Spread along the Northern Japanese Alps in central Japan, Azumino is a unique Nagano Prefecture destination known for clear mountain spring water and spiritual history, the flavors of soba and wasabi, and some fresh green local specialties.
Azumino, Nagano: A City of Northern Alps Nature, Mountain Spring Water, and Wasabi
When talking about wasabi in Japan, for many people the city of Azumino, in Nagano Prefecture, is the first place to come to mind. Surrounded by the majestic landscape of Japan’s Northern Alps, and tucked away in the Matsumoto Basin of central Nagano, Azumino is famous as a city of gorgeous natural scenery, and fresh, crystal-clear spring water.
Wasabi is a picky plant that requires plenty of cool, clear water to grow, but the abundance of fresh mountain water welling up from the ground in springs all over Azumino has made the city the ideal environment for cultivating wasabi, and a number of farms around town are experts in growing the spicy green plant.
The melting snow from the Northern Alps trickles down to the city year-round, giving Azumino spring water that stays between 12 and 14°C (54~57°F) even throughout the warmer months, which makes it possible to grow wasabi in all seasons! From planting to harvest, wasabi takes from a year to a year and a half to grow, and in Azumino, they can keep the cycle going all the time.
▶ See more about Azumino wasabi in this video.
The History and the Spirit of Azumino
The Azumi Clan, who gave their name to the city of Azumino, were once said to be a powerful sea-faring people based in ancient Kitakyushu (far south-west of Nagano), and those cultural roots can still be felt to this day in the city’s celebrations and festivals. At the city’s Hotaka Shrine (穗髙神社), which was originally established by the Azumi people, the schedule includes traditional festivals like the Ofune Matsuri (御船祭り), which literally means “Ship Festival”! Nowadays, that festival is on the Intangible Cultural Heritage list of Nagano Prefecture.
For more than 500 years, the Hotaka Shrine has been a place to pray for the perpetual growth and prosperity of the people, and has been a place of continued Azumino traditions and festivals. Every 20 years the main shrine hall is completely rebuilt as part of their “daisengu” (大遷宮) ceremony to reinstall the shrine’s guardian deity, and in the intervening years, there are two smaller ceremonies that take place to provide an opportunity to clean and repair the sanctuary. Even these small ceremonies, called “shosengu” (小遷宮) end up being a whole seven years apart. To celebrate the next occasion, on May 1st (day of the tiger) 2022, the shrine will be holding a solemn ceremony to move the shrine’s deity at the hour of the tiger, in the early hours of the morning, making the date into an event called the Shikinen-sengu and Hotaka Puppet Stories (式年遷宮と穂高人形ものがたり). Coinciding with this special festival, the city of Azumino is holding an event that “brings together all of Azumino” from April 29th to May 15th, called Azumino Terrace.
The Flavors of Azumino
Thanks to the blessings of nature and the plentiful spring water, Azumino is a region of fresh, delicious flavors. The palate of Azumino flavors ranges from the mellow sake made with local rice and the area’s famous water, to fragrant soba noodles made from home-grown buckwheat, plus the sweetness of the region’s many apple varieties, and one last ingredient that adds a special kick to meals of all kinds – Azumino wasabi.
A Green Woven by Artisans and Mother Nature
From the 1780s to this day, wild “tensan” silkworms have been cultivated in Azumino’s unique environment, a practice that has become a part of traditional Azumino culture. The silk threads produced by tensan silkworms have a unique color and luster not found in standard silk, and when woven into fabric, the material gleams like a polished emerald.
Alongside that beautiful and unusual color, tensan silk is also particularly strong and flexible, with notable heat-retention abilities, and spectacular elasticity. These unique qualities mean that tensan requires unique production methods, and the natural silk fibers are woven carefully by talented artisans who train specifically to perfect their techniques. This unusual setup means that only a small amount of fabric can be produced at a time, and prices for Azumino’s tensan silk can be many times (or many tens of times) the price of regular silk material.
▶️ See more about Azumino tensan silk in this video.
Azumino ・ The Best Kept Secret of the Japanese Alps
Azumino has all the natural beauty of the Japanese Alps, picturesque scenery, history, flavors, wasabi made in collaboration between mother nature and local citizens, and even unusual and beautiful local products like tensan silk. Even within the popular region of Japan that was once called Shinshu, and now makes up much of Nagano, Azumino stands out as an exceptional city, just waiting to be explored. For travelers looking to see all the best of the Shinshu area, regardless of the season, Azumino is a must-see destination.
Name: Azumino, Nagano (長野県安曇野市)
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