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Stretching from the foot of the Northern Japan Alps to the middle of the prefecture, the Matsumoto area is centered on Matsumoto City and surrounded by such famous sightseeing areas as Utsukushigahara, Kamikochi, Norikura, and Azumino.
With hot springs, an art museum, other museums, and historical sites, it is an area with a wide variety of charms.
Here, we’ll introduce some of the main sightseeing spots.
Click on the images to see the explanation.
A breadbasket since long ago, the expanses of lovely rural scenery here have the peaks of the Northern Japan Alps for a backdrop. Stroll at your leisure down the paths between rice paddies and you’ll encounter the cute and heart-warming dosojin (travelers' roadside guardian deities).
Azumino and Wasabi Fields Azumino wasabi is grown in cold spring water with its source in the Northern Alps, around Azumino City in particular, and Nagano Prefecture is proud to be the largest producer of wasabi in Japan. From March to April, the wasabi’s lovely white blossoms cover the fields. The waterwheel at Daio Wasabi Farm was constructed for filming director Akira Kurosawa’s film “Dreams”.
You can experience Azumino’s climate, culture, and nature in this vast park for experience in nature. Ten ponds of various sizes also serve as biotopes, so you can observe various creatures there. Though it’s a limited seasonal attraction, the winter evening light shows are worth seeing at least once.
Located at an elevation of 1,500 m, this is also the trailhead for Mt. Tsubakurodake in the Northern Alps. There are more than 30 hot spring sources, an outdoor hot spring pool, 5 open-air baths with a constant flow of water, and 9 indoor baths. You can also feel at ease visiting “Yuhara no Yu,” where day-trip bathing has been possible since 2006.
Hotaka Shrine is the home of Azumino’s heart. This Nagano shrine is famous as the guardian for the entire Japan Alps. It enshrines a sea god, an ancestral deity the Azumi people brought with them from ancient northern Kyushu when they relocated here. The rear shrine enshrines Myojin Pond about 1 hour upstream from Kamikochi. A 5-minute walk from Hotaka Station
Located in Omachi City to the north of Azumino, this shrine is one of the national treasures in Nagano. More than 900 years old, the precious shrine architecture still maintains is heavily modeled on the historic Shinmei-zukuri architecture. Shinmei-zukuri is a gabled style of construction nearly devoid of ornamentation, and the roof is hinoki bark thatching, with each piece of hinoki (cypress) bark being overlapped slightly to make the roof.
“It’s spring in name only . . .” goes the well-known song Soshunfu. It’s said these lyrics were written by Yoshimaru Kazumasa when scenery where snow still remained during a visit to Azumino moved him to write a poem. You really must see the view of the Northern Alps from where this monument is located on the banks of the Hotaka River.
The dosojin (travelers' roadside guardian deities) played an important role in the Japanese soap opera “Mizuiro no Toki” that was broadcast in 1975. Their gentle faces both envelop and dissolve into the scenery of Azumino, which is unchanged since those days.
This is a rare Dosojin among many Dosojin statues. The original statue is located in the mountains of Myoka, and a replica can be found in Ryumonkyo Park in Myoka. It was made in the mid-Edo period and was even exhibited at a plaster cast exhibition in Paris. Ryumonkyo Park is also a famous spot for irises.
A precious gift from the Showa Period, this line carried people and cargo from its opening in 1902 to its closing in 1988. You can enjoy the spring green leaves of 30,000 Japanese zelkovas and other trees surrounding brick tunnels like the long-closed Urushikubo Tunnel, or fall leaves during a walk along the abandoned tracks. Even those who can’t walk the entire length of the line can walk around at different points.
With an elevation of 911 m, a mountain castle was built here during the Kamakura Period by Lord Hikaru of the Unno clan. When the cherry blossoms bloom, the mountain trail becomes a corridor through the cherry blossoms, and standing at the summit, you see the cherry blossoms making a carpet of pink beneath the Northern Alps, with Azumino spreading beyond it.
Novelist Kawabata Yasunari, artist Higashiyama Kaii, and novelist Inoue Yasushi all visited this mountain, and a literary monument to Higashiyama Kaii remains at the summit at an elevation of 933 m. It’s popular as a Northern Alps spot with a great view of 3 rivers flowing together--Takase River, Hotaka River, and Saigawa River.
This agricultural waterway runs through Azumino’s farmland for 15 km. The slope is 1/3,000th. As a result, though the water flows down from the mountains, it actually looks like it’s flowing toward them. In 1816, at the end of the Edo Period, about 67,000 workers built this weir in just 3 short months. A cycling road has been constructed along the Jikkasegi Weir that is just perfect for bike rides.
Born in Armenia in 1920, Jean Jansem loved and painted everyone and everything just as they were, and various portals into his world are introduced here. It’s a unique art museum. You can also have teatime at the café next door.
Not only is artwork by picture book illustrator Iwasaki Chihiro on display, but there’s an exhibit of picture books from around the world, and you can pass the day in leisure at the café next door. (Photos from Alps Azumino National Government Park in Omachi and Matsukawa)
All the pieces by Japanese sculpture luminary Ogiwara Rokuzan, called the Rodin of the East, are on display here. Resembling a church, this art museum built in 1958 is worth seeing at least once.
Photographer Tabuchi Yukio was born and raised in Azumino, and all his work is housed in this memorial hall styled after a mountain hut.
There are permanent exhibitions of work by master of modern Japanese sculpture Takata Hiroatsu, and paintings by Miya Yoshihei, an artist connected to Mori Ogai.
Here you can see a number of lacquer works by Order of Culture recipient and lacquer artist Takahashi Setsuro.
On display here is artwork centering on Adachi Gen-ichiro, known as a pioneer of mountain painting.
Refreshing breezes blow over grape fields carrying cool air from the Northern Alps, and the babbling of the Kurosawa River that flows beside the winery rings out along with wild bird songs in the land of abounding nature where wine is made. We also recommend the yogurt drink made with 100% Azumino raw milk.
Running from Azuminonosato to Daio Wasabi Farm is what’s called the “Sesaragi (babbling stream) Alley” along the Yorozui River. The road along the river was a location used in NHK’s morning drama “Ohisama” and an Azumino promo for JR’s Otona no Kyujitsu Club, and it’s the perfect place to feel a refreshing breeze as you take a stroll.
The 40,000-square-meter slope has cherry blossoms in spring and lavender in summer to enchant visitors. You can also pick lavender, while lavender soft serve ice cream and aroma therapy goods such as herbs are offered for sale there.
This is a famous place for wild cherry trees grown from seeds pecked free by birds. When in season, the cherry blossoms on the mountain’s slopes captivate people like an earthly paradise.
There’s a large maple tree in Omine Highland. When fall comes, the leaves gradually turn a rainbow of hues for us, which the Japanese call “seven-colors.”
If you walk around Azumino, you’re sure to encounter dosojin, roadside guardian deities who watch over the safety of travelers and people’s daily lives. The dosojin carry wishes for matchmaking, warding off disease, bountiful harvests, domestic safety, the prosperity of your descendants, and so on.
Mid-Edo Period in construction, the premises include a long house gate, a study, and a garden. In the lord of the Matsumoto Domain’s hunting ground, the Todoriki Residence was used as a resting area for the lord. With a “shumisen” arrangement of stones that incorporates the flow of the Momoyama Period, the garden is a sight to see.
This old house has 300 years of history to it. Both the lord of the Matsumoto Domain and alpinist Walter Weston stayed here when bound for the Northern Alps. It’s also the house where Japanese-style painter Yamaguchi Sorin was born, and you can see his works here. It has also been used in movies and TV series recently.
A temple belonging to the Koyasan Shingon sect, its honorific mountain prefix is Iozan. The principal image is Yakushi Nyorai, which legend says came from the waters of a lake in Omi Province. The main hall was designated an important cultural property by the country in 1959, and in the entire country it is a rare example preserving the building characteristics from the end of the Muromachi Period. The surrounding area has cherry blossoms, Asian skunk cabbage, dogtooth violets, wisteria, tree peonies . . . a variety of flowers to enjoy depending of the season.
Along with Himeji Castle, Hikone Castle, Inuyama Castle, and Matsue Castle, it is one of 5 castles designated as a national treasure, and it’s also known as Fukashi Castle. The extant 5-tiered, 6-story main tower makes this the oldest castle in Japan. Its elegant appearance throughout the seasons and from a variety of angles is truly befitting such a famous castle.