I am not a fan of long hot baths but I like going to onsen for a quick relaxing dip. Last weekend, my husband and I went to Nagano for a short trip. We went with our friend Jezza as they visited her husband's hometown. And because it is obon season, most of the Japanese families are on the road for vacation. So we decided to leave Tokyo a little early to avoid the traffic jam. We left Tokyo around Friday midnight. There was not much to see while we were on the road since it was very dark still. But when we made our last stop before reaching our destination, a beautiful site welcomed us.

 

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The Southern Alps of Japan at Dusk

 

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Hot Coffee, Tea, and Water for Free at Komagata Service Area along Chuo Expressway

 

We stayed at the parents's house of Takeshi-san (Jezza's husband) in Iida City. The drive going to their house was superb. We saw a  lot of small peach and nashi (Japanese pear) farms  on both sides of the road. We also had a good view of the Southern Alps.

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Our Constant View as We Drove Around Nagano

 

 

Enjoying the Onsen and Nagano Specialty Food

 

After we have rested a little and settled our things in the house, we headed to an onsen in Shimojo Village in Mutsuzawa. It was a little far from where we are staying but worth the drive. The onsen has beautiful cosmos flowers in front of the building where it got its name, Hot Water of the Cosmos (コスモスの湯). Unfortunately no pictures are allowed inside the onsen. So, please imagine a nice hot spring open-air bath  with a view of the Southern Alps.

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The Facade of Shimojo Onsen

 

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Beautiful Cosmos Welcome the Guests of Shimojo Onsen

 

After our nice and relaxing bath, we headed to the Soba no Shiro (Soba Castle) for lunch. The building is literally like old Japanese castle from outside. Inside, were small stores selling different kinds of sweets, pickles, and vegetables. On the second floor was the soba restaurant which offers a "soba challenge" menu. Compared to the usual soba menu set, the challenge menu is double the price. However, one can eat as much soba as he/she can. If one customer can eat more than three servings, he/she would receive a voucher: free soba on the next visit. The guys tried the soba challenge. My husband Christian included. It was fun to watch the boxes of soba pile up in front of them.

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Soba no Shiro or Soba Castle in Nagano

 

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Nagano's Local Goods and Produce For Sale at Soba no Shiro

 

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Cold Soba for Lunch: Trying Out The Town's Specialty

 

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Soba Challenge Accepted!!

 

Come evening. we went again to another onsen after spending the afternoon at the house. This time, we went to Hot Apple located in Iida City. It is quite bigger than the first one with three open-air baths plus a jacuzzi inside. However, it was a bit crowded because the climate is quite cool and nice for bathing.

After that, we had a yakiniku dinner in a restaurant near the house. We all enjoyed the delicious Nagano beef and fresh vegetables. The cabbage we had was sweet and the meat was to die for!

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The Delicious Melts-in-Your-Mouth Nagano Beef

 

The following day, we first had a quick visit to the graveyard where Takeshi-san's uncle is buried. After paying our respects, we went to buy some fruits and sweets at a local terminal shop. We bought some peaches, nashi, and plums to take home.

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The Graveyard Overlooking Iida City and Southern Alps

 

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So Sweet But A Bit Expensive Muscat Grapes (Each Box Costs More Than JPY7,000)

 

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Watermelons of Different Variety for a Low Price

 

 

Then before heading back to Tokyo, we made a brief stop at Hometown Mizuhiki Crafts Museum. Mizuhiki is a long thin twine made from washi, the traditional Japanese paper. It usually formed as ribbons or bows placed on an envelope for weddings, funerals, or special occasions. Nowadays, only  the craftsmen in IIda City make artworks and decors using mizuhiki.

 

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The Mizuhiki Crafts Museum in Iida City, Nagano

 

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Bows for Japanese Envelopes: Most Popular Use of Mizuhiki

 

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Learning How to Make a Bracelet Using Mizuhiki

 

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Bountiful Ship All Made of Mizuhiki

 

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Mizuhiki Wedding Dress and Kimono

 

On our way, we made a short trip to Suwa City, a town famous for ryokans and onsen. We drove along Lake Suwa,  At that time, the city was busy preparing for their annual Hanabi (fireworks festival). Along the lake were kiosks and mats. We went to Katakurakan Onsen. This onsen is classified as an important cultural property.

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Pear Trees Along the Streets of Suwa City

 

Katakurakan Onsen was built in 1928 and was designed by Mr. Matsunosuke Moriyama. The architecture and engineering were inspired by his travels to Central and South America and Europe. The onsen does not have its own built-in heating system. Inside the baths is a big pool similar to the Roman Baths. Underneath is a layer of pebbles. Hot water is being poured onto the pool. The rocks absorb the heat from the water and then releases this heat to keep the water warm.

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The Facade of Katakurakan Onsen in Suwa, Nagano

 

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Matsunosuke Moriyama: The Man Behind the Katakurakan Onsen

 

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European-Inspired Interiors at Katakurakan Onsen

 

And to end a good trip with a bang, we stopped at a regional restaurant in Kofu City, Yamanashi for a delicious bowl of udon!

 

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Inside Kosaku Restaurant in Kofu, Yamanashi

 

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Hot Udon Bowl with Fresh Mountain Vegetables from Yamanashi

 

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Crispy Crickets as Side Dish