みどりさんから「秋」のオブジェ An Autumn "Objet" from Midori-san

2012.11.30: 季節 Seasons


Our cousin Midori-san visited Kamesei Ryokan again and made this flower arrangement to display in our main passageway. A little touch of the end of Fall to give a flourish to the season for our guests.

FM長野 生放送@亀清旅館 忘・新年会情報 FM Nagano, Live at Kamesei Ryokan End-of-the-Year Party Info

2012.11.29: メディア Media

Live interview at Kamesei's Lobby




FM Nagano's reporter Ikeda-san came to Kamesei Ryokan for their weekly broadcast about Chikuma City. Ikeda-san made a live report from -- Kamesei's lobby!

While basking in the warmth from our wood-burning stove, Ikeda-san interviewed me about Kamesei Ryokan's End-of-the-Year party plans as well as what Togura-Kamiyamada as a whole is doing for the season.

Details on Ikeda-san's FM Nagano blog


日付 大  中  小
11月30日(金) 〇  X  X
12月1日(土)  X  X  X
12月7日(金)  X  X  X
12月8日(土)  X  X  X
12月14日(金) △  X  X
12月15日(土) 〇  X  〇
12月21日(金) 〇  X  X
12月22日(土) △  △  X
12月28日(金) 〇  X  X
12月29日(土) △  △  〇


長野トップ100温泉: 戸倉温泉「白鳥園」 Nagano's Top 100 Onsens: "Hakuchouen" in Togura Onsen

2012.11.28: 長野に来る理由 Reasons to Come to Nagano

Rich sulfur-laden onsen water pouring into Hakuchouen's 300-person "Mammoth Bath". (Just don't ask how the onsen water IN the bath is...)

長野県は温泉が沢山あって、回り切れない。近場でもまだ行った事がないのがあります。今回はその一つにデビューしました: 戸倉温泉の白鳥園。






100円のゲームセンター (モグラたたきで私が今日のハイスコアが出来た!)、




In researching (?) Nagano's Top 100 Onsens, I've come to realize that there are just so many onsens, it's going to be impossible to try them all. There are several here in Togura-Kamiyamada Onsen even that I haven't been to yet. I finally made my "debut" at one of those -- Togura Onsen's Hakuchouen.

Even though Hakuchouen is only a 15 minute walk from Kamesei Ryokan,
and even though it is a legend in these parts (in the era before Tokyo Disneyland, Hakuchouen served as somewhat of an amusement park so all of the old-timers in the area speak fondly of their memories of the place),
this was my first time to experience the legend.

First, my attempt at being an onsen critic:

The onsen water is high in sulfur content, similar to Kamiyada's. So where it comes pouring out into the bath, there is a strong sulfur smell. But the bath water is recirculated so with the chlorine and what-not added, it looses any special "onsen" sensation.

However, the variety of the baths makes up for that. First there is the massive main indoor bath, nicknamed the "Mammoth Bath" (supposedly big enough for 300 people), and an outdoor bath made out of impressively large boulders. But wait, there's more! 3 more indoor baths -- a bubble bath, one where you lay down in, and a lukewarm bath, perfect for dipping in after coming out of the sauna.

And no description of Hakuchouen would be complete without mentioning the extras:
a cafeteria with, besides the regular ramen and donburi fare, features some seriously potent garlic-seasoned yakitori (chicken-on-skewers),
a game center (I got the day's high score on the Whack the Mole game!),
ping-pong tables,
karaoke singing,
a shop selling everything from peanuts to go with your beer to clothes of questionable fashion sense.
(The various areas have different operation hours so double-check once you get there.)
There's even an Okamoto Taro sculpture in the entrance. And to top it off, the emperor once spent the night at Hakuchouen. (They even have the tableware and dishes he used on display.)

Hakuchouen is more than just its onsen water -- you have to consider the total package. The entire time-slip total.

Just be sure to consider it soon -- it will all be replaced in about a year's time.

(What will happen to that classic Whack the Mole game?)

Hakuchouen's outdoor bath featuring impressive bolders

Don't miss the cafeteria's yakitori!

Hakuchouen's Namesake Swan Sign

The Okamoto Taro Sculpture

亀清旅館の紅葉ピーク Fall Foliage Peak at Kamesei Ryokan

2012.11.27: 季節 Seasons

Kamesei's 100-Year Bath in full Fall Foliage color




It doesn't get any prettier than this. The leaves in all of the trees in Kamesei Ryokan's many gardens are at the peak of their fall colors right now.

The guests who stayed in our guestroom "Yubae" exclaimed that our garden's autumn foliage is better than any hotel who sells themselves as a place to see the fall leaves. They couldn't stop taking pictures of the view from their room.

Nagano is entering into its bitterly cold winter season. But before we do, Mother Nature is treating us to one last show of color.

亀清旅館 Kamesei Ryokan

Our Naka-Niwa central garden's turtle swimming with the leaves from the Japanese maple

長野トップ100温泉 虫歌の湯 Nagano Top 100 Onsens: Mushi-Uta no Yu

2012.11.26: 長野に来る理由 Reasons to Come to Nagano

Mushi-Uta no Yu's facade, with the snow-covered northern Alps in the distance





My research (if you can call it that) of Nagano's Top 100 Onsens continues. This time it was Mushi-Uta no Yu in Nagano City's Matsushiro district. Located at the foot of Mt. Minakami (rumored to be a pyramid visited by UFO's), Mushi-Uta no Yu overlooks Nagano City and the Zenkoji Plain. Several acquaintances who live in Matsushiro recommended Mushi-Uta for its view.

Mushi-Uta literally means "the insects' song". It refers to Matsushiro's roots as a silkworm growing area. Children used to hear the cries of the silkworms struggling to break out of their cocoons and had a statue dedicated to Kannon (the Goddess of Mercy) built nearby.

Not that I'm an onsen critic, but here is my arguably critical take on Mushi-Uta no Yu:

The large outdoor bath is massive, and features huge boulders and a garden. However, just 10 minutes further up Route 35 is Juppuku no Yu whose outdoor bath features even more impressive boulders and a much more complete garden.
The highly-touted view from the outdoor bath overlooking the valley turned out to be disappointing, as you had to stand up to enjoy it due to fence blocking the view. About 10 minutes north of Matsushiro is Omuro Onsen's Makiba no Yu has a much more panaromic view of the valley.
For me, the most important part is the quality of the onsen water, and that was the biggest disappointment -- Mushi-Uta's mineral content is rather bland and the baths are recirculated. Which is a shame, because also in Matsushiro is Matsushiro-sou and nearby Ichiyoukan whose iron-rich mineral water makes for an unforgettable onsen experience.

One thing Mushi-Uta has going for it is the impressive timbers used in the construction of the bathhouse and the shelter over the main outdoor bath. Overall though, with so many better onsen options in the area, Mushi-Uta needs more than just cool columns.

But don't take my word for it. Mushi-Uta has lots of fans -- go check it out yourself.

虫歌の湯 Mushi-Uta no Yu

Outdoor bath featuring Mushi-Uta's trademark (?) impressive timbers

The view -- somewhere past the fence.

大雲寺自然公園・霊靜山石仏・神群ハイキング Hiking Daiun-ji Temple Nature Park and the Mt. Reijou Stone Statue Ring

2012.11.25: 信州の山 Nagano’s Mountains

Daiun-ji Temple's Susuki-filled Pond





About 20 minutes by car or 50 minutes by bicycle, in Chikuma City's Yawata district is Daiun-ji, a very historical temple. The imposing castle-like building was constructed in 1581. Massive cherry trees add a soft, graceful touch with their blossoms in April. On the east side is a moat, err, pond-like reservoir that in late July and August explodes in color with beautiful lotus flowers. On its other three sides the temple is surrounded by Mt. Hitoe and Mt. Reijou that tower 250-meters over the temple grounds.

Daiun-ji and its pond and surrounding mountains have been designated the Daiun-ji Nature Viewing Park. The other day, I took our kids for a hike on the park's approximately 1-hour trail.

Being that it was November, the pond's lotus flowers weren't in bloom but the susuki (Japanese pampas grass) were in full fluffy form. On the north side of the pond is a boardwalk that extends into the heart of the pampas grass, for a fuzzy-wuzzy feeling.
From there, we walked a bit north and entered the forest, climbing up to 490m Mt. Reijou and its foothill. Both peaks offer surprisingly outstanding views of the Chikuma River valley and the Zenkoji Basin. And Mt. Reijou is crowned by, well, a crown of stone and wooden statues. It's a curious mix of Buddhist and Shinto figures -- a scary Oni (ogre), a funky cat god there. The kids and I enjoyed looking at the often-times comical expressions on their faces.
After descending from Reijou-san, our 5-year old daughter Misaki led the way up to the top of 520-meter high Mt. Hitoe. The peak has a wooden gazebo that serves as a lookout point. From there, we waded through the fallen leaves and descended back down to the temple.

View-filled hike with a colorful pond, thick forest, and small mountains topped by funky statuettes. The Daiun-ji Nature Viewing Park makes for a perfect family outing.

大雲寺Daiun-ji Temple

霊靜山の石仏・神 Mt. Reijou Statues

Andy enjoying one of the many viewpoints along the Daiun-ji Hiking Trail

Misaki and one of the Mt. Reijou statues

今回の大雲寺自然探勝公園コースのガイドが友人Peter Ninnesさんの千曲市ガイド本でした。Peterさんはコースがどうやってわかったか知らないけど、この本がなっきゃ分からなかった。
Our guide for the Daiun-ji Temple Nature Viewing Park hiking course was my buddy Peter Ninnes' book "Hiking, Walking and Biking Nagano: 20 Nature, History and Culture Tours in Chikuma City". I don't know how Peter found the trails when he researched the book, but it was an absolute necessity in trying to decipher the path around Daiun-ji.

Hiking, Walking and Biking Nagano: 20 Nature, History and Culture Tours in Chikuma City
By Peter Ninnes

「旅館甲子園」 亀清旅館の申込み "Dream Ryokan Project" Kamesei's Application

2012.11.24: 青い目のおもてなし This American’s Omotenashi





The All-Japan Ryokan Junior Association will hold a Ryokan Koshien competition in February 2012 in Tokyo. One ryokan from each prefecture will be selected to represent their area, and the top 5 will make their presentation at the Tokyo competition. The criteria is the management vision of the proprietor and how that is conveyed to the employees.

As Kamesei Ryokan has become my life work, and as our chef Takei-san has embraced that vision, I decided to apply. It's all in Japanese, and it's a long read, but my application letter is as below.

旅館甲子園 Dream Ryokan Project




板長の料理の反応は当たり外れが激しい。特にそのびっくり茶碗が問題を起こしている。最近の口コミで「食事も変に手を加えすぎていて、いまいちでした。洋風の茶碗蒸しもバルサミコ酢が乗せてあり、これが苦手な人も多い。」や「 バルサミコ酢のかかった茶碗蒸しは、無理でほとんど残していました。」と怒られながら、「夕食は工夫された手作り感のあるメニューで特にバルサミコ酢の茶わん蒸しは絶品でした。これだけ食べにまた伺いたいくらいです。」と大満足して頂いたお客さんもいらっしゃる訳。私の口コミの答えかったが辛いせいか、一般的な料理を食べたい保守的な方がやっと他に泊まる様になったみたい。最近のお客さんは板長の腕を逆に期待してきていて、喜んで頂いている。

シアトルクッキーのレシピ(英文) Kamesei's Seattle Cookie Recipe

2012.11.23: 亀清旅館 Kamesei Ryokan


以前はそのレシピをこのブログに載せました。今回はCouchsurfing CookのWylieさんの依頼で英文も準備しました。

Here at Kamesei Ryokan, we serve our guests homemade cookies with their welcome tea. I bake the cookies myself, using my mom's recipe. I practically grew up by these oatmeal cookies. When I bake them here, I add a little Nagano twist -- some buckwheat flour.

Previously, I put the recipe for the cookies on this blog, but by request of Wylie, the Couchsurfing Cook, I made an English version of the recipe.

Wylie, the Couchsurfing Cook.

Kamesei Ryokan's "Seattle Cookies"

山芋の様に 地元の農家との交流 Like a Yama-imo: Meeting the Local Farmers

2012.11.22: 温泉タウン戸倉上山田 Onsen Town Togura-Kamiyamada

So this is what a Yamaimo root feels like.





One day we have a Prefecture-sponsored trade show with local farmers and producers. The next day we have a Farm-Inspection sponsored by Chikuma City. The farmers in the Goka district showed us ryokan owners and the chefs what type of produce they are growing. We learned so much great info, like just how many varieties of daikon radish there are, and the difference between yama-imo roots grown here vs. their more famous brethren grown in Nagano City's Matsushiro area. (Both are grown in the sandy soil along the Chikuma River, but ours have more stickiness, and Matsushiro's are more watery.)

Again, I took back lots of great info to our chef, so hopefully we'll be able to feature even more local produce here at Kamesei Ryokan.

Several varieties of daikon radish

Nozawana (rapeseed), ready for preserving

Black beans used in our local specialty, "shoyu mame" 醤油豆の黒豆

長野県生産者・加工業者との交流会@戸倉上山田 Nagano Farmers&Producers Trade Show at Togura-Kamiyamada

2012.11.21: 温泉タウン戸倉上山田 Onsen Town Togura-Kamiyamada

One of the booths at the Trade Fair -- Shinshu (Nagano) Miso with Zenkoji 5-Spice


Nagano Prefecture put on a trade show with local farmers and producers showcasing their various unique and high-quality products. The show was held on the 20th at the Tourism Hall here in Togura-Kamiyamada Onsen. I scoped out lots of great products for our chef to use, to make Kamesei Ryokan's cuisine even more specialized towards Nagano's great food culture.