Nagano in Autumn: Leaves, Harvest & Onsen
Many if not most international visitors know Nagano as a winter destination. As host of the 1998 Winter Olympics and home to around 80 ski resorts, Nagano’s credentials as one of Japan’s premier snow sports destinations is well-known. Less well-known (at least to international visitors), is the other side of Nagano: the side seen outside of winter, when the melting snow reveals and nourishes a thriving rural landscape – a place of farmlands, quiet villages and secret hot springs.
Nagano is in every sense a rural region. A place of quiet villages bordered by pristine forests and dramatic mountains. While the heavy snow and outstanding skiing of winter might of brought it global fame, it is the farmlands of Nagano and life-giving abundance of its forests and mountains that define and sustain life here.
Autumn in Nagano is a time of harvest. Golden rice fields collapse under their own weight, heavy with the grains that will soon be cut and collected. Apples ripen in the orchards – deep colours of red, gold and yellow – ready to be picked. Vegetables are plucked from the dark soil of the farmlands, filling the markets, restaurants and hotels of Nagano and beyond with the best produce of the year.
Fruit-picking in autumn is one of the region’s most enjoyable activities, with many farms welcoming visitors to pull their own apples from the trees to eat onsite or take with them.
At the same time, the leaves begin to turn. Slowly at first, from late-September and into October the landscape transforms – a mosaic of red and gold, amber and brown. The forests and parks entice visitors to explore, and on the mountaintops above, the snow starts to fall.
As the leaves gradually turn, starting in the mountains and moving through the forests into the valley below, Nagano’s historic hot spring towns are at their best.
Hotels prepare their autumn ‘kaiseki’ (traditional multi-course) meal services around the harvest while their ‘onsen’ (natural hot springs) are never more enticing than when surrounded by the autumn leaves of the landscape outside.
Nagano is blessed with some of Japan’s most stunning autumn leaves that can be enjoyed from late-September until mid-November.
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