冬景色の天狗さん The Togura Tengu in Winter

2011.02.01: 季節 Seasons



This is the Togura Tengu, our local goblin, looking down over a wintery Chikuma River valley. His red and blue coloring contrasts so vividly with the white snow on the ground. I happened to go just as the setting sun's rays streamed through the cold winter air and gave the Tengu a slight glow.

Once again, I was struck by the beauty of our onsen town, Togura Kamiyamada.


Another Angle

The sun setting over Obasute Mountain

聞き取り調査@野猿公苑 Surveying at the Snow Monkey Park

2011.01.31: その他 Miscellaneous

Interviewing a fellow Seattleite at the Snow Monkeys




The NInJA Project members and I made another trip to the Jigokudani Wild Monkey Park to interview the monkeys, oops, the travellers from overseas who had come to see the snow monkeys. Even some kid ninjas came this time, and we all braved the cold weather and managed to get 35 questionaires filled out.

Just by coincidence, one of the people I interviewed was from Seattle. In fact, from Wedgewood, the neighborhood where I grew up! She had come with a group of photographers and was going to stay by the monkey park for 3 days and photograph the cute monkeys as they blissfully soaked in their onsen bath.

The Project members and I will now get busy with data input and analysis, and start putting together our report. Keep your eyes out for it!


地獄谷野猿公苑Snow Monkey Park

Yes, That's a Ninja Interviewing a Monkey

More Monkeys, or More People?

Snow Monkey Driving?

米軍操縦士vs.武さん 座敷遊び U.S. Air Force Pilot trying to beat the Geisha

2011.01.30: その他 Miscellaneous

Good luck beating a geisha





The geisha here at Togura Kamiyamada Onsen have recently started to offer a new program, a short, 30-40 minute "zashiki asobi" (parlor games) plan. We took advantage of it for a group of pilots from the U.S. Air Force base at Yokota.

For their dinner banquet, we had Harugoma (shamisen) and Takeshi (dance) come to entertain the guests. First they played (and danced) two songs, then taught the guests some dance moves and everyone joined in the dancing. The entertainment finished with a drinking game called Konpira. The game starts out deceptively easy, but as Harugoma-san picks up the pace on the shamisen, you get dizzy quickly. Warning: It's almost impossible to beat a geisha!

Normally, geisha entertainment is a minimum of 2 hours and 18,000 yen per geisha, but wtih this 'zashiki asobi' plan, the price is a more reasonable 10,000 yen.

For details, feel free to contact us, or the geisha office.

Groove like a Geisha

隠れ宝物: 茂田井間の宿 Hidden Treasure: Motai Post Town

2011.01.29: 長野に来る理由 Reasons to Come to Nagano

Frozen in time?






During a recent exploration with son Andy, I recently went to Motai, a way-station along the old Nakasendo road. Located in Saku City, it is technically an "in-between" station, catching the overflow from Mochizuki post town on one side, and Ashida post town on the other. I was happily amazed to see such an unmarred Edo-era townscape, with beautifully maintained earthen walled storehouses and not one but two operating historical sake breweries.

Here in Nagano Prefecture, usually when you mention "Nakasendo Post Town", you get images of Unnojuku in Tomi City, and the famous ones in the Kiso Valley, Narai-juku and Tsumago. While those towns have done a fantastic job of preserving their Edo-era townscapes, they tend to be a bit touristy. For example, even though some of their old buildings are actually lived in and worked in, there are plenty of souvenir shops, tea shops, eating / drinking establishments, etc.

Motai on the other hand has none of those. We couldn't even find a parking lot, let alone a t-shirt shop. Motai is not a history display -- it is a living and breathing village. Those classical dwellings aren't polished up to look nice for tourists -- they're lived in and lovingly maintened by the people that own them. And those sake breweries -- simply amazing.

The sake brewery we visited was Takeshige Shuzo, of Misonotake and Bokusui labels. Entering their compound and looking around their facilities had me drooling. And I'm not the only one that thinks their buildings are cool -- the entire collection of 30 structures are listed on Japan's National Historical Registry. And the staff was so helpful and friendly -- "Come back on March 21st for our Open Brewery event!" they said.

All I can say is, Shame on Nagano Prefecture's Tourism Department for not promoting a place like Motai. And who am I to say? Well, for one thing, I was the one who translated the entire English travel website and their was no mention of Motai. That's a true shame, because people like me who are interested in Japan's history and the Nakasendo would go crazy over a place like this.

茂田井間の宿は車で上信越道佐久ICから下仁田浅科線で30分、電車で長野新幹線佐久平駅からバスで茂田井入口まで35分。詳しくはHPへ。Click here for details on Motai. Access by car from Saku IC on the Joshin'etsu Expwy via Shimonida Asashina Road, 30 min. Or by train from Nagano Shinkansen Sakudaira Station and bus to Motai Iriguchi stop (35 min.)

武重本家酒造のHPはこちら。Click here for Takeshige Honke Sake's website.

In front of Takeshige Brewery

The sake collection

Classic scene

Don't mind the drooling

県の「信州に泊まろう!」キャンペーンの為に、テレビスタジオの初体験 Promoting the Prefecture -- 1st Time in a TV Studio

2011.01.28: メディア Media





Nagano Prefecture's Tourism Department recruited me to participate in a TV production to promote their new "Stay Nagano!" campaign. Last week, a film crew came and shot footage here at Kamesei Ryokan, and last night I went to the "Yugata Get!" studio at TV Shinshu's headquarters to be live on the show.

Part of the campaign is to highlight ryokans and onsen districts that promote enviromentally sound techniques. Kamesei was chosen for our lobby's wood burning stove for which we use trimmings from the local apple orchards. One other local ryokan, Shige no ya, was featured for their meals specializing in local ingredients (thus cutting down on greenhouse gas emissions for sourcing them).

This was my first time to be in a TV studio. There's a lot of energy in the studio, with the bright lights, the skilled camera technicians, the 'aura' of the two hosts ... it makes you feel like a star just being there. Of course, afterwards, the long walk back to the station in the cold Nagano winter night all by myself, and having to wait 45 minutes for a train at the odd hour, sufficing on a cold bento dinner bought on the platform and eating it all alone, all quickly brought me back to reality that I am not a star!

Anyways, I'll be happy as long as the TV show succeeded in promoting Nagano Prefecture's ryokans.

テレビ信州のHPはこちらClick here for Shinshu TV's website.

しげの家のHPはこちらClick here for Shigenoya's website.

信毎「大人の贅沢」に亀清旅館の「プッチ贅沢プラン」 Kamesei's Petit Extravagance Plan

2011.01.27: その他 Miscellaneous


<立春の候: 温泉で贅沢>


1泊2食付き 2名1室
11,550円 (消費税込、入湯税別)


10歳の不思議: 日本という国に、どうして梵字や象さん? A 10-year old's question: Why sanskrit and elephants in a temple in Japan?

2011.01.26: 長野に来る理由 Reasons to Come to Nagano

Young Andy and a Dead Language











I took our 10-year old son Andy for a drive to explore the remains of the old Nakasendo (the medieval path between Kyoto and Edo / Tokyo). First I had to explain what the Nakasendo was to Andy. (Why does a foreigner have to teach a Japanese kid Japanese history? What do Japanese schools teach the kids?)

Our first stop was Otai-juku, one of the old post towns located in present-day Miyota Town. We parked at Houju-in and started our exploration at that temple. At the entrance was a large rock carved with interesting script.

"What kind of writing is that?" asked Andy. Uh-oh. Time for a 1-point Buddhism lesson. (Here again, why does a Christian have to teach a Japanese kid about Buddhism...)

"Do you know what country Buddhism came from?"

"Nope. It crossed over to Japan from Korea 1600 years ago."
"So this writing is Korean?"

"Nope. Buddhism came to Korea from China."
"So it's Chinese?"

"Time for a hint. Look at the facade of the temple's main building."
"Hmm, a sculpture of an elephant. So, India?"

"Right! The writing is sanskrit."

When you think about it, it is really quite remarkable to find sanskrit here in a town in the Japanese countryside. I mean, there are few scholars left even in India that speak sanskrit. And only the most educated of Buddhist monks here in Japan today would be able to read this.

And the carvings of elephants -- the animal doesn't even exist in Japan. I bet the artist who carved the elephant had never seen a real one.

Anyways, that's how our explorings of the Nakasendo started. I showed Andy the Honjin (main inn for the VIP's) and the Waki-Honjin (inn for the #2 guys). and Otai-juku's trademark warehouses where goods were transferred from one carrier to another, and tried to convey a sense of what it was like in the old days to walk along the Nakasendo. Perhaps Andy started to get an interest in Japan's history, too.

Otai-juku holds a festival every year on August 16th where they recreate an Edo-era procession. The festival is aptly called the Otai-juku Festival.

御代田町のHPはこちらClick here for the website of Miyota Town.

A Japanese Elephant?

Andy and Otai-juku

One of Otai-juku's back streets

旅行読売の「泊まりたい宿」 Yomiuri Travel's Ryokan of Choice

2011.01.25: メディア Media





The February issue of monthly travel magazine 'Ryoko Yomiuri' has a feature on direct bus services linking Japan's major metropolitan areas with various onsen districts.

One such service is Harvest Tour's "Onsen Liner" linking Tokyo and Togura Kamiyamada Onsen. The price: only 3,400 yen round trip! The bus drops people off in front of the Kara-Koro footbath in the middle of town. It is a short 150 meters from the front entrance of our inn, Kamesei Ryokan.

Part of the article showcases 3 ryokans. One of the 3 suggested inns is ... Kamesei Ryokan! This is probably due to the proximity of our inn to the bus stop, as well as the fact that on our town's last publicity 'caravan' to Tokyo, the other innkeepers and I also paid a visit to Yomiuri's office. If it weren't for making that effort, I'm sure Yomiuri would have never heard of us.

I hope more and more Tokyo-ites make use of the convenient and reasonable Onsen Liner to come and enjoy Togura Kamiyamada Onsen.

旅行読売のHPはこちらClick here for the website of Yomiuri's travel magazine

ハーヴェスとツアーの戸倉上山田温泉ライナーの詳しくはこちらClick here for info on Harvest Tour's Onsen Liner to our onsen town Togura-Kamiyamada.

道の駅より良い: ヤマサン Better than a Road Station: Yama-san

2011.01.24: 温泉タウン戸倉上山田 Onsen Town Togura-Kamiyamada

Best Produce Stand in Town




Close to Togura Kamiyamada Onsen is a produce stand called "Yamasan". Throughout Japan there are 'michi-no-eki' rest stops that supposedly sell locally made fruits and vegetables, but Yamasan is the real deal. They offer a great selection of local products in season.

Yamasan is only 10 minutes away by car, conveniently located along Route 18. Their website lists their seasonal offerings.


2011.01.23: メディア Media

Hot Pot Dinner for Winter