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Japanese Culture Experience in Nakamachi – Day 1 Report

Looking for a chance to experience a piece of Japanese culture? This month, Nakamachi in central Matsumoto is holding a special event on two separate days for foreign visitors and residents to try out various Japanese arts, crafts, and other cultural activities. The first day of the event was last week so I went to try out a few of the activities (the next day is on Sep. 23).

Nakamachi Japanese Culture Event

The first day of the Japanese Culture event started off with a kagamibiraki ceremony that entails busting open a sake barrel with wooden mallets (and yes, the event does include sake tasting of Nakamachi original-brand sake!). To help out with the activities and interpreting Japanese to English, students from a local high school also came to lend a hand, as well.

Many visitors from all over the world, including France, Malaysia, Germany, Taiwan, Australia, and the U.S., came to try out the different kinds of hands-on activities like the Japanese tea ceremony, origami, and Japanese calligraphy. I also tried out as many activities as I could – and had a blast doing it! Even though I’ve been living in Japan for a few years now, I got to try some new things that I’ve never done before like riding in a rickshaw and shooting ninja darts through a blowgun.

The main activities are held at the Kurassic-kan, and here I started off with calligraphy, quickly realizing how challenging (yet fun!) it is to write well-balanced Japanese characters with a calligraphy brush. I saw other participants also getting their names translated into Japanese so they could write it themselves, and writing the names of the cities/places they had visited.

Learn to write your name in Japanese or any of your favorite words & phrases

Learn to write your name in Japanese or any of your favorite words & phrases

My next stop was at the Japanese tea ceremony activity. Here, the teacher taught me not only how to properly mix the matcha tea with the tea brush, but also how to properly sit, hold the cup, and drink the tea (not to mention you also get to munch on some tasty Japanese sweets while drinking the tea!).

Visitors learning the traditional Japanese tea ceremony and how to make matcha

Visitors learning the traditional Japanese tea ceremony and how to make matcha

After that, it was time for my first ride in a rickshaw! I had never ridden in a rickshaw before and it was so much more fun that I thought. The breeze feels nice as you get pulled down the street and you can see everything from the open carriage as if you’re riding in a kind of traditional convertible. Plus, seeing a rickshaw in Matsumoto is not so common as in some other cities like Kyoto, so everyone loves to wave at you as you ride by! Highly recommended if you’ve never tried a rickshaw ride before.

Matsumoto's one and only rickshaw!

Matsumoto’s one and only rickshaw!

Lastly, I did a quick kimono/yukata rental with my friend and walked around Nakamachi Street to some of the shops who were offering their own activities: I tried on different kinds of traditional Japanese footwear like geta at the Yaguchi shop, wine and amazake tasting at Senri, and the fun little bean-and-chopsticks game at the Ihara shop (you get a pair of your own chopsticks for trying the game!). All the shopkeepers were extremely nice and were happy to see us wearing yukata’s around the town.

Trying out Japanese footwear in my Yukata

Trying out Japanese footwear in my Yukata

By the way, I recommend trying out the ninja blowgun activity… it’s super fun no matter what your age, plus the blowgun is one of the weapons/techniques that ninjas actually used to get their job done way back in the day!

Ninja blowgun game. You can also rent a ninja outfit, like this  person here!

Ninja blowgun game. You can also rent a ninja outfit, like this person here!

Learn ninja tricks from this guy ;)

Learn ninja tricks from this guy ;)

If you missed the first day of the event, or didn’t get to do all the activities, the second day is being held on Saturday, Sep. 23 at the Kurassic-kan and various shops around Nakamachi Street.

See all the event details here or bookmark the event on Facebook here.

The origami table

The origami table

Rickshaw rides!!

Rickshaw rides!!

Japanese Culture Event at Kurassic-kan in Nakamachi!

Event flyer

As announced in our previous blog post, Nakamachi is holding a fun Japanese culture event at the Kurassic-kan on Sep. 6 (Wed) and Sep 23 (Sat). Here you can try all kinds of Japanese arts, crafts, activities, and other cultural experiences, not to mention everything is hands-on and mostly free! Besides the main event at the Kurassic-kan, several of the shops and restaurants around Nakamachi will also be offering cultural activities like traditional games or food/drink tastings. See below for a list of activities and where you can get the official details, event flyer, or see the event on Facebook!

There will also be volunteers providing translation/interpretation to help with communication, including local high school students and local guides. So not only is this a great opportunity to experience Japanese culture, but also a nice chance to communicate with the locals!

Event Details

Place: Kurassic-kan in Nakamachi, Matsumoto
Date & Time: Sep. 6 and Sep. 23, 10 am – 4 pm (times for activities at the shops differ. Check the event flyer or webpage)
Event webpage: http://nakamachi-street.com/en/experiencedays/
Event on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/events/1607791399271217/

Get the official PDF flyer here which includes a map and all activity details:

Japanese Culture Experience Days flyer

Click here to download the PDF

List of main activities at the Kurassic-kan:

  • Origami folding
  • Japanese calligraphy
  • Japanese Tea Ceremony (traditional way of making matcha green tea)
  • Japanese folding fan decorating
  • Play with old-fashioned and traditional Japanese toys
  • Sake tasting with Nakamachi’s original-brand sake
  • Kimono (yukata) and ninja costume rental (paid activity)
  • Rickshaw rides around Nakamachi (paid activity, discount with kimono rental)
  • Ninja blowgun activity (paid activity, free with ninja costume rental)


List of shops offering activities around Nakamachi:

  • Geiyukan: Try plaing the shamisen, a traditional Japanese music instrument.
  • Kuriya: Make fresh wasabi from real wasabi root.
  • Senri: Japanese wine, sake, amazake, and juice tasting
  • Yamahei: Introduction of some Japanese local foods
  • Yaguchi: Try wearing geta, a traditional form of Japanese footwear.
  • Ihara: Chopsticks and beans game
  • Itoya: Play the konpira fune-fune game, a traditional game played at geisha banquets, and other activities.
  • Okinado Kura Branch: Try playing the Japanese taiko drum. Also, exhibit of traditional tools used for making Japanese confections/sweets
  • Temariya: Free Japanese tea



Flyer page listing shop activities. Download the PDF for all the details.

Flyer page listing shop activities. Download the PDF for all the details.

Japanese Culture Experience Days in Nakamachi! Plus a New Nakamachi Guide Map, Website, and Shop Signs in English!

Japanese Culture Experience Days at Kurassic-kan in September

Come to Kurassic-kan on Wednesday, Sept. 6 and Saturday, Sept. 23 between 10:00 and 16:00 to enjoy special Japanese cultural activities, plus get a free gift for participating! Here you can try your hand at various traditional arts, crafts, and other activities (mostly for free!) including:

  • Origami – the art of paper folding where you can create colorful figures out of paper
  • Japanese calligraphy – write your name in Japanese and favorite kanji characters
  • Tea ceremony/Matcha green tea making – experience the traditional Japanese tea ceremony and learn how to make matcha, a special kind of green tea
  • Japanese paper fan decorating – decorate your own folding paper fan just the way you like and keep yourself cool the rest of the summer
  • Traditional Japanese toys – try out old-fashioned Japanese toys like the koma (spinning tops), kendama (a kind of cup and ball game), takeuma (stilts), and more
  • Sake tasting – try a specially brewed sake made just for the Nakamachi area!
  • Kimono wearing/rental – choose from your favorite design and walk around Matsumoto in a kimono (fee required)
  • Rickshaw rides – enjoy a fun ride through Nakamachi on a rickshaw! (fee required)
  • Ninja experience – learn cool ninja skills like how to shoot darts using a blowgun (fee required)

(*Activities may be subject to change)

After participating in the activities, fill out a short survey to get a free gift – a roll of specially designed masking tape decorated in the characteristic “namako-kabe” pattern, which is the black and white crisscross pattern found on the walls of many of the old buildings in Nakamachi.

The name namako-kabe has an interesting origin, coming from the word for “sea slug” (namako) and walls (kabe). If you look closely at actually pattern on the buildings when walking around the town, you’ll notice that the crisscross patterns are made up of rounded, embossed lines that supposedly look like sea slugs, which have a similar cylindrical shape. Although this pattern makes the buildings quite beautiful, it also had practical applications too, as it helped protect them against fire, strong winds, and rain. The namako-kabe masking tape will make a fun souvenir to remind you of your time in Nakamachi!

Namako-kabe walls in Nakamachi

Namako-kabe patterned walls

New Nakamachi guide map, website, and shop signs in English!

Finding your way around Nakamachi Street just got a whole lot easier with Nakamachi’s new guide map, website in English with a shop directory, and soon-to-be-finished shop signs in English that will posted in front of every shop so you will know exactly what kind of place it is.

Nakamachi Guide Map in paper form will be distributed soon, but until then you can download a PDF version here.

Nakamachi English guide map

Nakamachi English Guide Map (click to download the PDF)

Check out the new English version of Nakamachi’s website here to learn more about its history, what events and sights there are to see, and find shops & restaurants with the handy, searchable shop list. You can also download the guide map from the website, too.

English shop signs are also coming soon and will be posted in front of each shop. These signs will let you know what kind of shop or restaurant it is, whether there is Wi-Fi available or not, if credit cards can be used, which restaurants allow or don’t allow smoking, and more. Keep an eye out for them in the upcoming months!

Nakamachi shop sign

Preview of the shop signs being prepared for Nakamachi Street

Hashigo Yokocho food court : vegan options available

So you’ve come to Matsumoto and have been to eat at all the usual tourist spots, or you just want to get away from the crowds and try something a bit different, Hashigo Yokocho on Uramachi Street is the perfect place for you. Tucked away between all the bars, clubs and sunakku is the perfect little food court. The name Hashigo, meaning ladder, is also used in Japanese for hopping from one place to another, e.g bar hopping, and Yokocho are the little narrow alleys full of shops and cheap places to eat. The name suits the place perfectly as you can easily hop from one store to the next and there are plenty of choices for food available.

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Whether driving, cycling, walking or taking the bus you shouldn’t have any problem at all, there is free parking for both bikes and cars, it is only a 2 minute walk from the bus stop. However, even if you are walking from the station it is only about 15 minutes and from the castle, only 10. On a nice day I’m sure you will love the walk.

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Upon arriving, you first notice the beautiful traditional Japanese style entrance and just inside there is a small Torii (archway) and miniature shrine which really adds a nice touch. Inside is like stepping back in time to a more traditional Japan. I found myself instantly reminded of the movie spirited away with the amazing style of everything.

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Taking a walk around, you can check out all the cute little stores. Most only big enough for a handful of people. Every store has its own style, for starters, right by the entrance there is a store called “Shun” where you can try “Oden” a Japanese dish consisting of different vegetables, fish cakes and eggs all boiled together in a delicious broth.

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You can try Chinese food at “Lili’s Kitchen”, Teppanyaki (food cooked on the hotplate right in front of you) at “Teppanyaki Fumoto” or go to an izakaya (Japanese style bar) for a beer or sake.

Every Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday you can go early to buy fresh locally grown vegetables from “Sasaki Seeds” and take home with you to cook later.

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All your tea needs can be met at “Chahua” selling a wide range of different Chinese and herbal teas and accessories such as cute little tea pots. Although the owner doesn’t speak much English, they are very friendly and helpful and will happily brew a tea for you in store.

.tea shop

 

My personal favorites, however, are the 5 star Indian restaurant “Doon Shokudo Indoyama” and the cafe “Chokonto”

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Doon Shokudo Indoyama is run by a lovely couple who speak fluent English. You have your choice of three delicious curries including a vegan option if you are not much of a meat eater. All curries come with a popadom, chapati and great conversation. Also feel free to ask the owner for extra rice if you’re feeling hungry.

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Chokonto is by far one of the cutest cafes I have ever stepped inside, it has a real lovely style of all its own. It even has cute little handmade menus. Besides the nice variety of western style and Japanese style food and drinks, there are lots of really nice local made products that would make a great souvenir to take back home.

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As a bonus, if you happen to be in Matsumoto on the 7th of July, Hashigo Yokocho, will be hosting a small festival from 4m till 9pm where everyone will be wearing yukata (a light summer kimono) and there will special items for sale. And then everyone will head downtown afterwards.

 

So please come and join the fun. :)

Apple Picking with Pick-Up Service Starts!

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Now, autumn is a season of beautiful, colored foliage, mushrooms in forests, and don’t forget the harvesting of yummy FRUITS as one of Nagano’s specialty!

DSC_2457-768x513This year, a young farming couple (with a baby) who moved from Tokyo starts apple picking experience with pick-up service from Matsumoto Castle, on Oct 11.

They live in a traditional farmer house near Alps Park, so the experience is not only picking fresh apples in their orchard, but also sitting in their tatami room, having Japanese tea and various autumn food, and touring around their Japanese-style house if you want.

The fee ¥3000 includes all-you-can-eat picked apples and carry-out of two.

You can book the service from the reservation form on their English website. Reservation is required by noon of the day (preferably by the previous day). They are closed on Sundays.
See the following flyer for the details.

* The picking experience will end on Nov 21th because their apples will be finished earlier than expected.

About other orchards (without pick-up service) and more info about fruits including grapes, see this blog.

AppleA4_tate_v2

New Kimono & Ninja Cosplay/Rental Shop

hanakomichi2A local beautician opened a fantastic shop of kimono (traditional Japanese clothes) and a ninja costume wearing & rental service on July 5th.

It is located close to the street toward the entrance of the Matsumoto Castle and you don’t need a reservation in advance if you are not from a large group.
So, why don’t you look into the shop? If you find your favorite costume from various kinds of them, use the wearing & rental service, walk to the castle (just 5 min) and take perfect photos with the castle in the background with your camera or cell phone.

A professional dresses you in kimono or ninja wear only within 15 mins.

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The rental fees start at 3,500 yen (for 2 hours).
And, if you wear a kimono around town, you can advantage of special discounts offered at times during the summer.

One is of these is the “Nakamachi Street Yukata Festival.” During July 1 and 18, visitors wearing kimono or yukata can get special service in 29 restaurants, cafes, izakaya (Japanese pubs) and bars.

Another is free admission to the Matsumoto Castle for visitors wearing kimono between August 6 and 16.

See this page for the details.

Fruit Harvest and Picking Season

Fuji Apples with “Honeycore”

Two Kinds of Fresh Grapes



In Matsumoto, Nagano, Autumn is a season for beautiful colored leaves, mushrooms in forests, and yummy FRUITS!

You can buy and eat various kinds of apples and grapes in farmers’ markets.

But, if you pick apples in orchards and eat them immediately, you would be surprised that taste of fresh apples are different from usual ones you eat.

Experience of picking grapes and eating under grapes is fun and it will be good memory.

Some of the orchards where you can experience fruit picking in or around Matsumoto are,

Five tips to enjoy Matsumoto Craft Fair

Craft Fair Matsumoto is the biggest and oldest craft fair in Japan, attracting 50,000 ~ 70,000 visitors during the event.
This year, celebrating its 30th anniversary with 280 craftsmen from all over Japan, along with many relative events in downtown Matsumoto city.

May 24th (Saturday) & 25th (Sunday) / Free admission

The “Five Tips” to enjoy Matsumoto craft fair even more are….

1) 歩・・・Take a walk

The craft fair venue is at “Agata-no-mori Park“, just 2 kilo meters away from JR. Matsumoto station. It is a nice walking course with lots of natural spring wells (w/ drinkable water) and unique shops. Arriving Agata-no-mori, exploring the buildings of the “Former Matsumoto High School” . The school buildings full of western influences were constructed in 1920, and designated as a national important cultural properties. In the campus, old trees of zelkova and cherry are forming an atmosphere of small forests.

2) 知・・・Expand the knowledge

280 craftsmen including wood carvings, ceramics, lacquer wares, metal works, weaving, dyeing, glass works, leather and food producers will be all over the park. From traditional to modern techniques you can learn various craft art forms all together.

3) 聴・・・Live concerts
As you may already know, Matsumoto is so-called the town of music. Here at the site, live music concerts will be held on Saturday evening (May 24th). Admission Free, can bring your own food and drink, or temporary mini bar is available at the site. It is so relaxing to listen to nice music on live in homey atmosphere.

4) 食・・・Eat
There are always full of booths selling various foods and drinks. Usually they are situated at the north-east side of the park, and so many to choose from: Japanese, Cambodian, Indian, Italian, German,  Macrobiotic and so on. And there are many nice restaurants on the way from the station, too. It’s worth visiting just for experiencing different taste!

5) 買・・・Shopping

Nothing to explain here, I guess!
Hope you are able to find a special piece and take home with other beautiful & unforgettable memories of Matsumoto City.
*The vendors often don’t accept credit cards at the site. Go to International ATM (the main post office on Honmachi St. is closer from the park) before visiting the event if you wish to purchase there.)

Read also an article of Matsumoto Craft Fair by Winifred Bird on The Japan Times

Plum Blossoms Festival in Norikura

The 43rd Plum Blossoms Festival(sumomo-matsuri) will be held at Ichinose Ranch(一の瀬牧場)in Norikura Highlands on May 18th Sunday.

The ceremony starts from 10:30 a.m., admission is “free”. Live music with Alpine Horns, Taiko(Japanese drums), Yodel Chorus and Japanese traditional dance are offered to the visitors along with “Sake”, “soba” and “Miso soup” services.

Sumomo(Japanese plum) trees grow naturally in Norikura Highlands, they usually start blooming from mid- May and last until Mid June.

Sumomo jam, wine and ice ream are on sale at the shop in Ichinose ranch.

And don’t forget about famous Norikura Onsen(hot springs)! There are several inns and public bathhouse for day trip visitors.

Yukemurikan(湯けむり館)opens from 9:30~20:00, admission fee is 720 yen for adults, 300 yen for kids.
There are many small inns and hotels with onsen in Norikura area. ⇒Norikura accomodations

To reach Norikura highlands, Haruyama bus(春山バス) services are available until June 30th.
The bus departs from Shinshimashima bus terminal in Matsumoto, and takes visitors to the snowy corridors on Mt. Kuraigahara.
Haruyama bus info

2 Days Free Bus Passport (& 4 days also available)

Good news for the tourists who wish to visit Kamikochi, Norikura, Matsumoto and Utsukushigahara all at once.

Very reasonable 2 Days Free Bus Passport is now available at ALPICO bus terminals in Matsumoto and Shinshimashima.



This 2 days free passport is 5,150 yen for adults (half price for kids (including tax)), available at ALPICO counter in Matsumoto Bus Terninal and Shinshimashima Bus Terminal. It is handy to use and perfect for touring Matsumoto area! Just to show this passport to the driver before get off the bus (except for Kamikochi line). For Kamikochi line, you need to get a “Numbered ticket (determining order of service)”at Kamikochi Bus Terminal in addition to this 2 days passport for boarding.

With this amazing open ticket, all bus services including Kamikochi line(train), Utsukushigahara line and of course Matsumoto city zone lines become free within 2 days after the purchasing.

In addition to this, by paying double the price of 2 days pass, you can get 4 days free ticket called “Shinshu – Hida Wide Free Passport“.
With this 4 days pass, you can even visit Takayama and Shirakawa village and come back to Matsumoto. The pass is available at ALPICO counter in Matsumoto and Shinshimashima bus terminals, Takayama Nohi Bus Center and Gero Bus Center in Gifu.

Have fun!


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