ユニーク長野:養命酒の工場見学 Unique Nagano: Yomeishu Factory Tour

September 8, 2013: 長野に来る理由 Reasons to Come to Nagano

Yomeishu Komagane Plant with the Southern Japanese Alps in the distance

駒ヶ根市周辺に独特な工場見学はいくつかがある。以前はマルスウィスキーと南信州ビール工場の事を書いた。マルスウィスキーは世界レベルで注目されているので、お勧めです。

しかし、もっともっと「信州らしい」のは養命酒の駒ヶ根工場。

薬用養命酒は14種類の生薬で作られて、その一部はこの中央アルプスの自然から来る。工場の周りの敷地は36万m2、その約70%が森林だそうです。この自然から生まれた養命酒の瓶詰と梱包の見学が出来、薬酒の造り方の説明動画も見えます。

それだけで十分価値がある所、その上に記念館とカフェ「ヒーリングテラス」となっている改造した酒蔵もあり、森林の中の散策コースもいくつかあり、そしてこの土地で発見された縄文・弥生・平安時代の遺跡に記念して、それぞれの時代の復元された建物もある。

養命酒駒ヶ根工場はただの工場だけじゃないです。信州の自然・大昔の人々の生活を物語ります。

Komagane City is home to Yomeishu, the medicinal liqueur. This herbal tonic is made from 14 natural medicinal ingredients, many of which are found here at the base of the Central Japanese Alps. In fact, the plant's grounds cover over 360,000m2 of which 70% are natural forest.

Factory tours start by driving to the plant's entrance gate, where guests are directed to the visitors parking lot. A short walk takes you to the main entrance building and its elegant lobby. Walk up the stairs where a greeter takes your name and address, and guides you to the theater room for a 10 minute video presentation (with English subtitles) about the history and manufacturing process of Yomeishu. After that, the guide takes visitors across to the bottling plant where you can see the automated bottling and packing lines. (Explanatory signs in English.) The tour finishes with a sampling of Yomeishu (except for designated drivers -- they get a bottle of mineral water that also comes from the plant.)

The tour in and of itself is worthwhile, but that is not all. There are 4 nature walks to enjoy the forested grounds, a restored sake storehouse that serves as a museum (which holds classes on natural herbs and medicinal Chinese cooking) and cafe, and 3 restored prehistoric dwellings representing artifacts found on the site from 3 separate ancient eras: the Jomon, Yayoi and Heian periods.

A factory tour of the Yomeishu Komagane Plant will give you a deeper understanding of Nagano's rich natural environment and its connection to the people here from times past to the present.

養命酒 Yomeishu



The bright, airy lobby


Restored storehouse with terrace cafe


Stream along one of the nature walks





ユニーク長野:駒ヶ根シルクミュージアム Unique Nagano: Komagane Silk Museum

September 7, 2013: 長野に来る理由 Reasons to Come to Nagano

長野県らしい体験を海外に紹介する「ユニーク長野」の事業で駒ヶ根シルクミュージアムを視察してきました。日本の「シルクロード」はこの伊那谷から始まって横浜港まで続いて、世界へ輸出されました。

きっと私の自家のシアトル港へ運ばれたでしょう。私にとっては生まれた町と新しいホーム、長野との嬉しいつながり。

最寄の駅からは遠いし、体験の「まゆクラフト」とかは子供っぽいとの心配でした。しかし行ってみれば、個人的に興味深い内容ばかりで館長の関さんと体験工房の矢島さんのご丁寧なご案内で2時間もいました。シルクの世界歴史や信州でのルーツに興味のある方にはお勧め!

As part of the Unique Nagano project to introduce Nagano's unique activities and cultural experiences to the world, I took a tour of the Komagane Silk Museum.

Japan's historical silk road originated here in Komagane and the Ina Valley and extended to Yokohama Port where the silk was exported to the world. The Komagane Silk Museum not only describes that history, but that of the the role of silk throughout the world as well as throughout the ages. It is a working museum, with a research lab where silkworms are actually grown for their cocoons. It boasts a full workshop where visitors can do everything from making cocoon-based crafts to dyeing silk fabric or weaving a silk tapestry at a real loom.

To be honest, at first I was dubious about the Komagane Silk Museum, with its location far from public transport and some of the crafts struck me as being a bit childish. However, the curator, Seki-san, very kindly gave me a tour of the museum and workshop, leaving me amazed at how fascinating the history and complexity of how silk is made and used. Curious about how many cocoons it takes to make a kimono? See the glass cannister filled with cocoons. Want to know where the indigo dye for the silk dyeing comes from? There are indigo plants right outside of the workshop. Ever seen a real-life silkworm? Check out the lab where you can see the larvae munching away at mulberry leaves. (By the way, cocoons used in the workshop are grown in the museum's lab, and the indigo dye is hand-made on-site from the indigo plants growin in the museum's garden.)

Yajima-san, the workshop attendant, sat me down to make a tanuki raccoon dog out of cocoons. It turned out to be a very educational experience getting to work with real silk cocoons with my very own hands, feeling and getting accustomed to their physical properties. Then Yajima-san pointed out some of the intricate silk craftwork on display, everything from silk flowers to samurai dolls made from cocoons. Obviously, working with silk for crafts is not just for children!

There is very little English explanation at the museum other than a brief description reproduced (with editing by me) below. But the workshop activities are all hands-on enough that verbal explanation wouldn't be necessary.

The facility's location is in a hard-to-find spot quite far from the nearest train station, Komagane on the JR Iida Line. It's 10 minutes by taxi, and I do recommend taxi as the driver would likely be able to navigate the backcountry roads to get to the museum with no problem. The taxi fare would be approx. 2000 yen, well worth it for the indepth silk experience the Komagane Silk Museum provides.

KOMAGANE SILK MUSEUM

A working museum featuring a wide range of sericulture activities from silk-reeling history to the latest silkworm research.

1F EXHIBITION ROOM

*Restored Seri Culturist's Farm House (dates back to 1920-1940)

*History of Silk
Explains the origin of sericulture and fabric making in China from 420-479AC, as well as silk making developments in Japan during the Edo era. Includes ukiyoe woodblock prints circa 1600 depicting various scenes of silk making.

*Japanese Silk Manufacturers Trademark Emblems
From the era when Japan was the world's largest silk exporter.

*Sericulture in Developing Countries (Nepal, India, Brazil, China, etc.)
Maps and videos of the history of the Silk Road across Asia, as well as Japan's own silk road from the Ina Valley to the port of Yokohama.

*Sericulture at the Imperial Household
Her Majesty the Empress Michiko working with silk making.

*History of Local Silk Manufacturing Unions
The Ryusuisha and Kamiinasha silk reeling unions, with actual automatic silk reeling machines, seriplan testing utensils, etc.)

*Silk Making Equipment
Various tools and utensils used in the silk making process.

*Characteristics of Silk
Explanation about the properties and structure of silk as well as its use in clothes (e.g. silk stockings).

*Uses of Silk
Domestic silk products, "Ina Tsumugi" - the local style of silk weaving, silk used in traditional clothing from around the world, etc.

*Alternative Uses of Silk
Handmade cocoon dolls, artificial flowers and more.

*Silkworm Lifecycle
Visual aids to explain the incredible growth stages (30-times the original size!) of the silk worm. Includes a rotating model of the silkworm's inner structure, microscopic views of silkworm tissues, and cocoon samples from different varieties of silkworms.

*Silkworm Growing Lab
Actual silkworms being raised for study and cocoon making.

*Mini Theater
Video presentations on the lifecycle of silkworms as well as the biotechnology and uses of silk.

*Special Exhibit Room
Silk-related special exhibits are held throughout the year. Since the opening of the museum, several dozens of exhibits have been held over the years, with reference books issued in conjunction with the exhibitions.

1F WORKSHOP
Visitors can try their hand at a variety of silk-related activities, including:
Cocoon Craft
Loom Weaving
Dyeing
Activities can be enjoyed by children as well as adults. They can take anywhere from 30 minutes for making a small doll out of cocoons or weaving a drink coaster, to thorough lessons on more elaborate silk creations.

2F SHOPS & RESTAURANTS
Farmers Market, Museum Shop, All-you-can-eat lunch buffet restaurant "NANA-chan".

駒ヶ根シルクミュージアム Komagane Silk Museum



Curator Seki-san showing some of the weavings that can be made at the workshop's looms


Cocoon Craft examples


Tyler making a cocoon tanuki (raccoon dog)


Silk Dyeing examples


Indigo Plants in the Museum's Garden


Examples of cocoon craft art (Yes -- those samurai armor are made from silkworm cocoons!)


Examples of spool & silk thread crafts


Real, live silkworms in the museum's research lab


Display of traditional silk clothing from around the world in the museum





Golden Waves of (Rice) Grains at Obasute 金黄の穂波@姨捨

September 6, 2013: その他 Miscellaneous

亀清旅館・戸倉上山田温泉から車で10分の「田毎の月」で有名な姨捨棚田。今は金黄の穂波状態。稲刈りはあと2週間?

日本の原風景だ。

The famous moon-reflecting terraced rice fields of Obasute, a short 10 minute drive from Kamesei Ryokan and our onsen town, Togura-Kamiyamada. Harvest is set to start in a couple of weeks.

Golden waves of grain -- a quintessential landscape of the Japanese countryside.





安曇野シリーズ: お勧めのスイーツは北アルプス牧場のソフトアイス  Azumino Series: Softserve Icecream

September 5, 2013: グルメFoodie

Mari enjoying her softserve ice cream at the Northern Alps Ranch

安曇野シリーズにあたって、3時のおやつのお勧め所も紹介しないといけないですよね。地元の友人に連れてもらったのは:

北アルプス牧場

ここの手作り牧場ソフトクリームは私の今まで食べたソフトクリームの中で一番美味しい。さすが牧場の手作り。

私はブルーベリートッピングだったが、友人は醤油にした。(変わっていて美味しいかも。)

安曇野巡りの際、ソフトクリーム@北アルプス牧場はお勧めです♪

For this "Azumino Series" of suggested places to see, I would be remiss if I didn't add a spot to get your 3-o'clock snack. So here it is:

Kita Arupusu Bokujyou, err, the Northern Alps Ranch.

Not much of a ranch per se, but their handmade softserve ice cream is some of the best I've ever had.

I had it topped with blueberries, and my buddy tried the soy sauce topping. (I took a taste, too, and suggest sticking with the blueberry one.)







安曇野シリーズ グラスの世界「アートヒルズ」 Azumino Series: The World of Glass "Art Hills"

September 4, 2013: その他 Miscellaneous

Windchime-adorned trees at the entrance to the Azumino Art Hills Museum

安曇野アートラインは18軒の美術館で、その代表なのは子供の絵本作家岩崎ちひろの安曇野ちひろ美術館と彫刻術の碌山美術館と、今回に紹介したいグラスアートの

安曇野アートヒルズミュージアム

この3件を含めて安曇野アートラインの特徴は美術品の展示はもちろんですが、それぞれの建物や庭は安曇野の北アルプスの麓の場所や田舎の風景に合うのです。

安曇野アートヒルズミュージアムもそうです。北欧やフランス「ポップ」や日本(特に信州の若手グラスアーティスト)のグラスアートの展示と充実した体験プログラムも魅力の上に、周りの庭はグラスと自然のコラボレーションが印象的。

玄関の木々からぶら下げているグラス風鈴の音、
美術館の北側に池と野原はどれが自然の花か、どれがグラスか迷うぐらい。

この田舎の長野だからこそグラスの世界の体験・実感ができ、嬉しいです。

The Azumino Art Line is comprised of 18 art museums. Probably the most notable are the Azumino Chihiro Art Museum featuring works by childrens book artist Chihiro Iwasaki, the Rokuzan Art Museum of sculptures, and Azumino Art Hills Museum of glass art, which our family visited on our recent trip to Azumino.

All 18 museums, but especially these 3, share a common bond: not only do they display beautiful works of art, but their buildings and gardens are an awe-inspiring complement to the majestic Japanese Alps and the bucolic Azumino countryside.

The Azumino Art Hills Museum pays wonderful tribute to the glass art of Scandinavia, France's modern 'pop' art, Japan (especially the young generation of glass artists here in Nagano) and more. And they offer an extensive variety of hands-on (and lips-on) glass making and blowing lessons. But on top of that, outside the museum is an amazing combination of glass art and nature. Visitors are greeted by an almost mystical sound coming from glass windchimes hanging from the trees at the entrance. The pond and wildflower garden on the north side causes you to look closer to discern which flowers are real and which are made of glass.

Having such an extensive glass museum here in the Nagano countryside (or perhaps, it's because it is the Nagano countryside) is such an exhilerating feeling!


安曇野アートヒルズミュージアム Azumino Art Hills Museum

安曇野アートライン Azumino Art Line




Look closely: some of those flowers are glass!





安曇野シリーズ: 隠れそば処「常念」 Azumino Series: Hidden Soba Shop "Jonen"

September 3, 2013: グルメFoodie

長野県の安曇野地区は去年のNHK朝練「おひさま」から始まって、人気観光スポットとなってきました。最寄の高速インターの名前が「安曇野IC」に変更になったぐらい。

先日は家族のドライブで出かけてみましたので、皆様の安曇野冒険に役に立つ情報を少しでも提供したいと思います。

まずは、食べるところ。安曇野で言えば、大王わさび園がもちろん有名ですが、お蕎麦もかなり注目されている。

と思ったが、おそば屋さんを探すのに苦労しました。定休日や廃業日に当たったりして、やっと4件目で見付けたのは:

そば処「常念」

県道から離れていた、隠れていた場所に広い庭園の中の昔の豪農の敷地・家をそのままおそば屋になったお店。庭園を眺めながらその骨董品で溢れているインテリアーを楽しめる。

若女将のお勧めは「天ざる」です。

Just north of Matsumoto City is one of Nagano Prefecture's more popular sightseeing destinations: Azumino. It's always had a plethora of visitors coming to the Daio Wasabi Farm and to see the various museums along the Azumino Art Line. But last year's NHK Morning 'Drama' "O-Hisama" propelled Azumino into the nation's conscience. Now the area is so popular, even the local expressway interchange has been renamed "Azumino IC".

Our family recently went for drive to Azumino and I'll post about a few of the places we went to in the hopes it will make you readers want to go and enjoy Azumino, too.

First off, food, as all good trips should do. Azumino has a reputation for yummy soba noodles, but we ended up having a heck of a time finding a noodle shop. A combination of hitting shops on their day off, and shops permanently being 'off', it took us 4 tries to finally find:

Soba-dokoro Jonen.

Hidden on a side street off the main thoroughfares, Jonen is situated in the house and grounds of an Edo-era wealthy farmer. So you can enjoy a view of the formal Japanese garden as well as the interior decorated with a variety of antiques as you have some of Nagano's finest soba.

Note: Kamesei's junior proprietress' recommendation: the tempura soba set.

そば処「常念」 Soba-dokoro Jonen







早朝の姨捨棚田でサイクリング Early AM Obasute Rice Fields via Bicycle

September 2, 2013: その他 Miscellaneous

戸倉上山田温泉から車で10分の姨捨「田毎の月」の棚田は四季でそれぞれの季節のそれぞれの魅力(夏は深い緑色、秋は金黄色の稲穂、冬は雪景色、春はお月様を反射する水田)ありますが、

一日の中でそれぞれの時間帯でまた別な魅力があります。

昼間は風でさらさらと流れる穂波で、下の善光寺平や遠くの北信5山の景色、
夕方は夕日の金色の光が稲に横から当たって、写真者に一番喜ばれる光、
夜は善光寺平の夜景と棚田の暗闇とのコントラスト、そして蛙やコオロギの鳴き声、

そして朝は千曲川の向こう側の山から登る太陽の光で見る棚田はまた格別です。

今朝は全国的で有名な乗鞍ロードレースで参加してきたお客様と、うちの長男、三人で朝早く起きてロードバイクで千曲川沿いのサイクリング道路を通って、姨捨の棚田まで登って、走ってきました。約19㎞のコース。朝の運動にちょうど良い。尚且つ、日の出の棚田が見えて、感動しました。

戸倉上山田温泉に泊まって、早起きして姨捨の棚田を是非、見て頂きたいと思っております。

A quick 10 minute drive from Togura-Kamiyamada Onsen, the Obasute "Tagoto no Tsuki" terraced rice fields are a beautiful sight to see. Their name refers to how the terraced slope is situated in just such a way that when the moon comes up, it reflects in each individual rice field.

The rice fields offer distinct scenery depending on the seasons:

Deep green of the rice fronds in the summer,

Golden yellow of the rice ready for harvest in the fall, and the scenes of the cut rice set out for drying.

Patterns of snow over the barren fields in the winter.

And, of course, the mirror-like surface of the fields flooded in springtime for planting.

But what some people may not realize is the fields also offer a variety of scenery throughout the day.

During the middle of the day, the waves of rice grains blowing in the wind with the Zenkoji Plain stretching out below and the 5 Northern Nagano Peaks in the distance,

At dusk, the golden rays of sunlight streaming from over the shoulder of the terraces, lighting up the rice plants from the side.

At night, the inky darkness of the rice fields in contrast with the lights of the Zenkoji Plain down below,

And in the morning, the sun raising up over the mountains across the Chikuma River bathing the terraces in the early morning light.

This morning, I woke up early and went for a bike ride with our oldest son and a guest who stayed at our inn after competing in the nationally famous Norikura Road Race. We set out along the Chikuma River Cycling Road
before heading up to cycle through the Obasute rice fields. It was an envigorating 19-km ride.





上山田の9月は葡萄狩り♪ September in Kamiyamada Means Grape Picking!

September 1, 2013: 季節 Seasons

9月となりました。この上山田では、葡萄狩りの時期です。娘の美咲ちゃんに中島農園に連れてきました。亀清旅館のお客様に採りたての葡萄三種類(三色)をこの時期にデザートとして出しております。

葡萄狩りを体験すれば、
葡萄って何種類があるか、
どうやって栽培しているか、
畑は動物から守るのにどういう工夫しているか、
農家さんはどこまで手をかけているか、
葡萄畑の空気はどれだけ新鮮か、

色々と勉強になります。

是非、葡萄狩り@上山田はお勧めです。もし良かったら、葡萄農園へ一緒に行きますよ!

September has come along. Here in Kamiyamada, that means grape season!

I took our daughter Misaki to Nakajima Orchard to pick some grapes for our guests. This month, Kamesei Ryokan's dessert at dinner time is a plate of 3 varieties (3 colors) of fresh-picked grapes.

If you go grape picking, the experience gives you insights into a world you otherwise wouldn't know, such as:

How many varieties of grapes there are,
How farmers in Japan use to grow them,
The extensive techniques used to keep animals away,
How much labor the farmers here apply to growing the grapes,
How much cleaner the air is in a grape orchard

Come and experience grape picking yourself, here in Kamiyamada. I would be happy to take you to an orchard!



Tri-color: Muscat, Shinano Smile, Kyoho


遊び心の甘露煮屋さん: 島屋 Fun and Fish at Kanroni Shop "Shimaya"

August 31, 2013: 温泉タウン戸倉上山田 Onsen Town Togura-Kamiyamada

Shimaya's funky interior

甘露煮は和食の中で、割りと地味です。

従って、甘露煮屋さんも地味です。

と思ったら、大間違え。

戸倉上山田温泉の甘露煮屋「島屋」へようこそ!

上山田温泉の本通りと戸倉温泉の本通りを繋いでいる銀座通りにあるお店で、毎日はでかいお鍋で甘露煮をじっくり、じっくりと作っています。その背の高い(2mの私にこの町の2番目に高いかな?)高橋さん背だけではなく、心も大きいです。3代目の甘露煮屋で仕事は真剣。内臓を使ってうんと珍しい「うるか」も作っている。「知っている人は知っているので、遠くから注文が来る。ただ、知らない人がほとんど…」

お店の内装も千曲川の釣り文化と戸倉上山田温泉の歴史に合わせて木造のボートや上山田温泉の元となる共同浴場「かめ之湯」のモデルなど、沢山の小物が飾ってあります。

…と思ったら、「いいえ、その船は釣りと関係ない。そのモデルは一般の建物に私が勝手にかめ乃湯とか頂け」。

目がどこに回っても、高橋社長の遊び心が感じます。でも安心して下さい: 島屋の甘露煮は美味しいとは冗談じゃない。

In the world of Japanese cuisine, there is something called 'kanroni', which is basically river fish that has been stewed in a sweet marinating sauce. Not exactly sexy, it's still a pretty basic staple of Japanese cuisine.

So one would expect that a kanroni shop would be pretty basic and not-sexy, too, right?

Wrong! Welcome to Togura Kamiyamada Onsen's kanroni specialty shop, Shimaya!

Takahashi-san, the tall (perhaps 2nd tallest person in town after me) 3rd-generation owner of Shimaya is not only big in height, but in heart, too. He is serious about kanroni, and one of their specialties is "Uruka", a seasoning made from the river fish innards. It is a rare specialty. According to Takahashi-san, "People who know it, know it, and we get orders from far and wide. The problem is, not many people know it."

His shop shows a love of the Chikuma River's fishing roots as well as our onsen town's history, with wooden boats and paper models of our town's first bathhouse "Kame no Yu" displayed along with a variety of other interesting decorations.

...or so I thought. "That's just an old boat I found -- it's not even a fishing boat. And that's not really Kame no Yu -- I just wrote it on a model of an anonymous building."

Everywhere your eyes go, they come across some funky decoration. But one thing that is not a joke is the delicious taste of Takahashi-san's kanroni