作務衣でボーリング? Bowling in a samue?

2010.01.31: 青い目のおもてなし This American’s Omotenashi

What kind of idiot wears a samue bowling? At least they had 30cm shoes!


Our family went out for some fun today -- bowling in nearby Ueda City. We were in such a rush to take off, that I didn't get time to change out of my samue, the traditional Japanese working clothes that I usually wear. After bowling a frame in the samue, I realized how weird it looked and changed into street clothes. (In my case, though, most days my street clothes ARE the samue...)


Mari helping Misaki with her 1st Bowling

上からの戸倉上山田温泉の光り Togura Kamiyamada Onsen's Lights from Above

2010.01.31: 温泉タウン戸倉上山田 Onsen Town Togura-Kamiyamada


With this month's full moon being so pretty, I wanted to see what our onsen town of Togura Kamiyamada looked like from above. So I took a couple of guests and drove up to the Zenkoji Branch Temple on Jyo-Yama, the hill behind our town. With the neon light district, the lights of the ryokan buildings, the Chikuma River running through the middle, and the hills on the far side silhouted by the moonlight, it was a spectacular scene.

大月の月見風呂 Big Moon Viewing Bath

2010.01.30: その他 Miscellaneous

Andy and Kenny enjoying our moonviewing bath


This month is when the earth and the moon are their closest, so tonight's full moon was extra large and bright. Our guests were delighted to be able to soak in our outdoor bath while bathing in the moonlight.
When I built this outdoor bath, the "100-Year Bath", I debated on whether or not to build a roof for it. On nights like this, with the moonlight streaming in, I realize that I made the right decision to leave the bath open to the sky!

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

一日のインターン One-Day Intern

2010.01.29: 活動 Activities

Mr. Immersion -- Tom-san.



Tom came from to Nagano from the UK, to go skiing at Nozawa Onsen as well as to walk to Nakasendo road from Tsumago to Magome. In between, he spent 2 nights here at Kamesei Ryokan. For that middle day, he and I discussed various options. As I listened to him, I realized he was tired of trains and travelling, and wanted to connect with the local town here. So I called up my buddy Tobita-san who runs a local apple orchard and speaks a bit of English, and set up a 1-day internship for Tom. Tobita-san was grateful to have the help, and he enjoyed the cross-cultural sharing. Tom-san told me he thoroughly enjoyed immersing himself in the local culture. That night, the two of them even went to the okagura lion dance practice together. Due a meeting, I couldn't attend. Later I asked the troupe leader if things went okay without me, and he said everyone is used to foreigners, and that they all had a blast. (That's actually key for me. It is my desire that Kamesei Ryokan as well as the lion dance guys and Togura Kamiyamada's "Inbound" efforts are bigger than just me!)
I doubt we'll have very many guests that are as keen as Tom was for connecting with the locals, but should the occasion arise, I'll be happy to set up another 1-day Intern for anyone else in the future!

隠れ三味線 Shamisen Behind The Screen

2010.01.28: 長野に来る理由 Reasons to Come to Nagano









What does it take to impress 40 ryokan proprietors? Myself and the other members of Nagano's ryokan junior association found out during our annual New Year dinner today. We are arguably professionals when it comes to "traditional Japan". However, every one of us was mesmerized by the restaurant where we gathered, Matsumoto's Hikariya.

When we walked in to the banquet room, we noticed a traditional folding screen in one corner, with the melodious sounds of shamisen coming from behind it. We initially assumed there was a CD player behind it playing background music. But upon closer inspection, on the right side we could make out a shadow moving on the wall, the shadow from a kimono sleeve and the end of a shamisen. It was a live performance, hidden behind the screen!

Man, if I were to go to the trouble of arranging for a musician to come and play shamisen live, you could bet your bottom dollar I'd have her on a stage for everyone to see. So we were so impressed by Hikariya's subtle style.

The restaurant is in a renovated merchant's house, with the east wing being Japanese cuisine, and the west French.

Hikariya is one of Nagano's treasures! Us ryokan proprietors can certainly attest!

Click here for the website of HikariyaのHPはこちら

Hikariya's tokonoma decoration

駐車場案内看板+(遊び心の)アルファ A Parking Sign + (a little fun) Alpha

2010.01.27: 亀清旅館 Kamesei Ryokan

次は、私の地元のシアトルのFremontというご近状に面白い看板があるのでそれも真似してみました。その近状は宇宙の中心だと勝手に決めました。「Fremont Center of the Universe」って画像検索をすれば分かると思います「海は何メーター」、「パリーは何キロメーター」などの印がある。それを真似して、亀清の駐車場看板に「カラコロ足湯は200m」や「善光寺は30km」、「シアトルは7980km」も。楽しい作品が出来ました。

Even though we park our guests cars right in front of the entrance to our inn here at Kamesei Ryokan, often guests ask "Where's the parking lot?" I realized, perhaps the problem is we don't have a "P" (Parking) sign. So the boys and I started a little craft project: a Parking sign. And not just any ol' Parking sign -- one with a bit of flair.

First of all, the road that passes in front of Kamesei is technically called Koen Dori (=Park Road). But not many people seem to know its name. So we made a "Koen Dori" street sign, patterned after the city's official ones.

Next, we took some inspiration from the Fremont neighborhood of my home town, Seattle. The people there decided they were the center of the entire universe. If you do an images search for "Fremont Center of the Universe", you'll see the sign they made, with direction arrows to Paris, Timbuktu, and so on. We copied that idea, and made arrows to such places as the Foot Bath (200m), Zenkoji Temple (30km), as well as Seattle (7,980km).
So if you pass in front of Kamesei, please see our new sign. And hopefully our guests will know where the parking is (as well as how far Seattle is!).

タイラーvs。SBCラジオの俳句番組 Me vs. SBC Radio's Haiku Program

2010.01.26: メディア Media





In the outdoor bath
Lightly falling on my face
Snow falls from the sky

What do you think? That is my attempt at a Nagano-themed, seasonal haiku poem.

Today I went to the studios of SBC Radio to partake in a special haiku program. Oh-san, an engineering student at Shinshu U. originally from China, and Yuki-san, born in Brazil, and I were taught some of the intricacies of haiku by Tofukuji-sensei. And through haiku, we compared the traditions and cultures of Japan, China, Brazil and America.

Back when I was in grade school, I remember studying haiku once. I'm pretty sure it was in third grade. I was really drawn to the challenge of squeezing an image into the 5-7-5, and continue to be fascinated by haiku today. It was a treat to have Tofukuji-sensei explain more about the world of haiku.

I am looking forward to hearing the radio broadcast!

SBCラジオのHPはこちらClick here for SBC's website

東福寺先生の俳句HPはこちらClick here for Tofukuji-sensei's haiku website.

Winter in Nagano: Tyler's Top 10 Things to Do

2010.01.25: 長野に来る理由 Reasons to Come to Nagano

#1 About to take off skiing at Shiga Kogen


Here in Nagano, it gets so cold in the winter that you don't want to go out. So what do Nagano-ites do for fun in the winter? Well, here's Tyler's Top 10 Things to Do in Nagano in the Winter:

1. Ski
Embrace the cold, and get out and enjoy Nagano's spectacular nature. One of the best ways to do that is to go skiing in the mountains. With so many world class, Olympic level ski resorts in the prefecture, it would be a shame not to take advantage and hit the slopes. Of all the ski areas in Nagano, I personally like Shiga Kogen to the east of Nagano City, for its remote mountainous beauty. I took our sons there after New Years. We skied around for half a day, and barely scratched the surface of what Shiga has to offer.
Shiga Kogen ski info here

If you prefer to enjoy the snowy scenery at a slower pace than skiing, then snowshoeing is the way to go. You can go cross country skiing or snowshoeing at various places throughout Nagano, but I personally suggest Togakushi. Mirror Pond, the Forest Reserve, and the mystical path to the Inner Shrine, Okusha, which is lined by massive cedar trees. The rich hues of the cedar bark contrasts so beautifully with the snow.
Togakushi's winter info is here。 Also, don't miss Togakushi's white season English pamphlet.

3.Ice Skating
For people who want to do some winter sports activities but the weather isn't cooperating or it's too much trouble to go to the mountains, how about ice skating? During New Years, our family went skating at M-Wave in Nagano City. It was a lot of fun, and they even had skates to fit me -- 30cm!
M-Wave's website is here

If Nagano's cold winter is getting to you, how about going for a soak in an onsen hot spring mineral bath? Nagano is blessed with scores of onsens throughout the prefecture. Many have outdoor baths that let you enjoy views of the mountains as you soak in the onsen. Norikura's milky white onsen, Azumaya Kogen Hotel near Mount Asama, and Maguse Onsen who's outdoor bath features views of the northern Alps are just a few. Last month, our family went to the Takayama Onsen area and enjoyed the views from one of the baths at Shichimi Onsen.
Shichimi Onsen's Koyokan website is here

5. Snow Monkeys
"Walk a half an hour through the snow to some some monkey soaking in an onsen?" Well, it wouldn't be a snow monkey if there weren't any snow! This is the best time of the year to see the monkeys of Jigokudani Wild Monkey Park in their natural environment, escaping the snow and cold by bathing in the onsen. And I promise: the blissful look of the monkeys' faces as they soak in the onsen will be worth the trip.
Jigokudani's Snow Monkey website is here

6. Strawberry Picking
I know what you're thinking -- "Strawberry picking in the winter? Isn't that done in July out at a strawberry field?" Well, here in Japan, the berries are grown in greenhouses, making winter prime picking time. It's also a way we Nagano-ites escape the cold, by going inside a heated greenhouse. And you get to eat yummy berries to boot! Note: Strawberry picking in Japan involves paying to enter the greenhouse, where they give you a bowl of sweet condensed milk for berry dipping, and you get to pick and eat to your heart's (and tummy's) content. Berries for taking home are sold separately. One such greenhouse is Agri-Park, near Yashiro Station on the Shinano Railway line.Click here for Agri-Park's website.

7. Art & History Museums
Winter also presents an opportunity to visit those museums you had always wanted to check out. You get to tweak your artistic and/or historical interests, plus its warm inside the museums! Right across the street from Agri-Park (the strawberry place mentioned in #6 above), is the Nagano Prefectural History Museum, as well as the Mori Shogunzuka Keyhole tomb. Check out more about these two underrated historical centers here.

8. "Taiken" Experiences
As in #7 above, if you want to get in from the cold and do some cultural-related activity, winter is a great time to do so. Here in Nagano, there's everything from soba noodle making to ninja lessons. Two "experiences" that I suggest are traditional silk weaving for adults (Koiwai Tsumugi in Ueda) and prehistoric Jomon era craft making for kids (Sarashina Ancient Experiences Park in Chikuma City)

9. Hot Pot Cuisine
Hot Pot meals, or "o-nabe" as they are known in Japanese, are popular throughout Asia. But hot pots are a perfect match for Nagano's cold winters, especially if the ingredients include some local favorites, such as deer meat or wild boar meat. Such only-in-Nagano o-nabe are available at Gotoku-tei restaurant near Nagano Station. Click here for Gotoku-tei's website

10. Azumino Wasabi Fields
The Daio Wasabi Farm in Azumino is pretty special. Wasabi only grows in the cleanest, clearest water. Azumino has that, in rivers fed by run-off from the Japanese Alps. On top of the pristine water, you have Azumino's quiet, natural setting. Amidst all of this, and with the backdrop of the Alps, you have the wasabi fields laid out in rows with streams running through them. The farm is rewarding to see any time of the year, but in winter, when the leaves are off the trees, the bare branches give an even stronger contrast to the green of the wasabi plants and the steel grey of the riverlets. (If you go, make sure to try the wasabi soft serve ice cream, too!). Daio's website is here.

There you have it. If you try all 10 of these winter activities and are left wanting more, let me know and I'll be glad to provide a list of runners-up! Come and experience what Nagano has to offer this winter.

#2 Togakushi starting to get snow

#3 Our Family Ice Skating at M-Wave

#4 Shichi Onsen's open air bath with snowy view

#5 Blissful Snow Monkey

#6 Strawberry picking in a warm greenhouse

7. 1600-year old Mori keyhole tomb

#8 "Experiencing" silk weaving

#9 Gotoku-tei's Nagano nabe

室賀峠を越えて、ささらの湯へ Over Muroga Pass to Sasara no Yu

2010.01.24: 長野に来る理由 Reasons to Come to Nagano



Hidden away in the back of one of Ueda City's nooks and crannies is Muroga Onsen. Their theme is "Mihada no yu", or "mineral water for beautiful skin". Lots of onsens (including ours, Kamiyamada) advertise the beautifying effects of their mineral waters, but I have to say that Muroga's onsen water does leave your skin feeling slippery smooth.
Our boss offered to watch over Kamesei Ryokan for the afternoon, so our family went for a drive today to Sasara no yu, the daytrip bathing facility at Muroga. We drove over Muroga Pass, saving us the drive around. Sasara no yu, besides the baths, has a farmers market, soba restaurant, and art gallery. So guests can purchase local produce, eat hand-made soba, and enjoy the works of local artists. But the main draw is the mineral water. There are separate baths for men and women with a rock bath outside one, and a wood barrel bath outside the other. (The sides are changed once a month.) The baths are constantly flowing -- no recirculating. Muroga's onsen apparently has a healthy volume of water -- they even have an onsen stand (kind of like a gas stand but you pump onsen water instead of gas).
Today, some of our fellow bathers had come from neighboring Gunma Prefecture. Muroga's mineral water's smooth skin effects are such that it makes it worth it to come from afar. The Gunma guys asked us how Kamiyamada's mineral water differs. Both are clear (uncolored), and the temperatures are pretty much the same, but Muroga's definitely gives your skin a softer, more slippery feel. However, Kamiyamada's has a more prominent sulfur smell making it the more onsen-like in my opinion.
So if you are looking for a different onsen to try on the way to or from Togura Kamiyamada, I suggest checking out Muroga!

室賀は上田駅から車かバスで30分。(バスは平日に6便、休日に2便。)Muroga is 30 minutes by car or bus from Ueda Station. The bus runs 6 times on weekdays, 2 on holidays.
ささらの湯のHPはこちら。Click here for Sasara no Yu's website.

くるみそば@ささらの湯 うまい!



2010.01.23: 亀清旅館 Kamesei Ryokan


This morning when I woke up and looked outside, I was surprised to see everything covered in white. We just had a high temperature of 11 deg C a couple of days ago, but the snow came back quickly. I have to say, Kamesei's naka-niwa garden sure looks pretty with its blanket of snow. Our guests were delighted with the beautiful scenery.