The Land Hokusai Loved: 13 recommended spots in Obuse, Nagano
Obuse is a town about an hour and a half by shinkansen from Tokyo. it's near Jigokudani Monkey Park, and is a beautiful little town where the famous ukiyo-e artist Hokusai spent his final years. Here are 13 spots to check out on your trip to Obuse.
May 11 2015 (Sep 15 2020)
Obuse is a town in the northern part of Nagano Prefecture, and it's connected to the ukiyo-e artist of the famous "Thirty-Six Views of Mt. Fuji" by Hokusai Katsushika. It's also called the town of chestnuts and flowers. In some respects it is reminiscent of the English countryside, and it seems like it encouraged the British team during the Nagano Olympics.
Getting to Obusesayo-tsu/Flickr
Obuse is a town in Nagano's Kamitakai district. You can use the Nagano Dentetsu train from Nagano to Obuse Station. Depending on where you are, the first thing you should do is head to Nagano Station.
From Tokyo Station, you can take the shinkansen to Nagano Station (about an hour and a half). At Nagano Station, please switch to the limited express Nagano Densetsu train to Obuse (26 minutes).koji1106/Flickr
Obuse Station is a station halfway to Yudanaka Station, which is where Jigokudani Monkey Park, where the famous snow monkeys live, is. Many people stop by Obuse on their way back from the park.
1. Hokusai Museum
The Hokusai Museum is where Hokusai Katsushika's works are all displayed. When Hokusai was 80, the wealthy merchant Kouzan Takai, invited him to Obuse. Because the roads weren't developed in the Edo Period, Hokusai actually making it to Obuse at the age of 80 from Edo (now Tokyo) is impressive. Of course, his art is too, but from this anecdote we can recognize that Hokusai himself was also powerful. Because Hokusai quite liked Obuse, in his remaining years he left them quite a few pieces. While he made a lot of art using woodblocks, here his brushwork paintings are also displayed.
2. Masuichi Kyakudendetsugu/Flickr cktse/Flickr
The reason that Hokusai's art stayed in Obuse was due to the power of that merchant, Kouzan Takai. In Takai's home, he managed both a chestnut sweet shop and the Masuichi Ichimura sake brewery. It seems that there he would often entertain customers that came from out of town. He also helped Hokusai.
Kouzan Takai's ancestor had built the Masuichi Kyakudan, and it was an area made so that customers could go there for lodging, drinking, and eating in a single area. In the establishment there's Kurabu, where you can enjoy delicious Japanese liquor and food, and the Italian restaurant San Poo Loh. This area is still a major destination within Obuse.
Masuichi Kyakuden English site
Obuse is a town full of temples that have history. Saiouji is a 500-year-old temple that is part of the Joudo Jinshuu Honganji sect. On the ceiling of the main temple building is a painting of Byodo-in made with beautiful, gentle color usage. Also, the ceiling before the nave is decorated with 100 paintings by the Japanese artist 大瀧巨峰, whose pupils donated them to the temple. The paintings include subjects like flowers, tigers, nymphs, daruma, and more, and each painting is beautifully done.
Gansho-in is a temple of the Sotozen school of Buddhism. It is a temple related to the haiku poet, Issa Kobayashi, because one of his famous poems was composed by a pond here. On the ceiling of the main temple building, there is an epic work by Hokusai measuring almost 34 square meters. It's a mysterious painting where no matter where you stand, the eyes of the Firebird Goddess look like they're glaring at you. Also, only recently it was learned that there's a secret painting on the grounds that was painted 160 years ago. It's a painting of Hokusai's beloved Mt. Fuji. Please come to Gansho-in and look for it.
5. Jokojidetsugu/Flickr detsugu/Flickr
Jokoji is an old temple that was built more than 600 years ago. The Yakushiji that sits on the grounds is registered as one of the country's important cultural properties. The road to the Yakushiji looks like a stone paving where the rocks are lined up in a scattered pattern, but in reality they become stairs. It's a mysterious road that when you look at it from the bottom it looks like a flat road. On the grounds of the Yakushiji there is a store that sells popular charcoal-grilled dumplings. Please try some as a reward for climbing the long stairs.
Genshoji is another temple of the Sotozen school. On either side of the entrance gate are two statues of the guardian Deva kings making severe faces. Just beyond the gate is a beautiful Japanese garden. Since it's an open garden, it's very popular. Many people visit the garden throughout the year to see the flora change through the seasons.
Matsubaya is a sake brewery that's been in business since the Edo period. You can buy the Japanese sake Kichi no Kawa here. You can also sample different varieties here. If you make reservations in advance, you can get at our of the brewery itself. Please come try their delicious sake from the source.
E-mail for reservations email@example.com
8. GLASS STUDIO Licco
At this glass gallery, they sell beautiful glass products that change per season. The products were created by artists who studied in Sweden and Italy, and each and every piece differs from the rest. They also sell small accessories. If you make a prior reservation, you can experience making your own piece through sandblasting. Of course, you can buy some pieces as souvenirs.
9. Floral Garden Obuse
Outside of the town of Hokusai or the town of chestnuts, Obuse is also called the town of flowers. There are many gardens through the town and many people who have their own gardens at home. At the Flower Garden, there are various gardens and they also sell flowers. The Firebird Goddess flower bed made in the image of Hokusai's Firebird Goddess painting is popular.
This shop, Chikufuudou, is known for using Obuse's famous chestnuts to make Japanese confectionery. The restaurant on the second floor offers a healthy meal set using fish and vegetables called kuri-okowa that is very popular. Many people visit the store simply to eat their chestnut anmitsu (a sweet made with syrup-covered anko and fruit), chestnut shiruko (sweet red bean soup), chestnut ice cream, and other assorted chestnut sweets.
11. Sakurai Kanseidou
This is another famous shop that makes chestnut confectionery. They offer mostly sweets, such as chestnut dorayaki and anmitsu. They also have other restaurants and cafes that offer cakes, tea, ice cream, and other dishes that utilize chestnuts.
This restaurant offers Japanese kaiseki course meals. In the evenings you can enjoy a traditional meal sitting on tatami. For lunch they offer more casual, affordable dishes like steak rice bowls. The building the restaurant is in is a lovely, historical building.
13. Ankannon no Yu
If you're tired from walking around the town, you can rest at this onsen. It's about a thirty minute walk from the station, though it's only 10 minutes if you take the shuttle bus. When the weather is good, you can enjoy the scenery of the Nagano mountains from the open air bath. You can take all the time you'd like.
Business hours: 10AM-10PM
Entrance fees: Adults 600 yen, children 300 yen
The memories of Kouzan Takai, called the father of Obuse, are still held dear in this town overflowing with hospitality. You can understand why Hokusai spent his final years here in this town surrounded by the beautiful Nagano mountains. Please spend a wonderful time here in Obuse.
You can download an English pamphlet about Obuse here: Obuse Tourism Association Homepage
The information in this article is accurate at the time of publication.