What do the vast Japanese Alps, steamy onsen, spiritual pilgrimages and awesome winter sports—including the 1998 Winter Olympics—all have in common? Nagano Prefecture! Travelers who love the outdoors and engaging in inspirational adventures beyond the city will find no end to the wonders Nagano has in store.
Places to Go
Togakushi Village and surroundings – In the northern reaches of Nagano Prefecture within Joshinetsu National Park a village that rests between two active volcanoes, Iizuna and Togakushi. There’s a number of reasons for visiting this area, and not just for the soba noodles that people will travel days to taste. 900 year old cedar trees make up massive forests. This area was also the birthplace of Togakure Ryu Ninpo—a ninjutsu school that is over 800 years old.
- Togakushi Ninja Village – An attraction designed to introduce people from around the world to ninja and provide interactive fun. Within the village, you can even venture through the Ninja Trick House to learn about the booby traps that used to protect ninja houses and other tools. A ninjutsu master also teaches the art at the center shrine. Some English interpreters are available.
- Togakushi Ninja Museum – An annex of the Minzokukan, the ninja portion of the museum has over 500 items related to Togakure Ryu Ninpo and over 200 pictures.
- Togakushi Minzokukan – Over 2000 items are on display. The exhibitions tell a story about the interesting history of the region.
- Togakushi Shrine – There are 3 separate shrines—Hoko-sha, Chu-sha, and Oku-sha—that were built for 3 different gods. Each has unique landscaping and architecture, but the top shrine is mostly known for its 300 year old Sugi trees.
- Togakushi Snow World/Ski Menou
Nagano Onsen – Kanbayashi Onsen, Shibu Onsen, Yudanaka Onsen and Nozawa Onsen are all popular hot springs within the prefecture. The first three are located in the peaceful mountain landscape of the Shiga-Kogen Highlands. Meanwhile, Nozawa Onsen is a little further away and part of the Nozawa Onsen Ski Resort at Mt. Kenashi. Aside from resting your body in the hot springs, you can enjoy skiing in 100% natural snow that lasts until mid-May.
Shibu Onsen Website: http://www.shibuonsen.net
Nowaza Onsen Ski Resort Website: http://www.nozawaski.com/winter/en/
Jigokudani Monkey Park – This hot spring park was constructed for the large population of snow monkeys that visit the bubbling waters during the winter months when food in the mountains is scarce. This place is quite remote, save for the end of the year when over 90,000 visitors journey to see these primates bathe. The closest onsen for humans would be the Shibu and Kanbayashi Onsen.
Address: 381-0401 Nagano Prefecture, Shimotakai-gun, Yamanouchi-machi 6845
Matsumoto Castle – One of the top castles in the nation. Not only is the design breath-taking, but the functionality of the castle was top-notch. Surrounded by water on three-sides, the beautiful setting gets amplified in Spring when the cherry trees begin to blossom.
Website: http://www.matsumoto-castle.jp/splash — Probably one of the coolest castle websites out there. You get immediate footage of the castle and all the festivities that happen throughout the year.
Daio Wasabi Farm – Since you’re in the land of wasabi, might as well learn how to farm it! Admission to this experiential farm is free. The mountains in the backdrop complete this sylvan setting. The on-site cafeteria features wasabi-flavored beer, curry, ice cream, and juice.
Address: 399-8303 Nagano Prefecture, Azumino-shi, Hotaka 3640
Chubu Sangaku National Park – Fairly close to Matsumoto, this park has onsen, souvenir stalls, hiking trails and the famous Hakuba Ski Resort. Each season paints this park in a new spectrum of colors. Escaping city life has never been more heavenly.
Website: http://www.env.go.jp/park/chubu/ (English available)
Mt. Ontake and Kiso Valley – Hiking through this area is sure to leave you spellbound and with dozens of new memories. If you walk the Magome-Tsumago trail, which takes about 2-3 hours depending on your pace, you can pass through Edo-period towns like Narai-juku and Tsumago-juku. Around the active volcano named Mt. Ontake are crater lakes. The recent formations were made by the September 2014 eruption.
Mt. Ontake Website: http://www.jnto.go.jp/eng/spot/natuscen/mt-ontake.html
Places to Eat
Uzuraya （うずら家）— a famous Japanese-style restaurant with budget friendly offerings, a friendly, non-pretentious setting, and gorgeous natural scenery. No place does freshly made soba noodles, crisp tempura and marinades like Uzuraya. It’s no wonder that this restaurants attracts droves of people daily. Plus, it’s the perfect place to stop for nourishment after enjoying the multitude of attractions at Togakushi Shrine.
Address: 381-4101 Nagano Prefecture, Nagano, Togakushi 3229
Phone Number: +81 26-254-2219
James Nagano Beer Market – Right in downtown Nagano, people love this bar for the casual atmosphere, extensive craft beer menu and fantastic food. You can get grilled vegetables and meat, hearty potatoes, quiche, sub sandwiches and other options that fuse Japanese cooking with bar food. A must-visit for both reasonably price food and drink as well as ambiance.
Address: 380-0825 Nagano Prefecture, Nagano Suehirocho 1358 Suehirocho Bldg 3F
Phone Number: +81 26-223-1040
Caffe Terra – After traveling through Japan and living off of green tea and noodles, a change of pace might be required. A short walk from Zenkoji Temple, Caffe Terra offers amazing coffee roasts—even aficionados will grin after the first sip!—and authentic Italian gelato. The owner, Matt, is from Australia but studied his craft in Italy, so you know you’re getting quality. Can’t beat the price nor the conversation!
Address: 380-0851 Nagano Prefecture, Nagano, Motoyoshicho 484