手造りクッキーに信州胡桃 Nagano Walnuts in the home-made cookies

2009.05.31: 亀清旅館 Kamesei Ryokan


I baked cookies again the other day, and this time I used some Nagano-grown walnuts that a friend had given me. Normally I also like substituting some of the flour with soba flour. But I haven't been to Togakushi lately to buy soba flour. Adding it to the recipe gives the cookies a fuller flavor.
Mom's recipe cookies with local Nagano ingredients -- what a great combination!

ツール・ド・八幡 Tour de Yawata

2009.05.30: サイクリング Cycling

松田家、八幡 Matsuda House at Yawata

長男のアンディー君の9歳の誕生日に合わせて、息子達を連れてサイクリングしてきました。戸倉上山田温泉から千曲川沿いのサイクリングロードを走って、八幡の方へ行きました。武水別神社を見学してから王龍でラーメンを食べて、自転車で八幡の古い町並みをぶらぶらしました。私はその町が大好きです。つちかべの建物がまだ沢山残っていて、車の時代の前からの細い道、あちらこちらに格好良い瓦の屋根・・・ 代表の建物が松田家だそうです。今は千曲市が改造していますが、一部は見えました。

For our son Andy's 9th birthday, I took our 2 sons for a bicycle ride. We started out here at Togura Kamiyamada Onsen and rode on the Cycling Road along the Chikuma River. At Yawata, we rode over to Takemizuwake Shrine, and stopped at Oryu Restaurant for some ramen. Then we putzed around the Yawata area on our bikes.
I really love Yawata's old neighborhood, with the earthen-walled buildings and narrow, pre-car era lanes, and everywhere cool roof lines with the kawara roof tiles. The main structure in the area is supposedly the Matsuda House, which Chikuma City is currently reconstructing.
After that, we stopped at Daiun-ji Temple. The water lilies in its massive pond won't bloom until July, but the temple is still impressive with its castle-like structure. Next we rode over to Chikurin-no-yu for a bath. As a bathouse, it was nice and new, but the bathwater sure can't compare to the natural mineral water we enjoy here at Togura Kamiyamada Onsen. Finally we stopped once more at Takemizuwake Shrine to buy some Uzura-mochi sticky rice cakes for energy for the ride home.

More info on Oryu Ramen from my cycling buddy's blog here. 王龍ラーメンの詳しくはサイクリングの仲間のブログにて

八幡の小道 A small lane in Yawata

落書きの土壁 Earthen wall fence with ages-old graffiti

格好良い門 Cool

竹林の湯 Chikurin-no-yu

うづら餅 Uzura-mochi

上小の評議員に Kamiyamada Elementary School Councilor

2009.05.29: 青い目のおもてなし This American’s Omotenashi


As of today, I get to wear yet another hat: Councilor for Kamiyamada Elementary School. Today was a sort of open-house for the entire school, and I and the other councilors wandered around observing various classes. Then we met with the principal for an hour, discussing our impressions of the classes. Just another way I'm trying to give back to the community.

戸倉上山田温泉の亀清旅館のHPはこちらClick here for the website of Kamesei Ryokan in Nagano.

3年半の間の変化 Changes over the Past 3-1/2 Years

2009.05.28: 青い目のおもてなし This American’s Omotenashi





Our local bank, Shinkin, came to interview us for their newsletter. They wanted to write an article about how the ryokan business environment has changed. It really made me stop and think -- I've only been here at Kamesei for 3-1/2 years, yet there has already been significant change:

*Customers -- When I first came, it was quite common for people to show up at 4 in the afternoon and ask for a room. In the past, ryokans used to rely on a certain percentage of "walk-in" guests. Now, most travellers plan ahead of time and book their rooms over the internet.

*Kamesei's infrastructure -- We've made several improvements since I've been here, including putting a wood stove in the lobby, building the 2 outdoor baths, and making several gardens. These and other improvements were done to give the guests an even more enjoyable experience during their stay.

*Kamesei's customer service -- My policy has been to try to give each guest a little something "extra". When picking them up at the station, stopping by a view point on the way to the inn; making an icecream dessert for guests with kids; giving moms corsages for Mother's Day; taking guests to Obasute for the night view after dinner; waking up at 5am to go to zazen meditation with a guest, etc. An unexpected surprise for every guest.

*Civic Improvements -- Togura Kamiyamada Onsen has been working hard at making our onsen town more enjoyable for individual guests. Last October we got our first footbath; we've made a map highlighting shops that are developing new menus or products; new projects with the town's geishas and the chefs of the inns, etc. One exciting new development is the town's restaurant association has now taken it upon themselves to make a new edition of the shops map featuring even newer menus. It's great to see the development continue.
One other civic improvement that has taken time, but is starting to pay off is, we had a project to take one street at a year for 3 years and form a business association for the street. The first was "Ginza-Dori". Our Ginza used to be the main connector road between Togura Onsen and Kamiyamada Onsen's main streets. You used to be able to buy anything there, hence the "Ginza" name. It had become run down, however, and at the start of the Ginza biz assoc. movement, I was embarrassed to suggest it to our guests. Since then, the street's merchants have done a great job of making their facades livelier, adding decorations, and there's even been a new preserved flower / tea shop that moved in to a renovated store front. I recently took some guests from overseas down our Ginza. They enjoyed seeing how river fish 'kanroni' marinates are done, and how miso is made, and ended up buying some miso as souvenirs. I doubt that would have happened 3 years ago.

Kamesei's boss (my mother-in-law) has been running the inn for 58 years. She mentioned the biggest change she's seen is in how guests have gone from being in groups to being individuals. That's had a big impact on customer service, as you have to properly "entertain" each individual, and if you don't, you get nasty feedback written up on the internet.

I think that ties into what I mentioned above about Kamesei's customer service, and trying to provide a little something "extra" for each guest. The individual guests tend to appreciate the little surprises, and tend to write better feedback on the internet.
The business environment has evolved, and as innkeepers, we have to evolve, too!

松本はお城の次に人気 Matsumoto's #2 most popular attraction

2009.05.27: 長野に来る理由 Reasons to Come to Nagano

JUM's modern exterior


Matsumoto'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のHPはこちら

松本のジャパニーズ・イン・グループのメンバーが清風荘です。着物着付けやお茶会の体験が出来る宿です。HPはこちら。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.

百年風呂の庭が馴染んできました。 Our outdoor bath's garden is coming into fine form

2009.05.26: その他 Miscellaneous

Our showy rhodie


This is the 2nd spring for our "100 Year Bath" outdoor bath's garden. The various plants are leafing out beautifully as they have become accustomed to their places in the garden. The rhodendron at the base of the 'yagura' tower is particularly splendid right now. Last year, it only sprouted a few blossoms. This year it is covered in pretty white flowers. It is one of the many plants that can be enjoyed while bathing in our outdoor bath.

新型インフルエンザ対策 Fighting the Swine Flu

2009.05.25: 日米関係Culture Shock


Just back from a week in Hawaii for my brother's wedding, I was surprised to see these bottles of hand sterilizers on our front counter here at Kamesei. There had been similar disenfectants at the entrances to some of the high class hotels in Waikiki, too. Kamesei isn't a fancy hotel, but we still care about our guests' health. Hence the hand sterilizers as well as providing masks for our guests upon request. (Special thanks to our pharmacist relative!)

ゴミ:日本vs.米国 Garbage: Jpn vs. US

2009.05.24: 日米関係Culture Shock

So where's the recycle bin?




We spotted this sign on Hawaii's North Shore. It's good to see people are concerned about the environment. Coming from Japan, however, which is about as anal about recycling and garbage separation as you can possibly be, I really wish there had been more recycling bins in Hawaii. I felt guilty throwing away recyclable stuff because there were only regular garbage cans.

On the plus side, there were garbage cans everywhere, which was nice. In Japan, there is a dearth of garbage cans in public places because no one wants to be stuck sorting and disposing of other people's trash. You buy a snack at a souvenir stand, but are stuck carrying the wrapper all day 'cuz there's no place to throw it away.

It would be great if the two sides could learn from each other.

法螺貝交流 Conch shell diplomacy

2009.05.23: 日米関係Culture Shock




As our guests who have accompanied my on our Obasute Night View / Legends Tour know, towards the end of the tour I give a little conch shell performance. I often explain to the guests that I had bought the conch shell during my honeymoon in Hawaii.

During this trip to Hawaii, we stopped by Haleiwa, and were happy to see the conch shell stand was still there. The owner explained he's been selling shells here for 30+ years. I told him my story about the Obasute-yama legend and Japanese conch shell connection. He was happy one of his shells was being used like that in Japan.

Conch shell diplomacy -- you gotta love it.

松本にHaleiwa屋さんがあるかな? Is there a Haleiwa restaurant in Matsumoto?

2009.05.22: 日米関係Culture Shock



On Hawaii's North Shore town of Haleiwa, there is a shave ice shop called "Matsumoto". It's a popular shop. Most of the time the line spills outside onto the sidewalk. We took our kids for some delicious rainbow-flavored shave ice. When asked where we came from, we said "Close to the Matsumoto in Japan!"

I wish there were a good shave ice stand in Matsumoto here, maybe it could be called "Haleiwa Shave Ice"! (There is a restaurant called "Seattle" in Matsumoto for some reason...)

Matsumoto Shave Ice website

松本の「レストランシアトル」Restaurant "Seattle" in Matsumoto's website