1. VOL. 21 | SPRING 2024



Sponsored by Minami Shinshu Tourist Bureau Co.

People can explore the Tenryu River in rubber rafts or traditional wooden boats. MINAMI SHINSHU TOURIST BUREAU

Spring brings many reasons to head outdoors and enjoy nature, and Nagano Prefecture offers numerous destinations that can scratch that itch. Situated in central Japan and about the same distance north from both Tokyo and Nagoya, the prefecture is mountainous and covered by forests. The prefecture’s Minami Shinshu region is particularly blessed with lush greenery and sits between Japan’s Central and Southern alps.

Visitors shoot the Tenryu River rapids in a traditional Japanese boat. MINAMI SHINSHU TOURIST BUREAU

The Tenryu River that flows through the region from Lake Suwa south to the Pacific Ocean creates a dramatic landscape, wending its way through deep ravines. Springtime in Japan invariably brings to mind cherry blossoms, and they blossom throughout the Tenryu riverlands in abundance alongside dogtooth violets and other flowers. Visitors can join boat rides down the river to take in the sights. They can also find opportunities nearby to pick fruit and tea leaves.

A lone-standing canopied cherry tree stands on the grounds of Zosenji temple in Iida. MINAMI SHINSHU TOURIST BUREAU

Those who have seen the forest yet wish to appreciate individual trees may wish to participate in a guided tour centered around Iida — the largest city in the Minami Shinshu region — to take in a veritable treasure trove of the picturesque lone-standing cherry trees known as ipponzakura. The roughly two-hour tour is led by a so-called sakuramori (“cherry tree guardian”) who guides travelers to see around 80 of these beautiful trees. Among them are specimens that are estimated to be around 300 years old, as well as others that are particularly noted not only locally, but also throughout Japan for their beauty. The guardian tells the history of each and every tree, providing food for the mind to accompany the pleasures to the eye.

The village of Shimoguri offers spectacular views. MINAMI SHINSHU TOURIST BUREAU

The Southern Alps beckon to travelers passing through Minami Shinshu in springtime, and at around 1,000 meters above sea level, the tiny village of Shimoguri is about as picturesque as a place can get.

The eminent geographer Takeo Ichikawa gave this enclave and its surroundings the sobriquet of “Japan’s Tyrol” for its resemblance to the region in Austria. The local tour guide association offers a set of hiking programs that range from a 75-minute route that highlights vistas of the Southern Alps and its natural surroundings, to longer programs that include hikes around the village and a tour of Jugosha Daimyojin Shrine. For anime fans, the sights may bring to mind some of the work of Studio Ghibli, and they would not be wrong to draw the connection. Studio staffers have visited the village, and some of what they have seen has been reflected in the studio’s works.

The Milky Way is clearly visible over the Shirabiso Highlands. MINAMI SHINSHU TOURIST BUREAU

Those who cannot get enough of the views from Shimoguri will want to consider heading higher up to the Shirabiso Highlands. At an altitude of nearly 2,000 meters, the highlands are sometimes referred to as “the Alps observation deck” for the panoramic views they offer of the surrounding spires. The remote location and altitude also present dark, pollution-free views of the starry skies to be enjoyed by those staying the night at Shirabiso Kogen Amanogawa, a hotel named after the Japanese word for the Milky Way.

Finally, travelers visiting Iida may find it interesting to know that in the future the city will have a station on JR Central’s Chuo Shinkansen, a superconducting maglev line currently under construction. This section of the maglev, which will link Minami Shinshu with Tokyo and Nagoya, is scheduled to open in 2027.

For more information, contact the Minami Shinshu Tourist Bureau.