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Hakuba – Matsumoto Express Bus and Sumo Road-show Again This Year & Castle Expo in Yokohama to Dec 25

Happy holidays! Snow falls in the north mountain areas in Nagano, so it is white Christmas.

hakubamatsumotowebIn the last year’s winter, I wrote about the launch of Hakuba from/to Matsumoto direct express bus service. Again this year, it operates from Dec 17 till Mar 20!
Check out this new English website.

Free shuttle buses between Matsumoto and Mt. Norikura/Nomugi Pass ski resorts are operating this year, too. You need reservation for them. See the details on Japanese websites (Mt. Norikura / Nomugi Pass).

mainAnother good news, ‘Sumo road-show in Matsumoto’ will be also held next April again. It might be the season of cherry blossoms seen in and around Matsumoto Castle beautifully.

Time: 8 am to 3 pm, Friday 14th, April
Venue: Matsumoto City General Gymnasium (Google map)
Ticket: advance-sale tickets will be sold from Feb 1 (probably walk-up tickets will also be sold)
Refer to the Japanese website and our previous blog article.

Are you interested in Matsumoto Castle and other Japanese castles and cultures at the samurai age? If so, now ‘Castle Expo’ in Yokohama is being held to Dec 25. See this PDF document.

Hakuba – Matsumoto Express Bus Launch!

20151214snowmagicThis winter, Hakuba from/to Matsumoto direct express bus service has newly operated.

The bus connects Happo/Goryu/Sanosaka ski resorts to Matsumoto by 1,500 or 1,800 yen (depending the day). It departs Matsumoto 7:00 and departs Hakuba 16:00 (two hours ride).

So, after enjoying ski/snowboard in world-renowned ski resort Hakuba, why don’t you ride the bus and eat supper, drink at bar/izakaya, stay in Matsumoto, and see another world-renowned spot, Matsumoto Castle? (Hakuba has a “supper refugees” problem of a shortage of restaurants for skiers.)

Check out this website.

Also, there are winter-limited shuttle buses between Matsumoto and Mt. Norikura/Nomugi Pass ski resorts. You need reservation and the websites (Mt. Norikura / Nomugi Pass) are in Japanese, but they’re FREE! They depart Matsumoto 7:50/8:15 and depart Norikura/Nomugi 15:40/16:00 (only 1:40/1:15 ride).

Let’s stay in Matsumoto and enjoy skiing/snowboading/snowshoeing/sleigh in the Japan Alps!

Snowmobile, snowshoeing & cross-country ski at Utsukushigahara 王ヶ頭ホテル

Ougatou Hotel (Ohgatou Hotel)  王ヶ頭ホテル is located on the crest of the Utsukushigahara Heights (美ヶ原高原), an elevation of 2,000 meters.

In this time of the year, they offer very attractive outdoor activities for the guests.  Until the end of March,  guests can sign up for the snowmobile tour which leaves the hotel every morning.

They also provide a “Snowshoeing Plan,  snowshoes rental fee is included in the hotel charges.

Of course, you can enjoy cross-country skiing while staying there.  (Rental ski gears are available)

And the most of all, what is so distinctive about this hotel is its open-air bath and indoor bath with magnificent view.

There are no obstacles, in the 100 % wild and natural settings, visitors of this mountain lodge can be fully relaxed.

Please enjoy a fantastic view of 360 degrees from Utsukushigahara Heights.  This will surely become one of  the unforgettable experiences  in Japan.

Reservation・・・・・Ougatou Hotel (Rakuten Travel) or see “tripadvisor”

*Ougatou Hotel has selected as a Japan’s No.1 hotel for family use in Tripadvisor’s TRAVELERS’ CHOICE 2013 Award!!

*Note*  You can’t take your own car to the hotel during the winter( November 25th to April 20th) due to closedown of the road.  You need to make a hotel reservation, a ” shuttle bus”  will be there to pick you up from JR Matsumoto station.

Before snow melts, better hurry to see their greatest view!!

Koshin sama (お庚申さま)Festival in Asama & Azusagawa on 22nd

At the night of Koshin (庚申), traditional Japanese conduct a special ritual.  The 22nd of February, Koshin festivals will be held at Koshin – do (庚申堂) in both Asama Hot Spring and Azusagawa Ueno district.

←(photo taken by Fujinoyu)

Koshin (庚申) is a name of a day which comes to 57th of the sexagenary cycle of Japanese lunar calendar (traditional calendar with Chinese zodiac signs).   According to Taoism, the night of “Koshin”, the “three worms (三尸・さんし)” the spiritual figures which believed to live in our body will come out from the human while the owner of the body is sleeping,  and these three bugs will go to heaven to make a report on humans ill deeds to Tentei (天帝), the god.   The heavenly god will make a judgement  for each people’s life span after hearing from these three worms reports.   In order to prevent from “three worms’ declaration to god”,  Japanese folks had made a ritual to stay awake on the night on Koshin.   That was a beginning of Koshin Festival.   In “Makurano soshi (枕草子)” (very early essay book written by a noble lady in A.D. 996), there are some descriptions about the night of Koshin,  therefore this festival has been held for more than a thousand years by Japanese folks.

image of three worms                        ↑ Symbol of Koshin with three monkeys

Shinkoji Temple in Azusagawa Ueno, the western foothill region of Matsumoto

To find the temple, just follow the red flags.  The color red is a symbol of Koshin so as monkeys.

← Three monkeys in Shinkoji temple

At Hot Plaza Asama (communal onsen) ,  there will be a welcome service hosted by local ladies.

Inside of the temple, monks are reciting sutras all night long, locals are selling lucky Daruma figures.

Asama Hot Spring ← click to open the map

Shinkoji Temple ← Map

Hope you have a chance to eyewitness this ancient ritual here in Matsumoto.

Ski Kids Day in Norikura Ski Resort Feb. 17th Sunday

This coming Sunday, February 17th is “Ski Kids Day” in Mt. Norikura Ski Resort .

DAY PASS lift ticket for elementary school kids and preschool kids is only 500 yen for “Ski Kids Day”.  And “No Charge” for the children under 3 yrs old.

On kids day, there will be some fun events for kids.  Around 14:00~ they are going to serve a gigantic “Sanzkuyaki Burger” at the restaurant.   Sanzokuyaki is Matsumoto’s popular local dish, very similar to fried chicken.  This gigantic burger is for 100 guests, the diameter is about 70~80 centimeters.

Not only the burger, there will be kids lottery,  free snow mobile riding, and of course, your kids will be happy to take photos with “Sanzokukku”, the popular mascot.

Moreover, there are some wonderful news for both young students and adult beginners.

For “Young Students” including undergraduates,  DAY PASS lift ticket is HALF- PRICE only in February.  Check it out! ⇒ Half – price DAY PASS Ticket

And for very beginners (for elementary school students and older including adults), “Norikura Debut Package” will be suitable.
The package plan includes a DAY PASS ticket, rental ski gears  and 2 hours beginner’s lesson.   The charge is only 4000 yen.
To sign up for this reasonable package,  you have to be at the ski rental shop at 8:45 ~ 9:30 for morning session and 11:45 ~ 12:30 for afternoon session.
*To take this advantage, it is very important that you are a very beginner who ski for the first time.   If  your ski skill is too good to be a beginner, they will charge the difference of ski lesson fee.

Norikura Ski Resort is famous for its high quality powder snow and the difference in elevation of 1,400 meters.

And, Onsen!!  Both DAY PASS and HALF DAY PASS come with a onsen coupon ticket.   Yukemurikan is a communal onsen really close from the ski area.

Have a wonderful holiday!

“Kids Ski Day” on the 16th at Nomugi Ski Resort

February 16th Saturday is a “Kids Ski Day” in Nomugi Ski Resort.
Elementary school children and younger (Age under 12 yrs old) are free of charge for ski lift and there will be fun events (like treasure hunting and such)  for them.

Also every Sunday, free lunch will be served for the kids under 13 yrs old (preschoolers and elementary school children) after purchasing a DayPass. (Sorry, not for their parents, though.)

And during the season, a Day Pass Lift ticket will become half-price for the residents or workers in Matsumoto area (Matsumoto, Shiojiri, Azumino Cities and Asahi &Yamagata Village) . Don’t forget to bring your ID or some provable forms.

Nomugi Ski Resort is proud of its highest altitude (2130 meters above sea level) and long course (4000 meters length) with finest powder snow.

In a sunny day, you can see “diamond dust” (a phenomenon caused by tiny particle of snow and air in the right condition) in Nomugi.

Talk about food and onsen, Nomugi prepares both.

“Ramen” to our local “sanzokuyaki”, variety of delicious meals are prepared at the rest house.

And, of course “ONSEN”!!  Some Ryokans (Japanese style B&B) and lodges around Nomugi Ski area allow visitors to use their onsen bath (Sanso Watari,  WOODY MOCK, Ryokan Senraku ) with charge from 400 to 500 yen(/per guest).

Soba in Nomugi (Nagawa) area is always more than perfect, since original flavorous buckwheat is grown in this region.  See Nagawa soba festival page ⇒Nagawa Soba
After enjoying Ski and onsen, it will be nice to have delicious “soba” before leaving Nomugi.

Setsubunsai 節分祭 February 3rd

Setsubun (節分) is the day before the beginning of Spring in Japan.  Traditionally Japanese had followed Lunar calender, and the night of Setsubun was New Years Eve.  At “Setsubun sai”, a special ritual – “Mamemaki” takes place at shrines and temples all over Japan.

Here in Matsumoto, “Setsubun sai (節分祭 Setsubun festival)” will be held at Fukashi Shrine in downtown on February 3rd from 17:00.

“Mamemaki” means throwing roasted soybeans (fortune beans) both in and out side of the house in order to exorcise evil spirits.  At local shrines and temple, priests and invited guests throw roasted soybeans and some small gifts (sweets and interesting prizes (sometimes high quality TVs and such)) from the stage. Fukashi Shrine’s “Mamemaki ” starts from 18:00 on the 3rd of February.
The evil characters “Oni” usually come with red and blue costume wait for their turn at “Mamemaki”. There will be kids playing area for “Setsubun sai” at Fukashi Shrine on that night.

Mamemaki (豆まき)
Venue: Fukashi Shrine (downtown Matsumoto)
Date: February 3rd from 18:00 (17:00 ~ special  ceremony)

Matsumoto Ice Sculpture Festival:January 26th & 27th

Ice Sculpture Festival  at Matsumoto Castle

■ Date  January 26th Saturday & 27th Sunday  from 10:00 to 16:00

■ Venue  Matsumoto Castle Garden

■ Schedule
10:00~ Brass Band performance by the students from Shimizu Elementary School in Matsumoto.
10:30~ The actual presentation of Ice Sculpture making in Matsumoto Castle Garden
12:30~ Dance performance by a dance circle, “Ash”
13:00~  “Paper, stone and scissors “game with mascot characters
13:30~ The actual presentation of Ice Sculpture making in Matsumoto Castle Garden
14:00~ Dance performance by “Dancing Star”
18:00~ All Japan Ice Sculpture Competition (’till 27th 6:00 a.m.)
18:30~ Serving free soup dish (for 500 visitors)
19:00~ Jazz & Brass Band performances
“LazyKhan” (Jazz live performance), “selena” (Brass Band performance)
You can also see the actual “Ice Sculpture presentation” in front of INOUE Department Store in downtown Matsumoto.

6:00~ Display the works for ”Ice Sculptures Competition” (’till 16:00)
10:00~ Serving free soup dish (for 200 visitors)
11:00~ Kids heroes “Go Busters” performance
12:00~ Dance performance by “Dance Laboratory”
13:00~ Serving free soup dish (for 200 visitors)
13:00~ Dance performance by “Mibuki with tutu &beat’s”
14:00~ Kids heroes “Go Busters” performance
14:30~ ”Paper, stone and scissors “game with mascot characters

【26th &27th】 10:00~16:00 (Matsumoto Castle Garden)
☆Gigantic Slide
☆Stamp Rally
☆Food Booths & Kids Play Zone

Snow Monkeys at Jigokudani in winter time

Jigokudani Yaenkoen (地獄谷 野猿公苑) is located in Northern Nagano (Yamanouchi town) near Shibu Hot Spring.

During winter, you have to take the trail from Kanbayashi Onsen to Jigokudani since the road from Shibu Onsen is closed due to heavy snow.
To get to Yaen koen, it takes about at least 30 minutes on foot, yet it is depends on the condition of the trail.  This mountain pass is narrow, unpaved, often covered with snow and full of steps, it is almost impossible to follow by wheelchair.

On the way to Kanbayashi Onsen, the drive way was covered with snow and a bit slippery.  Snow tires are “must” item to reach Jigokudani area.

It is so beautiful to explore winter forest, but you need to prepare warm outfit as well as snow boots.

It was quite a bit of walk from Kanbayashi Onsen through the forest pass way, yet if you are lucky, be able to encounter Japanese Serow (goat- antelope recognized on IUCN Red List for least concern mammals) on the way to the park.

Or you may see some monkeys interrupting some tourists enjoying Onsen Rotenburo (outside bath) at a B & B called Korakukan.

This time, my friends from Salt Lake City (Matsumoto’s sister city!) U.S.  fully enjoyed watching these adorable snow monkeys relaxing in the warm onsen and playing all over the park.

Though it was very cold in deed, it was worth visiting this interesting and amusing wild park in the deep forest.

More detail ⇒ Jigokudani Yaen Koen

Yakuyoke mairi 厄除け参り on Jan 13th and 14th

Yakuyoke (厄除け)is another custom which many Japanese people follow around this time of the year.   People practice ‘yakubarai’ (exorcism of bad luck) or ‘yakuyoke’ (avoidance of bad luck) at their ages of calamity, in order to pre-empt adversity or misfortune by the help of Shinto and Buddhist deities.  Yakuyoke always happen on the same day of  “coming – of – age day 成人式” (the Sunday, in the middle of  January) and the day after that day.

Here in Matsumoto, there are many temples and shrines offer  Yakuyoke service, Hokoji in Joyama Park and Gofukuji in Uchida (Eastern foothill area above JR. Murai Station ←map) are very popular.

The picture shown here are at Hokoji temple.  Hundreds of pilgrims were there at the night on the 13th of January.

On the way to the temple, there were many (very Asian atmosphere) booths selling lucky charms and foods.

For Yakuyoke mairi (pilgrimage), these temples open their gates until very late at night for  2 days from the 13th to 14th of January.
If you are interested in rituals and common custom of Japan, visiting these temples may be a good idea! (Though it is very cold at night!)

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