Sunny Saturday on the Nakasendo Trail

February 9th, 2017 by
Category: Information, Outdoor Activities, Sightseeing

Last weekend, a few of us traveled from the Northern area of Nagano into the Kiso Valley to walk part of the Nakasendo trail. It was one of five major roads used during the Edo era and connected the former capital of Kyoto to the new capital of Edo (now Tokyo). While it may take weeks to travel the whole thing, we just walked between two post towns: Magome and Tsumago.

Saturday was a beautiful day so I’d like to share some of the photographs we took along the way!
Read the rest of this entry »

“Madapow” at Madarao Kogen and Tangram

January 27th, 2017 by
Category: Information, Outdoor Activities, Report, Seasonal Topics

The Northern Nagano valley opens up behind the Madarao Kogen hotel.

The Madarao and Tangram ski resorts sit between Iiyama City and Shinano-machi in Northern Nagano prefecture on opposite faces of Mt. Madarao. They are interconnected and you can ride both resorts in the same day with the 5,000 yen “Mountain Pass.” They resorts are medium-sized with well-rounded courses that suit all levels of skiers and snowboarders. Smooth pistes, moguls, and terrain parks are all available, but these resorts’ specialties are trees and powder, often referred to locally as “Madapow.”
Read the rest of this entry »

5 Great Winter Festivals in Nagano

December 9th, 2016 by
Category: Events, Information, Seasonal Topics

Enjoy fire festivals, illuminations and more in this winter wonderland.

Winter is here. Snow is falling steadily up in the mountains and people around Nagano are bringing out their kotatsu tables, kerosene heaters and nabe pots. Once again, it’s that time of year for skiing, hot springs and great winter festivals. Why stay inside when you could warm up in front of a magnificent fire festival or in the company of Japan’s many spirits?

Make some wonderful memories this winter with some of the festivals below!
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 »

The State of Nagano Skiing this December

December 18th, 2015 by
Category: Information, Outdoor Activities, Report, Seasonal Topics
The beautiful northern alps are covered in snow, but green still shows in the valley.

Hakuba's mountains are beautifully covered in white.

Areas around the globe have been experiencing some crazy weather over the past month due to the dreaded El Niño effect. Wintery parts of the world have been unusually warm and green, and some areas of Japan have been reaching highs of 25℃ or more. It has also meant a late winter for Nagano prefecture, but don’t fear, folks: winter is here. The mountains are capped in white and ski resorts are open for business. Soon enough, your breath will be visible in your apartment and your shampoo will be freezing overnight.

Read the rest of this entry »

Japanese-Style Illumination Has Started at Asama Hot Spring, Matsumoto

December 26th, 2014 by
Category: Accomodations, Events, Onsens (Hot Springs)

In Japan, the winter is a season of “illumination”. There are some beautiful illumination spots lighted up by LEDs. In Nagano, Karuizawa, Azumino, and Suzaka’s ​illumination events are famous.

This winter, not large but unique illumination has started at Asama Hot Springs in Matsumoto. It is Japanese taste design lighting in front of Hot Plaza Asama, a day trip hot spring​ facility. You can watch the “healing illumination” while soaking your feet in the free foot hot spring.

Japanese-style illumination of origami cranes and Matsumoto temari balls, made and played in the castle in Edo period.

The lights on trees are designed to twinkle by natural wind, like stars in the sky.

Because of the M 6.7 earthquake that occurred on 22nd November and damaged some portions in Hakuba and Northern Nagano, even hotels in Asama Hot Springs suffered from cancellations, even though Matsumoto is in the center of Nagano Prefecture and didn’t have any direct damage.

Now, there are no problems at all sightseeing spots and ski resorts in Nagano, including transportation.

Kick-off ceremony of illumination

People in Asama Onsen hope this beautiful illumination will overcome the quake.​

Asama Hot Spring is located in a convenient place in Matsumoto, Nagano. It is just a ten minute bus ride from Matsumoto Castle. It also has a very long history, 1,300 years or more and feudal lords of the Castle visited there in the Edo period (17th century).

All the lights are LEDs using small amounts of electricity

The illumination​ is shining 5pm to 0am until April 19.

More than twenty traditional Japanese ryokans in Asama Onsen and the illumination​ are wating for you.

Shiga Heights Ski Resorts after 2 ft Big Snowfall Downtown

March 15th, 2014 by
Category: Outdoor Activities, Seasonal Topics

I went skiing in Shiga Heights Ski Resorts February 22. It was one week after big snowfall in Nagano, so the ski courses were covered with wonderful natural snow. We (five Japanese, one from America, and one from Britain) really enjoyed skiing and snowboarding in the best condition.

Read the rest of this entry »

Cross Country Skiing at Nabekura Highlands

January 20th, 2014 by
Category: Experience, Outdoor Activities, Report, Seasonal Topics, Sightseeing

Spending an afternoon cross-country skiing in Nabekura Highlands is the perfect respite. Fields of white powder snow welcome you as you follow the trail which is surrounded by mountains. Unlike the fast-pace of downhill skiing, cross country provides a chance to slow-down and experience the nature first-hand. In your light-weight skis and boots you can glide peacefully down the path.

Details:
Nabekura Highlands, Mori-no-Ie 0269-29-2888
Address: 1571-15 Teruoka, Iiyama-shi, Nagano-ken 389-2601
Access: 40 minutes from the IC Toyota-Iiyama on the Joshin-etsu Expressway
Cross Country rental available: 2,500 Yen per day (2,000 yen half-day)
Snowshoe rental is also available. Guides can be arranged for an additional fee.

Togari Onsen Ski Fields – Good Value without the Crowds and Lines

February 16th, 2013 by
Category: Outdoor Activities, Seasonal Topics

There are great views down to the Chikuma River valley from up on the mountain at Togari Onsen Ski Fields

Last weekend my wife and I went skiing with a couple of Japanese friends at Togari Onsen ski fields. Being new to skiing in Nagano, we have been trying out various ski fields and comparing their strengths and weaknesses. We liked Togari Onsen ski fields for a number of reasons. First, it was good value. The day lift pass is 4000 yen for adults (and only 2500 yen for over 50’s – show some ID to prove  your seniority). In addition to the lift pass, you get a free entry to one of the two local hot springs (worth 500 yen), plus a 100 yen discount coupon to use in one of the restaurants. You also get “repeater” tickets and when you have collected five of them, you can get further discounts. The other good value aspect was the Sky Top (スカイトップ) restaurant at the base of the Casseopea lifts. It had udon, curry rice and so on for 600 yen, compared to 1000 yen or so at the Kogen Warabi restaurant next door.

Second, we liked the fact that the ski fields were not too crowded. Our friends had been to Togari years before, and they describe it as a “local” ski field. By this they mean that it is relatively unknown. Certainly it did not have the long lines for the lifts that you find at Nozawa Onsen or Hakuba. It is often the case that the cheaper the lift pass, the slower the lifts, or the less variety in the slopes. But at Togari the quad lifts in particular were fast enough, and there is plenty of variety in the slopes. The slopes were relatively uncluttered, so I didn’t feel that it was just a snowy version of Tokyo’s legendarily crowded Shinjuku crossing.

There are two main parking areas at Togari. The one to the south is at the base of the set of runs known as Pegasus, while to the north is the Orion side. Further up the mountain, the two sides are joined by the Casseopea runs. There is a total of over 11kms of runs, with more than 4kms for beginners, 5kms of intermediate level, and 2kms for advanced skiers. Intermediate level skiers have access to all parts of the mountain, unlike some resorts where you have to be an advanced skier to ski at the top of the mountain. The beginner runs are relatively easy compared to beginner runs at other places I have been skiing, while there is quite a bit of variation in the difficulty level of the intermediate runs.

The snow conditions were quite good the day we visited, especially in the morning. Because the resort is not as high as say Shiga Kogen, there is a tendency for the lower slopes to get a bit icy later in the day. But up on the Casseopia runs the snow stayed good and powdery all day.

After skiing, you can choose between Akatsuki Onsen, near Pegasus, and Nozomi Onsen, near Orion, to soothe your muscles. My “Nagano Onsen Guide: The Top 100 Day-Use Onsens” (if you are interested, you can get it on amazon.com) recommends Nozomi Onsen because of its superior outdoor bath view, landscaping and environment. It is right across the road from the car park at Orion.

Togari Onsen Ski Fields are located in Iiyama City, about 45km by car from downtown Nagano City. You can find a location map for Togari onsen at the English language Snow Japan site http://www.snowjapan.com/e/resorts/resort_map.php?resortNo=41 – the marker on the map is positioned at the Pegasus car park.

Ski Mecca Nagano — Nozawa Onsen Ski Resort

February 6th, 2013 by
Category: Information, Onsens (Hot Springs), Outdoor Activities, Seasonal Topics

Our kids had a day off from school the other day.
The weather was postcard-perfect.
Lots of work to do, but….

When in Nagano during the winter, you just gotta go skiing.

So the kids and piled in the car, and went up to Nozawa Onsen Ski Resort. Our son Andy wanted to try the 39-degree “Wall”, and I was looking forward to a soak in Nozawa’s onsen after skiing.

Family Fun at the Nozawa Onsen Ski Resort

While Andy tackled the Wall and the rest of Nozawa’s courses, I taught #2 son Kenny and our daughter Misaki how to ski at the Kids Park at the bottom. Andy was excited to have seen the ocean from the peak, and had a blast exploring all the various runs. Meanwhile, especially Misaki got hooked on skiing and wants to try it again.

After skiing at Nozawa, it’s against the rules not to take a soak in an onsen bath.

There are 13 “Soto-Yu” public bathhouses in Nozawa where locals and visitors alike are welcome to go and take baths for free (donations accepted). Locals take turns cleaning and maintaining the facilities, and the bathhouses act as gathering spots to chit-chat and catch up on things.

One of those bathhouses is Oyu. The stately elegant wood construction with the raised center roof to let the steam out is the classic “Yu-ya” (bathhouse) style. This is onsen culture at its finest.

Nozawa Oyu -- the granddaddy of Nozawa Onsen's public bathhouses

It had been years since I’d bathed at Oyu. So on this ski trip to Nozawa Onsen, the kids and I took the time (and followed the rule) to take a bath there.

Warning: Nozawa’s hot springs are scalding hot! Oyu is divided into mens and womens sides, and further divided into “Atsu-yu” (hot water) and “Nuru-yu” (moderate water). But even the nuru-yu was painfully hot (around 43 deg C), so we and the other guests added tapwater, and I used the wooden plank to stir up the bath, bringing the temperature down to a more enjoyable 40 degress C.

Dip carefully

The onsen water has a rich sulfur content. The strong smell makes bathing here a fantastic multi-sensation experience.

Nozawa Onsen — amazing skiing and amazing hot springs. Check it out!