亀清旅館の新しい貸切露天「しなの風呂」に庭師の岡田さん作り水鉢の寄せ植えNew Water Plants Biotope for Kamesei Ryokan's Private Outdoor Onsen Bath "Shinano-Buro"

August 9, 2012: その他 Miscellaneous

亀清旅館の新しい貸切露天「しなの風呂」の通路の横に大きな鉢がある。冬はその鉢で薪を焚いたりしているけど、この夏に生まれ変われました。庭師の岡田さんの手作業で「水鉢の寄せ植え」となりました。

長野の水辺に良くある植物を生かして、ちょっとしたビオトープになっています。
白鷺の形の花のサギソウ、
佐渡島のトキに似ているトキソウ、
太陽が上がってくる瞬間を表現するアケボノソウ、
お寺の巴に似ているトモエソウ、
オゼギボウシ(尾瀬国立公園で見付けられた)
ヒメマツカサススキ(aka Scirpus karuisawawensis a la 軽井沢)
等など

植物一つ一つは特別で、岡田さんのアレンジが素晴らしい。

亀清の貸切露天風呂をご利用な皆様に新たな楽しみが出来ました。

Next to the path to Kamesei Ryokan's newly built outdoor family bath "Shinano-buro" is a large cast iron pot. In the winter, we use it to burn firewood to add some warmth and ambience to the bath.

For this summer, our gardener Okada-san has made a mini-biotope of water-based flowers and arranged them in the pot. He incorporated several unique flowers found in the wetlands of Nagano and the surrounding area, such as:

Habenaria radiata, whose white flower resembles the shape of a white heron,
Scirpus karuisawawensis, which - as the name suggests - was first found in the eastern Nagano town of Karuizawa,
Swertia bimaculata, whose Japanese name 'akebono' references the colors of the sky at dawn, reflected in the colors of this tiny flower,
Pogonia japonica whose pink flower resembles the shape of a Japanese crested ibis,
Hosta 'Oze' representing nearby Oze National Park,
etc.

Guests who use Kamesei's new family bath will be treated to Okada-san's beautiful wetlands flower arrangement this summer.





花火見露天風呂 Enjoying the fireworks from Kamesei's private onsen

August 8, 2012: 温泉タウン戸倉上山田 Onsen Town Togura-Kamiyamada

花火見風呂

夕べはこの戸倉上山田温泉の千曲川花火大会でした。毎年8月7日(旧暦の七夕)で行われます。今年は花火の上がる位置は少し北の方に移られたおかげで、我が宿亀清旅館からも見えました。

新しく出来た貸切露天「しなの風呂」からも見えた。

花火見風呂!

Last night, the main fireworks festival for our onsen town Togura-Kamiyamada were held over the Chikuma River. They are held every year on the 7th of August.

This year, the launch location for the fireworks was moved slightly upriver. That meant pyrotechnics were visible from our inn, Kamesei Ryokan. In fact, you could even see the fireworks from our new private outdoor onsen bath, the Shinano-buro.

Nothing like enjoying fireworks as you soak in a private onsen bath!



From Kamesei's Entrance


Mari enjoying the Fireworks over the Chikuma River


長野トップ100温泉 あずまや高原ホテル Nagano Top 100 Onsens: Azumaya Kohgen Hotel

August 7, 2012: その他 Miscellaneous

Azumaya Kohgen Hotel's outdoor bath

東信の温泉巡りのもう一つ: 菅平の近辺のあずまや高原ホテル。

上田市街から登って行って、どんどんと山の奥と深い森に入って、途中でカモシカを驚かしたり、やっとホテルに辿り着きました。

あずまや高原ホテルの楽しみの半分がその途中の道だと気がします。

あずまや高原ホテルは四阿山のふもとに位置している。四阿山を登る方々がここから登山する。(下りて来た時のお風呂は最高だろう。)

今回に行った時に、少し曇って来ていた。しかし、晴れている日は浅間山まで見れる最高な景色。曇っていてもお風呂からホテルの周りのカラマツの森が目の前にあります。本当に自然の中のお風呂。

露天風呂はタイルだったらその森と山景色とミスマッチになるけど、あずまや高原ホテルの露天風呂は岩で出来ていて、その周りとぴったし合うのだ。尚且つ、一部は滝のようになっていて、とっても良い雰囲気。

実は、あずまや高原ホテルの露天風呂はあまりにも「自然」で、カモシカが森から出て、お風呂に入るのは珍しくないようです。違う意味での混浴風呂。

日帰り温泉は1000円ですが、お掃除関係があるから事前に確認した方がお勧め。でも、よるバスは特にないから車だね。

One other onsen from our Eastern Nagano onsen-hopping trip: Azumaya Kohgen Hotel.

Located near to Ueda City's Sugadaira ski area, half the fun is in getting there. After leaving central Ueda City and driving past Sanada village, the road cimbs higher and higher into the mountains and deeper and deeper into the forest.  Along the way, we startled a kamoshika, Japan's ubiquitous stubby-legged little deer.

Located at the trailhead to Azuyama Mountain, the hotel's baths are apparently popular with hikers. (What a treat it would be to soak in the onsen after a strenuous hike!)

Azuyamaya Kohgen Hotel's onsen features an outdoor bath with a commanding view of the surrounding larch forest and as far as Asama Mountain in the distance. The bath is made of stones, which complements the natural setting perfectly. Part of the bath is set up as a mini waterfall with a cascade of onsen water, adding to the wilderness feel.

In fact, Azumaya Kohgen Hotel's bath may be a bit too wild for some. It is not uncommon for the kamoshika to come out of the woods and take a dip in the onsen bath. That makes for a different type of mixed bathing!

Azumaya Kohgen Hotel offers day-use bathing for 1000 yen (check ahead as the baths are sometimes unavailable due to cleaning). But it would be a shame to just use the baths in the day. I can only imagine how star-filled the night sky must be, and the idea of watching the sunrise while soaking in the onsen sounds so blissful.

Access is best by car as there is no public transport.

あずまや高原ホテルAzumaya Kohgen Hotel





長野トップ100温泉: 菱野温泉 Nagano Top 100 Onsens: Hishino Onsen

August 6, 2012: その他 Miscellaneous

標高1050mの「雲の助」露天風呂。
アクセスは登山電車で。
小諸市菱野温泉の常盤館。
噂をよく聞きましたが、今回の東信温泉巡りで初めて行ってみた。
温泉によって、湯質で勝負できない時は何かでごまかす事が多いでしょう。ハーブやりんごを入れたり、樽や変わった浴船を使ったり。
だから、菱野温泉の登山電車の話を聞いたら、ちょっとふざけていると最初に思った。
しかし、行ってみたら、感動しました。登山電車はどちらかというと、ちょっと一昔の雰囲気だったが、自分で運転できるって夢のようだった。(まあ、ボタンを押すだけだけど…) そして、お風呂の施設はログハウスっぽい作りから、パノラマの眺め露天風呂から、素晴らしかった。温泉の成分はそれこそ薄く感じたけど、施設の細かいところまで手がかかれて、感激だった。温泉文化に割と深く経験している私は沢山の刺激を受けました。

I had heard the rumors (legend?) before: For Hishino Onsen's Tokiwakan you ride a cable car to get to the bath.

Hmm. Real onsens usually don't have to resort to such gimmicks to get people to come. I mean, if your onsen has great mineral content to start out with, why bother with putting apples in the water or using a barrel for the bath, right?

So I was dubious about Hishino Onsen.

I hereby apologize.

I went there the other day as part of my onsen-hopping trip in eastern Nagano. Sure the cable car was past its prime, but getting to actually drive it ourselves more than made up for any rust. (All driving it meant was pushing a button, but still...)

And the bathhouse, with its loghouse-type construction, and the many baths with amazing views of the Chikuma River valley below, and the attention to detail in the construction everywhere -- even this hardened onsen-lover was amazed.

菱野温泉常盤館Hishino Onsen Tokiwakan











長野トップ100温泉: 中棚荘 Nagano Top 100 Onsens: Nakadanaso

August 5, 2012: 長野に来る理由 Reasons to Come to Nagano

Nakadanaso's outdoor bath with its woodsy setting overlooking the Chikuma River

この間の東信温泉巡りの続き: 小諸市の中棚荘。

1892年から始まった中棚荘の社長は五代目の藤岡さん。旅館業界の中で尊敬されている方です。温泉ファンの中で、人気度の高い宿。冬場はりんご風呂で有名。
そして、作家の藤村さんにも愛された宿。

歴史、風情、自然、誇り、中棚荘は東信の代表的な宿。一つだけの注意点: バリアーフリーな、完璧に清浄されているお風呂が好きな方に合わないかもしれない。
玄関からお風呂までは階段と長い廊下(私にとっては風情がある)、お風呂の周りに気が沢山あって、その葉っぱや虫がお風呂によく遊びに来るそうです。(緑があるからこそ、落ち着くと私が思いますが…)

中棚荘:忘れられない温泉。長野県は本当に恵まれている。

Started in 1892, Komoro City's Nakadanasou is run by the capable hands of its 5th generation innkeeper, Tomioka-san. Well respected in the ryokan community, the inn Tomioka-san runs is also popular amongst onsen-lovers. In the winter months, Nakadanaso features a flotilla of apples floating in the onsen baths. The sweet fragrant of the apples mingles with the mineral water to create a most relaxing environment for the bathers. The woodsy setting and the historical building also contribute to the overall subdued mood of Nakadanaso.

One of Nakadanaso's claims to fame is it was one of the favorite inns of Japan's literary great Shimazaki Toson (d.1943). The inn is just down the hill from Kaikoen, Komoro's 'castle in a hole'. And it's just up from the banks of the Chikuma River, with the mysterious Nunobiki Kannon Temple a 10 minute drive down river. So there is lots to see and do in between your soaks in the apple baths.

Please note that the approach to Nakadanaso's onsen baths is a lyberinthian course of stairs and passageways so perhaps not the best for people that have difficulty walking. And while the bathhouses are tastefully constructed wood buildings, the onsen water itself is a bit on the mild side. Actually, the apple bath idea is representative of that. If one were to place apples in an onsen with fuller mineral content like the water here at Togura-Kamiyamada, the minerals would interact with the apples and create a mess.

中棚荘Nakadanaso



The changing room open to the showers and the main bath, all with beautiful wood appointments


Nakadanaso's main entrance


A peak at the Heiseikan rooms





長野トップ100温泉: Art Village明神館 Nagano Top 100 Onsens: Art Village Myojinkan

August 4, 2012: 長野に来る理由 Reasons to Come to Nagano

信州温泉巡りの続き:

まずは信州では「明神館」と言えば、
普通はルレ・エ・シャトーに指名された、デンマークのグリーンキー登録の世界レベルで活躍なされているで扉温泉の明神館の事です。
それかもしかしたら、上高地の明神池にある明神館。

しかし、実はもう一つがある:

東御市にあるArt Village明神館。

この明神館は宿泊施設にも一応なっているけど、日帰り温泉として東御市の皆さんで人気がある。

近くに他には沢山の温泉施設があるから、競争はきっと激しい。小諸アグリーの湯や御牧乃湯、布引温泉、布引漢音温泉など。その中で、Art Village明神館は比較的にこじんまりした、馴染みやすい大きさ。そして、偶々行った日の天気は良かったせいか、Art Village明神館のお風呂からの浅間山連峰の景色が一番良いと思った。

設備は建物がまだ比較的に新しいので、キッチンとなっている様に感じました。浴場とシャワーの周りに使った石やタイルはこだわりがあって、市営施設なのに新鮮に感じた。

温泉宿の経営者として羨ましいと思ったのはシャワーの配管。元の配管が壁の中で被されて、止めてあった。新しい配管は壁の表面を通してあって、裸のままだった。亀清旅館の場合、上山田温泉の御湯の成分が強くて、金造の配管を外に出したらすぐ真っ黒になってしまう。Art Village明神館のお湯は成分が薄いせいか、配管は綺麗なままで残っている。

と言う訳で、温泉の湯質にうるさい私みたいな方にはArt Village明神館はがっかりするかもしれません。一応、ナトリウム・カルシウム塩化物温泉だそうですが、薄いし循環しているし、あまり温泉らしくないお湯だったのは残念でした。

場所もカーナビがないと分かりづらい。バスは特にないそうで、しなの鉄道田中駅からタクシーで15分となってしまいます。

小さ目の市営温泉で田んぼと浅間山の景色を眺めて、湯質は気にしない方にArt Village明神館にお勧め。

Further Nagano Onsen-hopping adventures. This time, Art Village Myojinkan in Tomi City, in Eastern Nagano.

Usually when you mention "Myojinkan", most people will assume you mean exclusive, internationally recognized ryokan in Tobira Onsen in the foothills east of Matsumoto.

Or perhaps the Myojinkan on the banks of Myojin Pond in Kamikochi in the Japanese Alps west of Matsumoto.

But there is actually a 3rd Myojinkan, this Art Village one. It started out as the main village onsen bathhouse for Kitamimaki Village which merged with the neighboring Tobu Town to become Tomi City in 2004. Art Village Myojinkan's bath is still much beloved by the inhabitants of the Kitamimaki side of Tomi.

Despite being a municipally-run onsen, Art Village Myojinkan has a bit of a designer feel to it. There are several onsens in the vicinity, many with similar views of the Asama Mountain range, such as Mimaki no Yu, Nunobiki Onsen, Nunobiki Kannon Onsen, and Komoro's Agri no Yu. But Art Village Myojinkan stands out from the crowd thanks to its artistic touches.

First there's the decorative fence along the 'village' pond you pass as you drive to the bathhouse. Then there's the cozy size of the building and the baths, especially compared to the imposing structures of Agri no Yu and other nearby behomoth baths. And there's also the use of designer materials in the baths. I especially liked the 'stressed' feel of the concrete tilework in the bathing area.

But the big draw for Art Village Myojinkan's bath is the view from the outdoor bath. It overlooks lush green rice paddies with Mount Asama commanding attention in the distance. The other baths in the area also feature views of Asama. Perhaps it was because we had the fortune of good weather when we visited, but I felt Myojinkan's view was the best.

One thing as an onsen inn operator myself was the way the pipes for the showers were run. It was clear that the original pipes that were covered by the wall had been capped off, and the current pipes for the showers run along the surface of the wall. The steel pipes give a modernistic industrial feel that matched the other designer details of the baths.

It made me a bit jealous, though. If we tried running metal pipes on the surface here at Kamiyamada Onsen, the strong mineral content of the hot spring water would turn the pipes completely black in a matter of months.

Which is an indication of how mild Art Village Myojinkan's onsen is. While the onsen data says it the water contains sodium calcium chloride, the baths left me with a desire for a heftier onsen feel to the water.

So that's my take on Art Village Myojinkan's onsen: appealing modernistic designer touches, outsanding view of Mt. Asama from the baths, but a little weak in the onsen water department. And forget taking public transportation -- closest is Tanaka Station on the Shinano Railway line which is a 15 minute taxi ride away. Even by car, you better hope your GPS navigator is up for the task, as the location is a bit difficult to find.

Art Village Myojinkan


Art Village Myojinkan's outdoor bath with Asama Mountain in the distance


The indoor bath with its unique details


The approach to the main entrance


Nearby Art Park





亀清旅館の貸し切り露天「しなの風呂」の百日紅が咲いた!Kamesei's Private Outdoor Bath "Shinano-buro" Crape Myrtle Tree in Bloom

August 3, 2012: その他 Miscellaneous

Monkey-Slip tree in bloom

亀清旅館の新しい貸切露天「しなの風呂」の庭の百日紅(さるすべり)の木が咲いてきました。可愛いらしいピンク系の赤い花を、温泉を浴びながら楽しんで頂けます。

庭師の岡田さんがこの庭を作った時に、私が百日紅をリクエストしました。真夏で花を咲く植物が少ない中で、百日紅の花はいつも見ていて、良いなと思いました。そして、名前が好きです。木の皮がスムーズで猿も滑りそう。

今は百日紅の花のちょうどいいタイミングで、是非に見に来てください。

The garden for Kamesei Ryokan's new private bath "Shinano-buro" is alive the pinkish-red splendor of the crape myrtle tree. It is in full bloom right now.

When our gardener Okada-san made the garden for our new bath last fall, I specifically requested a crape myrtle tree. Not many plants bloom in the middle of the summer. In past summers I had seen many crape myrtle trees in bloom in our area, so I was hoping to have one to add color to the bath's garden in the summer.

Also, I like the name in Japanese, "Saru-suberi". The name means "Monkey-Slip", and refers to how the bark of the tree is so smooth it seems like even a monkey would slip trying to climb it.

Anyways, now is a great chance to enjoy a soak in our new outdoor onsen bath while being able to see the colorful blossoms of our monkey-slip tree.





長野トップ100温泉:白馬鑓温泉 Nagano Top 100 Onsens: Hakuba Yari

August 2, 2012: その他 Miscellaneous

Unbelievable Yari Onsen

「長野の一番ワイルド温泉」

この間、インバウンド関係の講演会で白馬館の荒谷社長にあった時に、そう言われました。白馬館を経営していながら、標高2100mの白馬鑓温泉小屋もやっている。名前通り、白馬鑓ヶ岳の途中にある、自然に湧き出している所の山小屋。

私が長野県の温泉をあちらこちら回っている中で、この白馬鑓温泉はトップクラスです。お湯は豊富で強い硫黄の香りがあって、「温泉だ!」って感じ。湯船は風情のある岩風呂。温度は最適な41℃。そして、眺め。その眺め!2100mからの絶景。尚且つ、混浴にもなっている。(夜は露天風呂が女専用となるそうです。)今回はお昼に寄ったが、荒谷社長によるとその露天風呂に浴びながら、日の出を見るのは最高だそうです。

ただ、問題はアクセスです。北アルプスの白馬連峰を登っていた僕らたちは天狗ノ頭から降りた。それだけでも2時間ぐらいかかった。尚且つ、最後の一時間は良きとけと道が混じっていて、滑り易くて危険な道だった。

じゃ、上からじゃなくて下からは?1250mの猿倉荘とハイキングコースが結んでいる。登りは何時間かかったか分かりませんが、下りは約4時間もかかった。登りは恐らく5~6時間ぐらいだと思う。半端じゃない。

私のアドバイス: 目的は温泉だけだったら、止めた方が良いかもしれない。温泉も山登りも好きだったら、最適だと思う。

"Nagano's #1 Wildest Onsen"

That's how Hakuba Yari Onsen was explained to my when I met the owner Aratani-san at a speech I gave in Omachi a few weeks ago. You know this onsen-loving guy just had to go and check it out. So on the mountain climbing trip my sons and I took for our summer vacation, we made a point of including Yari Onsen in the itinerary.

As far as onsens go, Yari Onsen is spectacular. The onsen water comes up to the surface naturally. And it has a strong sulphur content giving it a real "onsen" feel. The onsen bath surround is made from river rocks, giving it a natural ambience. The temperature is a perfect 41C. And the view is outstanding. You can see for miles from its 2100m location. To top it off, the outdoor bath is co-ed (ladies only at night time). We were there at noon, but according to Aratani-san, if you spend the night you can enjoy soaking in the outdoor bath while watching the sun come up.

The only problem is the access. The boys and I went there by descending from Tengu Mtn. It was a 2 hour descent, and the last half was a harrowing slip-sliding obstacle course. Not for the faint of heart.

So how about approaching it from below? There is a trail connecting Yari Onsen to Sarukurasou Hut down at 1250m. It took us around 4 hours to make the descent, so to climb up would probably take around 6 hours or so.

My advice: If your main purpose is to enjoy the onsen, then forget about it. But if you enjoy onsens AND mountain climbing, then Yari Onsen is for you.




Overhead view of Yari Onsen


Footbath at the base of Yari's outdoor bath





白馬連峰: 高山植物パラダイス Hakuba Range: Alpen Wildflowers Paradise

August 1, 2012: 信州の山 Nagano’s Mountains

Alpine rhododendron

先日は息子達と北アルプスの白馬連峰で山登りをしてきました。その雄大の山々の眺めが感激だったが、足元にもう一つの感激があった: 高山植物。

標高2600mぐらいで次から次へ綺麗な花が咲いていた。石楠花や野イチゴの何となく馴染みがある花もあったが、初めて見た花も多かった。

普通な生活している時に人の作った庭で綺麗な花はいくらでも見れるけど、高山植物は人間の手が関係なく、尚且つ激しい環境で育って、感心します。

長野って、良い所だね。

The other day my sons and I went mountain climbing in the Northern Alps. As we were hiking around the 2600m level in the Hakuba Range, we were treated to awe-inspiring mountain scenery. But there at our feet was something else that was awe-inspiring: alpine wildflowers.

We were delighted to see so many different types of wildflowers on the peaks. Some we were familiar with, such as rhododendrons and wild strawberries, but others we had never seen before.

Down here in town, in our usual daily lives, we often see beautiful flowers that people planted in their gardens. But alpine wildflowers grow with no help by human hand, and in such extreme conditions. Sublimely awe-inspiring.

Isn't Nagano great?!




白馬連峰: お父さん登山 Papa's Present: Climbing the Hakuba Range

July 31, 2012: 信州の山 Nagano’s Mountains

On top of the World, err, the Japanese Alps, for my birthday with my 2 sons.

12歳のAndy君と9歳のKen君と北アルプスの白馬連峰を登ってきました。家族の夏休みで、子供達はTDLに行きたかった。しかし、お父さん(=私)の誕生日だったので、6月に八方池まで登った思い出があって、是非に子供達と一緒に北アルプスに行きたかった。

せっかくアルプスの近くに住んでいる(戸倉上山田⇔白馬は車で約75分)ので山登りに最適。

ご参考に、私達のコースは下記です:

Our 2 sons (Andy, 12 and Kenny, 9) came with me for a mountain climbing expedition to the Hakuba Range in the northern Japanese Alps. It was our family's summer vacation, and actually the kids wanted to go to Disneyland. But as it was my birthday, and my June trip to Happo Pond had me yearning for the mountains, we went climbing instead.

Actually, our onsen town Togura-Kamiyamada is only 75 minutes by car from Hakuba, so it is so convenient to enjoy Nagano's mountain grandeur.

Of the many trekking possibilities there are in the Hakuba Range, here is the course we took:

一に目Day 1
13:00, 800m 白馬の町からリフトに乗った。
Took the chair lift from down in Hakuba Village.
14:00, 1820m 八方池山荘から登り始まった。
Started climbing from Happo Pond Mountain Hut.
15:00, 2080m 八方池到着。再び登り始まった。
Reached Happo Pond. Started climbing again.
16:30, 2620m 唐松山荘到着。夕食と泊り。
Reached the Karamatsu Mtn. Hut. Dinner and Lodging.
二日目Day 2
04:00, 2620m 唐松山荘にて日の出、朝食。05:30出発。
Sunrise and breakfast at Karamatsu Hut. Dep. 05:30.
06:00, 2696m 唐松岳山頂 Karamatsu Mountain summit
07:00~, 2600m 不帰ノ嶮 'Ridge of No Return'
名前通り、一歩間違えたらおしまい険しい峰。
As the name says, 1 false step and you're a gonner. A very technical series of ridges.
10:00, 2812m 天狗ノ頭山頂 Tengu-no-Atama summit
10:30, 2730m 天狗山荘 水場(雪溶け。助かった!)
Tengu Mountain Hut. Watering hole (snow melt -- it was a lifesaver!)
12:00, 2100m 白馬鑓温泉 Hakuba Yari Onsen
着く直前の道が滑りやすくて危ない事!
The descent to the onsen is steep, with the last stretch requiring much caution due to the slippery conditions.
13:00, 2100m お風呂と昼食後、鑓温泉出発
After an onsen soak and lunch, we departed Yari Onsen.
15:30, 1250m 猿倉荘到着 Arrived Sarukura-sou mountain hut.

白馬連峰のリフトなど詳しい事はこちらClick here for more info on climbing the Hakuba Range.