Azumino: The Japanese Alps

by | April 26, 2016 |

Title Photo credit: sick_rabbit via VisualHunt.com / CC BY-NC-SA

This past weekend my son, Gerard, and I went to a most beautiful area of Japan, specifically Azumino City in Nagano Prefecture.

Azumino MapThe XVIII Winter Olympics were held in Nagano in 1998. So this event tells you the area is impressively mountainous. It also explains why the region is called the Japanese Alps.

Fortunately, Azumino City itself is in a plain, so very flat. We rented bikes for the day and roamed around.Azumino field

Here’s a wasabi field we encountered along the path.

The snow-capped mountains are in the background, and a traditional bridge is in the foreground. Japanese bridges are never built in a straight line. They always have corners, because evil spirits can’t get around corners.

Our first stop of the day was the Daio wasabi farm. I now know wasabi plants are small and thin. They grow in shallow flowing water, so what you see here are rows and rows of wasabi planted in carefully graded beds filled with soil and stones.

Azumino 1

Gerard on a path with cherry blossoms.

azumino wasabi farm

You can’t tell from the picture, but the beds slope both inward toward the middle of the field and downstream. Water is constantly moving.

At the farm, wasabi plants in the fields are in different states of cultivation, some mature, some midway, and some just getting started. Teams of men and women were working in the just-getting-started fields. One of the tricks seems to be to rake the stones just right.

The farm is more like a park, with trails and nooks to explore, like rustic water wheels. 

There also always has to be a shrine.

Azumino ShrineIn lovely places like this all over the world, it is my experience that most people are either in the restaurant or the gift shop. I can report on the day we were there the Japanese tourists conformed to global norms. The restaurant was packed, the gift shop abuzz.

Azumino farm 3In the restaurant you can order wasabi beer, wasabi sausage and wasabi noodles. In the concession stand around the gift shop, they have wasabi soft-serve ice cream, wasabi croquettes, and wasabi burgers.

I had the ice cream. I thought it was pretty good. Not too sweet and no wasabi kick, only a slight tang.

In the gift shop you can buy wasabi chocolate, wasabi crackers, wasabi … I don’t know … anything you can think of.

Among other things at the hotel where we stayed, the breakfast buffet had wasabi salad dressing. (Yes, various salads are offered as part of breakfast.)

Farther to the south, in Koshien near Osaka, where my son lives, the sakura, that is, the cherry blossoms, have come and are mostly gone. Farther in the north, where we were, the sakura were still glorious. So I’m glad I got to experience them in all their magnificence.Japan Cherry Blossoms


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This post was written by Julie Andresen

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