By Geoff Day
Achi Village was once recognized as the best place to see shining stars in in the Japan night skies by the Ministry of the Environment. Visitors can take in stargazing from the Achi Highlands at 1,200 meters high easily by joining one of numerous night tours focused on the starry spectacle.
NAMIAI Starry Sky Park
NAMIAI Starry Sky Park opened in July of 2018 and is known for the star festival focused around the Japanese holiday “Tanabata” which is based on a love story that reunites two lovers once a year on the seventh day of the seventh month. This park has several different events and activities including a starry sky guided tour, starry sky show and starry sky photo session. The guided tour explains the different stars, such as Orion, Gemini, Subaru and much more while taking in countless brightly sparkling stars above.
Website: https://namiai-park.com (Japanese)
Winter Night Tour – Stars by Naked
Another option for stargazing during winter is through the Stars by Naked Tour. This outdoor experience is especially designed for outdoor illumination and an image projection show. The image projection show is a 360 degree dome experience telling the story of the birth of the universe. Additionally, check out the astronomical telescopes, planet view room, and ashiyu foot bath with a special rock massage to cure the fatigue of travelling.
Be sure to drop by the STAR VILLAGE CAFÉ by NAKED", a collaboration between the creative team "NAKED" and Panasonic, that produces digital menus with projection mapping and interactive art.
Website: http://sva.jp/winter_night_tour/ (Japanese)
Hirugami Hot Springs
Not far from Achi Village, at Hirugami Hot Springs, stay at the ryokan and bathe in an onsen after enjoying the amazing night sky. There are more than 20 hot springs, Japanese inns and hotels in the area. Hirugami’s onsen water is known for its high alkaline concentration (pH 9.7), and will leave your skin silky smooth. It is the perfect place to relax your body and spirit.
From December, "Yuya Mamoru-sama” (the god that protects the land) is stationed at the entrance of the ryokan for three continuous months. It is said that if you use an onsen during this period, you’ll use the same one as Yuya Mamoru-sama, and thus you’ll be looked after in the following year.
When you stay at a traditional Japanese ryokan, you are usually served kaiseki ryori, a set menu of select food including soup, appetizer, side dishes, sashimi, a main course and desserts. In the Hirugami Onsen area, the banquet menu uses the local shinshu ingredients that have been specially selected. Guests can enjoy the seasonal flavors distinct to Nagano.
Each ryokan in the area has their own specialty gourmet selections. For example, “irori robata” is prepared using an “irori”, which is a coal-burning hearth that is found in traditional Japanese homes. In the past, the “irori” served as a stove and heater. The ryokan serves traditional Japanese cuisine using the hearth be it through boiling, roasting or steaming.
COCORO FARM VILLAGE
Soba (buckwheat noodles) is also one of the most famous delicacies in Nagano Prefecture. You can take a class in soba making or dine at a restaurant to taste the local specialty. COCORO FARM VILLAGE serves Italian cuisine with fresh vegetables that are locally grown.
The company behind Hello Kitty, Sanrio, created the special characters to serve as ambassadors of Star Village Achi. The pair of characters are known as the Little Twin Stars. Kiki and Lala are their names and you can find them at the ACHI BASE café and bar. They serve adorably decorated pancakes and drinks for guests. While waiting for your order feel free to browse for souvenirs at the shop. Some products are limited and can only be found at Achi Village.
The resort town’s morning farmers’ market is popular among visitors shopping for locally grown products all year round. It takes just a few minutes to walk from the ryokan. There are plenty of local fruits, mushrooms, dried persimmons and homemade jam. It is a unique experience to buy delicious seasonal delicacies while chatting with the local shopkeepers. They will always be very happy to speak to a tourist!
Central Alps Komagatake Ropeway
For even more shopping and sightseeing in the area, visit the Central Alps Komagatake Ropeway. This area provides visitors with a chance to enjoy the scenic beauty of Senjojiki Cirque, steep slopes carved by glaciers some 20,00 years ago. Today, the area is covered with beautiful meadows and alpine wildflowers in the spring. The ropeway features Japan’s largest elevation gain (950 meters) and Japan’s highest terminal station (2,612 meters). In less then ten minutes you can reach the peak, Senjojiki Station. If you are lucky enough, you can even see Mount Fuji from the top!
Fujimidai Kogen Ropeway
You can take Fujimidai Kogen Ropeway to Heaven’s Sonohara to further explore nature. Heavens Sonohara Snow World is well-known for its ski slopes. Enjoy skiing downhill while being surrounded by the beauty of the Southern Japan Alps on the Panorama Course. The South Wing Course for experts is popular for its 30-degree elevation and the seasonal Rindo Course, weaving through the beautiful trees for a limited period, is renowned for its unique design. The sledding courses and snowshoes courses are separated, ensuring visitors of all ages a fun experience.
Tsumago Post Town
Tsumago Post Town is designated by the Japanese government as a Nationally Designated Architectural Preservation Site. Tsumago-juku has been restored to its appearance as an Edo-era post town and is very popular among foreign travelers.
Toki Premium Outlet Shopping
Toki Premium Outlet is located in Gifu prefecture, about an hour away from Hirugami. The outlet mall features various items from local Japanese brands and international luxury brands. Currently, there is a promotion campaign where you can redeem coupons for discounts shopping at the outlet stores if you stay at Hirugami hot spring.
Tenryu River Boat Tour
The Tenryu River Boat Tour is a sightseeing boat tour that travels down the river of Tenryukyo (Tenryu Valley). The boat tour takes about 35 minutes. You can enjoy the beautiful scenery of Garyu and Tenryu Gorges when cruising along the stream. From December to February, the boats are equipped with kotatsu (small table with a heater underneath and covered by a quilt), which helps to keep you warm and comfortable.
From Shinjuku Station, Tokyo
Train: JR Azusa express train: 2 hours 10 minutes Kamisuwa station
Bus: 1 hour 40 minutes (reservation required)
Visit http://hirugamionsen.jp/en/ for more information
Pioneer and tireless traveler, always ready to venture the outdoors or settle in for a pint. Japan Travel COO. Originally from Texas, moved to Japan over twelve years ago.