Discovering the Unique Town of Obuse in Japan

Japan is one of the popular countries around the world. Japan experiences four seasons, which makes it more attractive to visitors coming from countries that experience only a season or two. A country rich in culture and heritage, Japan also contains centuries of history. It consists of various prefectures, one of them being Nagano Prefecture. Though this prefecture is not exactly the most popular out of all the prefectures, it also has its own strengths. One of these strengths is the town of Obuse.

Facts: Map, History, Hotels, and Mini Marathon 2017

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More commonly known as Obuse-machi in Japanese, the town of Obuse is located in Kamitakai District, which can be found in the northern part of Nagano Prefecture. The town is situated in the Chubu region of Japan. With a total area of 19.12 square kilometers, which is equivalent to 7.38 square miles, the town of Obuse had an estimated population of 10,698 as of October in the year 2016.

As a result, the town had a population density of 560 persons per square kilometer, which is equivalent to 1,500 persons per square mile. The town is situated to the east side of the city of Nagano. As such, the town is also surrounded by various municipalities. These include Suzaka, Takayama, and Nakano.

The current area of Obuse was initially a portion of the old Shinano Province. However, the municipalities system was established on the 1st of April in the year 1889, which led to the creation of the modern village of Obuse. On the 1st of February in the year 1954, the village was elevated to town status. On the 1st of November in the year 1954, the neighboring village of Tsusumi was removed by Obuse.

The townhouses only two schools: a public elementary school and a public middle school. No high school is established in the town of Obuse. The Nagano Electric Railway passes by the town via the Nagano Line Obuse – Tsusumi. Highways around the town include Japan National Route 18, Japan National Route 403, and Joshin-etsu Expressway.

Housing a quaint town center, Obuse is well-known as the final home of a famous woodblock painter from the Edo Period, which lasted from the year 1603 to the year 1867, who went by the name of Hokusai. He is renowned for his ukiyo-e woodblock print called The Great Wave off Kanagawa. Hokusai lived in Obuse during the latter part of his life. He was accompanied by Takai Kozan, who was the former’s patron as well as student. Tokai Kozan was not just an art enthusiast but also a rich local merchant.

As a result, most of the highlights of the town of Obuse are associated with Hokusai as well as his patron. Some of these highlights include the Hokusai Museum and the Takai Kozan Museum located at the town center. Another famous piece of his artwork is the ceiling of a local temple that the artist painted. Aside from the artist, the town of Obuse is also quite famous for its seasonal produce, most especially its chestnuts that are locally grown and harvested.

There are some hotels and accommodations available near Obuse for people who wish to stay the night. One of these accommodations is Guest House Kura. Located close to Suzuka Station, this building can be reached just two stops from Obuse Station. The building used to be a silk warehouse. Today, the facility is a great option for budget travelers. Among its features are free Wi-Fi and parking. Garden views can also be seen from the women’s rooms. The facility is surrounded by restaurants. Mini marathons are also held in the area. 

A Guide to the Town of Obuse in Nagano, Japan

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The town of Obuse was prosperous and brimming with art and culture back in the Edo period. Maintaining its beauty, the town still houses several art museums that showcase its rich heritage. Some of the buildings in the town center remain beautiful with its traditional style. Restaurants, as well as local stores, line up the narrow lanes of the town. A famous sake brewery also stands in the area of Obuse. Much of the fame that Obuse enjoys can be attributed to Hokusai, a famous painter. The Hokusai Museum holds a collection of his work.

Walking around the town, one may spot the Takai Kozan Memorial Museum. Once a residence of Takai Kozan, the museum showcases some of the paintings made by Kozan. It was he who brought Hokusai to the town of Obuse. Most of his paintings resemble scenes of Japanese goblins and ghosts while some depict his calligraphy works. Another highlight of this museum is its hidden rooms as well as secret packages, which are liked by people who are into mystery.

Just outside the town center stands the Obuse Museum. The Obuse Museum is a contemporary art museum that shows temporary exhibitions. Some of the displays that can be found here are made by local artists. The festival floats of the town can also be seen inside this museum. Close to Obuse Museum is the Nakajima Chinami Gallery. As the name suggests, it is a gallery that is solely dedicated to the works of Nakajima Chinami, a local painter. His works include murals of cherry trees, known to be exquisitely detailed and beautiful. The admission fee includes entrance to both buildings, as they are linked to each other.

There are many more museums that can be found in the area. Traditional shops, as well as trendy restaurants, also line the streets of Obuse. One of the special features of the town is its “My Garden” program. This program entails residents of the town, as well as restaurants, opening up their private gardens to guests. There are several of these gardens spread out around Obuse. Private gardens included in this program would have the “My Garden” placard placed outside for visitors to recognize.

Staying true to its garden theme, another flower park can be found outside of the town center known as the Floral Garden Obuse. Incorporating a Western style, this park consists of walking paths that guide visitors through various flowers blooming around lawns and ponds. A greenhouse can also be found inside this park. Visitors can also dine in the restaurant inside Floral Garden Obuse. It also contains a gift shop that sells various flowers and plants. Across the garden lies a small market that offers local produce.

Local Attractions in Obuse

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The world-renowned ukiyo-e woodblock print entitled “Great Wave off Kanagawa” was actually part of the ukiyo-e woodblock series entitled “Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji” by Hokusai. This series basically shows various scenes of the famous mountain from the different parts of the Kanto Region. As one of the most famous painters hailing from the Edo period, it comes as no surprise that a museum was actually built in dedication to Hokusai.

This museum is known as the Hokusai Museum, located at the town center. A collection of his works is displayed inside the museum for the enjoyment of art aficionados. This collection includes two local festival floats. These floats had their ceilings decorated with a phoenix and a dragon, along with his signature waves, by the man himself. Because the museum is popular even among foreign tourists, English descriptions and a short video about Hokusai in English can be found inside.

A temple in Obuse known as Ganshoin Temple also houses a painting by Hokusai. The temple is located along the mountain just outside the center of the town. A huge mural of a phoenix was painted by Hokusai onto the ceiling of the temple hall. This was during his last year in the town of Obuse. The beautiful mural was actually among the final huge artworks of Hokusai that he was able to complete before he passed away.

The famous museum is only ten minutes away by foot from Obuse Station. On the other hand, Ganshoin Temple is 30 minutes away by foot from the town center. Another way to go to Ganshoin Temple is by taking the Obuse Town Bus from Central Obuse. This bus only operates from early April to the month of November. The trip takes about 20 minutes and costs 300 yen for a one day pass.

There are also many other museums in Obuse. For Chinese art, one may go to the Obuse Chinese Art Museum and the Contemporary Chinese Art Museum. The first museum mentioned contains a beautiful garden and showcases Chinese paintings as well as porcelain. On the other hand, the second museum mentioned displays artworks by contemporary Chinese artists who are growing in popularity. Some of the artworks displayed are also on sale.

For people interested in ceramics, the place to be is the Ryoan Antique China Collection. Antique ceramics made in China and Japan can be found here. As for people who want to learn more about historical lights in Japan, check out the Japanese Lamp Museum. A reconstructed storehouse, the museum is set in a square. Not only historical lights can be found here but also lighting features that were used from the Edo period to the Taisho period.

To learn more about the day-to-day living of the people of Obuse back in the day, head on over to the Historical Folk Museum. Situated in a reconstructed elementary school, the museum displays a collection of articles written from everyday life utilized in the town through the years. Another museum to look into is the Chikumagawa Highway Museum. Located close to the Joshinetsu Expressway, this museum stands inside Obuse Highway Oasis Park. Temporary artworks, as well as the history of transportation used in Chikumagawa River, are exhibited there.

For a combination of western and Japanese art, the museum to check out is the Small Chestnut Tree Museum. Aside from having a lovely garden, the museum also holds occasional special exhibitions. People who are fascinated by Japanese ceramics would definitely love the Sari-An Kyusu Collection. It contains Japanese ceramic teapots known as kyusu and Japanese ceramic teacups known as yunomi. It is a private collection of pieces hailing from the Edo period and the Meiji period, as owned by the Kanbe clan.

Other temples in the area include Jokoji Temple and Genshoji Temple. Built in the year 1408, Jokoji Temple is known for its oyaki. It is a traditional local rice dumpling filled with vegetables. On the other hand, constructed in the year 1799, Genshoji Temple is popular due to its sanmon, which is its temple gate made of wood. On the 3rd Sunday of the month of April, the temple holds the Nae-ichi Fair.

Other Discoveries: Snow Monkey Onsen in Winter, Sake, Etc.

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One of the famous attractions in Japan located near the town of Obuse is the snow monkeys onsen or hot spring. Photos of monkeys soaking in hot spring water during the winter season can be found all over the internet, which made the place famous among foreign tourists. The place is known as the Jigokudani Park, which is located only around 10 kilometers from the town of Obuse.

Aside from the onsen, for people wishing to check out a great restaurant in Obuse, try going to the “Club” restaurant that is operated by the Ichimura family. The restaurant offers 9 courses with each dish prepared by Mr. Tsugio Ichimura and his chefs. These dishes are made from the inspiration of traditional Japanese cuisine. However, every dish served still contains a touch of originality.

Some of the dishes they serve include cream tofu with sea urchin and caviar, sashimi salad, crab with mushrooms and sesame vinegar, grilled amberjack, miso soup with various ingredients, seafood tempura, beef stew with ginger and soymilk, and chestnut rice. Every dish was served with sake.

This is because the Ichimura family is actually famous for its sake brewery. Their business began during the Edo period, with their business now running for more than 250 years. Their sake was so great that even the famous Hokusai went to their brewery, drank, and enjoyed their popular sake. However, there was a time when the sake brewery almost shut down due to decreasing sales. Fortunately, after some time and help, the family was able to bring their business to great success yet again.