成人式の皆様、おめでとう!Congratulations to all the new Adults

2009.01.12: 季節 Seasons

Today is "Coming of Age" Day in Japan. All throughout Japan, 20 year olds gather and celebrate becoming adults. Our relative, Yumi, stopped by in her beautiful kimono after her celebration. Congratulations to all of you new adults, and may you have a bright future.

とんとんと言う音はな~に?そば打ちだ! What's that sound? Ahh, Making Soba!

2009.01.11: 温泉タウン戸倉上山田 Onsen Town Togura-Kamiyamada

Zuisho's Cool Soba maker

When I took our daughter for a walk behind our inn, I heard a rhythmic banging sound from across the street. Ahh, the soba maker at our neighbor Zuisho must be working his soba making magic again. Zuisho is a "Super-Sento" style bathhouse, and they have a cafeteria inside. At the entrance, there is a special room for making soba, and it has a big window so anyone can watch the action.
In the past, I've heard the soba maker at work and seen him from afar. But today I decided to go up to the window and watch him from up close. While Misaki and I were enthralled by his actions, some guests coming to take a bath stopped and watched with us.
Nagano is famous for soba buckwheat noodles, but you don't often get a chance to actually see them being made. Here in Togura Kamiyamada Onsen, you can see "soba-uchi" almost every day at Zuisho. (Call beforehand to confirm that day's time.)
One warning, though. For you guys who go with your girlfriend, be ware: Zuisho's soba maker looks really cool and his precision handwork is impressive. You may be jealous by how your friend likes to watch him!

Click here for Zuisho's website.

第三回亀清ギャラリー Holy Turtle Art Gallery, take 3

2009.01.11: 亀清旅館 Kamesei Ryokan

Kawakami-san explaining his Objects

Last year, Kamesei Ryokan's lobby was turned into a mini art gallery, displaying the works of Tokyo wood block print artist Kunio Kaneko. The year prior, our lobby became the gallery for another wood block print artist Akemi Masamori. She even used our gallery for a week to make a new piece. This year, our lobby hosts a display of Objects and Paintings from Togakushi designer Tatsuya Kawakami.
Kawakami-san's Objects are set up on the coffee table in front of our wood burning stove. The objects are tiny, but each one has a big story to tell. Is that just a person climbing a mountain, or is it a reference to the optimistic, positive energy that is so needed in this depressing economy? And what's that riding the boat -- a duck, who has no need for a boat! And the base underneath the angel's feet -- is that a real Togakushi fossil seashell?
The paintings are miniscule original works, all of cute dogs. Their frames are outrageously magnificent, almost bigger than the paintings themselves.
The Objects are scheduled to be on display here in our lobby until the end of March. Come and have a look!

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.


新年会のチラシ "New Year Party" Flyer

2009.01.10: メディア Media


As a bit of advertising for our new cedar bath, I put together this flyer for "New Year Parties". (The catch copy is "Come to Kamesei Ryokan for the NUMBER ONE NEW Year Party, with the NUMBER ONE NEWEST outdoor bath in Togura Kamiyamada Onsen.")
Many organizations in Japan hold these New Year banquests, any time from January to March. Normally most of our guests are individuals, couples and families, but this is an opportunity for us to cater to groups in our area.

上田駅で藤城清治の影絵 Shadow Art by Seiji Fujishiro at Ueda Station

2009.01.09: 長野に来る理由 Reasons to Come to Nagano

上田駅の藤城政治さんのMural w/ Go-san

The other day, on the way back to Togura Station from Ueda, I took a look at Shinano Railway's waiting room. There is a work of art there that I've noticed before, and this time my friend Go took the time to explain the significance of it. It's a sort of shadow painting by Seiji Fujishiro. Inside are images of Ueda -- the "rokumonsen" crest from the local samurai lord, the Ueda Shishi festival lion, scenes of Ueda Castle, and others.
If you come to Kamesei by train, when you get off the Nagano Shinkansen bullet train at Ueda to change to the local Shinano Railway for Togura, stop in the waiting room and check out this beautiful shadow art.

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.

藤城清治のHPはこちらClick here for Seiji Fujishiro's website.

Info on Fujishiro-san's art gallery in Ikenotaira is here

八日堂@上田市信濃国分寺 Yokado Festival at Nagano's Kokubunji Temple, Ueda

2009.01.08: 長野に来る理由 Reasons to Come to Nagano

There are "Kokubunji" (National Temples) in each of Japan's 47 prefectures. The one in Nagano (pre-Meiji name: Shinano) is Shinano Kokubunji in Ueda. Every year, the temple has a special event the evening before January 8th, called Yokado.
When I first lived in Nagano 15 years ago, a friend invited me to experience the festival. My memories of the evening: Lots of Yatai vendors, a long line to wait in for the temple, bone-chillingly cold temperatures, and (to combat the cold) "1-Cup" hot sake.
Last night was a repeat for me of that same experience 15 years ago. And I've started my collection of "Sominshoraifu" good luck charms, not so much for the Buddhist significance, but because they give me a visual record of my new life here in Japan.
Ueda's Kokubunji Yokada -- one of Nagano's premier festivals. Highly recommended.

四日堂情報はこちらInfo on Yokado here.

欧米人のおもてなし Westerners' Omotenashi

2009.01.07: 長野に来る理由 Reasons to Come to Nagano

Zeno's Massage Room

There's a Japanese word called "omotenashi". I've seen it translated into English in so many different ways, from "hospitality" to "anticipation". It's a sort of telepathic 6th sense, to know what the guest wants even before the guest himself realizes it. It's the type of service we traditional Japanese ryokans pride ourselves in. But is there a Western take on "omotenashi"?
Today, our second day of our family's New Year holiday, we stopped in Shibu Onsen and my wife Mari had a massage at Kokuya Ryokan. The masseuse was Zeno-san, born in Slovakia and married to the daughter of the ryokan. Zeno adds his relaxation massage techniques to the experiences the guests receive at this historic, 16th-generation upscale ryokan.
Here at Kamesei Ryokan, my goal is to preserve the traditional Japanese omotenashi, while adding my own personal touch of American hospitality. I bake home-made cookies to give to our guests with their tea when they check in, and we put a wood burning stove in our lobby. Little touches of American "omotenashi" to add to the Japanese. We're trying to take the best of both worlds.

Zenoさんが渋湯田中にうんと貢献しています。彼の自分で作ったHPはこちら。Zeno is contributing a lot to Shibu Yudanaka. His "Zeno's Guide" to the area is here.

Hot Rockのマッサージも

美しい看板 An absolutely beautiful sign board

2009.01.06: その他 Miscellaneous

Take a close look at this sign. Isn't it just the most beautiful sign you have ever seen? Umm, no? Well, let me explain. This sign is located across the street from Obasute Station. There has been a movement recently to make improvements to the station -- so many things like planting flowers, putting up a new sign above the entrance hand carved and designed by a local calligraher, putting up a painting by local wood block print artist Mori Bakuro, displays and descriptions of the Obasute Mountain and other legends, even getting Coca Cola to paint their garish red vending machine white to match the building. In comparison, the sign across the street had been rusting and falling apart -- a major embarrasment. I can't tell you how many times I've complained to City Hall about it. Then, lo and behold, the other night when I took another group of guests to see the night view from Obauste Station, I saw the sign had been replaced with this beautiful brand new one. It's the most beautiful sign I've ever seen in my entire life. I was so excited I almost started drooling! I don't know who the heck put it up, but I really, really appreciate it!

我々のお正月休み Our New Years Vacation

2009.01.06: 青い目のおもてなし This American’s Omotenashi

温泉宿でコタツ-ing Doing the kotatsu at the onsen ryokan





Where do innkeepers go on their holidays? To stay at another inn, of course. Our family loves onsens, too, you know. For our New Years holiday vacation, we went to stay at Seifuso at Shibu-Yudanaka Onsen. They recently installed a new Japanese cedar bath, and I wanted to get some tips for our new one.

The thing I was most impressed with was they had fresh cut flowers displayed ikebana style all throughout the inn. I wish we could have ikebana in the tokonoma alcoves in our guest rooms. It would be a lot of work, but that's all part of the ryokan's "omotenashi" service.

Ozeki-san, thanks to your hospitality we had a revitalizing stay. We appreciated it!

湯田中の清風荘のHPはこちらClick here for Seifuso's website

Seifuso's cedar bath

Seifuso's Entrance

Our guest room had 'kura'-like thick walls -- to keep the sounds of the geisha's shamisen in!

Yudanaka Onsen at dusk

Ikebana in the tokonoma

Detailed 'shoji' screen doors

Seifuso's spacious outdoor bath

千曲市議会だより Chikuma City Council Essay

2009.01.05: メディア Media


One of my fellow ryokan innkeepers is a member of the Chikuma City Council. Ogiwara-san invited me to write an opinion essay for the city's monthly newsletter. I took this opportunity to write about how I am assisting in making the city's first ever English tourism guide book, and that the city needs more English explanations for its tourist sites. Also, the people of the city should welcome guests from overseas and share the city's traditions and culture with them. The essay (in Japanese) is below.