Located within easy reach of JR Nagano Station, the Matsukawa Valley is slowly emerging from its quiet corner and becoming known as one of Nagano’s best kept secrets. A region of pastoral vistas leading up to the forested foothills of the mountains beyond, Matsukawa is a perfect destination for visitors wanting an idyllic escape from the crowds of the cities including Tokyo, less than 4 hours away.
As winter matures and we move toward the first hints of spring, the white landscape of the Matsukawa Valley will start to transform, as the snow recedes and the first buds of growth appear in the orchards and forests. Among this new life, Japan’s celebrated cherry blossoms will emerge – a sign of new life and fragile beauty.
Known as ‘sakura’ in Japan, the blossoms are perhaps the quintessential symbol of the country and its reflective contemplation on life and the serene. Blooming later in the higher elevation of Nagano, the cherry blossoms of the Matsukawa Valley are well-known among Japanese for their age and singular beauty.
Among the numerous blossom trees of the valley, there are five individual trees of particular note. Tsuboi’s Weeping Cherry Tree is said to be the oldest blossom tree in the region at over 600 years of age (pictured below). Known for their fragile and fleeting beauty, the blossoms are rendered even more sublime when coming into bloom each year, on trees of such age.
At over 13 meters in height, Kurobe’s Edohigan Cherry Tree is estimated to be over 500 years of age (pictured below) and is equally famous among Japanese. The tender beauty of its soft pink petals are enhanced against the yellow of surrounding ‘nanohana’, which flowers around the same time.
‘Hanami’ or ‘flower viewing’ is perhaps the quintessential Japanese activity and one of the highlights of any visit to Japan in spring. Given its higher elevation, the cherry blossoms of Nagano including Matsukawa Valley typically bloom later than those of the coastal cities and enjoying ‘hanami’ is one of the best ways to experience the region.
Predicting when the blossoms will bloom each year is serious business in Japan. Released in early January this year, the yearly cherry blossom forecast predicts Nagano’s peak bloom to occur between April 10th to 28th, perfectly timed for the Shinshu Takayama Sakura Festival. Running from the mid-April until the beginning of May, the festival includes guided (Japanese language only) tours to the most famous and scenic blossom-viewing spots during the day and nightly illumination of the most famous trees from 18:45 to 20:00.
With more than 20 blossom trees estimated to be over 100 years of age, the small village of Takayama (voted one of Japan’s most beautiful!) is a great destination for sakura-lovers wanting to escape the crowded sites of Tokyo and Kyoto, and be seduced by the serenity of rural Japan. Located within easy reach of Tokyo and Nagano City but requiring a little get-up-and-go to reach it, Matsukawa Valley is best experienced as an overnight stay at one of the region’s many ‘ryokan’ (traditional guesthouses) and indulgent ‘onsen’ (natural hot springs).
Home to many ryokan, the beauty of the valley is best enjoyed in the comfort of a traditional Japanese guesthouse, from where you can truly soak in the atmosphere and solitude of the surrounding landscape. Renowned for their devotion to service and the relaxation of their guests, a ‘ryokan’ is a place to completely unwind as you indulge in a traditional meal service, bathe in an ‘onsen’ or simply admire the miniature detail for which Japanese service is known around the world.
Visiting Matsukawa Valley from JR Nagano Station is quick and easy using the Nagano Dentetsu (Nagaden) train line. With regular services departing Nagano to Yudanaka, visitors can disembark at Suzaka Station. During spring, the station provides information including suggested walking courses to its famous cherry blossom tress and many other great destinations!