たぬきの新しい酒瓶Kamesei's Tanuki has a new Sake Bottle

March 11, 2009: 亀清旅館 Kamesei Ryokan

Most establishments that sell sake in Japan have a tanuki statue. He's kind of a good luck charm, and is usually made holding a ledger and a bottle of sake. The tanuki here in our Naka-niwa garden has always had a sake bottle at his side, but I thought it would be most appropriate if the bottle were from our local sake brewer, Obasute Masamune. I asked our rep, and he found this cool bottle in their warehouse and brought it for us. So I proudly displayed it next to our tanuki.

野鳥の歌といい文章 Bird Chirping and Good Copy

March 10, 2009: 亀清旅館 Kamesei Ryokan


Currently, I am working on Kamesei Ryokan's new brochure. We are updating it to include English text as well as pictures of the new outdoor baths.
As far as the text, I am confident about the English, but my Japanese isn't good enough for something as official as our brochure. Unfortunately, none of the Japanese here are confident either.
so that means we'll have the ad agency hire a copy writer. They are good, but the pro writer will never have been to Kamesei, and his or her writing would probably be something that could apply not just to Kamesei, but to any inn.
This morning, I woke up to the sound of birds chirping. It reminded me of our website. It starts out with Japanese text about the songs of the wildbirds in our garden. Now, our inn does have more gardens than most, and as a result a happy number of birds, but text like that could just as well apply to any inn, not just Kamsesei.
I'm hoping to put together some uniquely Kamesei text for our brochure.

外国人向きのおもてなしは。。。無し?Japan's "Omotenashi" for foreigners not so Welcoming

March 9, 2009: 活動 Activities

日観連 www.nikkanren.or.jp 4000施設 (亀清も)
国観連 www.ryokan.or.jp 全国の55,000件の内の1300幹
全旅連 www.yadonet.ne.jp 残りの4700幹?
My buddy Debito-san posted some interesting info from last week's newspapers: according to an MLITT survey, of the 1560 hotels and ryokans registered with the Law for Improving International Tourism Hotels, approx. 40% don't provide foreign language service, and a further 23% had no intention of doing so either.
I checked in with my "Inbound" senpai here in northern Nagano, and found out the following:
Debito-san, Thanks as always for the great info.

I conferred with my Inbound "senpai" here in Nagano, and offer the following possible explanation of why inns registered as "international" aren't actually international.

In the ryokan universe, there are 3 main organizations with whom we typically register:
Nikkanren -- Japan Ryokan Assoc. (www.nikkanren.or.jp; 4000 members, including yours truly)
Kokkanren -- Japan Ryokan & Hotel Assoc. (www.ryokan.or.jp, boasts 1300 members of a total of 55,000 ryokans in Japan)
Zenryoren -- All Japan Assoc. (www.yadonet.ne.jp; the remaining 49700 inns?)
Back in the 40's, JR formed what became the Japan Ryokan Assoc. based on accreditating inns that met a minimum level of requirements.
Then a group of snazzier inns formed the Kokusai (=International) Kankou Kyoukai aka Kokkanren supposedly for a more international level of service, but in actuality mainly for a more cosmopolitan image. Both organizations are now under MLITT.
The Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare overseas the Zenryoren, which is focused more on cleanliness issues than marketing.
The Kokkanren inns are likely the ryokan component of the above-mentioned 1560 establishments, and 40% is likely a low figure. That's because they use the international image as status in attracting domestic guests, not because they provide service to foreigners. And any tax benefits are offset by high membership fees.
FYI, there are groups of ryokans actively working to provide better service to guests from overseas, such as
Japanese Inn Group http://www.jpinn.com/
Welcome Inns http://www.itcj.or.jp/
Our inn recently joined the former. I thought it would be a slam dunk, as I am 6'7", oops, a native English speaker. But when they came to inspect, they pointed out we had no English sign out front of our inn. (Got that fixed right away!) My point is, they are serious about serving foreigners.

Unlike the Kokkanren inns.

戸倉上山田温泉の若旦那伝統 Togura Kamiyamada's innkeepers -- one of our traditions

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

As an innkeeper here at Togura Kamiyamada Onsen, by rights I should be a member of the Kamuriki Taiko group. However, I am not, for 2 reasons: I have no musical talent; and the practices are always when I'm busy flipping futons for our guests. But I love taiko, and part of me still wants to join. Instead, I joined the Okagura shishi lion dance troupe, and have been practicing the flute.
Anyways, one of the reasons I really look up to the taiko guys is their tradition of performing at each others wedding parties. Today, I finally got the opportunity to witness this. Kiichiro-kun from Arita-ya Ryokan got married today, and sure enough, Kamuriki Taiko was there to mark the occasion. Every time I've seen them perform in the past, it was at festivals where they play for an extended time, and have to pace themselves to be able to play until the end. Not tonight. This time they went full out, and gave it everything, intensely packed into three explosive songs. Even Kiichiro got into the action. It was absolutely incredible -- I will never forget it.

有田屋さんのHPはこちらClick here for the website of Arita-ya Ryokan

Kamuriki Taiko at Kiichiro's wedding

芸者三味線とセッション Jammin' with a geisha

March 7, 2009: 青い目のおもてなし This American’s Omotenashi

impromptu shishi lion

Normally, my biggest problem in writing this blog is choosing which among the interesting things from the day to write about. Today was unusual in that I was starting to get worried about not having anything to write about. That's usually when something funky happens, and today was no exception.
When I made my official "greeting" at one of the banquets, for some reason I was asked what musical instrument I play, and I replied the shishi flute. I have to learn to shut my big mouth! That particular group had requested some geisha for entertainment, including the shamisen veteran Harugoma-san. Partway through the banquet, I was called back to play the flute. We ended up jamming, with one guest doing a dance with a shishi made up of a seat cushion, sake bottles, and an obi, another customer played the taiko drums, Harugoma-san on the shamisen, and me on the flute. I have to be honest: normally when I play the flute there is another member in front of me and I follow his finger movements. So I was way out of my league to play flute for those guests, but they seemed to enjoy it (maybe thanks to the sake?).

Harugoma-san and Senhime-san w/ guest taiko player

veteran shamisen

大学卒業生、おめでとう!Congrats to the Grads

March 6, 2009: 季節 Seasons

Husky Hakama?

My wife's cousin's daughter stopped by today. She lives close, but is a distant relative. (Sorry, bad joke.) Anyways, she was wearing a hakama, which until now I had associated with martial arts. Her college graduation celebration was later in the day, and she was dressed up for that. Back in the States, June is when everyone graduates, but here in Japan, it is March. What surprised me the most was the coloring of her hakama: purple and gold. Those are the colors of the University of Washington, my alma mater.

雛人形はどんな思い出が付いている? What kind of memories do people have of Hina Dolls?

March 5, 2009: 季節 Seasons


毎年、隣の坂城町の「坂木宿ふるさと歴史館」でこの時期に古雛まつりが行います。今年の祭りは3月20日(金)から5月6日(水)までの予定です。雛人形研究家の田口先生は先日に公演しに来ましたのでまた亀清に泊まってくらました。その先生曰く、北信が東京と京都の中心になるので両方の雛人形の文化が流れてきて、独特なスタイルになっているそうです。本人は元々西洋人形の研究から始まって、途中から雛人形に切り替えたと、美咲ちゃんがGrandmaからもらった人形と遊んでいる姿を見たときに話してくれました。この人形はGrandmaの子供のころに本人が良く遊んだらしいです。自分の娘に遊んでもらえるようにずっと持っていたが、私と弟2人で、息子切でした。孫娘を待っていたら、アメリカからうんと遠い日本で生まれたこの美咲ちゃん。それでも、この大事な、思いで深い人形をうちの美咲ちゃんにくれました。Grandma Judiの記念でJuちゃんと呼んでいます。


March 3rd is the Hina Doll Festival in Japan. Households throughout the country put out these Hina doll sets for their daughters to enjoy. Most of the inns here at Togura Kamiyamada Onsen also have elaborate Hina sets on display, including the 8-level one at Kamiyamada Hotel. Kamesei's set this year is this relatively simple one. Our daughter Misaki seems happy with it.

At the Sakaki-juku Furusato Historical Hall in neighboring Sakaki Town, every year they put on an Antique Hina Doll Festival. This year's event is scheduled to run from 20-March (Fri) to 06-May (Wed). They often have Taguchi-sensei, a Hina Doll scholar, come for a talk, and this year he once again stayed at Kamesei. According to the sensei, northern Nagano is at a sort of crossroads between Tokyo and Kyoto, and our local Hina dolls were influenced by both sides for a style unique to this area. Taguchi-sensei actually started out researching Western doll culture. He mentioned that when he saw our Misaki playing with her Ju-chan doll. Ju-chan is named after Grandma Judi who kept the doll from when she played with it as a child. Grandma initially kept it to give to her daughter, but for better or worse she only had my two brothers and I. So she waited for a granddaughter. She finally got one in Misaki, but here in far-away Japan. Even so, Grandma still gave Misaki her treasured doll.

I wonder if Hina dolls have such memories attached to them.

坂城古雛まつりの詳しくはこちらClick here for details on Sakaki's Antique Hina Doll Festival

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.

客室のインフォーメーションの本の更新Updating the Information Books in the GuestRooms

March 4, 2009: 亀清旅館 Kamesei Ryokan

Chikuma City just updated their Sightseeing Guidebook (Japanese). The front section is like a magazine -- very chic. I went ahead and put copies of the new guidebook in the Information Books we have in each of the guestrooms. These Info books that we put together have all kinds of background information on our inn and the town, in both English and Japanese. So for people who come and stay, feel free to take a look at the Info book.

Better than a day at the office 事務所に一日いるより楽しい

March 3, 2009: 青い目のおもてなし This American’s Omotenashi

りんごの木の薪、来年の冬のため Collecting apple wood for next winter

In the lobby of Kamesei Ryokan, we have a wood burning stove. Guests often comment that it must be a hassle to get the firewood. Before we moved to Nagano, my life back in the States basically consisted of sitting at a desk in an office all day long. Compared with that, being out in Nagano's fresh air, getting in touch with nature, and having a thorough physical workout is unbeatable. (I'm getting concerned though that I'm neglecting too many projects back at the inn....)

レッサーパンダが宜しくって。The Lesser Pandas say "Hi".

March 2, 2009: 長野に来る理由 Reasons to Come to Nagano

Andy and Kenny showing off their zoo tickets

This morning we woke up to a touch of snow on the roof tiles of the neighboring houses. But yesterday was actually rather warm. We took advantage of the sunny weather and I took our kids to the Chausuyama Zoo in Nagano City which is famous for its Lesser Pandas. The Lessers sure were cute, but we were more impressed by the lions and the tiger near the entrance. They sure are huge in real life. And the giraffes and zebras were in the same spot. The 4~5 meter tall giraffes made the zebras look like pygmies. We had the most fun at the Urangutan exhibit. He was eating lunch when we saw him, and he would come right up to the window, face to face with our Misaki. She was so scared she started crying!

茶臼山動物園のHPはこちらClick here for Chausuyama Zoo's website.