善光寺にお礼を Giving Thanks to Zenkoji

June 8, 2009: 青い目のおもてなし This American’s Omotenashi



Nagano City's big Zenkoji Temple celebrated its once-every-seven-years Gokaicho this past April and May. Especially towards the end, Kamesei Ryokan benefited from the event as we had many Gokaicho-related guests come and stay here.
Today, we took our sons to Zenkoji to offer our thanks. The 5-meter tall "Ekobashira" column was still standing, minus the gold string that had connected it to the secret image inside the main building during Gokaicho. You could see where hundreds of thousands of people had touched the pillar at its base.

Thank you, Zenkoji!

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.

過去の回向柱Past Ekobashira

市民サイクリング:風林火山ツアー2009年Furinkazan Tour -- Chikuma Cycling Club

June 7, 2009: サイクリング Cycling





All I can say is, it was so nice to finally get in the saddle again.

Yesterday the Chikuma Cycling Club held its 2nd annual Furinkazan Tour, a 50km round trip ride starting at Togura Kamiyamada Onsen, passing through the Kawanakajima Historical Battle Site and Matsushiro.

Back in the States, I did a lot (and I mean LOT) of bicycling. But running the inn here at Kamesei, it's very difficult to align my schedule with that of the Chikuma Cycling Club. Yesterday, however, I finally got to ride with them, and it felt soooo good. The CCC members stopped at Kamesei at the end for a soak in our mineral bath. Ahh, yes -- cycling Nagano-style.

ツアーの詳しくはこちらClick here for more info on the tour.

Ancient Pine Tree at Matsushiro Castle

CCC members dwarfed by a storehouse in Matsushiro


Bento Stop: Tsutaya (Matsushiro)

Prayer "Ema" at Zozan Shrine, hoping for success at entrance exams


妻女山城のふもとの湧き水: お城への坂道を登る前に必飲!


温泉の昭和レトロとは? What is Showa Retro?

June 6, 2009: その他 Miscellaneous




When local TV station ABN featured Togura Kamiyamada Onsen last month on their Saturday morning variety show, they had talked about our town's "Showa Retro" feel.

What exactly is "Showa Retro"? Is it a classic style that brings back warm memories of the 60's and 70's -- all the garish neon of the bar district and the familiar appearance of the inns built in the era?
Or does it refer to a dismal impression that no improvements have been made since the 60's and 70's -- stemming from all the dilapidated buildings from the period?

As part of the the TV show, local celebrity Sanshiro-san came and took pictures of our onsen town's "Showa Retro" scenes. Their pictures are on display at a temporary gallery set up in an empty store front across the street from Arita-ya Ryokan on Kamiyamada Onsen's main street. The gallery will be open from 9am to 5pm through the month of June.

Seeing our onsen town through Sanshiro's eyes makes one realize that "Showa Retro" is a mix of memories and dilapidation. For people who didn't grow up during that era, you look at some of the architecture and ponder what were they thinking when they built that? But there are many people who saw those buildings during the Showa heydays, and for whom those styles have great appeal.

Come and check out Sanshiro's pictures in the gallery, then go for walk around Togura Kamiyamada and see the Showa Retro scenes yourself!

新しいスタイルの竹塀 New Style Bamboo Fence

June 5, 2009: その他 Miscellaneous


Now that we're into our quiet season, I've been able to get caught up on some projects, like the screen around the new cedar outdoor bath. Using some bamboo I got from a friend, and a cool new bamboo splitter I bought, and borrowing an idea from a local soba shop's garden, I made this section of fence using a bamboo weave.
Using the bamboo splitter was cool -- it was so easy to take even a long, fat length of bamboo and split it into 5 even widths. And then weaving the bamboo was fun to do, too. All of these were first-time experiences for me. I'm looking forward to making the rest of the screen next week.

close-up of the fence

the bamboo splitter

菖蒲風呂 Shobu Bath

June 5, 2009: 季節 Seasons



Our uncle, Maejima-san, picked some 'Shoubu' plants and brought a bunch for our baths. A type of Japanese iris, shoubu is decorated at the entrance to houses or placed in baths as part of the May 5th Boy's Day celebration. Here in Nagano, where spring comes later, Boy's Day is held on June 5th, 1 month later than the rest of Japan.

Shoubu is thought to ward off evil and is placed in the wish that boys grow up healthy and strong. All 4 of our baths here at Kamesei have shoubu in them now, so come and bring your sons for a bath!

Now listed on japaneseguesthouses.com 新しいHPに紹介されました

June 5, 2009: メディア Media


If you do a websearch for "ryokan", you are likely to come across the Kobe-based japaneseguesthouses.com website. They have an in-depth description about ryokans, including tips on staying at an inn as well as a description about the various types of ryokans. It's a website that I've admired for a long time.

Now they have added a page introducing Kamesei Ryokan. Apparently our efforts in making Nagano a friendlier place for foreigners to travel has been recognized, and they added us to their list of inns. Hopefully this will raise awareness about Kamesei and lead to more guests from overseas enjoying our traditional onsen ryokan.

亀清のページはこちらClick here for the Kamesei page.

坂城バラ祭りにデート A Date at Sakaki's Rose Festival

June 4, 2009: 温泉タウン戸倉上山田 Onsen Town Togura-Kamiyamada

Stopping to Smell the Sakaki Roses





Sakaki is the town next door to Togura Kamiyamada Onsen. Their Rose Festival is going on from 30-May to 14-June this year. Today my wife and I went on a little date to go see the roses at the garden alongside the Chikuma River.

To be honest, I was more interested in the Oshibori Udon noodles we ate for lunch -- they use Sakaki's specialty "nezumi daikon" radish that packs quite a spicy kick for the dipping sauce. But the roses were beautiful, and their lovely fragrance wafted on the breeze to be enjoyed by our noses. Ahh, how romantic.

As a date spot, the Sakaki Rose Festival makes for a lovely afternoon. The location is approximately 1km from Tekuno Sakaki Station on the local Shinano Railroad line.

Sakaki's brand new Rose Tower

「諏訪の男は命をかけて祭りを」諏訪御柱 "Men in Suwa put their whole lives into the Onbashira Festival"

June 3, 2009: 長野に来る理由 Reasons to Come to Nagano



At the sales meetings in Tokyo, the most memorable person was Komatsu-san of Suwa's once-every-seven-years Onbashira festival. The next festival is scheduled for April to mid-June 2010.
I asked him to pose with me for this picture. He explained that the men of Suwa put their lives into the festival. Each time, rumor has it that some people die celebrating the festival. The participants certainly put their lives at risk bringing the massive logs from the nearby mountains down to the Suwa Shrines. The logs are moved through a series of ceremonies, including down precipitous cliffs and through freezing cold rivers, climaxing in a ritual standing-up of the logs.
Komatsu-san said they have explanations in English and other languages available. When I get them, I will post them to this blog.

東京への商談会x2 Sales Conferences in Tokyo x2

June 2, 2009: メディア Media

Manning the Chikuma City booth

Now that Zenkoji Temple's once-every-seven-years Gokaicho event is over, things here at Kamesei are pretty quiet.
That's a good thing -- it means I can go to Tokyo for two days of sales meetings. June 2nd was the "Nagano Inbound Seminar / Sales Conference 2009", and the "Nagano Prefecture New Travel Products Sales Conference" was held on the 3rd.
At the Inbound Seminar, a representative from JNTO presented figures on how tourist numbers have been affected by the world-wide economic slump and, more recently, by the Swine Flu. Long-term trends remain positive, with restrictions on Chinese tourist visas to be lifted in July, and more Asians making yearly trips to Japan for shopping, as well as the continued popularity in the West of Japanese pop culture.
At the sales discussions that followed, I enthralled a newspaper reporter from Indonesia with the Obasute-yama legend, met a lady from Russia representing Intourist, and, afterwards, did some sightseeing at Tokyo Tower with two people from a travel agent that deals with agents in the China Towns in North America.
At Wednesday's sales conference, I manned the Chikuma City table, where we were able to spread the word about our town's many options for day excursions, from making your own miso paste to doing Nordic walking along the Chikuma River.

Zojo-ji Temple nearby the event site



インバウンド@千曲川:釣り Chikuma River "Inbound": Fishing

June 1, 2009: 活動 Activities

Mark enjoying the riverscape in Togura-Kamiyamada


I went to Togura Station to pick up a couple of backpackers from Australia. In the car on the way back, Mark asked if there were any fishing spots nearby.
Hmm... The Chikuma River 'ayu' river fish season doesn't open for another couple of weeks, but I often see guys fishing for black bass on the river that runs down the middle of our onsen town.
Mark borrowed a rod from our neighbor the pharmacist (he had his own reel and lures), and walked over to the river to try his luck. Apparently he enjoyed it because the next morning he went out again at 4:30am. Just don't ask if he caught anything. But I think that's besides the point. When you travel to a foreign country, you want to get in touch with that country's nature and environment, and fishing is a great way to accomplish that!