written by Robert
Obuse is a charming historical town located just outside Nagano City. It is well-known as the final home of the famous ukiyo-e artist Katsushika Hokusai, and for its production of chestnuts. This traditional town has undergone a number of historical preservation initiatives in recent years in order to give visitors the feeling of visiting “old Japan” while still providing the conveniences of modern life. Next door is the city of Suzaka, location of a popular park featuring a charming sakura-lined lake and a museum based out of an old merchant’s home. Long-time resident Robert explains.
(Obuse Town, pop. 10,698; Suzaka City, pop. 50,388 [Oct. 2016])
- Arrival / Obuse Station  in the map below
Obuse Station is the gateway for all destinations in the Obuse area. The station, while small, is conveniently located in the center of town, with most attractions accessible on foot from it in a relatively short period of time. To get to Obuse Station, take the Nagano Dentetsu train from Nagano Station. Travel time from Nagano Station is approximately 30 minutes.
- Hotel (Luggage Drop-Off) / 
Located only a ten minute walk from Obuse Station is the charming Guesthouse Obuse. The 4 guestrooms are located in a renovated kura (earthen-walled storehouse). For a splurge, try the chic and elegant Masuichi Kyakuden, an inn adjacent to the famous Masuichi Ichimura Sake Brewery. This guest house blends traditional Japanese elegance with the comforts of a luxury western-style hotel. Guests are pampered here in a way that makes Obuse feel like it is their own personal garden.
Once you have left your luggage, head out for a stroll around town before lunch.
- Stroll along Chestnut Alley 栗の径 / 
A block away from your accommodations is one of the most charming thoroughfares one could find in Japan, the popular Chestnut Alley. Named for the abundant crop that Obuse is famous for, this alley is a delightful walk among traditional structures, including breweries, storehouses and homes. A stroll on this stone tiled walkway takes the visitor back to the days of old Japan, and it is easy to imagine what it must have been like to be here in the old days. At the end of the alley, you can continue on to where lunch awaits.
- Lunch at Sakurai Kanseido Restaurant 桜井甘精堂 / 
Located just a block from Chestnut Alley is Obuse’s most popular restaurant, Sakurai Kanseido. This establishment is the flagship in a chain of several locations around northern Nagano Prefecture. Sakurai Kanseido features Japanese cuisine centered around Obuse’s most famous food, chestnuts. The best place to sit is right by the garden, a delightful setting and a perfect place to have a traditional Japanese meal in a setting that fits perfectly.
- Visit to Gansho-in Temple 岩松院 / 
Located outside the center of town is perhaps the most well-known attraction in all of Obuse, Gansho-in. About a 25-minute walk away, you can get here in about ten minutes by taxi. Gansho-in is a buddhist temple famous for the Hokusai painting on the ceiling of its main hall. One of Hokusai’s last works, the painting depicts a phoenix with multi-colored feathers and is painted in a way that it appears the phoenix is staring at you no matter where you stand. Visitors can sit in the main hall and listen to a description of the history of the temple and its famous painting from one of the priests of the temple. Usually the
priest will do this in English if he notices a foreign visitor, though he likely doesn’t speak the language. Behind the temple is a small pond garden where the poet Issa wrote one of his most famous haiku poems.
After your visit to the temple, you can stop by the gift shop outside the main gate. Here you can shop for souvenirs and, if needed, ask the shopkeeper to help you get a cab to your next destination.
- Hot Spring Bath at Anakannon Hot Spring 穴観音の湯 / 
A 20-minute walk away on quiet country roads (or five minutes by taxi, if you prefer) will
take you to your next destination, Anakannon Hot Spring. This day-use hot spring bath is inexpensive and offers both indoor and outdoor baths, the latter of which gives the bather a spectacular view of three volcano peaks to the west: Mt. Iizuna, Mt. Kurohime and Mt. Myoko. The mineral-rich water at this baths soothing and the view you get makes the experience all the better. The indoor bath is hotter than the outdoor rotenburo, so it is up to you whether to bathe in one or both.
- Return to the town center for Dinner at Obusedo Honten Restaurant 小布施堂本店レストラン / 
One of the confectioners shops you passed on your stroll earlier in the day is where you will have dinner. Inside Obusedo Honten, a popular attraction for visitors seeking confections made from chestnuts and other locally produced ingredients, you will find the Obusedo Honten Restaurant. The menu here changes from season to season, but always seeks to take advantage of the crops produced locally, especially the variety of vegetables to be found at times during the year. And, in September and October, the menu takes advantage of the bountiful crop of chestnuts harvested here.
After dinner, take a stroll around the area before returning to your hotel room.
- Hearty Breakfast
Take a hearty breakfast as there is a lot to see and do for the 2nd day. Once you have had your fill, it is off to the neighboring city of Suzaka, for more interesting sites to see.
- Train and walk to Tanaka Honke Museum 田中本家 / 
After breakfast, walk to Obuse Station and take a train two stops to Suzaka Station. Leave
your luggage in a coin locker at the station and walk from Suzaka Station about 20 minutes to Tanaka Honke Museum. This stunningly beautiful museum is the former residence of a wealthy merchant family from this area. Honke means “main house” and this one is impressive, with elaborately maintained Japanese gardens interspersed with storehouses, sleeping quarters, servant’s quarters and other structures, all contained within the property’s formidable rectangular walls. This museum currently houses an exhibit of traditional Japanese toys, an impressive exhibit in and of itself, but the real attraction are the old buildings and gardens.
- Walk to Garyu Park 臥竜公園 / 
Once you have had your fill of Tanaka Honke Museum, walk ten minutes to Garyu Koen Park. The best time to visit this park is in April, when the sakura trees lining the lake blossom.
However, any time during the warmer months is a great time to visit this park. Rowboats are available for rental and a number of food stalls are by the lakeside, offering a variety of options for lunch while you are here. There is also a small zoo next door which is popular with families.
- Return to Nagano Station via Suzaka Station
When you are ready, walk 25 minutes back to Suzaka Station or take a taxi to get there in a fraction of the time. From here, you can take the Nagano Dentetsu line back to Nagano Station.
Here are some suggestions on places to visit in the Obuse and Suzaka area:
Visit the Hokusai Museum in Obuse. This museum offers a number of exhibits by the famous artist and the variety goes way beyond just the ukiyo-e that Hokusai is known for.
Visit the Takai Kozan Memorial Museum, the former residence of Takai Kozan, the merchant who brought Hokusai to the area.
Visit the Obuse Museum and Nakajima Chinami Gallery for an impressive exhibit of local contemporary artists and locally used festival floats, as well as artwork by artist Nakajima Chinami.
Stop by Floral Garden Obuse for a nice walk through western style flower gardens.
Though quite out of the way, Suzaka is a decent departure point for destinations well out of town, such as the Jigokudani Wild Monkey Park in Yamanouchi or Shirane-san in Shiga Kogen.