Matsumoto Castle

The Matsumoto Castle, located in the city of Matsumoto in Nagano prefecture, is listed as a national treasure of Japan. Built in the 16th century, the castle still has its original wooden structure. It is renowned for the steep wooden stairs leading from one floor to the next, until the uppermost floor. Various weapons of the epoch, including swords and rifles, are displayed along the way.

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Zenko-ji temple

Zenko-ji temple is located in the heart of Nagano city, the host of the 1998 Olympic games. The main street leading to the temple is lined with shops offering souvenirs and local produce. It is an ideal place to shop for friends and family.

The Zenko-ji temple was built in the 7th century and is still to this day an important site of pilgrimage in Japan. The legend says that the temple hosts the first Buddha statue ever brought to Japan. It is forbidden to see this statue, even for the head priest. Every six years, a replica of the statue is shown during a massive pilgrimage. The last display occurred in 2015.

A peculiar attraction of Zenko-ji consists of walking through a tunnel under the temple in complete darkness. The goal is to touch a special ‘key’, which is some kind of metallic object, on the wall. Touching this “key” is supposed to give you enlightenment. At the end of the tunnel lies a mirror so you can look at the “new self” after being reborn.

A museum is also located in the pagoda near the Zenko-ji temple. The exhibit presents various artifacts about Zenko-ji temple and a video display recounts the visit of the Dalai Lama in 2010.

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Jigokudani, Japanese snow monkeys (じごくだに)

Jigokudani, which translates to “hell’s valley”, is famous for its Onsen (natural hot spring baths). It is also the only place in Japan where wild Japanese macaque take baths in the hot spring water. Although they specifically enjoy the warmth of the Onsen in winter, the monkeys of Jigokudani stay at the park all year round (I don’t know if they would stay there if they were not fed everyday by the park keepers!).
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Gaijin-San's theater

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Nojiriko Hotel El Bosco

The Nojiriko Hotel El Bosco has a special concept of ‘a hotel made for reading’ and is definitely a relaxing place. The architecture was designed to blend with the surrounding nature. The lobby and the restaurant feature large windows with a view on the forest. Also, each bedroom offers a view of the Nojiriko lake. The restaurant offers European and Japanese-inspired cuisine with fresh local ingredients. A separate, small and cozy room of the hotel serves as the soba bar where one can enjoy delicious soba noodles, famous in Nagano prefecture, with their favorite drink.

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Japanese farmland in Nagano

Papa and Mama, as I call my Japanese stepparents, own a piece of land not too far from the city of Nagano. While a large part of the land consists of a rice paddy and is taken care of by local farmers, a small corner is reserved for their own private family garden.

When I visit them, they often take me to the garden so I can help a bit by watering the garden and picking the veggies that are ripe and ready to eat. In the evening, the sun setting over the mountains illuminates beautifully the valley where Nagano is located.

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The new Nagano station

The main train station of Nagano was renovated recently on the occasion of the extension of the Shinkansen line to Kanazawa. The new station features the Midori shopping center with new stores offering local produce and the latest Japanese fashion. The new architecture is a great improvement over the previous while blending traditional and modern elements of Japanese architecture.

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Kyoto Mamehachi in Kyoto’s Pontocho restaurant district

Kyoto’s Pontocho restaurant district is a little gem for dining in Kyoto. The alley is located on the West bank of the iconic Kamogawa river, facing the famous geisha district of Gion. Restaurants are found on both sides of the alley Continue reading Kyoto Mamehachi in Kyoto’s Pontocho restaurant district

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