絵葉書の兄弟会 Annual Card Making Tradition

2010.02.28: 亀清旅館 Kamesei Ryokan



Here at Kamesei Ryokan, we are priveleged to host a variety of class and family reunions. The other night, the Shimada Family gathered here for their annual get-together. Every year, the family meets at an onsen ryokan, relaxes in the baths, enjoys a gourmet meal, then come together to make these cards. What a great tradition. We are grateful the Shimada Family chose Kamesei Ryokan for this year's gathering!

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 of Kamesei Ryokan in Nagano.

初の記念プラン: 結婚記念の工藤さん達 A First for our "Anniversary Plan", the Kudoh's

2010.02.27: 亀清旅館 Kamesei Ryokan



Here at Kamesei Ryokan, we recently introduced an "Special Occasions" Plan. The Kudoh's, celebrating their wedding anniversary, are the first guests to stay using that plan. With this plan, guests choose from a cake, flower arrangement, pottery, and a preserved flower decoration. The Kudoh's choose a cake.
To be honest, we have an ulterior motive with this plan. Of course, we want to provide a memorable experience for the Kudoh's in honor of their anniversary. But in addition, this plan lets us build a relationship with some of our local businesses. In most onsen towns like ours, the ryokans and shops operate in separate universes, with very little cooperation or communication between the two sides. This plan is Kamesei Ryokan's attempt to bridge the gap. For example, for this anniversary cake for the Kudoh's, we could have bought a mass-produced one for much less money elsewhere. Instead, we ordered the cake from Togura Kamiyamada Onsen's most unique, elegant and delicious cake shop.
But enough about our ulterior motive. We hope this special couple enjoyed their special cake. And we wish the Kudoh's a happy wedding anniversary.

ナプキン4枚のバーガー@松本 A 4-Napkin Burger in 'Moto

2010.02.26: その他 Miscellaneous

4 Napkins later...

そのバーガーの世界の中で、どうやってバーガーの美味しさをはかるかというと、一つな方法は使うナプキンの枚数です。つまり、バーガーがトマトやピックルやソース、ジューシーで美味しい時こそ、ナプキンを使うとの事です。この間、親友に松本の元町に連れてくれました。ここで、MOSちゃんもあって、Big Boyもあって、そして地元のヤミーヤミーもあります。松本のバーガーのメッカです。連れてもらったのはその地元の方のヤミーヤミーでした。元町と駅の近くの2店舗にライブハウスもやっていると言う応援したくなる頑張っているお店です。自家製のパンに沢山のバラエティーのバーガー: 490円のBLTエッグバーガーから1390円のビッグモンスターバーガーまで。(ビッグモンスターに何が入っているの?と思ったら、何が入っていないから聞いた方が早いかもしれない。)
We Americans love hamburgers. It's no coincidence that global burger chain McDonald's originated in the States. Ever since I was a kid, I've eaten many, many a burger. Even now, when I'm feeling run down and need an energy pick-up, I head for MOS Burger. I've found that sushi also works, and is a lot healthier! But every once in a while, I get a craving for a nice, juicy burger. And how do us Americans measure how good a burger is? One way is by how many napkins you need to eat it.
The other day, my buddy Ken took me to Matsumoto's Motomachi district. There's a MOS and a Big Boy's, as well as a local burger joint Yummy!Yummy!, making Motomachi Matsumoto's hamburger mecca. Ken introduced me to Yummy!Yummy! and there home-made buns and their huge selection of burgers -- everything from a 490 yen BLT Egg Burger to the 1390 yen Big Monster Burger. (Rather than asking what the heck is in the Big Monster, it might be faster to determine just what ISN'T in it...) Ken and I settled for the Che-Avo Burger, billed as being so thick as to be scary. And it was thick -- we were pretty amazed when we saw it. Ken was a little miffed that the restaurant has a "How to eat a Hamburger" explanation, thinking that was rude to suggest Japanese people don't know how to eat one. Ken had lived in the States long enough to become a pro himself. But I have seen a lot of Japanese people who had difficulties getting their mouths around some American hamburgers so the explanation probably is useful to have. Even me, someone who is used to tackling big burgers, was going to be challenged by this Che-Avo guy. Summoning up my 39 years of burger-eating experience, I successfully managed to eat it, and used 4 napkins in the process. That, in my book, is a good burger!
Yummy!Yummy! has another branch near 'Moto station, and they run a "live house", too.

ヤミーヤミーとU2グループのHPはこちらClick here for Yummy!Yummy! and the US Group's website.

Unassuming facade

How to Eat a Hamburger for the un-initiated

森のお寺:観龍寺 Mori's Temple: Kanyryu-ji

2010.02.25: 温泉タウン戸倉上山田 Onsen Town Togura-Kamiyamada


On the way back from dropping some guests off in Chikuma City's Mori district, I had some time to spare so I went on a search for Kanryu-ji Temple. I had seen it on maps before, and some recent guests had talked about it, so I was curious as to what the temple was like. After entering Mori, also known as "Apricot Village", signs for Kanryu-ji appeared. I followed the signs up to the temple's parking lot. Next to the lot is a fresh water spring with clean, sparkling water making a captivating gurgling sound. From the parking lot, you climb up a bunch of stone steps, go through the cool wooden "mon" arch, and come upon the thatched roof temple building. Since it's still winter, all the surrounding trees are bare, but I bet when spring comes the forest-like setting is pretty spectacular. I am sure I'll be coming back to Mori in a few weeks to see the apricot blossoms -- I hope to come back to Kanryu-ji then, too. The temple and arch are covered in hand-painted wood tiles, and on the temple's east side is a really cool painting of a dragon. That makes sense since Kanryu-ji's "ryu" means dragon.
Kanryu-ji is #6 on Nagano's 33-Temples tour. It supposedly has a mind-bogginly long 1380 year history. If you're in the area, check it out.

観龍寺の詳しくはこちらClick here for more info (in Japanese) on Kanryu-ji.

Kanryu-ji Temple facade

Close-up of the woodwork

Stone Step Approach

The Temple's Bell

戸倉上山田温泉周辺の春の花や祭りの情報 Spring Flower and Festival Info for Togura Kamiyamada Onsen

2010.02.24: 温泉タウン戸倉上山田 Onsen Town Togura-Kamiyamada


節分草 (戸倉駅の上の天狗公園) 3月中旬~下旬

森「杏の里」のあんず祭 4月2日~16日

イースターフェスティバルin戸倉上イやまだ温泉 4月3日

上山田の知識寺の春祭り 4月17日(土)

戸倉の水上布奈山神社 御柱際 4月18日(日)

牛に引かれて善光寺詣り 5月5日(水)

科野のムラお田植えまつり 6月13日(日)

Springtime Flower and Event Info for Togura Kamiyamada Onsen Area

Setsubunsou Flowers (Togura Tengu Park) Mid to Late March
The cutest little white wildflowers, with pretty yellow and purple centers, bloom in a section of the hillside next to Tengu Park above Togura Station. They bloom after the snow cover melts, and attract many an avid photographer.
10 minutes by car from Kamesei Ryokan, 10 minutes on foot from Togura Station.

Apricot Blossoms, Mori "Apricot Vilage" Early to Mid April
This year's Apricot Blossom Festival will be held from April 2nd to the 16th in quaint, rural Mori. One of Chikuma City's signature events. The delicate light pink color of the apricot blossoms are spread out among the farmhouses in this rural valley.
25 minutes by car from Kamesei / Togura Kamiyamada Onsen, or 10 minutes by shuttle bus from Yashiro Station.

Easter Festival in Togura Kamiyamada Onsen, 4/03
Me and some fellow foreigners share our culture with the local children, with a huge, 1000-egg Easter egg hunt at the Fountain Park along the Chikuma River here in Togura Kamiyamada Onsen. Egg-related games and free horse buggy rides.

Chishiki-ji Temple's Spring Festival 4/17
A decidedly local traditional festival at a decidedly local temple. Absolutely 100% not touristy. Which makes it absolutetly 100% interesting for tourists from overseas, because it is a glimpse at local culture in rural Japan. I'll be there playing my flute with my fellow members of the Kamiyamada Lion Dance group.
5 minutes by car from Kamesei / Togura Kamiyamada Onsen, or 15 minutes on foot.

Togura's Mizukami Funayama Shrine's Onbashira 4/18
The big once-every-seven-years Onbashira will take place this year in Suwa. Branch shrines throughout the area have their own local versions, including this shrine near Togura Station. A massive log will be moved from a nearby mountain and set up at the shrine at a special ceremony. This festival, also, is meant for locals as opposed to tourists, which makes it that much more meaningful for outsiders to experience.
The shrine is a 10 minute walk from Togura Station, or 15 minutes from Kamesei Ryokan.

Pulled By an Ox to Zenkoji Walk 5/05
Togura Kamiiyamada Onsen's annual 30km walk to Zenkoji Temple, in honor of the legend of an old lady following an ox to the temple. This year, it's my turn to be the head organizer. So if you have any suggestions for improvements, feel free to let me know!

Rice Planting at Shinano Village, Mori 6/13
Next to the Prefectural History Museum is a recreated prehistoric village, complete with rice paddies. Every year, an event is held with young ladies dressed in period costumes hand-planting the rice seedlings to the accompaniement of taiko drums. One field is open for anyone to try their hand at wading into the mud and doing "ta-ue" rice planting. It's a great opportunity to experience ta-ue, as well as gain a new appreciation for rice.
The history museum is 25 minutes by car from Kamesei / Togura Kamiyamada Onsen, or 15 minutes on foot from Yashiro Station.

Shinano Village ”ta-ue”

Suwa's Onbashira column -- Togura's will be a bit smaller!

Chishikiji and our Okagura lion

旅館若旦那は半分やどの人間、半分町の。Us Ryokan Proprietors Work Half For Our Inns, and Half For The Town

2010.02.23: 青い目のおもてなし This American’s Omotenashi


For us proprietors of inns here in Japan, typically half of the work we do is for our inn, and the other half is for the town. Today was a perfect example. This morning, after last night's guests left, the other junion innkeepers and I gathered in Togura Kamiyamada Onsen's main park to take down the winter illumination lights. After that, I grabbed lunch with the guys, then met with our carpenter to discuss renovation plans. Then it was on to the town's tourism center for a quick talk with our main civic improvement guy, followed by a long meeting with the publications committee. Once that was over, I returned to the inn to flip futons for tonight's guests. Over half of my day was spent on work for the town!
While the other innkeepers and I were at the park this morning, Ryo from Seizan Ryokan started doing some funky exercises. I'm not sure if it was due to today being a spring-like warm one, or if he was excited because he's going to get married next month, but he started doing some flips. I managed to get this picture of him upside-down. As you can see, we mix in a little play with our work.

旅館晴山のHPはこちらClick here for Seizan's website

戸倉上山田温泉の若旦那ブログはこちらClick here for the Togura Kamiyamada Onsen Junior Innkeepers' Blog

我々もいつかお世話になるだろう・・・お神楽@アットホーム老人センター  We'll Probably End Up Here, Too, Some Day -- Okagura at At Home Retirement Center

2010.02.22: 上山田お神楽 Kamiyamada Lion Dance



千曲サイクリングクラブと一緒にエコサイクル塗装 Painting the Eco-Cycles with the Chikuma Cycling Club

2010.02.21: サイクリング Cycling


As part of Togura Kamiyamada Onsen's ecologically-minded project, the Chikuma Cycling Club in coloboration with the Ryokan Association, have started a project to provide rental cycles to guests of the onsen to explore the vicinity. Today, myself and son Andy and members of the Cycling Club, a total of six people painted the nineteen bicycles this eco-green color. The Cycling Club negotiated with the city to re-use these bicycles that had been thrown away. After the bikes dry and the Club members put the finishing touches on them, we will distribute them to 6 spots in the onsen, including Kamesei Ryokan, for use by onsen guests. The price is 200 yen per day for guests, and 500 yen for regular people. Come and enjoy Togura Kamiyamada Onsen by bike!

サイクリングクラブの詳しくはこちらClick here for Cycling Club info.

Hard at Work

戸倉上山田温泉のレストランガイド☆英語版☆揃ってきた Togura Kamiyamada Onsen's Restaurant Guide *English Version* Coming Together

2010.02.20: 活動 Activities

One of the last pieces: Izakaya "Yuki"


焼鳥や: 元芸者x1 英語OKx1
中華: 2
おそば・うどん: 3
フレンチ: 1
ジンギス・カン: 1
お寿司: 1
おしぼりうどん: 1
タイ: 1
ラーメン: 2
和食: 2
パスタ: 2 (内の1つはインドカレーも)
おやき: 1
居酒屋: 1
全国のチェーン店: 0
地元の、家族経営のお店: 20



As previously mentioned, we are working on an English walking map and restaurant guide for Togura Kamiyamada Onsen. Last night, the last piece of the puzzle for the restaurants finally fell into place. We wanted as wide of a variety as possible, and the 20 shops who agreed to cooperate are as follows:

Yakitori: 2 (one run by an ex-geisha, the other by a guy that speaks English)
Chinese: 2
Soba / Udon: 3
French: 1
Mutton BBQ: 1
Sushi: 1
Oshibori (spicy) udon: 1
Thai: 1
Ramen: 2
Japanese: 2
Pasta: 2 (including one that also does Indian curry)
Oyaki: 1
Izakaya: 1
National Chain Restaurants: 0
Locally owned, family-run restaurants: 20.

I still have lots of work to do to finish the brochure, but will get on it!

姨捨正宗の酒蔵: 3月13日に蔵開放 The Obasute Sake Brewery "Open Brewery" Day 13-March

2010.02.19: 温泉タウン戸倉上山田 Onsen Town Togura-Kamiyamada

Obasute Masamue brewery entrance

戸倉上山田温泉の周辺の地酒は姨捨正宗です。私は個人で何度も見学させて頂いております。歴史のある、味のある蔵です。もう、大好きです。(もちろん、造っているお酒も好きですし・・・) 普段は一般公開されていませんが、2010年3月13日(土)は特別で「蔵開放」のイベントです。10時、11時、13時、14時、15時からという5回のツアーが行う予定です。そして、蔵でしか味わえない「絞りたて」もあるそうです。善光寺街道沿いの立派な土壁の蔵で、全国的に評価、受賞されたお酒、この特別なイベントで是非、ご一緒に行きましょう!


Togura Kamiyamada Onsen's area sake brewery is Obasute Masamune. Using rice grown in the legendary moon reflecting rice fields of Obasute Mountain, and clear water from a local spring, Obasute Masamune's sake is recognized nation-wide and has won numerous awards. The historical brewery buildings, located on the Edo-era Zenkoji Kaido (the old path between Matsumoto and Zenkoji Temple in Nagano City), are full of character with impressive earthen walls and traditional construction.
I have been fortunate to have had the opportunity to tour the brewery before, but normally it is not open to the public. However, on Saturday March 13th 2010, Obasute Masamune will hold a special "Open Brewery" day so the public can tour the facilities. Tours will start at 10 and 11am and 1, 2 and 3pm.
Come and join me for a tour of this historical sake brewery -- it's a unique opportunity to see the traditional buildings and the inner workings.

Obasute Masamune Sake Brewery Access:
From Togura Kamiyamada Onsen by car, take Prefectural Road #77 north to Route 403 and turn left. Climb for approx. 3.5km and the brewery will be on the left. Or take bus #6 from Yashiro Station on the Shinano Railway line, approx. 25 min.

姨捨正宗のHPはこちらClick here for Obasute Masamune's website.