15 Things to Do Around Obuse & Where to Stay
Only 25 to 30-minutes by train from Nagano Station, Obuse is a small but historic town that offers an enjoyable morning or afternoon outing in combination with nearby destinations including the Jigokudani Monkey Park. On this page you will find the following information:
Once an important Edo Period (1603-1868) trading town, Obuse is a small historic town accessible using the Nagano Dentetsu (Nagaden) train line. Now known for its chestnut confectioneries, ‘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.
Located near the midpoint of the line between Nagano Station and Yudanaka Station, Obuse has enough to keep you entertained for a morning or afternoon. A long with the museum, it is home to many chestnut confectionaries, cafes and restaurants, along with miso and sake breweries. As such, Obuse is a great destination with the Jigokudani Monkey Park or activities in Nagano City.
WHERE IS OBUSE?
Obuse lies around 18KM / 30-minutes to the north-east of Nagano City. Running from Nagano Station to Yudanaka Station, the Nagano Dentetsu Line includes a stop at Obuse Station. Most limited express and local services stop at Obuse, making it easy to get to. Obuse Station is small and easy to navigate, located 10 to 15-minutes walk from the main are of town. The town is also small with enough to see and enjoy for a morning or afternoon but is unlikely to entertain you for an entire day, making it an ideal destination to combine with a visit to the Jigokudani Monkey Park, Yudanaka and Shibu Onsen and Nagano City – destinations that can all be accessed using the Nagano Dentetsu Line.
15 THINGS TO DO AROUND OBUSE & WHERE TO STAY
A small but historic town, Obuse is an ideal destination for a morning or afternoon, in combination with exploration of Nagano City, Yudanaka and Shibu Onsen or the Jigokudani Monkey Park. The Obuse Hokusai-kan Museum profiles the life and work of Japan’s most famous artist, Hokusai Katsushika, who spent some of his final years painting in Obuse. Indeed Obuse boasts his last great masterpiece, a rising phoenix on the ceiling of Ganshoin Temple while in more recent times, has become famous for its chestnut confectioneries and other tasty treats. Here’s our suggestion of what to do while there:
1 / EXPLORE HISTORIC OBUSE / all year round
Obuse has a wide variety of cultural and historical attractions for visitors to enjoy, such as art museums, temples, sake breweries, and lots of local souvenir shops. Just exploring the central part of the town would give you lots of insight in Japanese traditions. What’s especially unique and fun about this town is that many local residents open their private Japanese garden to visitors to walk through freely. There are also various souvenir shops that promote local foods and snacks, many with free samples. You can easily spend a half day walking around the town on your own pace. For more information, see our ‘Explore Obuse’ page.
2 / OBUSE HOKUSAI-KAN MUSEUM / all year round
If you are interested in Japanese art, the Obuse Hokusai-kan Museum will be your favourite place. Hokusai Katsushika (1760-1849), one of the Japan’s most prominent ukiyo-e artist from Edo period, was so inspired by scenic beauty of the town that he moved to Obuse to fully devote himself to his artwork. Obuse has a museum specifically dedicated to Hokusai’s artwork and exhibits a unique collection you can only witness there. You can also learn how Hokusai influenced international famous artists, such as Vincent van Gogh, and how Hokusai’s art style developed and changed over his life.
3 / ENJOY HOKUSAI’S LAST GREAT MASTERPIECE / all year round
Gansho-in Temple is a small temple located at the eastern edge of the town of Obuse, and very famous for the ceiling picture in its main hall. The picture’s name is ‘Happo-Nirami-Hoozu’ (all direction gaze of a phoenix) and was drawn by Hokusai in 1848 as the last masterpiece of his life before he passed away at the age of 90.
Hokusai devoted his whole life refining his art and to create a masterpiece he could be satisfied with. This phoenix is the culmination of his life and should not be missed if you are an art lover.
4 / TAKAI KOZAN MEMORIAL MUSEUM / all year round
Takai Kozan was the patron of Hokusai and he hosted Hokusai during his stay in Obuse. He was an artist himself as well as a renowned scholar and philosopher. The Takai Kozan Memorial Museum is located in the heart of the town, and exhibits his artworks and cultural collections in a Japanese traditional house.
He was particularly skilled at Sumi-e (ink brush painting), and was famous for drawing Yokai, Japanese mythical folk monsters. Kozan was also a one-time student of Hokusai, whose influence you can see reflected on Kozan’s artworks. A part of the museum was used as Hokusai’s atelier.
5 / ENJOY LOCAL ‘SAKE’ AT MASUICHI / all year round
Masuichi Sake Brewery was founded in the middle of the Edo Period in 1755 and since then it has been focused on sake production. Since its establishment, the brewery has not taken to expanding their production but retained its small size of production and brewery as their focus is has been on preservation of traditional know-how and the quality of its product. As you enter into the brewery, there is a bar counter where you can order samples of their products, and the staff will explain how to enjoy sake and the difference of each products.
6 / INDULGE IN OBUSE’S CHESTNUT CONFECTIONERIES / all year round
Obuse’s nickname is “the chestnut town” as the town is home to high quality chestnuts. Back in Edo period, their chestnut was favoured by the shogun (Japanese warlord) and was consecrated to the Tokugawa shogunate. The chestnut production still thrives and has been the main local industry. Every store in town has various chestnut products, such as chestnut ice cream, crepes, cakes, etc. The harvest season is from October to November, but the delicacies are available for purchase throughout the year.
7 / FRUIT-PICKING IN OBUSE / September to November
Another one of the town’s specialities are apples and grapes. If you are in the town from September to November, Nakajo Fruit Farm offers an opportunity to enjoy all-you-can-eat fruit-picking experience at reasonable prices. Japanese apples have gained an international reputation as high-quality, and fruit export is booming. Nagano’s fruits are especially regarded as popular, high-end products by Japanese as the region’s chilly climate and fertile mountainous soil provides the optimal environment for fruit to become juicy and sweet. Nakajo Fruit Farm’s orchard is located in the outskirt of the town centre, about a 10 minutes drive away from Obuse Station. It may be easiest to hire a taxi to get there. Note that the availability of fruit depends on season, so it’s best to check with the Farm beforehand.
8 / TAIKAN BONSAI MUSEUM / all year round
‘Bonsai’ is widely recognized as one of Japan’s most famous and popular traditional art and globally attracts many admirers. Taikan Bonsai Museum displays beautiful bonsai trees in a private setting. The owner of the museum, Shinji Suzuki, is one of the representative Bonsai artist of Japan. In the museum, bonsai trees are laid out so that visitors can see each tree from a 360-degree angle.
9 / ENJOY THE HOT SPRINGS OF YAMADA ONSEN / all year round
If you want to be completely away from tourist crowds and absorb local nature, it is recommended to stay in Yamada Onsen Village – around 25-minutes drive from Obuse Station. The village is located in the middle of the Matsukawa Valley and is directly connected with Obuse Town with one road at a drive of approximately 20 minutes away. The valley provides clean, fertile water to the farmlands nestled along the valley, and makes for a fully traditional picture of Japanese countryside. The village has different colours and activities; skiing in winter, cherry blossom in spring, hiking in summer, surroundings coloured by red, orange, and yellow in autumn, and 100% natural hot spring onsen throughout the year! Visiting the village can certainly be a great option if you want to be off the beaten path and are a nature lover!
10 / STAY AT A TRADITIONAL ‘RYOKAN’ / all year round
Fujiiso is the area’s top-rated Japanese luxurious ‘ryokan’ (traditional guesthouse) a has rooms with refined designs, a 100% natural hot spring bath (both indoor and outdoor), and Japanese cuisine made of fresh local ingredients. The ryokan building is built on a cliff overlooking the valley and you can enjoy a glorious view of nature from your room balcony. The ryokan would be a nice place to try your Japanese ryokan experience.
11 / UNWIND IN NEARBY HIDDEN HOT SPRINGS / all year round
Yamada Onsen, as it is named, is a hot spring village and has several communal bath houses in the village. ‘Takino-yu‘ (“yu” means hot spring in Japanese) is one of the most beautiful onsen set in nature of the region. It is a gender-mixed, stone-made, outdoor bath structure at the top of river gorge. Another bath house ‘Oyu’ is a more conservative choice as it is gender-separated, wooden-made, and has an indoor onsen located in the village centre. They are both 100% natural water, which means that the onsen bath is filled by pure volcanic water sprung directly from the source.
12 / GO WILD IN WINTER / January to April
Yamaboku Wild Snow Park is a small and cosy ski resort that is popular among local skiers. The resort has unique characteristics and is a must-go for powder hunters as the ski terrain is laid out in a way that skiers/snowboarders can cut through the groomed slope and go into the off-piste routes freely. The ski resort retains a nostalgic vibe of a authentic Japanese ski resort as they are run by the local community of Yamada Onsen. Highlight of this resort is getting on a single-person lift (very rare to find one) and glide down off-piste routes at your free will. A rental store is located at the base of the resort so no need of bring your own gear.
13 / ENJOY SOME OF NAGANO’S BEST BLOSSOMS / April
Yamada Onsen area is also famous for Japan’s traditional and cherry blossom-viewing in spring. Its cherry blossom sites are not big, crowded parks like Tokyo or Kyoto. Instead, there are several different spots in the area where a single big, old cherry blossom tree stands rooted in the earth which has been visited by locals for centuries. Hiking the route from one of these trees to another and enjoying the Japanese countryside in spring could be a memorable moment in your Japan trip. The cherry blossom season starts usually from mid to end of April.
14 / VISIT NAGANO’S FAMOUS HOT SPRING-LOVING MONKEYS / all year round
Though Obuse and Yamada Onsen are not the closest areas to the Jigokudani Monkey Park, it is a wise choice of accommodation if you want to avoid the busy & crowded Shibu & Yudanaka area. The Snow Monkey Park is easily accessible as a train runs from Obuse Station to the Snow Monkey area.
15 / EXPLORE YAMANOUCHI – HOME OF THE SNOW MONKEYS / all year round
Easily accessible from Obuse using limited express or local services on the Nagano Dentetsu Line, Yamanouchi is a rural enclave boasting multiple hot spring towns, ski resorts, farmlands and the always popular Jigokudani Monkey Park. Only 20-minutes by train, the historic hot spring towns of Yudanaka and Shibu Onsen are ideally-suited for visitors who want lots of accommodation options within easy reach of great destinations including Obuse, the monkeys, Shiga Kogen Ski Resort and the expansive Joshinetsu Kogen National Park. Our ‘Explore Yamanouchi – Home of the Snow Monkeys’ page has everything you need to entice you to visit and stay.
WHERE TO STAY WHEN VISITING OBUSE
The area in and around Obuse has a small number of guesthouses allowing visitors to stay nearby if they wish however given how quick and easy it is to reach the town from nearby Nagano City along with Yudanaka and Shibu Onsen, all of which have far more accommodation options, we recommend stay at one of those locations and using the train to visit Obuse as a morning or afternoon trip:
Obuse has a small number of guesthouses in and around town. Most are family-run and vary in quality and price. Guests wanting to enjoy a traditional guesthouse should look a little further a field to Yamada Onsen or Yudanaka and Shibu Onsen, all located around 30-minutes from central Obuse. For accommodation listings, see our ‘Obuse Area’ hotel page.
NAGANO CITY AREA
Only 25 to 20-minutes by train from Obuse, Nagano City boasts lots of accommodation options, most of which are centred around Nagano Station. The area immediately around the station has plenty of large hotels catering to international visitors. Prices for accommodation are typically good with many hotels offering Western-style rooms and amenities, in-house restaurants and English-speaking staff. Around 15 to 20-minutes walk from the station, the area around Zenko-ji Temple has smaller guesthouses including many ‘shukubo’ (temple lodgings) in the surrounding streets. For accommodation listings, see our ‘Nagano City Area’ hotel page. When staying in Nagano City we recommend:
HOTEL KOKUSAI 21
Located between Nagano Station and Zenko-ji Temple, Hotel Kokusai 21 is the city’s most established international hotel. Known for its blend of modern amenities and attentive Japanese service, Kokusai 21 offers guests spacious Western-style rooms with private bathrooms, multiple in-house restaurants including daily breakfast service and English-speaking 24-hour reception. Within easy walking distance of the station and the city’s most popular attractions and dining areas, Kokusai 21 offers unmatched comfort, convenience and professional service in the heart of Nagano.
Around 20-minutes by train from Obuse Station, the historic hot spring towns of Yudanaka and Shibu Onsen boast many guesthouses and small hotels, most of which have their own in-house ‘onsen’ (hot springs). Of the two towns, Shibu Onsen is the most picturesque, retaining much of its historic character in the preservation of its small laneways, traditional public and nine public hot springs. Yudanaka is less pretty but very convenient, with most accommodation within walking distance of Yudanaka Station. Staying in this area is a good option for guests wanting enjoy the comforts and cuisine of a traditional Japan inn, and visit nearby destinations including the Jigokudani Monkey Park, Shiga Kogen Ski Resort and Joshinetsu Kogen National Park. For accommodation listings, see our ‘Yamanouchi Area’ hotel page.
HOW TO GET TO OBUSE
Obuse Station is quick and easy to reach using the Nagano Dentetsu Line running from Nagano Station to Yudanaka Station. Our ‘How To Get To Obuse’ page has everything you need to know about making the journey from Nagano, the monkey park, Tokyo and beyond.
BOOK WITH US! NAGANO’S NO.1 TOUR & CHARTER OPERATOR
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 fantastic destinations including Obuse and beyond.
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 2022 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 and Central Japan.
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