25 Things To Do In & Around Myoko Kogen
Sitting at the southern end of Niigata Prefecture, the area known as ‘Myoko Kogen’ experiences extremely heavy snowfall each winter, making it one of Japan’s best destinations when looking for powder. Myoko Kogen itself doesn’t actually exist but is instead a number of different resorts that are generally referred to using that name.
Different people include different resorts under the name of Myoko Kogen but generally it refers to the following: – Akakura Kanko/Onsen, Suginohara, Ikenotaira, Seki Onsen and more recently, Lotte Arai.
Myoko experiences a ridiculous amount of snowfall – 14 meters or more per year! – making it a powder paradise best suited to advance skiers/boarders with a taste for deep powder! Akakura Kanko/Onsen offer the most interconnected terrain while Suginohara has the highest chairlift at 1855m and Japan’s longest groomed run at 8.5km.
The recently reopened Lotte Arai Resort has quickly become popular for its luxury accommodation and off-piste powder – a rare combination in Japan. With only 11 piste runs, the real attraction of Lotte is its off-piste powder, meaning that if the powder isn’t there or if you’re intermediate and not quite up to it yet, you might be a little uninspired by the resort. Our ‘How to Get to Myoko Kogen’ page provides directions to the area from Nagano, Tokyo and other starting points. For visitors headed to this beautiful corner of Japan there is plenty to do both on and off the slopes beginning with these 25 Things to do in and around Myoko:
1 / SKIING & SNOWBOARDING IN MYOKO KOGEN / December to April
As mentioned above, the resort of Myoko Kogen does not in itself exist! What people mean they refer to Myoko Kogen, is a group of resorts typically including Akakura Kanko/Onsen, Suginohara, Ikenotaira, and Seki Onsen. Some people also include Myoko Ski Park and the recently reopened Lotte Arai Resort (more on that below). Of those resorts, Akakura Kanko and Akakura Onsen are joined, creating the largest expanse of connected ski runs in Myoko and serviced by Akakura Onsen Village. Though hardly developed, Akakura will give you the most entertainment of the mountain while in the Myoko while being we-suited on-mountain to beginners and intermediates.
Suginohara has the highest chair-lifted runs in Myoko at 1855m and one of the longest ski runs in Nagano at 8.5km. Long runs are complemented by some nice side-country. The small village of Sugniosawa Onsen is the main area of accommodation for the resort. Ikenotaira is well-suited to beginners and intermediates, offering good powder and gentle terrain with 10 courses serviced by 6 chairlifts. Accommodation is limited to a number of pensions, hotels and ‘ryokan’ (traditional guesthouses). Most are family-run and have their own in-house hot springs, allowing for comfortable and homely stays.
The small family-owned resort of Seki Onsen is known for its steep terrain and deep powder. For some, it’s heaven but for others it’s a little too small – only 4 runs and 310 metres of vertical – or challenging to enjoy for long. But only a short distance from Akakura Onsen, Seki makes for a nice day-out as part of a multiday adventure.
2 / A LITTLE LUXURY AT LOTTE ARAI RESORT / December to April
Reopened under new ownership for the 2017-2018 season, Lotte Arai Resort has quickly become popular for its rare combination of luxury accommodation and abundant powder. The ski runs are long and narrow but offer around 950 metres of vertical with extensive off-piste terrain. The real attraction for skiers and snowboarders headed to Lotte Arai is the powder. The resort receives a huge amount of powder each season – over 15 metres – which can be enjoyed in Lotte Arai’s powder bowls. Off the mountain, Lotte Arai offers guests luxury accommodation that is unmatched in the region. The hotel has around 250 rooms, excellent restaurants, indulgent onsen facilities, in-house stores, an international ski school and other services that make the resort increasingly popular for international visitors.
3 / NOZAWA ONSEN & NAGANO’S OTHER GREAT RESORTS / December to May
Accessible from Myoko via Iiyama Station, Nozawa Onsen is one of Nagano’s most popular resorts. Nozawa offers around 300 hectares of train between 565 and 1650 metres. Also known for its great powder and setup for snowboarders, Nozawa is a livelier resort than those of Myoko. Serviced by a large village full of accommodation, restaurants and bars and ‘onsen’ (hot springs), Nozawa’s reputation is as much based on what happens off the mountain.
Also accessible via Iiyama Station or a short drive from Myoko – less than 50 minutes – Madarao Mountain Resort is known for its powder bowls and tree runs. Smaller and less lively than Nozawa, Madarao is just as accessible and a great option for families or skiers and snowboarders focused on powder and diving into the trees.
Approximately 1 hour from Myoko, Shiga Kogen is Japan’s largest and highest ski resort. Boasting Nagano’s longest season and most reliable snow conditions – given its higher altitude and prevailing weather conditions – Shiga is another resort quickly coming to the attention of international visitors. Offering Japan’s greatest extent of interconnected terrain, Shiga is likely to become much more poplar over the coming years so get there now while it’s still relatively quiet.
And to the west of Myoko, the ski resorts of Hakuba Valley can lay claim to being Nagano’s most international and popular. Plenty to keep you entertained on your winter adventure!
4 / AKAKURA ONSEN VILLAGE / all year round
Servicing the resorts of Akakura Onsen and Akakura Kanko, and as the main concentration of accommodation and resorts in Myoko Kogen, Akakura Onsen Village is a good place to based yourself when heading to the nearby resorts. There’s no escaping the fact that the village is run-down and could do with some investment. Guesthouses and some restaurants and bars – don’t expect a lot – are dotted through the village, making it a convenient base while in Myoko. For accommodation listings in Myoko, see our ‘Myoko Kogen Area’ hotel page.
5 / VISIT THE SNOW MONKEYS OF JIGOKUDANI / all year round
Another no-brainer! Less than an hour drive from Myoko, the Jigokudani Monkey Park is one of Central Japan’s most well-known destinations. At its most popular through the snow of winter, the park is in fact open all year round. The monkeys – known for their hot spring-bathing antics – come to the park all year round with each season offering its own reasons to visit.
From Myoko, the monkey park can be reached using the public bus to and from Iiyama Station or alternatively, we can arrange private tours and charters to and from the park. For families and larger groups, this is a great way to visit the park with the convenience of your own transport, driver and (if required) guide. Our guides are locally-based and ready to help you get the most out of your time in Nagano, including a visit to the always entertaining Jigokudani Monkey Park.
6 / JOIN THE NOZAWA ONSEN DOSOJIN (FIRE FESTIVAL) / January 15th
Taking place each year on January 15th, the Nozawa Onsen Dosojin Matsuri is considered one of Japan’s great fire festivals. Readily accessible from Myoko, this raucous evening festival draws thousands of spectators who come to see residents erect, attack, defend, and ultimately burn a huge wooden shrine. With its roots firmly in native Shinto traditions, this is a lively and passionate display of important cultural beliefs. With pickup available at Hakuba and Nagano Station, we operate our popular 1-Day Nozawa Fire Festival & Snow Monkeys Tour every year. Combining an early afternoon visit to the monkeys followed by an early dinner and attendance at the festival, this popular tour is a great way of experiencing one of Nagano’s great cultural events.
7 / NAENA FALLS / best: July to November
Located only 20-minutes drive from Akakura Onsen Village, Naena Falls can be accessed all year round but is perhaps at its most enjoyable in summer and autumn. The 55 metre high waterfall is known as the ‘Earthquake Waterfall’ due to the crashing sound of the cascading waterfall.
8 / JOETSU AQUARIUM UMIGATARI / all year round
Approximately 50 to 60-minutes drive to the north of Akakura Onsen, Umigatari Joestu Aquarium is on the Sea of Japan. Entirely rebuilt in 2018, the modern aquarium spans three floors and displays an array of sea life. One of the highlights of the aquarium has to be the glass tube which passes through the large tank, giving visitors a 360° view of the creatures within. The aquarium is open daily from 10:00 to 18:30 with entry costing JPY1500 per adult and between JPY500-JPY1100 per child (depending on their age).
9 / TAKADA CASTLE PARK BLOSSOM FESTIVAL / April
For visitors in Myoko in spring, Takada Castle Park in Joetsu is one of the region’s foremost cherry blossom-viewing spots. With around 4,000 trees spread across the extensive grounds, the park hosts an annual Cherry Blossom Festival timed for the peak bloom – typically in the first week of April. The festival includes illumination of around 3,000 trees at night, a truly magical sight. Takada Castle Park is less than 60-minutes drive from Akakura Onsen.
10 / ENJOY THE STUNNING CHERRY BLOSSOMS EACH SPRING / April
Blooming every April, the cherry blossoms of Niigata and Nagano transform the atmosphere and character of the region and banish all thoughts of winter. Known as ‘sakura’ in Japan, the blossoms are viewed as symbolic of the fleeting beauty and fragility of life itself and Japanese look forward to ‘hanami’ (flower-viewing) each spring. Given Nagano’s higher altitude and cooler climate, the blossoms bloom later than in Tokyo with many varieties of wild cherry trees spread throughout the mountains.
Through April, we also offer our always popular 1-Day Snow Monkeys & Cherry Blossoms in Nagano Tour. Starting and ending at Nagano Station, this tour can be joined from Madarao, and transports guests to the monkeys, lunch and an afternoon of blossom-viewing at some of Nagano’s most beautiful blossom spots.
11 / SOAK IN A NATURAL ‘ONSEN’ / all year round
Home to countless natural hot springs, enjoying an ‘onsen’ while in Nagano really is a must-do activity! In the cold months of winter and cooler months of autumn, dipping into a thermal bath feels fantastic whereas in the warmer months of spring and summer, the initial heat of onsen leads your body to cool itself – a truly pleasurable feeling. Spread throughout the region, the historic onsen towns of Nagano – including nearby Nozawa Onsen, Yudanaka Onsen and Shibu Onsen – have numerous ‘ryokan’ (traditional guesthouses) with their own in-house onsen. When visiting Nagano, you really are spoiled for choice.
Our ‘Onsen In & Around Nagano’ page introduces everything you need to know about using an onsen, the benefits and where to find them. So take inspiration from the monkeys and get bathing!
12 / EXPLORE HISTORIC SHIBU ONSEN / all year round
Nearby the monkey park, Shibu Onsen is a quaint hot spring town boasting a 1300-year history. Home to numerous ‘ryokan’ (traditional guesthouses) with their own in-house onsen, Shibu is famous for its nine ‘public’ onsen spread through the town. Although called public, all but one of the hot springs is for the exclusive use of guests staying at any of the towns guesthouses. Upon check-in, all guests are given a key which unlock each bathhouse, each said to treat different ailments.Trying all nine onsen – an effort known as the ‘kyu-to-meguri’ is a fun activity, especially in the cold and snow of winter. While there, look-out for the separate troop of monkeys which likes to regularly visit the town.
13 / VISIT ZENKO-JI TEMPLE / all year round
Located in Nagano City, Zenko-ji Temple is the spiritual heart of Nagano itself. With a near-1400 year history, Zenko-ji’s story is entwined with that of Nagano and to this day, the temple retains its central importance to life in the region. One of the oldest and most important Buddhist temples in Japan, Zenko-ji is also the third largest and home to the first known Buddhist statue ever brought to Japan. Open all year round, the temple performs a morning ceremony every day of the year. Taking place just after sunrise, the time of the ceremony varies throughout the year and is too early to attend when staying in Myoko. But it is worth-noting as it underlines Zenko-ji’s reputation as one of the most open and welcoming temples in the country. While there, visitors are welcome to experience traditional practices including guided meditation, goma prayer and calligraphy.
For visitors wanting to experience these activities or simply learn more about the temple, doing so on a private tour is a great way to discover more about the importance of Zenko-ji and role of Buddhism in Japan. We can arrange transport to and from your accommodation in Myoko and combine a visit to the temple with many other nearby destinations and experiences – whatever works best for you!
14 / CRAFT EXPERIENCES NEARBY ZENKO-JI / all year round
Nearby Zenko-ji Temple, Monzen/Patio Daimon is a small precinct made-up of relocated ‘kura’ (traditional storehouses) and modern buildings designed to blend-in with the traditional. Home to several good restaurants including Monzen Terrace Enya, Patio Daimon also hosts workshops for traditional craft including paper-making, origami, calligraphy and more. Led by an English-speaking instructor, enjoying a craft workshop is an enjoyable activity for visitors of all ages, especially children and families.
15 / ZENKO-JI OMOTESANDO ILLUMINATION / December
As the main thoroughfare between the station and temple, the ‘Omotesando’ is frequented by locals and visitors alike, and from November 24th to December 25th each year is brought into brilliant light from 17:00 to 20:00, with the Zenko-ji Omotesando Illumination. Light installations and projections will transform the 1.8km road into an imagined Buddhist paradise – an ephemeral world of purple and violet, silver and golden light. In the midst of winter, this quiet and very local festival is a magical way to explore the temple at night.
16 / HISTORIC OBUSE & HOKUSAI / all year round
Once an important Edo Period (1603-1868) trading town, Obuse is a small historic town accessible using the Nagano Dentetsu (Nagaden) train line from Nagano Station. Now known for its chestnut confectionaries, sake and miso breweries, Obuse is most famous as home to the Hokusai Museum. Dedicated to the life and work of Japan’s most renowned artists, Katsushika Hokusai, the small museum regularly rotates its large collection in an effort the breadth and significance of his lifetimes work. Having spent some of his final years in Obuse under the patronage of a wealthy local merchant called Takai Kozan, Hokusai’s last great masterpiece adorns the ceiling of Ganshoin Temple, while the Takai Kozan Museum retains Hokusai’s work studio – making Obuse a small but important little town.
17 / DISCOVER TOGAKUSHI / all year round
Sitting in the forests just outside of Nagano City, Togakushi is home to some of Japan’s most important Shinto shrines, the birthplace of a school of ninja, and producer of some of the best ‘soba’ (buckwheat noodles) in the country. It is also home to Togakushi Ski Resort, a little known but great little resort that can be accessed using a local bus from Nagano Station.
All of that makes Togaksuhi an all year round destination which is now coming to the attention of international visitors. The shrines of Togakushi are spread through the forest, connected by walking tracks of which the avenue leading to the ‘Okusha’ (Upper Shrine) is the most famous. Lined by huge cedars, this is spectacular and otherworldly environment – one that captures the imagination and lives on for many as one of the highlights of Japan.
Numerous soba restaurants serve Togakushi’s signature noodle dishes while bamboo craft stores sell all manner of the highest quality wares. Home to the Togakure School of Ninja, Togakushi’s Ninjga Museum and Ninja Kids Village make for great entertainment from spring to autumn, before the snow returns and Togakushi Ski Resorts draws mostly local skiers who know just how good the ski runs are. Togakushi is waiting for you to discover it!
18 / ENJOY THE AUTUMN LEAVES / October to November
Though not as famous as the blossom of spring, the autumn leaves of Nagano are an equally beautiful sight. Occurring from around mid-October onward each year, Myoko will shift in colour as the landscape transforms all shades of yellow, amber, and red. Other nearby locations including Togakushi and Shiga Kogen are also known for the beauty of their leaves, while Kamikochi and the Tateyama-Kurobe Alpine Route – spectacular any time of year – are at their most beautiful.Our ‘Autumn Leaves in Nagano’ page is a great place to start when hunting for the best viewing spots in Nagano. Getting a little further afield…
19 / ASCEND THE TATEYAMA-KUROBE ALPINE ROUTE / April to November
Often referred to as the ‘Roof of Japan’, the Tateyama-Kurobe Alpine Route is one of Japan’s most iconic landscapes. Open each year from mid-April to mid-November, Tateyama-Kurobe can be access on the Nagano-side of the mountain range via Ogizawa Station. At its most popular from opening in April until June, Japanese and international visitors flock to the Tateyama to see the fabled ‘Snow Walls’ – a truly stunning and unique sight. Through summer, once the snow has gone, the Tateyama-Kurobe Alpine Route offers some of Japan’s best hiking while the autumn transitions to a stunning array of colours. We highly recommend making the journey to the Roof of Japan.
20 / MATSUMOTO CASTLE / all year round
Standing guard over Matsumoto City for more than 400 years, Matsumoto Castle is a registered National Treasure and for Japanese, an instantly recognizable structure. Visiting the castle is an easy and enjoyable day-trip via Nagano Station. While there, enjoy the historic character of the city along with its many good cafes, restaurants, museums and shopping. For visitors moving on from Myoko, Matsumoto is a great launching point from which to head west or south and enjoy the following destinations.
21 / DISCOVER KAMIKOCHI / April to November
Situated in the Chubu Sangaku National Park, Kamikochi is a pristine and beautiful alpine valley open to the public from mid-April until mid-November each year. The valley follows the Azusa River while some of Japan’s tallest mountain peaks rise to over 3000 meters above. From the Kamikochi Bus Terminal, walking trails span-out along the valley – suitable to anyone of reasonable fitness – before more advanced hiking and mountaineering trails lead into the mountains.
Considered the jewel of the Chubu Sangaku National Park, visiting Kamikochi is one of Nagano’s most memorable experiences – a truly special place of natural and spiritual importance.
22 / FOLLOW THE NAKASENDO TRAIL / best: May to November
Lying to the south of Matsumoto, the Nakasendo Trail traces a historic highway that once connected Tokyo – then called Edo – and Kyoto during the Edo Period (1603-1868). Though much of the route is now gone, several sections can still be walked including the picturesque ‘Kisoji’, the section of road that runs through the Kiso Valley. Serviced by many ‘juku’ or post towns, the Kisoji is known for the historic preservation of Narai-juku, Magome-juku and Tsumago-juku. These picturesque little towns are cared for by local residents who strive to maintain their traditional aesthetic and ways of life. The journey on-foot between the towns is a lovely experience – particularly in spring and autumn – and one that can be combined on your way to or from Myoko.
23 / TAKAYAMA & ONTO SHIRAKAWA-GO / best: May to November
We’re now getting quite far from Madarao but still in the region, the historic old town of Takayama and the World Hertiage-listed villages of Shirakawa-go and Gokayama are some of the most popular destinations in Central Japan. Open all year round, they are perhaps best experienced in the warmer months of spring, summer and autumn. Takayama is known for the excellent preservation of its historic town centre while the villages of Shirakawa-go and Gokayama were inscribed on the World Heritage list in 1995, bringing them global attention and recognition of their cultural importance, not just to Japan, but the world. Visiting these living cultural treasures of Japan is well-worth the effort.
24 / VISIT KARUIZAWA / all year round
As a stop on the Hokuriku Shinkansen Line, Karuizawa can easily be combined with a visit to Myoko. Many if not most visitors traveling to Myoko from Tokyo, will do so using the shinkansen to Joetsu-Myoko Station, allowing for a stop at Karuizawa Station. Known for its cool climate in summer and small ski resort in winter, Karuizawa is a popular escape for Tokyo-ites, including celebrities and the wealthy – many of whom have second homes in the mountain town. Home to a good number of fine restaurants and plenty of shopping, Karuizawa will tick the boxes for some visitors while really not appealing to others.
25 / JOIN THE FESTIVALS OF NAGANO / all year round
As the vibrant heart at the center of the prefecture, Nagano City is home to some of the region’s most exciting festivals and events. As mentioned above, chief among these is the Zenkoji Ometsando Illumination. Sharing a name with a popular shopping district in Tokyo, Omotesando (Pilgrim’s Path in Japanese) is a straight road leading from Nagano Station to the city’s most famous Temple, Zenkoji.
In November of each year, this path is illuminated on both sides. This is just the appetizer though, for the main course that comes in mid-December, when the temple itself is illuminated. Another, more recent addition to the Nagano City festive calendar is the Tomyo Fesitval. For this festival, the streets leading up to Zenkoji Temple are adorned with intricately designed paper lanterns. Among those contributing designs are school children, artists and other prominent local figures.
The event starts on the second weekend of February and lasts for one week. Finally, we come to one of the highlights of the year in Nagano, the Ebisu-ko Fireworks Festival. Taking place on November 23rd each year, over the course of the 2 hour event, around 15,000 individual fireworks are detonated, creating a display to rival the world’s best.
Given the time of year, don’t forget to wrap up warm, and perhaps bring some of your own food and drinks with you. Food and drink will be offered on site, but it may be expensive and you could be facing very long queues, with tens of thousands of people attending the event along the Sai River.
JAPAN SKI RESORTS: EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW
Did you know the resorts of Myoko are just some of the more than five hundred in Japan? Needless to say, when you choose Nagano for your winter getaway you are spoiled for choice! Our ‘Japan Ski Resorts’ page has everything you need to know to start planning your ski and snowboard adventure including: LATEST NEWS & DEALS, THE BEST RESORTS IN NAGANO & JAPAN, FAQs and of course OUR SKI PACKAGES, ACCOMMODATION, TRANSPORT & TOURS.
BOOK WITH US! NAGANO’S NO.1 TOUR & CHARTER OPERATOR
Locally-based and operating all year round, Snow Monkey Resorts is Nagano’s No.1 tour and charter operator. We have the local knowledge of where and when to go, to help you discover and enjoy the region’s many ski resorts and other fantastic destinations and activities.
For guests wanting to access the resorts in the comfort of their own transport, we can arrange a private tour or charter customised to fit your needs, starting and ending at any destination including from/to Nagano Station and any resort in the region. Our drivers and vehicles are fully certified, allowing us to transport you to and from your preferred destinations in combination with any activity that suits your schedule.
All vehicles are fitted with a protective screen – separating the driver from passenger and luggage area – and our drivers wear protective masks, allowing you to move between your destinations in comfort and safety.
We can arrange both private tours with an English-speaking guide or a private charter, including a private vehicle and driver but without a guide. We’d love to be part of that experience and help you discover even more!
Why choose us?
Awarded a 2019 TripAdvisor Travelers’ Choice Award for our 1-Day Snow Monkeys, Zenko-ji Temple & Sake Tour – recognised as one of the Top 10 Experiences in Japan – we have the local knowledge and experience to help you get the most out of your time in Nagano.
Got a question about visiting Myoko? Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org and let’s get planning together!