Wednesday, February 21, 2018

A Quick Visit to Chino and Suwa

My purpose in visiting the Suwa area of Nagano was to visit a friend who I haven't seen in years. She kindly picked me up at the station and showed me interesting places in Chino and Suwa Cities.

Chino City, in Nagano, is home of Fujimori Terunobu, an architect known for his unique designs. Just 3 kilometers from Chino Station, one can see four of his creations: Jinchokan Moriya Historical Museum, Dorobune, Takasugi-an, and Hikusugi-an. All four are located within a few meters of each other. To get there from Chino Station, if you don't have a car, you only have two choices: either walk or rent a bike; there are no buses going there.

Jinchokan Moriya Historical Museum was built in 1991. This building with four tree trunks poking through the roof at the entrance houses documents (dating as far back as the 11th century!) collected by the Moriya family, a family who played an influential role in religion in Suwa.

The museum is open Tuesdays to Sundays from 9AM to 430PM. The admission fee is 100 yen.

Jinchokan Moriya Historical Museum

Dorobune or Flying Mud Boat is a tea house suspended on tension cables over four wooden posts. How does one get inside? By ladder. But at the time of my visit (October 2017), there was no ladder in sight— the tea house was not open to the public. (If I get up there, I think I'd just rock the "mud boat" and make myself dizzy.)


Takasugi-an is a tea house built on top of two chestnut trunks. The ladders to gain access to the tea house were also missing. This, too, was for my eyes only. In other words: not open to the public.


Hikusugi-an is a tea house built partly dug into the ground. In terms of height, Hikusugi-an is pretty much the opposite of nearby Takasugi-an, the too high tea house. Hikusugi-an is said to resemble a pit house from the Japanese Jomon period. My friend told me the top half of the roof can slide to the side for an open-air tea experience. (When I visited, Hikusugi-an was still under construction.)


Update: As of 2020, the three tea houses can be entered by joining a—quite expensive, in my opinion—guided tour.

Suwa City is the city just next to Chino and also the next stop (Kami-Suwa Station) after Chino Station on the JR Chuo Line. Suwa City is located on the south of Lake Suwa, the largest lake in Nagano. In Suwa City, we visited Suwakokohan Park and Takashima Castle and Park.

Lake Suwa, I am sure, is very familiar to fans of the anime "Kimi No Na Wa" (English title is "Your Name"). Lake Suwa is said to be the inspiration for the lake in the movie.

Lake Suwa

We visited Suwakokohan Park along the southeastern shore of Lake Suwa. The southern end of the park is only a 6-minute walk from Kami-Suwa Station. There were several sculptures around the park, a dock for boat rides around the lake, a footbath with a view of the lake (if you want to soak your feet in the footbath, be sure to bring your own towel), and Suwa Lake Geyser Center. In Suwa Lake Geyser Center are exhibits about filming locations around Suwa and about the fireworks display that happens in summer in Suwa. Right outside Suwa Lake Geyser Center, one can witness a geyser eruption at 930AM, 11AM, 1230PM, 2PM, 330PM, and 5PM.

A sculpture in Suwakokohan Park

A little Japanecdote. While we were at the footbath, a little Japanese boy of about seven spoke to me in Nihongo. He kept talking and asking questions. After a bunch of questions, none of which I understood, I said, "No....English...." Since I was against the light, he came closer to peer at my face. He circled me, trying to see better, then asked, "Nan jin?" I answered, "Firipinjin". He looked confused, "Firipinjin?" He paused and pondered. "Spainjin?" No. "Indo?" No. "Francejin?" No. "New Zealand?" No. "Amerikajin?" No. He can probably name all the nationalities (except Filipino!) and go on all afternoon, if not for his mother calling him.

Public footbath

Lake Suwa Geyser Center

Takashima Castle and Park is about 1 kilometer from Kami-Suwa Station. In the park are a pond and garden, playground, shrine, and Takashima Castle. Takashima Castle stands on the northwest corner of the park. The castle was built in 1592, but the castle keep that exists today is a restoration. Takashima Castle is open from 9AM to 430PM. Admission fee is 300 yen.

Takashima Castle

The pond in Takashima Castle and Park

Maido Ookini Takashimajo Shokudo まいどおおきに 高島城食堂, near Takashima Castle and Park, is a cafeteria-style eatery. This was the first time I have seen and been to a cafeteria-like eatery in Japan. It was such a delight to be able to choose from so many items. I wish I could find more places like this in my future travels in Japan!

Lots of dishes to choose from

Meals of our choice

A huge thank you to my friend, Cheryl, for taking me around Chino and Suwa. It was great catching up with her, meeting her kids, and seeing places in her second home.

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