If you want to spend the summer in the true Japanese way, you cannot pass up seeing one of Japan’s massive fireworks shows or going to an exciting local summer festival. We have two exclusive tours that will not only let you experience one of these truly unique, local experiences in Nagano’s beautiful Azumino area, but also see the world-famous hot-spring-bathing snow monkeys!
If you haven’t been to Azumino yet, well, you are missing out! Azumino is a quiet farming town located next to Matsumoto, which is famous for its National Treasure, Matsumoto Castle. Azumino is well-known for its big wasabi farm, but remains relatively undiscovered as an international tourist destination. That means it makes an excellent travel destination for those who wish to have an authentic countryside experience that goes without the need to wade through a sea of tourists!
Although Azumino is flanked on both sides by mountains—including the breathtaking Japanese Alps—the town itself is spread out over the relatively flat basin in between. This makes for arguably one of the most beautiful scenes in all of Japan: towering, snow-capped peaks reflected in the water-filled rice paddies across a landscape dotted with traditional farmhouses.
With such an alluring setting, Azumino is heaven for outdoor lovers, whether you are a hard-core adventurer or traveling as a family. During the non-winter months, the area offers countless outdoor and nature activities from cycling through the valley and rafting on the pristine rivers to trekking in the mountains and soaking in natural hot springs.
Besides its picturesque farmscapes and gorgeous nature, Azumino is also a hot spot for Japanese history and tradition. The town is located on the historic Salt Road, an ancient trade root that was once used to transport salt from the Sea of Japan to other areas, and you can still see some of the old inns from the area’s post town days.
With its long history, Azumino has its share of traditional festivals that have been held for hundreds of years. The most popular of these is the Ofune Matsuri, or “Boat Festival.” At this exciting event, the locals build two huge “floats,” which resemble ships, out of wood. You may be wondering why a boat-themed festival exists in such a land-locked, mountainous region. Its origin dates back to the settling of the region by the Azumi clan, a seafaring people that migrated from Kyushu during the 7th century. Though they made their way down into the mountains, they brought their ocean-inspired customs with them.
The floats are adorned and decorated with banners, figures, tree boughs, and other decorations. They are then pulled through the local neighborhoods and farmlands and town—a task that requires an impressive amount of manpower—until arriving at Hotaka Shrine. At the shrine in front of hundreds of spectators, the two ships—one representing a male and the other a female—undergo an animated “battle,” clashing their hulls into each other in a symbolic wish for fertility and continued prosperity of the region.
With our exclusive tour, we have teamed up with the Azumino’s local tourism association to secure you the rare opportunity to see the Ofune Matsuri’s main event with official front row seats at Hotaka Shrine. This is an extraordinary chance that you won’t be able to find through other tour providers. The festival combined with a visit to see the snow monkeys is an experience you won’t forget! Learn all about it on the tour page.
Watching fireworks is another quintessential Japanese summer tradition and even though they may not have a long of a history as the centuries-old festivals, fireworks have become an important part of Japanese culture.
If you haven’t been to a Japanese fireworks show before, you are in for a treat. The shows tend to be massive events that draw in thousands of spectators and often last for over an hour. Many Japanese people love to dress in *yukata*, a kind of summer kimono that features light fabric and bold patterns, adding to the festive atmosphere (If you have a chance to wear a yukata to a fireworks show, do try it!). Often, people come early to find and hold a spot that allows for prime viewing.
Azumino’s summer fireworks are the perfect chance to experience this exciting part of Japanese culture in a special way. The second largest fireworks festival in Nagano, this grand event lasts an entire hour and a half and the wide-open landscape lets you watch the dazzling spectacle unobstructed by tall buildings. You’ll be able to gaze at approximately 10,000 fireworks explore before a backdrop of the Japan Alps.
Another highlight of attending the fireworks (or any Japanese festival) is exploring the delicious food stands. You will find plenty of Japanese festival favorites—including yakisoba, takoyaki, okonomiyaki, and more—adding an extra touch of fun to the whole event. A visit to a Japanese summer event is not complete without trying at least a couple of these tasty snacks!
With our tour, you can watch the fireworks from one of the best seats available—reserved just for you—without needing to fight through the crowds or come hours early to save a spot. Enjoy the show uninterrupted and with a picture perfect view while savoring the festival food! Like the Ofune Matsuri tour, our Azumino fireworks tour is also combined with a trip to see the snow monkeys for an overall unforgettable experience.
As an added bonus, this tour includes a visit to Azumino’s famous Daio Wasabi Farm, where you’ll be able to try real wasabi (hint: it’s what you find in a tube at the supermarket) and taste wasabi-inspired snacks. Besides all the gastronomic delights, the farm and its surroundings are a beautiful spot to enjoy nature. Because wasabi requires extremely clear water to grow well, the farm flows with pristine streams that flow directly from the Japan Alps, a sight so breathtaking that it inspired Akira Kurosawa’s 1989 movie Dreams.
See all the details and reserve your spot on this exclusive tour on the tour page. It offers accommodation included option at Hotel Kokusai 21 which is one of most sophisticated full service hotel in Nagano City.
To learn more about all the other things you can do in Azumino, check out our 15 Things To Do In Azumino article.