Nagano is home to most of Japan’s highest mountains, spread across three mountain ranges that collectively make-up the Japanese Alps. This dramatic landscape offers visitors some of the most impressive natural vistas in Japan and in winter, draws visitors from all over the world to the numerous ski resorts nestled within them. Quickly becoming as popular outside of winter for the outstanding hiking, mountaineering, and other outdoor pursuits on offer, Nagano is firmly established as Japan’s mountainous heartland.
While known for the rugged beauty of its mountains, Nagano is equally blessed with a climate and topography that make it ideal for growing all types of vegetables and fruit. Renowned as one of Japan’s primary agricultural regions, Nagano offers visitors the chance to experience the intersection of human culture and the wild in the farmlands that dominate the valleys and gradually concede to the dramatic background of rising mountain peaks.
For many Japanese, it is this image – typified by traditional villages set against rice fields and orchards – that defines them as a people and nation, and harks back to the agricultural origins of the developed society and economy that we experience today.
Located within three hours of Tokyo, Azumino is just such a region – a place of quiet villages, farms and orchards, temples and shrines – set against the stunning backdrop of the Northern Alps. Easily accessible from Matsumoto – home to one of Japan’s most impressive original castles – and the ski resorts of the Hakuba – wildly popular with both international visitors and Japanese – Azumino already attracts many travelers as they journey between these famous sites.
But those who have taken the time to spot and explore along they way have discovered that Azumino should not be overlooked.
Offering a fantastic combination of cultural, culinary, and sporting activities all set against the stunning backdrop of Japan’s Northern Alps, Azumino has endless appeal for visitors wanting to escape the neon and buzz of the cities and retreat to the country; and should that be just what you are looking for, we are happy to introduce the region with 15 Things to Do in Azumino.
As one of Japan’s largest producers of ‘wasabi’, Daio Wasabi Farm (pictured below) is a popular destination and one that is sure to delight and (just maybe) surprise you! Known in the West for its nasal-clearing heat, real wasabi is a much more subtle and highly versatile taste than many people realize and at the farm you can sample some of its many uses in food, ice cream, and even wasabi beer!
The farm’s appeal is not just the punchy green stuff it grows but its idyllic beauty and tranquility, typified by traditional buildings and water wheels set against the azure and verdant backdrop of its source streams and surrounding trees. Made famous by it’s use in the Akira Kurozawa film ‘Dreams’, this beautiful corner of the farm whispers of fairy book tales and dreamy wanderings.
In that spirit, the ‘Azumino Art Line’ stretches over 50km from Azumino City to Hakuba Village and includes 19 museums and art galleries showcasing a wide spectrum of tastes from childerns’ storybook artists at the Chihiro Art Museum to the modernist sculptures of Morie Ogiwara at the Rokuzan Art Museum (pictured below), among many others.
One of the best ways to explore Azumino is by bicycle, and with rental road, mountain, and e-bikes available at Hotaka Station, which can be easily arranged on the day without the need of prior reservation. English-speaking staff are available at the station to assist with all your needs including information pamphlets, maps, and suggested cycling routes. Pick a course that suits your interests and energy levels and then set-off through the landscape of extensive rice fields, farms and orchards, wineries and museums as you soak in the spirit, sounds, and smells of this beautiful landscape.
Home to countless farms, fruit-picking is a popular and delicious activity suitable for all ages and especially families; while soba-making (buckwheat noodles) is available at Azumino’s Konekone House. Friendly cooks are on-hand to help you knead, roll, and cut your way to the perfect noodle!
Azumino’s Hotaka Onsen-kyo is a small hot spring village located approximately 20 to 25 minutes cycle from the station and home to many ‘ryokan’ (traditional guesthouses) with their own onsen and some public facilities – a great destination for a day trip or overnight stay. Further afield and for other energetic visitors wanting a unique experience, hiking the abandoned railway line ‘Haisenjiki’ (pictured below), takes you through forest and tunnels, a journey back in time as much as it is through the mountains.
Imbued with natural beauty and bountiful farmlands, Azumino also plays host to numerous cultural events including the O-Fune Matsuri (festival). Held every autumn, this is very much a community affair in which the people of Azumino come together to celebrate the legendary beginnings of their home region (as pictured below).
Each December brings the Kamiakari Festival at Hotaka Shrine, a beautiful event at which 2400 bamboo lanterns burn in the cool evening of early winter and imbue the shrine with an other-worldly quality (as pictured below).
But it is August’s Azumino Fireworks Festival which creates the biggest bang in the calendar, as the night sky is lit up in a dazzling display that draws the crowds to celebrate the warmth and abundance of the summer months.
Sitting below the high mountain peaks of the Northern Alps, Azumino is blessed with natural beauty. The power and drama of those mountains set against the bucolic landscape below only adds to the beauty of the region, and gazing up at them will before long tempt you to venture higher up and into some of Japan’s most stunning hiking and mountaineering routes. With numerous trails catering for all levels of fitness and expertise, hiking the mountains of the Northern Alps is perhaps the ultimate destination for any visitor to Azumino…
Azumino is waiting for you to discover it and whether you visiting now – in winter – or timing your trip for the beautiful blossoms of spring, the festivals and fun of summer, or stunning autumn colors at years end, we hope that our longer explanation of 15 Things to Do in Azumino is all the inspiration you need to come and discover the region for yourself!