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Visit Nagano: Everything You Need To Know

Visit Nagano: Everything You Need To Know

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Lying in the centre of Honshu, Japan’s largest island, Nagano is the country’s fourth largest prefecture. Completely landlocked, Nagano is known for its mountains, natural landscapes, liveability, abundant farmlands, wildlife and of course, many ski resorts. On this page you will find the following information:

Where is Nagano?

Recommended Highlights in Nagano City

40 Things to Do Around Nagano & Where to Stay

Dining & Drinking in Nagano City

Offers & Deals in Nagano

Getting To & From Nagano City

Book With Us! Nagano’s No.1 Tour & Charter Operator

Host of the 1998 Winter Olympics, Nagano is home to more than 80 ski resorts, several of which hosted events during the ’98 Games along with venues and arenas in Nagano City. Today, the region attracts visitors from all over world each winter to enjoy some of Japan’s best skiing and snowboarding at popular resorts including Shiga Kogen, Nozawa Onsen, Hakuba Valley and Togakushi – pictured below – the nearest resort to Nagano Station and located within the city boundary.

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Many if not most visitors to the region will pass through Nagano City at some point. As a convenient stop on the Hokuriku Shinkansen Line running from Tokyo to Kanazawa, Nagano Station is a primary transport hub and gateway to the region. Nagano’s most popular ski resorts can be accessed from the station while other popular nearby destinations including Togakushi, Matsushiro and the Jigokudani Monkey Park can be reached using public transport and tours from the station.

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Visitors to Nagano City will discover a pleasant and historic city with lots to offer. Boasting a near-1400 year history, Zenko-ji is the city’s spiritual heart and one of the oldest Buddhist temples in Japan. The nearby forests and mountains of Togakushi cradle some of the country’s most important Shinto shrines along with Togakushi Ski Resort, while nearby Matsushiro has a strong samurai heritage and open secret beneath its feet…

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With so much on offer, we hope we can entice you to visit and spend awhile in our home region of Nagano. Let’s start with the most obvious question:

WHERE IS NAGANO?


Nagano Prefecture is the centre Honshu, surrounded by the prefectures of Niigata, Gunma, Yamanashi, Shizouka, Aichi, Gifu, Ishikawa and Toyama. While it is the 4th largest prefecture in terms of size, Nagano ranks only 16th in terms of population and 38th in terms of population density out of Japan’s 47 prefectures. With a great standard of living and agreeable climate, Nagano is considered one of Japan’s most attractive regions to visit, live and work given its relative close proximity to major cities including Tokyo, Nagoya, Kyoto and Osaka.

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As the capital city of the prefecture, Nagano City is around 245km north-west of Tokyo (the city of Shiojiri lies in the approximate middle of Nagano, around 215km to the west of Tokyo). Nagano City is the largest and most populous urban area in the region. Boasting a long history including host city of the 1998 Olympics, Nagano is readily accessible from Tokyo and beyond via Nagano Station and as such, is one of Central Japan’s primary transport hubs.

RECOMMENDED HIGHLIGHTS IN NAGANO CITY


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One of Japan’s most livable and enjoyable cities, there’s plenty to enjoy when visiting Nagano. But like many of the more rewarding destinations, some of its most rewarding attractions are a little hidden, requiring a little research and a small amount of leg-work to find them. These are some of the highlights waiting to be discovered:

ZENKO-JI TEMPLE – NAGANO’S ANCIENT HEART

Zenko-ji temple in Nagano city

Founded in 642, Zenko-ji is one of the oldest and most important Buddhist temples in Japan. Under 20-minutes walk from the station, follow the city’s historic thoroughfare – the ‘Omotesando’ or ‘Pilgrim’s Way’ all the way to the temple. Along the way you will discover the many smaller temples, restaurants, cafes and shops that make Nagano is enjoyable to explore on-foot. Arriving at Zenko-ji, visitors discover one of the most welcoming and open temples in Japan.

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A morning ceremony takes place every day of the year, with visitors of all faiths and backgrounds welcome, with the temple also hosting several major festivals each year – see below for details. In every way, Zenko-ji is the spiritual and cultural heart of Nagano.


TOGAKUSHI – FOREST SHRINES & MOUNTAIN NINJAS

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Sitting quietly in the mountains bordering Nagano City, Togakushi is home to some of Japan’s most important Shinto shrines set among a beautiful forested landscape. The five major shrines that make-up the Togakushi complex are spaced-out at intervals through the forest and against the dramatic background of mountains rising above.

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Accessible via well-maintained walking tracks, Togakushi continues to draw Shinto practitioners and nature enthusiasts who revel in its tranquillity, beauty, and purity.

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On the literal doorstep of the city, Togkuashi is also home to the Togakure ninja school, Togakushi Ski Resort and famous for its ‘soba’ (buckwheat noodles), traditional bamboo craft and stunning autumn leaves making it an ideal destination when planning a day-trip from Nagano. Part of the larger, Myoko-Togakushi Renzan National Park, Togakushi can be reached using local bus services running from Nagano Station – a journey of around 45 to 70-minutes depending on your exact destination and the season you are visiting.


MATSUSHIRO – NAGANO CITY’S SAMURAI TOWN

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Around 12km to the south of central Nagano City, Matsushiro is a small town known firstly for its samurai heritage while also home to an open-secret beneath its feet. Once the stronghold of the ruling Sanada clan, Matsushiro was established as an important strategic base during the Sengoku (Warring States) Period and thriving domain of the samurai class during the latter Edo Period. Today, the town’s samurai heritage lives on many excellent Edo Period attractions including Matsushiro Castle Park, the former Sanada Residence and Bunbu Military Academy, other samurai residences, temples, shrines and museums.

Matsushiro Sanada festival

Yet it is what lies beneath Matsushiro that increasingly attracts as much attention as its heralded samurai past…


FESTIVALS OF NAGANO CITY

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Nagano City hosts a busy calendar of events throughout the year. Held from November to December, the ‘Zenko-ji Omotesando Illumination’ sees the city’s famous temple come to light and life, awash with colour as it and the ‘Omotesando’ (avenue leading to temple are lit-up in the cold winter night.

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The third Saturday of January sees Togakushi host its annual ‘Dondo-Yaki Festival’, an event that sees the local community come together for a quiet and welcoming fire festival with families and friends enjoying traditional snacks and food, fireworks and drum performances.

Togakushi Dondo-yaki

In the first week of February, the ‘Tomyo Lantern Festival’ again sees Nagano City’s historic temple come to light, as light installations and projects offer thanks to the Buddha – an important act in Buddhism – while also commemorating Nagano’s role as host to the 1998 Winter Olympics.

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With light installations in place in the ‘shukubo’ (temple lodgings) in the surrounding streets and hundreds of ‘kiri-e’ (cut paper lanterns) leading up to the temple, this is a subdued by beautiful festival in the heart of the city. The second Saturday of April sees Matsuhiro celebrate its beautiful blossoms with the ‘Matsushiro Spring Cherry Blossom Festival’ in and around the historic grounds of Matsushiro Castle Park.

Matsushiro Flower festival

Soon after, the ‘Nagano Marathon’ takes place in mid-April, with the city welcoming competitors from all over Japan and the world. In July, Nagano plays host to its annual ‘Gion Festival’ before one of the largest events in August – the ‘Binzuru Dance Festival’. The festival sees troupes of dancers take over the streets, totaling around 200 groups and thousands of onlookers. In the heat of summer, the festival attracts a big crowd and great atmosphere.

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The ‘Zenko-ji Summer Ennichi Festival’ takes place at the Nagano’s historic Zenko-ji Temple in mid-August. This event draws visitors from far and wide – a spectacular display of the continued importance of the temple to the people of Nagano.

Matsushiro Sanada festival

In October, Matsushiro plays host to its autumn ‘Sanada Clan Jumangoku Festival’ – a spectacular celebration of the town’s samurai heritage.Finally, in November, Nagano City hosts the stunning and huge ‘Ebisu-ko Fireworks Festival’.

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Attracting an estimated crowd of around 400,000 people, more than 15,000 fireworks explode in the crisp autumn sky in thanks for a good harvest and heralding the winter to come. Taking place in the last week of November, the fireworks farewell to autumn and welcome the coming snows of winter.


CELEBRATE NAGANO’S OLYMPIC HERITAGE

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Host of the 1998 Winter Olympic Games, Nagano is proud of its heritage and pedigree as one of Japan’s premier winter destintations. With multiple Olympic venues located in Nagano City – including M-Wave Arena and the Olympic Museum – visitors can relive and discover the Olympic spirit at any time of year. Of course, in winter, ski resorts that hosted Olympic events – including Shiga Kogen, Hakuba Valley and Nozawa Onsen – open for skiers and snowboarders to challenge themselves on the Olympic courses – most of which are clearly marked and waiting to test you.


CHERRY BLOSSOMS & AUTUMN LEAVES

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Visitors to Nagano can enjoy the stunning blossoms of spring at a couple of great spots in the city. Typically blooming from early-April onward, Joyama Park behind Zenko-ji Temple is known for the abundance and beauty of its blossom trees, while Matsushiro celebrates spring with its ‘Matsushiro Spring Cherry Blossom Festival’ in and around the historic grounds of Matsushiro Castle Park – see above for details.

For information about where to find the best blossoms, see our ‘Cherry Blossoms’ page. From October onward, Nagano City’s Togakushi area is regarded as one of Central Japan’s best viewing spots for autumn leaves.

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Known as ‘koyo’ in Japan, the autumn leaves colour the landscape all sahdes of yellow and red, amber and brown – a truly stunning sight and perhaps the most beautiful time of year in Nagano. For information about where to find the best spots, see our ‘Autumn Leaves in Nagano’ page.

40 THINGS TO DO AROUND NAGANO & WHERE TO STAY


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Known for its open landscape and pristine nature, Nagano has plenty to offer all year round. So if you’re headed this way and want to get the most out of your time here, our ’40 Things To Do Around Nagano & Where To Stay’ page has plenty of great suggestion of the destinations, activities and events on offer throughout the year and where to stay in or nearby the city.

DINING & DRINKING IN NAGANO


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Nagano is one of Japan’s true food bowls. Blessed with abundant pure water and fertile soil, the region produces some of Japan’s best fruit, vegetables, meat and rice – all of which can be enjoyed at the many restaurants in Nagano City.

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Local specialities include Shinshu beef, ‘soba’ (buckwheat) noodles, ‘oyaki’ (steamed buns), ‘basashi’ (horse), different types of ‘jibei’ (wild meats), ‘nozawana’ (a green-leaf vegetable), ‘wasabi’, ‘miso’ and some of Japan’s best rice, apples, grapes and peaches. For information about all the tasty treats of Nagano, please see our ‘Famous Food of Nagano’ page.

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Nagano is also Japan’s second-largest producers of ‘sake’. Known in Japan as ‘nihonshu’, enjoying a glass or bottle of sake while in the region is something of a must-do. Please see our ‘Enjoy Sake in Nagano’ page.

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Looking for a great place to eat or enjoy a drink in Nagano City? We recommend Monzen Terrace Enya, located under 2-minutes walk from Zenko-ji Temple and around 20-minutes walk to Nagano Station. Serving a mixed menu of both Japanese and Western cuisine, Enya is known for delicious menu, wide variety of drinks, friendly service and English-speaking staff. Enya also offers both indoor and outdoor dining making it the ideal restaurant to enjoy coffee, beer or local ‘sake’ after a day exploring the city.

OFFERS & DEALS IN NAGANO


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Operating all year round, Snow Monkey Resorts is based in Nagano and a registered travel agent. We are happy to offer our guests a range of services and great deals including packages and bookings under the national ‘Go To Travel’ campaign. We are also proud to partner with other local operators, hotels, restaurants and agencies in offering some great deals in Nagano – see our ‘Offers & Deals’ page for current promotions.

GETTING TO & FROM NAGANO CITY


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For detailed information regarding how to reach Nagano, see our ‘How To Get To Nagano City’ page. Several major train lines and services run to and from Nagano Station including:

HOKURIKU SHINKANSEN

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Running from Tokyo to Kanazawa, the Hokuriku Shinkansen line stops at Nagano Station, taking 80 to 110-minutes to reach Nagano from Tokyo Station amd around 85-minutes from Kanazawa Station, depending on which service you choose. The line also includes the following stops in Nagano Prefecture: Karuizawa / Sakuradaira / Ueda / Nagano / Iiyama / Joetsu-Myoko.


LIMITED EXPRESS SHINANO

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The Limited Express Shinano runs from Nagano to Nagoya via Matsumoto and several small stations providing access to Kiso Valley and the Nakasendo Trail. The line is known for its scenic beauty and takes around 180-minutes to reach Nagano from Nagoya Station and 50-mintes from Matsumoto Station.


NAGANO DENTETSU

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The Nagano Dentetsu line runs from Nagano Station to Yudanaka Station and is the primary train line for heading to the Yamanouchi area including the Jigokudani Monkey Park and Shiga Kogen Ski Resort. Nagaden also operates express bus services from Nagano Station to the monkey park and Shiga Kogen.


IIYAMA LINE

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The Iiyama Line runs from Nagano Station to Echigo-Kawaguchi, local services can be used to reach Iiyama Station – taking around 45-minutes – from where ski resorts including Nozawa Onsen and Madarao are accessible. Please note however that Iiyama Station is also a stop on the Hokuriku Shinkansen Line – a faster and more convenient service.

BOOK WITH US! NAGANO’S NO.1 TOUR & CHARTER OPERATOR


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Based in Nagano and operating all year round, we are a registered travel agent and the region’s No.1 -rated tour and charter operator. We have the expertise and experience to help you get the most out of your time in the region including any destination or activity listed above. We can package your trip to Nagano and Central Japan including group and private tours, ski packages, accommodation, private charters, restaurants, ticketing and more!

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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 interests and 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.

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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. 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 – whichever works best for you! 

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 – Snow Monkey Resorts is Nagano’s No.1 tour and charter operator.

Got a question about visiting Nagano? Contact us at snowmonkeyresorts@machinovate.com and let’s get planning together!

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