Photo by George Lloyd

A visit to Obuse: chestnuts and handicrafts in the mountains of Nagano prefecture

The little town of Obuse 小布施町 in Nagano prefecture is known for its chestnuts, which have inspired dishes such as chestnut-flavoured ice cream, crepes and cakes. In the Edo period, the shogun was fond of Obuse chestnuts. Such was their tastiness they were even consecrated by the Tokugawa shogunate.

Celebrating the town's chestnuts in paint. | Photo by George Lloyd

Although best known for its chestnuts, Obuse is also well-known for its fruit and rice. The town is surrounded by mountains and rivers, and its farmland is blessed with fertile soil. Combined with its wealth of beautifully preserved historic buildings, many of which have been converted into shops and restaurants, it makes for a fine day trip from Tokyo.

Chestnut-flavoured ice cream is an Obuse speciality - it's delicious! | Photo by George Lloyd

Among the town's notable sights is the 北斎館 Hokusai Museum, which exhibits some of the works of the great Japanese artist 葛飾北斎 Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849). One of the most prominent ukiyo-e artists from the Edo period, Hokusai was so inspired by the scenic beauty of Obuse that he moved to the town. He created several renowned masterpieces in the town, some of which you can see in the museum.

Photo by George Lloyd

Another sight well worth seeing is 岩松院 Ganshō-in, a small temple on the eastern edge of town famous for the painting that Hokusai completed on the ceiling of its main hall in 1848. Hokusai devoted his whole life refining his art and always hoped to create a completely satisfying work of art. He created 八方睨み鳳凰図 happō nirami hō'ōzu (The Phoenix that Can See in All Directions) when he was 90. It was his last masterpiece and the culmination of a lifetime's creativity.

The pavement in front of this old shop is made of grain-up wooden setts - another local speciality. | Photo by George Lloyd

Also worth visiting is the 高井鴻山記念館 Takai Kōzan Memorial Museum. Takai Kōzan 高井鴻山 was Hokusai's patron, but was also an artist himself. He spent some time studying under Hokusai, and you can see the master's influence on his artwork. Kōzan was particularly skilled at 墨絵 sumi-e (ink brush painting), and became famous for drawing 妖怪 yōkai, (mythical folk monsters). His museum exhibits his artworks and cultural collections. It is in a traditional Japanese house in the heart of town, a part of which once served as Hokusai’s studio.

Photo by George Lloyd

Finally, how about rounding things off with a visit to the 桝一市村酒造場 Masuichi-Ichimura Sake Brewery? It was founded in 1755 and has been brewing small batches of top-quality sake ever since. With its unstinting focus on preserving traditional know-how, you can be assured of a memorable experience. The brewery has a bar counter where you can order samples of their products, and the staff will happily explain how to enjoy sake and the difference between each brew.

You can easily spend a day walking around Obuse. The locals are very friendly, and many of them open their gardens to visitors to walk around freely. The town has a wide variety of cultural and historical attractions for visitors to enjoy, including art galleries, museums, temples and sake breweries.

Many artists and craftspeople live in Obuse. | Photo by George Lloyd

There are also lots of local souvenir shops promoting local foods and snacks, many of which offer free samples. The chestnut harvest season is from October to November, but you can buy chestnut-flavoured delicacies year-round.

The abundance of chestnuts in the area has made Obuse an attractive stop for tourists and art collectors in the heart of Nagano, creating a market for local woodworkers and artists. Chestnuts bring a unique flair to their work.

Photo by George Lloyd

If you're planning a visit to Obuse, bear in mind that the famous 地獄谷野猿公苑 Wild Snow Monkey Park is easily accessible from the town by train. It makes for a well-rounded day trip, though you'd be well-advised to spend the night in town if you're coming from Tokyo.

By - George Lloyd.