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This article is presented by Yomiuri Travel Service and Ryoko Yomiuri Publication.

A reflection of the Northern Alps in a rice paddy in Ikeda-machi, Nagano Prefecture, before planting

Enjoy the epic Northern Alps view from Ikeda

Ikeda-machi is located in northwestern Nagano Prefecture. It’s a peaceful mountain village between the cities of Azumino and Omachi about 40 minutes by car from the castle town of Matsumoto. At one time in its history, Ikeda prospered as a post town along the “Salt Road,” a trade route for transporting salt and other products from the Sea of Japan, known as the Chikuni Kaido.
Nestled in the Northern Alps, the town offers spectacular views of the mountain range, also known as the Hida Mountains, which attracts visitors year-round. The Alps have several 3,000-meter peaks stretching across four prefectures — Nagano, Gifu, Niigata and Toyama. It is one of Japan’s most beautiful regions.
The Azumino Northern Alps-View Walk, which extends 18 kilometers north-to-south through the town, was the first walking route in Nagano Prefecture named to the list of the 500 Most Beautiful Walks in Japan. The walk is especially popular in the early summer, when views of snow-capped peaks are reflected in flooded rice paddies, and in the autumn, when rich, golden stalks of rice cover the land.

The 250-year-old “miracle” tree, known as the “seven-color grand maple,” in Ikeda-machi in autumn foliage

A famous scenic spot for viewing the autumn colors is at the 250-year-old “seven-color grand maple” on the Omine Plateau. Its name is derived from the many colors that can be seen all at once as the leaves change in autumn.
In the postwar period, when settlers tried to clear the land for agriculture, this huge tree could not be uprooted, and the stump was left in place. The settlers gave up cultivating the land around it because of a poor water supply. In the mid-1960s, when a new generation came to use the land for pasturing cattle, they found that the stump had grown a new trunk and branches. While nearby trees had been unable to survive the heavy snowfall and typhoons, this maple alone has survived to this day, earning it the nickname, “the miracle tree.” It is beautiful in every season, whether in the early spring budding of greenery, its colorful transfiguration in autumn, or its magical veil of pure white in winter.

The “miracle tree” with a fantastical snow scene

The Omine Plateau, where the seven-color grand maple is located, is also an excellent spot for splendid views of the Northern Alps. The area is recommended not only in autumn and winter but also in early summer when around 130,000 chamomile plants are in full bloom. The best time to visit is from late May to early June when fields of snowy white flower petals delight the eye.

Relish in herbal healing experiences

A workshop to choose herbs for a hot hand bath

Ikeda-machi has a pleasant, livable climate with low annual rainfall. It has large temperature differences between day and night and between summer and winter. Because its climate is similar to those of herb-growing areas in Europe, people started cultivating chamomile here more than 30 years ago. They also started growing lavender in fields that once grew mulberry trees to feed silkworms. Today, Ikeda promotes itself as a town of flowers and herbs. Visitors can find “herbal spots” around town, such as the Herb Garden and Kamitsure no Sato (Chamomile Village).
n the last several years, Ikeda-machi has been promoting herbal health tourism. This is a new style of travel that allows visitors to experience the diverse charms of Ikeda — its climate, history and culture — with a focus on herbs and healing.
Michikusa is an organization of herbal healthcare therapists approved by the town to promote herbal healing to visitors. They provide unique travel experiences such as herbal hand baths, the making of art from pressed flowers and herbs, and the blending of herbal teas.

Rosemary, sage, apple mint and other herbs in water

Kamitsure Laboratory is the manufacturer of the skincare brand Kamitsuren, which has specialized in chamomile-based products for beauty and vitality for over 30 years. Their skin care products, ranging from medicated bath essence, body soap, hand cream and skin lotion, are exemplary specialty products of the town.
Kamitsuren’s German chamomile extract comes from all parts of the chamomile plant — stems, leaves and flowers — using a no-heat process for extraction and maturation to produce the delicate active components. The factory is located at Kamitsure no Sato and is open for tours. Products can also be purchased there.
Kamitsure is the Japanese word for German chamomile, which can be considered the “queen of herbs,” as it has been known for its healing properties since ancient times. It is said to relieve skin problems such as dryness, eczema and heat rash, and is highly popular among both men and women as a skincare agent.

Taste rich history and culture with wine

Enjoy wine tasting at Domaine Hiroki In Ikeda-machi, Nagano Prefecture

To enjoy some of the rich history and culture of the area, visit local museums such as the North Alps Viewing Museum of Art, Azumino Higashiyama Tsutsumu Museum, or the Ikeda-machi Local History Museum. A stroll through town is also recommended, where you will see many traditional handmade teru teru bozu dolls hanging about and can hear the children’s song about them played on loudspeakers at noon.
The town’s promotional characters are teru teru bozu sprites called Terumin and Fuumin. They can be found on all sorts of souvenir cookies and goods.
Other specialty products include some excellent jizake from local producers Daisekkei Sake Brewing and Fukugen Brewery as well as wine from Domaine Hiroki.
Ikeda has long been known for its sake, locally brewed from snowmelt water. In recent years, the high quality of wine grapes grown in the region has also earned recognition, with certification awarded to the North Alps–Azumino Wine Valley district in 2018.

In the winter, Ikeda-machi has majestic views of the snow-capped Northern Alps. When spring comes, the Alps provide a glorious backdrop for the beautiful cherry blossoms. Ikeda welcomes your visit in any season. Fun and relaxing encounters await you through the healing power of flowers, fragrance and the kindness of the people.

Travel information

・By car: Approximately 13 km from Azumino IC on the Nagano Expressway via Route 19
・By train: Get off at Hotaka Station, Azumioiwake Station or
Shinanomatsukawa Station on the Oito Line, or Akashina Station on the Shinonoi Line

Ikeda Town Tourist Association at 0261-62-9197