I was lucky enough to spend some time in Shinshu （信州）, the old name for Nagano, earlier this month. The mountainous area near Matsukawa in southwestern Nagano was well ahead of Kyoto in terms of autumnal tints, as this picture shows. Calcium carbonate washing down from the limestone of Mt. Akaishi lends the Koshibu valley waters a milky cast that reflects the clear blue skies and russet hillsides in an otherworldly aquamarine.
My host is a brisk, inveterate driver of the windy road up from Matsukawa to the mountain village of Oshika (大鹿, literally 'big deer') where I spent my long weekend. This is the view from the village, marred only by power lines. My visit coincided with the first snow on the peaks.
I was not there so much to lounge around and look at the view as to learn some practical skills. My first task was to assist in the repapering of some of the paper shoji panels in my room. Water liberally applied from a cloth softens the paper and makes it a breeze to strip it off the squares of the wooden frame. A little trickier is applying the glue and new paper in a neat and permanent fashion.
On the table in front of the shoji panels is a jar of apple jelly, which I bought at the local produce festival down the valley. Apples are Nagano's signature crop, but there are many other fruits and vegetables to be shown off -- and this is exactly what the festival provides a venue for.
Prize daikons, carrots and other root vegetables stretch along tables and sport competition placings. While you can't help yourself to the prize-winners, there are plenty of other things to snack on, such as the local mochi-on-a-stick, charcoal-grilled right before you.
And, of course, there is the local entertainment, this year a group of young ethnic-dance enthusiasts.
It is hard to match the relaxed warmth of the local produce festival in Oshika. As the days grow colder, it is such a sunniness of local spirit that will sustain the residents through the long winter to come.
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