Old & New @ Nagano

What a tempestuous weather looming over us right now. An image of stormy waves washing away railway tracks in Exeter area, shown repeatedly on various news channels since this morning, is so ghastly and depressing. Apart from those awe-inspiring spectacles, such as cliffs being pounded by humongous surf or banks awash with foaming sea water from all directions, there are people who are dog-tired of laying out sandbags and having to deal with the aftermath of flooding. I desperately hope the UK will be storm-free for the rest of the winter and it will give a respite to the long-suffering local people. Weather-wise, what an awful winter for so may of them so far.

My two years absence from Nagano brought me a few surprises. The emergence of new shops was one thing, the staying power of old shops was another. During my stroll, I was glad to find that the familiar shop fronts from my childhood were still gracing along the main street…

A fruit seller near the Niō-mon. The scale and appearance of the stall was virtually unchanged for decades…


I imagine their right to trade within the Zenkō-ji compound must be hereditary and protected from any new commercial development. Otherwise, who could survive this long without not selling much like this…

This shop in Daimon area sold all sorts of Japanese knick-knacks. Ceramic pots, cups, pitchers, dishes & plates, porcelain figurines in all sizes, materials & shapes, tea towels, woven baskets, iron kettles, wallets, small luggage, handkerchiefs, etc…


The shop would be a godsend for anyone who ran out of the idea for souvenirs home. They stocked a variety of cute Japanese things at reasonable prices.

The placard says “From proper-fat, semi-fat to semi-skinny, we provide for all sizes”…


This clothing shop on Chuō-douri, I had never seen anyone in there. The items on sale were perpetually the same, targeting local old people who would clad in subdued tones of browns and murky greens. I guess they must own a shop plot for generations. How do they make enough profit to keep this shop stay opened, I have no idea.

This shop by the west entrance of Gondō was filled with toys for kids of all ages…


Their shop window was covered with their merchandise. From Japanese anime figures to posters of nostalgic American silver screen stars, the items on offer were diverse. The shop reminded me an Otaku (おたく/オタク)’s bedroom.

When it came to traditional toyshops there were a couple of them near Gondō arcade.

This shop was specialised in Igo (囲碁).


The game was invented in China more than 2500 years ago and has many enthusiasts, especially amongst retired Japanese men. Those wooden game tables were surprisingly pricy – costed between ¥65000 to ¥190000.

Now, I know what they are made from!
Their display showed what how the game chips were made…


They were made from shells of giant clams. No wonder they were so expensive!

The next door was Japanese doll shop…


About these attractive objects on display with hanging figures, I had no idea what they were for. I guess they were for babies? They may be meant to amuse them while they lie in cots?

There were also a few new addition to the vicinity of Zenkō-ji.

A monument for Nagano Olympic Game stood rather forlornly…


The XVIII Winter Olympics which was held in Nagano 1998. What it brought was not only worldwide attention to this quiet city for two weeks but also an enormous change which ended up altering the way local people lived forever. By motorway and bullet trains, the distance between Tokyo and Nagano was significantly shortened physically and mentally. However, the process made Nagano more or less like one of Tokyo’s satellite cities and diluted the city’s identity.
In a few days time, Sochi 2014 will light their cauldron. I wonder what effect will Sochi bear as the result.

Another new business I noticed was Jinriki-sha (人力車) – a rickshaw operated by two persons…


While one rickshaw driver pulled the cart, his partner pushed it from the rear. Since the streets around Zenkō-ji were all uphill and downhill, having two personnels would make the ride more comfortable and safer. A 40 minutes ride for ¥4500 doesn’t sound too bad, does it?

Kaori by Kaori Okumura

19 thoughts on “Old & New @ Nagano

  1. I was very interested in your comments about the change the Winter Olympics brought to Nagano. The Olympics (Winter or Summer) is sold to everyone as a virtually 100% positive experience, but I can’t help feeling that it’s like a big circus rolling into town crushing all in its path and leaving a trail of debris rather than a ‘lasting sporting legacy’. Sochi looks like it will be a text book example.

    • The Olympic game brought a mixed fortune to Nagano, definitely. All local independent hotels and inns suffered the most because of the Shinkansen which made Nagano within easy reach of Tokyo. Also once the Olympic bubble burst after the closing ceremony, the city plunged into deep recession. The coming down was much harder. I watched the BBC’s documentary “Putin’s Olympic” the other day and shocked by the vandalism committed under the name of the Sochi 2014. The Nagano game left more than a few inconvenient truth which were later investigated – like unexplainable expenses, inappropriate contacts with the IOC delegates, etc. But not in the scale of the Sochi’s. My only hope is the game to be finished without incidents. 😱

      • Yes, let’s hope it goes well for all the participants and visitors, but mostly for all the people who live there. The Nagano experience doesn’t sound good, but hopefully they’ve tried to improve the situation. Although I know not everybody was happy about what they did to East London/Stratford for the London Olympics.

      • I guess London fared better than Nagano because London was already a well-established city and upgrading existing infrastructure was welcome to most of Londoners as well as to visitors. However for Nagano, the high speed link to Tokyo ended up sucking up all existing benefits in Nagano to Tokyo and also making towns & cities where the Shinkansen didn’t stop invisible on the map and their industries obsolete. There was a definite “light & shadow” after the Olympic game and the aftermath is still there. 😣

      • I think that is a shame about Nagano. I would agree with you about London, as generally the within-the-M25 folk probably liked the improvements, but I know people who live and have lived in the East End and they feel it had its own history part of which the Stratford development just swiped away. I was living in London when the first plans were put forward and many locals tried to make their voices heard. There are different types of progress and improvements and I think organic change is preferable to the clean sweep approach. I went past the main Olympic site yesterday and of course they are still doing the post-Games changes, but it still doesn’t look much. Maybe a big sports event and striking architecture, especially community and residential redevelopments, are incompatible.

      • Yes, I agree. Hosting the Olympic game always ends up looking like a huge ego boost to the politicians involved and benefitting commercial entity who sponced it with loud logos and ads. Like the post-Olympic East London, Nagano has lost a big part of local charactor and it is regrettable. Especially, I miss my old Nagano station! (T-T)

  2. I love that bit about “From proper-fat, semi-fat to semi-skinny, we provide for all sizes”…In Australia that would apply to types of coffee!! I live in Melbourne, a city obsessed with its coffee! Great post, thank you.

    • Hi Charlotte! It does sound like a specification for coffee, doesn’t it? Maybe the shop should start an artisan coffee shop than carry on running a clothing shop with no customer. 😅
      Thank you for visiting my blog and a lovely comment! X

    • Most of the shops along the main street must be there for generations. However, most of them lack successors, therefore, their future is rather bleak. I would love them to stay on but they are so behind in everything…😰

    • All greens are imported in Singapore? So everything is refrigerated?
      The thing I hate in UK is all ginger I see in any shop (posh or not so posh) are imported from China. I wished if they were made in Europe…😭

      • Yes… Mostly from china, Malaysia, Thailand. So everything is refrigerated. And of course meat as well. Just about any food. So I love to just walk around Depachika or supermarket just to enjoy looking at fresh food in Japan.

  3. I went to Obuse in Nagano for a two day trip (came back this evening) and after reading your posts on Nagano, I definitely want to go back there again! It’s so different compared to Tokyo and there’s so much to see and do. I have to admit, the only thing I didn’t really like was how cold it was there, but I want to go back when the weather is warmer! I love how the shops there aren’t your usual high-street ones, so you’re more likely to find something more unusual/original! 😀

    • Ohhhh, you went to Obuse! I wanted to go there too during my stay but mum just said ‘it will be too cold’ 😂 I am sure it must have been really chilly for you. My toes were constantly numb with cold while in Nagano. Obuse is a charming little town. It’s even better during the spring with cherry blossom too! 😍

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