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.
Read the rest of this entry »

Japan Alps Art Festival at Omachi, Nagano

June 30th, 2017 by
Category: Culture Art, Events, Experience

 

Located at the foot of the 3000+ metre Kita Alps mountain range in the Northwest of Nagano Prefecture in the town of Omachi, The Japan Alps Art Festival (JAAF) is conceived to showcase unique and imaginative natural artworks, commissioning many international artists, that complement and highlight the region’s epic natural landscapes and features. Planned to continue on a triennial basis, the inaugural 2017 event is currently nearing the midway point of its approximate 7-week course (June 4-July 30) and is on  track for over 20,000 attendees.

Being a proud Omachi resident of 3 years, I was invited to join the bloggers tour for a day sampling some of the art installations (and 1 or 2 local restaurants). The exhibition is far too large to see every exhibit in one day – there are 38 primary exhibits [you can preview the complete catalogue at the JAAF website] distributed all over Omachi in 5 separate sections {eastern mountains, three lakes, headwaters, dam, downtown} – transport of some kind is required – with a private car, progressing through the exhibition sequence at a relaxed enjoyable pace, we were able to see about a dozen exhibits over 8 hours. For visitors, at least two and probably three days is recommended to see it all comfortably. A special bus and a special taxi servicing the entire span of exhibits runs daily for the duration of the festival. Car rentals are available, offering more flexibility and time efficiency. (These require an international driver’s permit for foreign visitors).

Following is a small sample of a few of the exhibits we have seen thus far. We will cover the remainder over the remaining month of the festival.

Pre-opening jazz music act:

 

Exhibit 30:

Tangible Landscape by Japanese artist

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Exhibit 33:

Bamboo Waves by Russian artist Nikolay Polissky

 

 

 

 

 

 

Exhibit 15:

Arc ZERO is by Australian “Land-and-Light” artist James Tapscott (who, we were astonished to learn, hails  from our former suburb back in Australia – quite a coincidence in this part of the World.)

 

Exhibit 16:

Trieb – Forest in Rain by Japanese artist  Toshikatsu Endo

 

Exhibit 34:

Hameau d’ellipes by Swiss artist Felice Varini

 

Exhibit 29:

Located at Reishoji Temple, a collection of fantastically ornate wood sculptures and a sound+light show by the highly accomplished local Omachi resident artist Sadao Takahasi.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Exhibit 14:

Tatsu by Italiian artist Patrick Tuttofuocu


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

Special thanks go to the many, many organizers and volunteers from the Omachi community and to the various local, regional, national and even international corporate and government sponsors of this impressive event – in its inaugural instance, the Japan Alps Art Festival appears to have exceeded all expectations and bodes well for a burgeoning tenure in the years and decades ahead.

Omachi: Onsen and horseback archery

July 4th, 2012 by
Category: Accomodations, Events, Information, Onsens (Hot Springs)

Lately I have been  ‘researching’ Nagano’s top onsens.  One I went to recently was Omachi Onsen in the foothills of the Japanese Alps, north of Matsumoto and south of Hakuba.

Omachi Onsen is relatively new, having come into existence around the construction of the Kurobe Dam and the Tateyama Alpine Route in 1971. It’s a planned onsen resort with spacious, wooded lots (average hotel lot size is 7000m2) and nice, wide lanes. Perfect for walking or cycling, with a tributary to the Takase River to play in and views of the grand Japanese Alps. Besides being the Nagano gateway to the Alpine Route, Omachi is also convenient to Aoki Lake and Azumino (famous for art museums and wasabi fields).

Omachi Onsen’s 14 hotels offer a wide variety of accommodation. From 11-room boutique-like Azumino Kawasho to massive 170-room Tateyama Prince Hotel. In between is the posh Shoen (part of the Hoshino Resort chain), Ryokan Kashiwa-sou with the charismatic Sachie-san charming the guests, the German Alps-themed Kurobe Kanko Hotel, and more. There is also an onsen bathhouse for daytrippers, Yakushi-no-Yu.

The onsen water originates in Kuzu Onsen, 10km upstream where it comes out of the ground at 66.3C. The water is simple mineral water with low alkalidity and low osmotic pressure.
大町温泉郷Omachi Onsen

I’d like to introduce two of the onsen facilities, the daytrippers bathhouse Yakushi-no-Yu and the ryokan where I stayed this time, Hotel Yamada-ya.

Yakushi-no-Yu is Omachi Onsen’s main bathhouse. I went during an off-peak time on a weekday morning, but there were still plenty of bathers. It’s a popular bathhouse. One of the indoor baths is pure onsen water but the temperature was so low, nobody was bathing in it. Instead, everyone was in the larger indoor bath which is heated and recirculated. The outdoor bath was spacious but would have been more enjoyable if it had a view of the Alps. The outdoor bath made of river rocks is apparently only operating in the summer, so unfortunately I wasn’t able to enjoy it.
薬師の湯Yakushi no Yu

Yakushi no Yu's entrance

Hotel Yamada-ya’s owners provide surprisingly friendly service considering its size (51 rooms). The indoor bath was nice and spacious but I always like outdoor baths more.
大町ホテル山田屋 Omachi Hotel Yamadaya

Hotel Yamada-ya's Inviting Outdoor Bath

During my visit, I had the privelege of meeting the mayor of Omachi. It turns out Ushikoshi-san is an avid archery fan. I promised to put the word out about Omachi’s upcoming horse-back archery event, Yabusame. Officially called the Omachi Nyakuichi-Oji Festival, the main event will take place on Sunday 22-July this year (2012) with a procession to start at Omachi Station around 10am, winding up at Nyakuichi Oji Shrine around 3pm for the childrens’ archery demonstration.
Omachi Yabusame Archery Event (English – translation by Yours Truly)

Access to Omachi is via Route 147 from Matsumoto, or via the JR Oito Line from Matsumoto Station.  There is regular bus service from Shinanoomachi Station to Omachi Onsen and continuing on to Ogisawa, the start of the Tateyama-Kurobe Dam Alpine Route.

The Salt road festival

May 26th, 2010 by
Category: Experience, Outdoor Activities

At the beginning of May, the  Golden week holidays herald the arrival of cherry blossom season in Hakuba.  Every year the Salt road festival celebrates the ancient salt road that passes through Otari, Hakuba and Omachi.

The Salt road runs from Itoigawa on the Japan sea all the way inland to Shiojiri near Matsumoto. Until roads were developed salt was ferried by oxen and human from the sea to the interior and sold at markets. The biggest market was in Shiojiri near Matsumoto.

The most intact stretch runs through from Otari to Hakuba and we joined thousands of others on the 3rd for the walk of 10kms.

The old road winds through beautiful countryside and clusters of thatched farmhouses. Along the way local people sing folk songs, play taiko (Japanese drumming) and hand out free refreshments of tea and local sukemono (pickles). The old village of Chikuni at the half way point houses the salt road museum where you can see the history of the salt road and “Pay a toll” to the tollbooth staff for passage by getting your map stamped. Everyone dresses in traditional costumes and you get a real feel for what it was like 100’s of years ago on the salt road.

The old salt road winds through paddies and traditional villages

Salt road load bearers

Cherry blossom in full bloom

Official's exacting a "toll" on salt road users

en-route Fundoushi clad shrine bearers at chikuni shrine

Whole family getting traditional

Thatched japanese farmhouse en-route