- Takeshi Senuma
[Beautiful Natural Scenery] The Most Beautiful Starry Sky in Japan! The Delights of Achi Village, Nagano
Achi Village in Nagano Prefecture is located in the very center of Honshu. It is known for having the most beautiful starry sky in all of Japan and has been gaining popularity as an area filled with natural charms. Here is everything you need to know about the home of Japan's most impressive starry sky, appreciated by 100,000 visitors annually.
An Introduction to Achi Village, Nagano
Achi Village is a quiet village surrounded by mountains in western Nagano, at the very heart of the island of Honshu. 100,000 visitors make their way to this small village of just 6,500 inhabitants every year to gaze at the star-filled sky, dubbed the most beautiful in the country. In 2006, the village was given this title by the "Nationwide Star-Gazing Sessions", a group run by the Japanese Ministry of the Environment. The night sky as viewed here truly looks as if someone has strewn precious gemstones all across it. You may wish to partake in one of the various tours offered or simply explore the village at your own pace.
How to Get There and When to Go
If you’re traveling from Tokyo, you can get to Achi Village by first boarding the Limited Express Azusa train on the JR Chuo Line at Tokyo Station and boarding for 2 hours 30 minutes before changing to the JR Iida Line at Okaya Station for roughly 2 hours 30 minutes, alighting at Iida Station, and then proceeding by bus or taxi for approximately 30 mins. If you are coming from Osaka, take the bullet train for 1 hour 20 minutes, transfer to the Ina Limited Express train on the Iida Line at Toyohashi Station to Iida Station for 2 hours 25 minutes, then proceed to Achi Village for approximately 30 minutes by bus or taxi to Achi Village. Depending on where you are staying in Achi Village, you may be able to take a bus directly to Hirugami Onsen from JR Kami Suwa Station or Nakatsugawa Station. As for when to go, the best time to see the stars is in the dry, crisp air of winter. However, they are also easily spotted in the summer, when the stable atmospheric conditions give rise to better visibility.
What Makes it the Best Starry Sky in Japan?
The secret lies in its natural environment. Achi Village is surrounded by the peaks of the central Japanese Alps. Moreover, the village covers a wide area of about 214 sq.km., but is home to only 6,500 people. Therefore, compared to busier urban settlements, there is much less man-made light. The rich natural environment is also located deep in the mountains, so there are reduced levels of air pollution. The cumulative impact of all of these factors means that the sky above Achi Village shines brightest as "Japan's Most Beautiful Starry Sky".
Taking a Tour
There are two ways to get the most out of your visit to Achi Village. For those who are already used to astronomical expeditions, all that is necessary is to find the perfect spot on your own and begin gazing upward. For anyone looking to enjoy the stars without too much effort, a tour is recommended, like the "Paradise in the Sky: A Night Tour of the Best Starry Sky in Japan", which organized by "Star Village Achi". While of course offering the natural beauty of the night sky, this tour, which changes three times per year based on the seasons, offers a diverse range of other attractions, too. Running until March 31st, 2019, the "Winter Night Tour - Stars by Naked -" includes views of a star-filled night sky projection mapping on the grounds of the square at the mountain foot. From April 13th until October 21st, the "Heavenly Paradise - Japan's Best Starry Sky - Night Sky Tour" will be held, allowing you to climb 1,400m to the top of a mountain in a cable car where you can enjoy the night sky while listening to a guide.
If you wish to apply for one of these tours, tickets are available from 10:00 am exactly two weeks prior to your preferred tour date. It may be possible to book the tour from your accommodation or travel agent as well.
Tips for Stargazing
When venturing out to stargaze, it is important to prepare for the cold. As you would expect, it is important to wear appropriately warm clothing during the winter season, but it’s chillier than you would expect in the summer evenings, so make sure to pack a jacket or light sweater. Your neck may start to hurt if you’re gazing at the stars while seated, which is why it is recommended to prepare a sheet to place on the ground so that you can gaze at the stars laying down. You should also be sure to bring a small torch to light the area immediately in front of you, as viewing spots are located in pitch black areas.
Recommended Tourist Spots in Achi Village
Achi Village is blessed with a rich natural environment, and besides the best night sky in all of Japan, there are plenty of other sites to see. These include the delicate beauty of the seasonally changing flowers and landscape, and the warming waters of hot springs. Be sure to get your fill of all of the delightful attractions of Achi Village.
The Fujimidai Highlands Ropeway
This ropeway is located in the Heavens Sonohara ski slopes in Achi Village. You can enjoy your journey through the sky via cable car, which stretches from the base of a mountain at an elevation of 800m, to the station on the mountain peak at an elevation of 1,400m. If you look out the window, you will be greeted by a magnificent, sweeping view of the southern Alps stretching out before you. The area around the mountain top station where you will alight is paved, meaning that you can also enjoy a leisurely mountain top stroll. In early summer, around 10,000 skunk cabbages may be seen in bloom at once in this area. Despite the name, the sight is truly a beautiful one.tt
Hirugami Onsen was originally discovered only 50 years ago. A hot spring now synonymous with southern Nagano, it is filled with the buzz and bustle of tourists. Hirugami is famed for its morning market, which is held from 6:30 am to 8:00 am from November to March, and from 6:00 am to 8:00 am between April and October. Stalls selling fresh vegetables, small processed foods, and simple souvenirs stretch out in the square in front of the Hirugami Tourist Office. Visitors from mid-April to mid-May will get a chance to see the blooming peach trees, another well-known feature of this hot spring village. The view of the petals coating the entire village in red is a sight that cannot be missed!
The Jibuzaka Highland, a representative spot in Achi Village, is famed for its beautiful flora. The highland stretches out to the highest reaches of Highway 153, where a vast array of beautiful flowers can be seen in full bloom from spring to fall. In spring, be sure to snap a picture of the Japanese azaleas, and in summer, take note of the cosmos, both of which draw out the natural beauty of the area. In fall, the broadleaved trees of the forest give rise to reds and yellows, a scene so beautiful, it’s as if you’re looking at a painting
The beauty of the night sky over Achi Village is truly breathtaking. You are sure to be moved by the stars, wondering if there had always been so many in the sky. Be sure to make the most of your time in Achi Village, be it staying in a hot spring resort, simply staring into the night sky, or enjoying the unique beauty of Japan's four seasons.
*Please note that the information in this article is from the time of writing or publication and may differ from the latest information.
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