Cycling and Cherry Blossoms in Spring: the Alps Azumino Century Ride

April 24th, 2018 by
Category: Events, Information, Outdoor Activities, Report

Taking a break at the Alps Azumino Park aid station

The 10th annual Alps Azumino Century Ride cycling event was held last weekend. Beginning in Azumino and extending as far as the ski resorts of Hakuba, the event course weaved through rice fields, orchards, and the lakes of Omachi. While the course was the same for all participants, there were different lengths available, ranging from 70km to 150km. Somehow, I found myself participating in the race along with one of my coworkers. But at least it was on the “friendlier” 70km tour.
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Cherry Blossoms and the Japanese Alps

April 13th, 2018 by
Category: Information, Report, Seasonal Topics

Nagano’s special springtime scenery: cherry blossoms and snowy mountains

With temperamental weather going back and forth between sunny, summer days and winter flurries, it’s been difficult to get a handle on when Nagano’s cherry blossoms will bloom. This year, the trees have been blooming very quickly, making hanami a much more hectic affair than it should be. Cherry blossoms around Ueda and Matsumoto are already almost gone, and spots that usually bloom in May are on their way to full bloom.

Cherry trees around the Japanese Alps usually bloom in mid to late April, but due to this year’s warm weather, many spots already reached their peak last weekend. Since the weather was clear and sunny yesterday, I took an opportunity to check up on some of them around Ogawa, Omachi, and Azumino.

More On Cherry Blossoms

Nagano’s 2018 Cherry Blossom Forecast
Go! Nagano Bloom Watch Page

Our first stop was Ogawa Village. Located between Nagano City, Hakuba, and Omachi, it is a place that most people who travel to Nagano will have passed through at some point without knowing it. In winter, it’s just another small hamlet on the side of the road, but in spring, it becomes one of Japan’s most beautiful villages.

Cherry trees of all kinds dot the hillside along Ogawa Village. There are the popular Somei Yoshino cherries, weeping cherries, and mountain cherries as well. The subtle palette of creams and pinks contrasts beautifully with the fresh greenery around it.

The Nitanda no Sakura cherry blossoms in Ogawa Village

The most impressive section of Ogawa’s spring display is in Nitanda. The cherry trees here, called Nitanda no Sakura, almost completely cover the hillside. While they may have been planted by man, the cherry trees seem wild, growing by their own accord. Rather than a common tourist attraction, Nitanda no Sakura is a countryside fairy tale. At the foot of the hill, farmers till their fields and grocers stock fresh produce, almost oblivious to the magnificent display above.

Petals were falling off the trees, covering the road below in pink

The cherry blossoms were already falling when we visited yesterday, but the sight is still impressive when seen from afar. The view should hold through the weekend at least.

Ogawa’s famous oyaki shop: Ogawa no Sho

Ogawa is also known for its delicious oyaki. After visiting the cherry blossoms, we made a quick pit stop at Ogawa no Sho. The shop specializes in char-grilled oyaki, which they fry on a pan before burying them in ash by the fireside to finish. Popular flavors include nozawana, sweet azuki bean, or eggplant with miso, but during this time of year you can also find oyaki filled with delicious mountain vegetables. We had fukimiso (butterbur sprout in English).

Char-grilled oyaki in front of an irori hearth

After Ogawa, we drove to Omachi City about 40 minutes away. Our desination was Omachi Park, on the hillside outside of town. Despite being a weekday, there were quite a few people enjoying hanami in the park, as well as a couple of food stalls already set up and selling food. The park was quite small, but sometimes big things come in small packages. As the sky cleared up, we saw amazing views of the 3,000-meter-high peaks of Japanese Alps in front of us.

The platform below the park offers uninterrupted views of the snowy alps.

According to the local news, the park reached full bloom yesterday, but there were still quite a few buds that hadn’t bloomed when we visited. The park’s blossoms should be at their peak this weekend and into next week as well.

A view of Omachi Park from below

Omachi Park’s cherry blossoms were on the cusp of full bloom yesterday

For the last leg of our journey, we drove another 40 minutes south to Mt. Hikarujo in Azumino. About three-quarters of the way there, we could see the trail of cherry trees rising up the mountain like a white dragon.

The cherry trees follow the hiking trail up the mountain.

The cherry trees are planted along a hiking trail to the top of the mountain, which takes about 40 minutes to walk up. Lights are strung up along the trail to illuminate it and the blossoms at night.

The path up Mt. Hikarujo is full of views like this

The trees by the trailhead had already lost half of their petals, but we could see fuller trees on the trail up above. As we climbed up, the cherry blossoms grew progressively thicker. The whole way up we were treated to amazing views of the Japanese Alps, and there were plenty of great photo spots for shooting the mountains and cherry blossoms together. After our 40-minute hike, we reached the park at the top of the mountain, covered in full-bloom cherry trees.

Cherry blossoms at the park atop Mt. Hikarujo

A clever, transparent sign which shows the name of each mountain along the Japanese Alps.

Cherry trees along the descent from Mt. Hikarujo

Peeking at the alps from between many branchs and blossoms

A little higher up was a small shrine with cherry trees still budding, so it looks like Mt. Hikarujo still has plenty of sakura left to offer next week.

How to Get There

Omachi Park (Omachi City): By train/bus, a 25-minute walk from JR Oito line Shinano Omachi Station, or a 5-minute taxi. By car: a 40-minute drive from the Azumino IC exit. Parking is available at the park.

Nitanda cherry blossoms (Ogawa Village): By train/bus, A 50-minute bus ride on the Shinmachi Takafu line bus (get off at Takafu bus stop), then a 20-minute walk to trees or 15 minutes to viewpoint. By car, a 45-minute drive from the Nagano IC. Park at the Bikkurando Gymnasium. There is also a viewpoint along Route 31.

Mt. Hikarujo (Azumino City): By train/bus, a 35-minute walk or 10-minute taxi from JR Tazawa Station. By car, a 7-minute drive from the Azumino IC exit. There is a parking lot beside the trailhead. See location here.

Nagano’s 2018 Cherry Blossom Forecast

March 22nd, 2018 by
Category: Information, Seasonal Topics

Ogawa Village’s reddish pink Tachiya cherry blossoms contrast with the snowy peaks of the Japanese Alps.
As the snow slowly melts from the streets and sprouts begin to poke their heads out from under the ground, we’re all beginning to wonder: when will the cherry blossoms come? According to a new forecast announced last Tuesday, it looks like many areas of Japan will be seeing their cherry trees bloom a full ten days earlier than last year.
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Nagano’s Top Cherry Blossom Spots

March 4th, 2016 by
Category: Events, Outdoor Activities, Seasonal Topics, Sightseeing

(This was originally posted in 2016, but dates and timetables have been updated for the 2017 season.)

Cherry blossoms and snow make a beautiful pair.

Spring is on its way and that means it’s time to break out those blue tarps, make some rice balls and drink plenty of local beer and sake. It’s cherry blossom viewing time! There are a lot of beautiful spots to enjoy them here in Nagano prefecture, where the mountains add a beautiful touch of white to the spring scenery. Who knew you could see sakura and snow at the same time?

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Nagano city in full bloom!

April 20th, 2012 by
Category: Seasonal Topics, Sightseeing
 

somei yoshino in Matsushiro castle, Nagano city

 

Flowers, Flowers!
The height of spring has finally come here in Nagano city, Nagano, Japan!

The cherries are blossoming late this year by a week or two throughout Japan. It was just last week when I saw so many tourists on sightseeing tour buses (featuring sakura blossom viewing) greatly disappointed to find the cherry blossoms still in bud.

In and around the city of Nagano, which is well-known as the host city of the Nagano Winter Olympic Games 1998, almost every kind of spring blossoms and flowers are in all glory. Sakura, or cherry blossoms, apricot, magnolia, dandelion, shepherd’s purse flower all come into bloom!
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Chikuma City’s Apricot Village Trees in Full Bloom

April 18th, 2011 by
Category: Outdoor Activities

In the world of apricot blossoms, 2 days makes a huge difference. Last Thursday, I went  Apricot Village in Chikuma City’s Mori district to see if the namesake apricot trees were in bloom or not. They were only at 20-30% at that time. Then I went again on Saturday, and was happy to see that they were in full bloom! Weekend visitors were no doubt thrilled to be able to enjoy the apricot blossoms and their subtle pink beauty. Mori’s laid back farming village setting makes for such a quaint background to the apricot trees. I highly suggest a trip to see them.

Mori's apricot trees in full bloom

Mori's apricot trees in full bloom

Other Nagano flower info (as of Monday 18-Apr)

Togura Kamiyamada Onsen’s Chuo Park cherry blossoms: Full bloom
Togura Kamiyamada Onsen’s Wakamiya apricot blossoms along the Chikuma River: Full bloom

According to our weekend guests:
Ueda Castle cherry blossoms: Full Bloom

According to fellow Inbound Ambassador Andy, Matsumoto Castle cherry blossoms: Full Bloom (beautifully lit up at night)

According to Ina City Tourism Dept.:
Takato Castle cherry blossoms: Full Bloom

Access

By Train:  From Yashiro Station on the Shinano Railway line there is regular bus service to the Mori area, or a 5 minute taxi ride, or 25 min. walk.

By car:  From Route 18 in Chikuma City’s central business area, take Route 403 / County 392 approx. 2km.

Close-up of the apricot blossoms

Close-up of the apricot blossoms

Enjoying Singular Cherry Trees in Shinshu Takayama Village

April 21st, 2010 by
Category: Seasonal Topics, Sightseeing

This time of year, many of our guests stay here at our inn as they drive around Nagano enjoying the flowering trees.  First the apricot blossoms in nearby Mori’s “Apricot Village”, and lately, the cherry blossoms.  Most come to see the cherry trees at Ueda Castle, or our local spots such as the Tengu Park above Togura Station, or even Chuo Park behind our inn here in Togura Kamiyamada Onsen.  However, lately, a few guest mentioned they are on crusades to see “Ippon sakura”, or singular cherry trees. 

When I did the translating work for Nagano Prefecture’s official foreign language tourism site, there was a passage on these singular cherry trees in southern Nagano.
To be honest, while writing the description in English, I was wondering what the attraction would be in seeing just one, individual tree blooming.

One of our guests, Komoriya-san, gave me a list of “Ippon sakura” in northern and eastern Nagano.  I had a bit of extra time on Sunday, so I took our kids to check out one of them in Matsushiro, the weeping willow type sakura tree at Myotoku-ji temple.  Seeing the hundreds-of-years old tree made me understand the majesty of the blossoms on such an ancient tree.

Myotoku-ji's ancient cherry tree (Matsushiro)

Myotoku-ji's ancient cherry tree (Matsushiro)

Komoriyama-san explained the 3 main reasons for “Ippon Sakura”.  One is that many are located at a temple.  More specifically, by the graveyard of a temple.  People plant them so their ancestors can enjoy the annual cherry blossom show.  Another is that the trees are located in the middle of a rice field area.  The blossoms come on around the same time as the fields need to be prepared for planting.  So farmers judge the rice planting timing around when the tree’s flowers bloom.  Finally (and this one is a bit harder to believe), some famous samurai plant trees when they cross over a mountain pass.  Then whenever they go over the pass again, they can tie their horses up to the tree.  Hmmm.

Anyways, here is Komoriyama-san’s list of suggested “Ippon Sakura” in Northern and Eastern Nagano:

Nagano City / Suzaka
(trees bloom 6-7 days later than Togura Kamiyamada.  2010’s peak should be 18-April)
*Myotoku-ji’s shidare (Matsushiro, Pref. Rt. 35)
*Enmei-ji’s shidare (Pref. Rt. 34 before Hoshina Elem. School)
*Endai-ji’s shidare (Omuro)
*Benten-sama’s shidare (Suzaka, below Yonago Fudo Shrine)

Takayama Village (10 days later than Togura Kamiyamada)
*Mizunaka’s shidare (Pref. Rt. 54 in town)
*Kurobe’s edohigan (near the Issa Hall in town)
*Tsuboi’s shidare (Pref. Rt. 54 on the way to Nakano)

Ueda/Tateshina/Saku (6-7 days later than Togura Kamiyamada)
*Daien-ji’s shidare (Ueda’s Shioda Plain, Pref. Rt. 65)
*Nagahisaho’s shidare (Nagawa Town, Matsuo Shrine)
*Muryou-ji’s shidare (Saku City, Motoima Post Town, Rt. 142)
*Fukuo-ji’s shidare (Saku City, south of above)
*Gohongi’s sakiwake (Saku City, Hot Park Asashina Rest Area, Rt. 142)

Another view of the Myotoku-ji tree

Another view of the Myotoku-ji tree

NOTE ON SAKURA TYPES
Shidare: Prunus pendula f. pendula (weeping willow type)
Edo Higan: Prunus pendula (similar to above but an older variety?)
Sakiwake: ??? (pinkish and white blossoms on the same tree?)

Hiking Season Has Started

April 29th, 2009 by
Category: Outdoor Activities, Seasonal Topics

April and May sees the start of the hiking season in many areas in Nagano.
The Alpine Route – April 17th; Kamikochi – April 27th; Mt. Norikura – May 15th; Mt. Ontake – April 25th(see blog)

I climbed Mt. Hikarijoyama in Azumino on April 18th. I enjoyed a great view of the cherry blossom canopy and the Alps.
Mt. Hikarijoyama is 912m high and can be climbed by people of all ages and abilities starting in March.
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