studio); Kutsukake Sake Brewery (historical brewery, tours available by reservation, “Fukumuryo” label, 5 minutes walk from the studio).

Nearby Lodging: Akiwa Kosen Ryokan (5 min. by car; Tel 0268-22-1446), Togura Kamiyamada Onsen (11 min. by train)

Koiwa Weaving Workshop in Ueda

May 31st, 2010 by
Category: Culture Art, Experience, Information, Report


After a request from an Australian guest, Ryokan-keeper Tyler Lynch arranged a hands-on tour of the Koiwa Workshop, where traditional Ueda Tsumugi techniques are still in use. As well as learning about the history of silk production, which flourished during the late Edo era, participants were able to take a seat at the craftsman’s loom and weave a souvenir piece of their own. The authentic buildings and warm welcome make this a great day-out for anyone in the Ueda area.

For more information, check out Koiwai’s website.
Silk weaving workshop available most days, but reservations are recommended.  Prices start at 2,500 yen to make a small place mat (30-40 minutes).

Upcoming Katana (?) Making Events in Sakaki

May 16th, 2010 by
Category: Events, Experience

As previously mentioned, the Katana Museum in Sakaki Town offers knife making lessons using katana techniques from time to time.  The next lesson is scheduled for Sunday July 4th at the Tetsu no Tenjikan (http://tetsu.town.sakaki.nagano.jp).  There will be 2 sessions, a morning one starting at 10am, and an afternoon one at 1:30pm.  Price is 500 yen and children elementary school age and older are encouraged to participate (accompanied by an adult). 

Katana (err, knife) - making lesson at Sakaki

Katana (err, knife) - making lesson at Sakaki

In addition, on Sunday June 6th, the same Museum will offer a tour of an actual katana workshop.  The 2 hour tours will be held twice, 10am and 1:30pm.  Museum admission (400 yen) is required.   The swordsmith is Miyairi-san, son of a national living treasure (and destined to become one himself).  This is a unique opportunity to see inside a classic, historical sword making workshop.

Knife-Making “Experience” at the Sakaki Katana Museum

September 28th, 2009 by
Category: Experience

When you think of ‘traditional’ Japan, what images come to mind? Geisha, Ninja, Samurai, Katana…

Geisha still exist, but are becoming increasingly obsolete in today’s society. In addition, fewer and fewer young women today see becoming a geisha as a viable career. Here in our town, Togura Kamiyamada Onsen, there are still 35 geisha, down from a peak of over 350 in the Showa heydays. It’s a struggle, but efforts are being made to preserve the living geisha heritage in our town.

Ninja schools also continue to exist in Japan in pockets here and there. In Nagano, we are fortunate to have the Togakure Ninja School’s heritage, kept alive by a group of active practicioners. They offer free access to their weekly lessons where you can experience real, honest, actual, wouldn’t-be-unusual-to-break-a-bone ninja lessons every Sunday night in Togakshi — for Free!

Samurai were officially ended with the Meiji Restoration. However, their memory is kept alive by their descendants all across the country. Our neighbor across the street from Kamesei have a museum-like room in their house that includes the battle armor of their great-great-great ancestor.

Katana swords you would also think would be on the verge of extinction. However, in Nagano Prefecture alone there are 5 or 6 swordsmiths that continue to make katana today. In neighboring Sakaki Town, there is the “Museum of Tetsu (Steel) in Sakaki” dedicated to Living National Treasure Hirayuki Miyairi. Miyairi-sensei has since passed on, but his apprentices as well as his son carry on the sword-making tradition today.
The museum occasionally offers Knife Making By Hand lessons. My buddy Matt and I took our kids yesterday to experience it ourselves, under the traditional teachings of junior Miyairi-sensei. Using traditional tools and methods, we each made our own little knife.

The next lesson is scheduled for 22-November (Sunday) from 10am and again 1:30pm (each lesson runs about an hour and a half). Cost is 500 yen per person. For info, contact the museum at 0268-82-1128 or on the web at http://tetsu.town.sakaki.nagano.jp.  Located 5 min. by walk from Sakaki Station on the Shinano Railway line.

Hammering the steel flat

Hammering the steel flat

Grinding to make the edge

Grinding to make the edge

Sharpening the edge

Sharpening the edge

Matsumoto’s 2nd most popular tourist destination: JUM

May 30th, 2009 by
Category: Culture Art, Experience

052809-ukiyoe-facadeMatsumoto’s top attraction is, of course, the castle. But among foreigners, what is the city’s #2 most popular spot? According to one innkeeper who caters to guests from abroad, it is JUM, the Japan Ukioye Museum.
Today I met up with some of my fellow Inbound colleagues in Matsumoto. We are working on projects to make Nagano friendlier and more accessible to travelers from abroad. Anyways, since we were meeting in ‘Moto, we decided to hold the gathering at JUM. The curator, Sakai-san, graciously offered to give us a talk about the museum. He went into some fascinating subjects about why Westerners fancy ukiyoe, the roots of the Japanese people (as well as natto — both are surprisingly international), etc.

Then Sakai-san narrated a slide show on the museum’s current display, works by Hiroshige from the 1860’s on popular spots (of that time) in Tokyo. Ukiyoe was THE pop-culture art of the period, and seeing scenes of Tokyo in ukiyoe prints really brings the era alive. It’s amazing to see Ocha-no-mizu in a snow scene, and even more amazing to hear that the river was so clean its water (‘mizu’) was used for making tea (‘ocha’). Another fun scene was of tourists sightseeing at a waterfall in Shinjuku. This scene was surprising for 2 reasons — first, a natural waterfall in Shinjuku?!?!; second, one of the tourists was obviously a foreigner — “Inbound” back in the 1860’s!
Sakai-san offers his talks in English, Japanese, or an English-Japanese mix. If he isn’t available to talk in person, his narration is recorded and can be played back while watching the slide show.
JUM is located about a 10-minute walk from the Matsumoto Interchange, which is accessible by highway bus from downtown Matsumoto. So if/when you visit ‘Moto, after seeing the castle, lose yourself in the ukiyoe world at JUM!

Click here for the website for JUM

Ryokan Seifuso in Matsumoto is a member of the Japanese Inn Group. They offer courses in wearing kimonos and Japanese tea ceremony for their guests. Click here for their website.