Nagano’s Top Cherry Blossom Spots

March 4th, 2016 by
Category: Events, Outdoor Activities, Seasonal Topics, Sightseeing

(This blog post is originally from 2016, so dates and bus schedules are subject to change.)

Cherry blossoms and snow make a beautiful pair.

Spring is on its way and that means it’s time to break out those blue tarps, make some rice balls and drink plenty of local beer and sake. It’s cherry blossom viewing time! There are a lot of beautiful spots to enjoy them here in Nagano prefecture, where the mountains add a beautiful touch of white to the spring scenery. Who knew you could see sakura and snow at the same time?

Read the rest of this entry »

Winter 2016 Illuminations and Festivals

January 29th, 2016 by
Category: Culture Art, Events, Seasonal Topics, Sightseeing

Areas of Nagano prefecture are getting ready for a series of festivals in February, and in that spirit I thought I would put together a list of current and upcoming events for the Winter season. Tear yourself away from the ski resorts for a night and visit some of Nagano’s other scenic spots!

Read the rest of this entry »

Vermillion and White: Ueda City’s Ikushima Tarushima Shrine in Winter

January 24th, 2011 by
Category: Seasonal Topics, Sightseeing

With a fresh covering of snow, Ueda City’s Ikushima Tarushima Shrine’s brilliant vermillion color stands out beautifully with the contrasting white of the snow. The other day, I had an errand to run in Ueda, and on the way back I stopped to see this shrine which is noted for supposedly being the geographic center of Japan (hence its nickname: Japan’s belly button).
ikushima-tarushima-shrine-winter
This shrine is also noted for being the home of Ikushima, the fertility god, and Tarushima, the god of fulfillment. Furthermore, it also supposedly houses all of the souls from throughout Japan. And as if that weren’t enough, its god is supposedly the guardian diety of the entire country. That makes it one noteworthy shrine.

Graceful Arched Bridge

Graceful Arched Bridge

For me, someone not very initiated in Shintoism, the thing that most stands out about this shrine is the destinctive vermillion color accenting the achitecture throughout the complex. And with a touch of contrasting white from the snow, it makes for even more of a photogenic setting.
img_30211
Ikushima Tarushima Shrine is accessible by train from Ueda Station on the local Ueda Dentetsu line. ‘Shimonogo’ is the closest station and has rental cycles available.

This shrine is so cool it has its own website. For info in English, you can check here.

February 3rd, Ikushima Tarushima Shrine, as well at shrines and temples throughout the country, the annual Setsubun bean throwing ceremony will take place. Ceremony starts at 2pm, been throwing at 3:30pm.

Ueda City’s “Can’t Miss” Eateries

December 8th, 2010 by
Category: Cuisine, Shopping

Ueda City, Nagano Prefecture’s third largest city, has a central “downtown” core just up from the main station.  It has narrow cobblestone-like side streets with interesting nooks and crannies that beg to be explored.  Amongst them are two “can’t miss” shops that arguably define Ueda City.

Ueda's venerable "Katana-ya" Soba Shop

Ueda's venerable "Katana-ya" Soba Shop

First is a soba restaurant with a 300-year history, “Katana-ya“. This place has been a restaurant longer than the country of my birth — the United States — has been a country! The very first time I came to Nagano, I was treated to a lunch at this venerable noodle shop; that was my introduction to the famous buckwheat noodles of Nagano. Katana-ya remains popular with the locals to this day, and is known for the large volume of their soba dishes. Come to think of it, that’s probably why my host at the time choose Katana-ya (she probably figured my over-sized body came with an over-sized appetite).

Lining up for Jiman-yaki

Lining up for Jiman-yaki

After shopping in the area, we finished up at Ueda’s main shopping arcade, “Unnomachi”, to buy “Jiman-yaki” pastries at Fuji Ice. While the shop does sell ice cream, their main attraction are their little pastries filled with custard creme or adzuki bean paste.  Their tasty creations tend to attract a line of customers. Apparently the shop had just been featured on TV recently, so the normally long line of people was extra long today, so many customers that the street out front was turning into the shop’s private parking lot.

Anyways, a lot of our tourists stop in Ueda to check out the castle and get a taste of the city’s samurai history. I highly suggest taking a walk around the core shopping area, with a visit to Katana-ya if you’re hungry (really hungry) for soba, and/or joining the line at the pastry shop in Unnojuku.

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).

Kobayashi-san’s Agricultural Village Idea

May 25th, 2010 by
Category: Accomodations, Experience, Information, Miscellaneous, Outdoor Activities, Seasonal Topics, Sightseeing
The number of local people who went out of their way to show us interesting things was amazing!

The number of local people who went out of their way to show us interesting things was amazing!

The train ride earlier helped top off a fun day with Kobayashi-san from Seishun-Agricultural Village in Ueda.

Kobayashi-san understands that solely growing rice & vegetables is not enough in today’s Japan,  so he is leading the way around Ueda with a new idea…

Tourism Farming will allow us to better make use of our downtime – or something along these lines, I never trust my understanding of many conversations we have…

Kobayashi-san told me (and teachers/guides Mike & Jacky from England) so much in a very short time, unfortunately the time between talking and writing this blog means I’ve lost it – sorry:  but do check out www.murada.com & visit him for more info.

Kobayashi-san also has a custom built Eco-study-lodge for rent if you’re interested in local agriculture & staying near Ueda.

This is a must buy for me, I am sure my parents could always holster a '.....' like this, could be useful weeding around kiwifruit vines?
This is a must buy for me, I am sure my parents could always holster a ‘…..’ like this, could be useful weeding around kiwifruit vines?

After visiting several locations Mike & Jacky were keen that their kids would enjoy many of the experiences they were seeing in Nagano

The problems we have are the same everywhere^-^

The problems we have are the same everywhere^-^

Kobayashi-san together with one school was doing some volunteer work in Nepal, as is Mike (and me too…in 1991!!)…

It was a real thrill to meet the calibre of people today!

Mike actually was paid to climb Mount Everest, and met my kiwi hero Edmund Hillary before he died.

The characters today, Kobayashi, Mike, Jacky and Yoda-sensei (& Edmund) – it was an awesome coincidence!!!

and students were so full of energy!!

and students were so full of energy!!

Keep running guys!!^-^

Rain came down heavy on the rice field outside, but was cosy inside the school library^-^

Rain came down heavy on the rice field outside, but was cosy inside the school library^-^

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?)

Ueda City’s Edo-era District: Yanagi-Machi

October 9th, 2009 by
Category: Cuisine, Culture Art, Shopping, Sightseeing

Due to Typhoon Melor, our local train stopped running yesterday morning, and Kamiyamada Elementary School closed for the day. Thanks to the surrounding mountains, however, the storm didn’t hit this Kamiyamada area very hard. Nearby apple orchards fortunately escaped without much damage.
Taking advantage of the kids’ day off, I took them to Ueda City. I had been to Ueda’s Showa-era shopping district Unno-Machi before. Today we explored Ueda’s Edo-era district, Yanagi-Machi.

Yanagi-Machi streetscene

Yanagi-Machi streetscene

Despite being older by several hundred years, Yanagi-Machi seemed to have more vitality than its Showa-era counterpart. I think it’s due to the charming feudal period stone slab streets and classic wooden buildings. Thanks to the efforts of the townspeople, the neighborhood retains much of its historical character.
And Yanagi-Machi’s crown gem is definitely the Levain breadshop. Not only is their bread fantastic, but the building is amazing.

Levain's yummy bread

Levain's yummy bread

They pride themselves in using “natural yeast” (is there such a thing as unnatural yeast?).  I’m not sure if that’s the reason or not, but the rich texture and full flavor of the bread certainly pleased this westerner’s palatte. But the building, oh the building! It reminded me of the ninja fun house in Togakushi with all of its mesmerizing nooks and crannies, let alone the interesting objects and nicknacks throughout the place.

Ninja breads shop?

Ninja breads shop?

Many tourists go see Ueda Castle. From there, it’s an easy walk to Yanagi-Machi — I highly suggest it.

Note: Yanagi-Machi is an approx. 20 minute walk up a gradual hill from  Ueda Station.

Click here for Yanagi-Machi’s website.

Click here for the website of Levain.