30 Things To Do Near Tokyo: Best Day-Trips & Overnight Getaways
As one of the world’s great and most influential cities, Tokyo offers visitors an endless choice of things to do – from the cultured and refined to the weird and obscure. Spoilt for choice, you could spend your entire visit exploring everything it has to offer – and intend, some people do just that – but sooner or later, everyone needs a break from the sprawl, congestion and neon of the capital.
Lying within easy reach of Tokyo – but in every other sense, a world away – Nagano and Central Japan offer the space, freedom and open landscapes that you won’t find in the city. Serviced by three shinkansen lines running to and from Tokyo – the Hokuriku Shinkansen running to Kanazawa via Nagano, the Joetsu Shinkansen running to Niigata via Echigo-Yuzawa, and the Tokaido Shinkansen running to Nagoya (and onto Kyoto and Osaka), many of the region’s most enjoyable destinations can be enjoyed as day-trips from Tokyo with others best-experienced as overnight or multi-day visits.
The following suggestions of 30 things to do near Tokyo are split into 15 day-trips and 15 overnight trips. We will touch on some destinations more than once, as they can be enjoyed as both day-trips and overnight stays, or combined into multi-day itineraries outside of Tokyo.
As COVID-19 continues to have an impact on travel in Japan, we have focused on getting outdoors and to open landscapes that can be enjoyed with some space. When a destination is popular and likely to be busy, we have tried to suggest ways to avoid the crowds. In the leadup to the Olympic Games in Tokyo in 2021, we hope that the following information assists in planning your visit to Japan.
Based in Nagano, we are a registered travel agent, tour and charter operator. Operating all year round and covering all (but not limited to) the destinations listed on this page, we can book and package your trip to Nagano and Central Japan including tours, accommodation, private transports, tickets, restaurants and more – scroll to the bottom of the page for details.
OK… Let’s start with our suggestion of 15 day-trips into Central Japan from Tokyo. The following destinations can be easily reached using trains running to and from the capital (some destinations require transfer between lines or to buses), and returning on the same day:
1 / MOUNT FUJI / all year round
Rising almost 4km above sea level, Mount Fuji is an unmissable sight. Equally imposing as it is beautiful, the mountain can be seen for great distances and from endless angles. Some of the most beautiful views of Fuji can occur from the most unexpected and mundane places – a convenience store car park or while driving or walking along a nameless suburban street.
Many visitors to the area want that classic photo of Fuji, set against a reflective lake or behind a tranquil temple. In that regard, these are three of the best locations from where to view and photograph Mount Fuji:
1 / Kawaguchiko: as one of the ‘Fuji Five Lakes’, the huge expanse and shoreline of Kawaguchiko offers outstanding views of Fuji – pictured above – see below for details.
2 / Chureito Pagoda: located nearby Shiomyoshida Station, Chureito Padoga is part of Arakura Sengen Shrine. To reach the pagoda, visitors must ascend a long and somewhat trying stone staircase of almost 400 stairs but in doing so, move above the town below and to a fantastic view of Fuji.
3 / Oshino Hakkai: is a reconstructed traditional village centred around eight naturally occurring ponds, fed by the snowmelt each spring, and on clear days, offering outstanidng views of the mountain in the background.
All three destinations above can be enjoyed as easy day-trips from Tokyo. Visitors wanting to climb the mountain will need to do so as an overnight trip – see below for details. For more tips of things to do nearby Fuji, see our ’30 Things To Do Around Mount Fuji & Central Japan’ page.
2 / KAWAGKUCHI-KO & ITCHIKU KUBOTA MUSEUM / all year round
Kawaguchiko or ‘Kawaguchi Lake’ is one of five large bodies of water making-up Fujigoko or the ‘Fuji Five Lakes’. Of the five, Kawaguchiko is the easiest to access using public transport and offers the most attractions around its shores. On a fine day, the views of Fuji from Kawaguchiko are truly fantastic and based on that reputation, the area surrounding Kawaguchiko has been developed with hotels and guesthouses, restaurants and cafés, museums, shops, markets and more. Kawaguchiko is worth visiting regardless of season with each of year framing the imposing mountain in different colours and light.
Kawaguchi-ko can be enjoyed as a day-trip or overnight getaway, with many hotels and guesthouses offering outstanding views of the mountain, For accommodation listings around Kawaguchiko, please refer to our ‘Kawaguchiko (Kawaguchi Lake) Onsen Area’, hotel page.
While there, make sure to visit the Itchiku Kubota Art Museum. The museum profiles the work and life of celebrated textile artist Itchiku Kubota and consists of the main exhibition building, the Gaudi-esque ‘New Wing’ building, two cafes and a landscaped garden.
The main building – a pyramid-shaped timber structure – displays Kubota’s ‘Symphony of Light’, an exquisite series of kimono with further information and video presentations of this life and work. The museum also includes Kubota’s private collection of artworks including his collection of glassware and beads, from around the world. For more tips of things to do nearby Fuji, see our ’30 Things To Do Around Mount Fuji & Central Japan’ page.
3 / FUJI Q HIGHLAND / all year round
Want to get the adrenaline pumping? Then you need to head to Fuji-Q Highland. Located in the shadow of Mount Fuji, Fuji-Q Highland is one of Japan’s most popular amusement parks and home to its best rollercoasters.
The park boasts four main rollercoasters: 1. Fujiyama – once the world’s fastest and tallest and still one of the best; 2. Dodonpa – said to have the fastest acceleration of any rollercoaster in the world; 3. Takabisha – the steepest rollercoaster in the world; and 4. Eejanaika – the park’s ‘4th dimension’ rollercoaster, with rotating seats within the car.
The park includes other rides including those suited to children along with mazes and other attractions. For the younger kids, ‘Thomas Land’ is based on the popular Thomas the Tank series. Restaurants, gift shops and the Highland Resort Hotel and Spa are also available. An easy day-trip from Tokyo. For more tips of things to do nearby Fuji, see our ’30 Things To Do Around Mount Fuji & Central Japan’ page.
4 / HAKONE: HOT SPRINGS & GREAT VIEWS OF FUJI / all year round
Easily accessible from Toyo, Hakone is one of Japan’s most famous hot spring areas. Set amongst the beautiful landscape of the national park and often enjoying outstanding views of Mount Fuji, the numerous onsen of the region have long been visited by those seeking beauty and relaxation.
Hakone boasts many attractions including the Hakone Open-Air Museum, Ashinoko (Ashi Lake), the Hakone Tozan Railway, a couple of ropeways along with many fantastic hot spring guesthouses. A visit to Hakone can be enjoyed as a day-trip from Tokyo or – our recommendation – as an overnight visit, allowing you to enjoy one of its many outstanding hotels and guesthouses. For tips and suggestions of what to do while there, see our ’10 Things To Do In Hakone’ page and for accommodation listings in the area, see our ‘Hakone Onsen Area’ hotel page.
5 / SUNTORY HAKUSHU WHISKEY DISTILLERY / all year round
Sitting in the shadow of the South Japan Alps, the Suntory Hakushu Distillery produces some of Japan’s finest whisky and some of the most sought-after in the world. Established in 1973, the pristine water flowing from the mountains are ideal for producing whiskey and since its opening, Hakushu has won numerous international awards.
The distillery is set within extensive and attractive grounds with multiple buildings including the distillery itself, a museum, large tasting and event hall and restaurant. Multiple daily tours of the distillery are available – including a tasting at the end – with a range of other options and personalised tours also available. To reach Suntory Hakushu takes just over two hours by using the Limited Express Azusa from Shinjuku Station to Kobuchizawa Station, from where Suntory operate a shuttle bus to the distillery.
6 / KARUIZAWA: MOUNTAIN RESORT TOWN / all year round
A stop on the Hokuriku Shinkansen Line running from Tokyo to Kanazawa, Karuizawa is a popular mountain resort town offering reasons to visit throughout the year.
The expansive Karuizawa Prince Shopping Plaza is popular throughout the year, while the old town of Karuizawa boasts quaint charm and some fantastic restaurants. In winter, Karuizawa Prince Hotel Snow Resort attracts many visitors from Tokyo who flock to the small resort for its convenience and great hotels and eateries. In fact Karuizawa can lay claim to being the only town in the world to have hosted events in both summer (Tokyo 1964) and winter (Nagano 1998) Olympic Games. For tips, suggestions and reasons you should visit Karuizawa , please see our ‘25 Things to Do In & Around Karuizawa’ page.
Karuizawa can be enjoyed as an easy day-trip from Tokyo or as an overnight visit, which allows visitors to also head onto Kusatsu Onsen – one of Japan’s most famous hot spring towns – see below for details. For accommodation listings, see our ‘Karuizawa Area’ hotel page.
7 / NAGANO CITY: GATEWAY TO CENTRAL JAPAN / all year round
Another stop on the Hokuriku Shinkansen Line, Nagano City is most famous as host of the 1998 Winter Olympics. As such, it is the ideal launching point from where to access many of Japan’s best ski resorts – see below for details.
For day-trippers to Nagano, you can enjoy the city’s near-1400 year old Zenkoji Temple – one of the oldest and most important Buddhist temples in Japan, along with nearby Togakushi, home to some of Japan’s most important Shinto Shrines and Togakure ninjas, or for the samurai-fans, the historic hamlet of Matsushiro is only 30-minutes from the station by local bus.
A destination in its own right, Nagano is our home and gateway to the Central Japan including the nearby Jigokudani Monkey Park – see below for details – and many other great destinations. We recommend staying at least one night to enjoy everything on offer, but if time is tight, a tour with us while here is a great way to enjoy some of the highlights that define the region before heading back to Tokyo on the same day – see below for details.
For accommodation listings around Nagano, please refer to our ‘Nagano City Area’, hotel page.
In spring and autumn, heading to Nagano for a day or overnight trip from Tokyo offers visitors the chance to enjoy some of Central Japan’s best cherry blossoms – typically in bloom in April – and autumn leaves – from October to November (some areas turn earlier given the higher elevation of the mountains).
While Tokyo might boast more famous blossom-viewing sites, they are also very crowded. Heading to Nagano for the blossoms allows visitors to enjoy them without the crowds and in combination with some of the region’s great attractions including the monkeys – see below for details of our 1-Day Snow Monkeys & Cherry Blossoms in Nagano Tour. For more information of when to come and where to go, see our ‘Cherry Blossoms’ page.
In autumn, Nagano and Central Japan are at their most stunning, as the leaves turn and the mountains and forests are transformed into a mosaic of red, gold, amber and brown. If you’re coming for a day-trip, we recommmend heading to Togakushi – home of some of Japan’s most beautiful autumn leaves. For further details, see our ‘Autumn Leaves in Nagano’ page.
8 / JIGOKUDANI MONKEY PARK / all year round
Under 1-hour from central Nagano City (or around 3 hours from central Tokyo), the Jigokudani Monkey Park is one of Central Japan’s most unique experiences. Most famous for their hot spring-loving antics of winter, the monkeys in fact come to the park throughout the year and are just as comfortable there through spring, summer and autumn.
With no barriers between you and the monkeys, it’s a rare opportunity to walk through and around a wild troop of macaques, best known as the only troop in the world to have taught themselves to bathe in hot springs – something they learnt by watching humans! You are most likely to see this behaviour during the deep cold and snow of winter, however no matter the time of year, some monkeys love a dip with the cherry blossoms and baby monkeys of spring, lush green and cool escape of summer, and beautiful leaves and late warmth of winter attracting visitors to the park all year round.
For visitors wanting to visit the park as a day-trip from Tokyo, we offer a range of group tours starting and finishing at Nagano Station – see below for details. For accommodation listings near the park, see our ‘Yamanocuhi Area – Home of the Snow Monkeys’ hotel page.
9 / TOURS WITH SNOW MONKEY REORTS / all year round
Operating throughout the year, our group tours start and finish at Nagano Station, with times coordinated with the shinkansen timetable to and from Tokyo, allowing visitors to join us for the day and the head back to the capital:
Some of our most popular tours include:
Snow Monkeys, Zenko-ji Temple & Sake Tour: enjoy a morning exploration of Nagano’s near-1400 year old temple, followed by sake tasting and lunch, and early afternoon visit to the monkey park – all led by a local-based guide.
Snow Monkeys & Snow Fun in Shiga Kogen: from December to March, enjoy a morning of snow fun activities in Japan’s largest resort – Shiga Kogen – including lunch, before heading to the monkey park for an early afternoon visit – all led by a local-based guide.
Snow Monkeys & Cherry Blossoms in Nagano: in spring, enjoy a morning visit to the monkey park followed by lunch and afternoon of cherry blossom-viewing at some of Nagano’s most beautiful blossom spots – all led by a local-based guide.
These are just three of our most popular groups! For a complete listing of what’s on offer, see our ‘Tours’ page and remember, accommodation can be added to all tours along with the option of a private tour or charter – scroll to the bottom of the page for details.
10 / YUDANAKA & SHIBU ONSEN / all year round
Visitors heading to the park by themselves will be moving to and from the Yamanouchi region of Nagano – home of the snow monkeys! While there, make sure to check-out the historic hot spring towns of Shibu Onsen and Yudanaka Onsen. Walking the quiet streets of Shibu transports you back in time with the town retaining lots of its historic character including nine public ‘onsen’. Though called public, only one – Bath No.9 – can be used by day-visitors, meaning the town is best experienced by staying at one of its many guesthouses.
Upon check-in at any guesthouse, you will be given a key that unlocks all nine bathhouses and of course, most accommodation have their own in-house hot springs. If you’re looking to experience a traditional onsen town while in Japan, and all within easy access of the monkey park, we recommend staying at Shibu Onsen or Yudanaka Onsen. For accommodation listings, see our ‘ Yamanouchi Area – Home of the Snow Monkeys’ hotel page.
11 / HISTORIC OBUSE & THE HOKUSAI MUSEUM / all year round
Located mid-way between the monkey park and Nagano City, Obuse is a small but historically important town with a variety of attractions including temples, museums, sake breweries and chestnut confectionaries. Popular with Japanese visitors, the town is busy on weekends and holidays, most famous for its tasty chestnut treats and as home to the Hokusai Museum.
Showcasing the life and work of Japan’s most famous artist, Katsushika Hokusai, the museum is small by highly engaging with regularly rotating exhibitions intended to allow visitors to see a large amount of his work overtime. Hokusai spent some of his final years residing and painting in Obuse, which boasts what is considered his last great masterpiece – ‘The Phoenix Staring in Eight Directions’ – on the ceiling of a local temple.
Obuse is best enjoyed in combination with a visit to the monkeys and/or other destinations in Nagano City – and can be enjoyed as a day-visit from Tokyo. For more information about what’s on offer in Obuse, see our ‘15 Things To Do In Obuse & Yamada Onsen’ page.
12 / TATEYAMA-KUROBE ALPINE ROUTE / April to November
Heralded as one of Japan’s best experiences, traversing the Tateyama-Kurobe Alpine Route takes approximately 6 hours without allowing for time to stop and enjoy all of its stunning sights. In reality, undertaking a visit to the Alpine Route is therefore a full-day activity and is best enjoyed as an overnight trip, however if your itinerary is tight, it can be done as day-trip from Tokyo.
Open from mid-April to mid-November, the Alpine Route is most famous for its immense snow walls which, at their peak, ascend 20 meters above the road below. The walls are at their best from the opening day in April until late-June, after which outstanding hiking is available through summer and autumn, climaxing with stunning autumn colours in October until the route closes again in November.
To do so, take the Hokuriku Shinkansen to Nagano Station – 80 to 110 minutes depending on which service you choose – and once in Nagano, head to Ogizawa Station by bus, taxi or tour – around 60 minutes.
A series of mountain transports including trolley buses, cable cars, and a ropeway will then transport you to Murodo Station – which at 2540 meters is the highest station in Japan – before you descend back down for the return journey to Tokyo. You need around 6 hours to enjoy the Alpine Route making a long but rewarding day from Tokyo – see below for suggestions re: an overnight/multi-day trip to the Alpine Route and Toyama.
Want to visit Tateyama and head back to Tokyo on the same day? Our 1-Day Snow Walls of Tateyama-Kurobe Alpine Route Tour is available from May to June. Starting and ending at Nagano Station, the tour coincides with shinkansen arrivals and departures to Tokyo, allowing guests to join us on the morning of the tour and head straight back afterward. We’d love to have you join us!
13 / MATSUMOTO CASTLE & CITY ART MUSEUM / all year round
Located in the shadow the North Japan Alps, Matsumoto is a small historic city best-known for its castle. As a registered National Treasure, Matsumoto Castle is without doubt the beacon that draws visitors to the city but once here, you’ll discover a lovely little town with plenty to keep you entertained for a day.
One of the last remaining original castles, Matsumoto is one of Central Japan’s most striking and important cultural assets. Once a wealthy merchant town, areas of Matsumoto retain its historic charm interspersed with modern development which caters to a burgeoning arts, music and food scene including Matsumoto City Art Museum and Kusama Yayoi collection.
Matsumoto is easily accessible using the Limited Express Asuza service from Shinjuku Station – taking around 2.5 hours each way – putting it within reach as a day-trip or excellent option for an overnight or multi-day getaway, from where you can launch yourself into the North Japan Alps – the highest mountain range in Japan – see below for details.
For tips and suggestions of what to do in Matsumoto, see our ’25 Things To Do In & Around Matsumoto’ page, and for accommodation listings, see our ‘Matsumoto Area’ hotel page.
14 / NAGANO SKI RESORTS: DAY-TRIPS FROM TOKYO / December to April
Another experience best enjoyed as a multi-day visit, visitors with limited time can still head to Nagano to enjoy one of the region’s many outstanding ski resorts and return on the same day. The nearest and easiest to reach of the Nagano resorts is Karuizawa Prince Hotel Snow Resort – which is within 5 to 10-minutes drive of Karuizawa Station, and as such, within 90-minutes of Tokyo Station.
While pleasant, the resort is however small and best-suited to beginners. Intermediate and advanced skiers and boarders won’t find a lot of entertain them in Karuizawa therefore we suggest heading onto Nagano Station from where Shiga Kogen – Japan’s largest resort – is accessible using the express bus service – a total of around 3-hours from Tokyo – or alternatively, use the express bus from Nagano Station to the resorts of Hakuba Valley – between 2.5 to 3-hours from Tokyo.
Another option is to stay on the shinkansen past Nagano, to the next stop – Iiyama Station. From Iiyama, an express bus runs to nearby Nozawa Onsen Snow Resort or local bus services run to Madarao Mountain Resort – also putting both resorts within 2.5 to 3-hours of Tokyo.
Of course, if you have the time we encourage you to stay and enjoy the resorts to their fullest on a multi-day visit.
15 / YUZAWA: SNOW, SAKE & HOT SPRINGS / all year round
Finally, our last recommended day-trip from Tokyo is to the hot spring and ski resort town of Yuzawa in Niigata. A convenient stop on the Joetsu Shinkansen Line running from Tokyo to Niigata City, Echigo-Yuzawa Station can be beached in around 85-minutes from the capital. In winter, shinkansen services run directly to Gala-Yuzawa Station, which sits directly beneath the ski resort of Gala Yuzawa.
For this reason, Gala is hugely popular with Tokyo residents and while the ease of access will appeal to many visitors, just be aware that the resort becomes very crowded and weather conditions can make the conditions icy and poor. For that reason, we recommend heading to the resorts of Nagano – a little bit further but worth the effort. Please note, if you want to ski/snowboard in Yuzawa, resorts in the area are typically open from mid-December until the end of March (depending on snow conditions).
Outside of winter, Yuzawa offers a nice escape from Tokyo with its ropeway, alpine garden, hot springs, restaurants and ‘sake’ bars offering respite from the congestion of the capital.
For suggestions of what to do while in Yuzawa, see our ’15 Things To Do in Yuzawa & Niigata’ page and for accommodation listings, see our ‘Yuzawa Area’ hotel page.
Having considered what’s on offer in Central Japan as day-trips, let’s turn our attention to 15 overnight and multi-day getaways from Tokyo in Central Japan. Noting that some of the following will expand on destinations already discussed, let’s start with the obvious one:
16 / NAGANO SKI RESORTS: MULTI-DAY GETAWAYS / December to April
If you’re visiting Tokyo in winter and looking to enjoy some of the world’s best powder and welcoming ski resorts, then it’s time to head to Nagano! As discussed above, several of the region’s resorts can be enjoyed as day-trips but if you have the time, are best enjoyed over several days. As Japan’s largest ski resort, we recommend heading to Shiga Kogen.
Shiga offers visitors and unmatched expanse of interconnected ski fields, Japan’s highest ski runs, Nagano’s longest season and most reliable powder – and all within easy reach of Nagano Station and Jigokudani Monkey Park.
Based in Nagano, we partner with hotels in Shiga Kogen in offering ski packages including transport, accommodation, lift passes and a range of optional add-ons including tours to the monkeys.
By extending your stay in Nagano, you can access more ski fields with the option of combining mutliple resorts including the resorts of Hakuba Valley including Happo-One, Hakuba Goryu & 47, Iwatake, Tsugaike, and Hakuba Cortina & Norikura, the nearby resorts of Nozawa Onsen and Madarao, or the more distant but easily accessible resorts of Myoko Kogen.
17 / ENJOY AN OVERNIGHT ‘ONSEN’ GETAWAY / all year round
Nagano and the wider region of Central Japan is blessed with countless natural hot springs and some of Japan’s most famous ‘onsen’ towns. Whether you are visiting Japan for the first time or are a seasoned veteran of these shores, enjoying an overnight getaway at one of the region’s many fantastic hot spring guesthouses is one of the most quintessential Japanese experiences and the best way to escape the commotion of Tokyo.
Our ‘Onsen In & Around Nagano’ page has everything you need to know about choosing where to go, what’s involved in enjoying a hot spring, and what to expect when staying at a ‘ryokan’ (traditional guesthouse).
With so many to choose from, it’s hard to know where to start however we always recommend spending a night in Yamanouchi – Home of the Snow Monkeys and the onsen towns of Kanbayashi, Shibu and Yudanaka.
Within easy reach of Tokyo via Nagano City, the hot springs of Yamanouchi can be enjoyed all year round. Our ‘Visit the Best Onsen Towns in Central Japan’ page includes lots of information about these and other towns in the region, including on of Japan’s most famous hot spring towns…
18 / KUSATSU ONSEN (VIA KARUIZAWA) / all year round
Accessible by bus from Karuizawa Station, Kusatsu Onsen is one of Japan’s most famous hot spring towns. Fed by the volcanic waters of Mount Shirane, the town is instantly recognisable to most Japanese due to its iconic ‘yubatake’ or ‘Hot Water Field’, that cools the thermal water before feeding it into the town’s many onsen guesthouses.
While Karuizawa can be enjoyed as a day-trip from Tokyo, to get the most out your time in nearby Kusatsu requires at least an overnight stay at one of its many hot spring guesthouses. Doing so over a one or two nights allows visitors to enjoy the best the area has to offer including what’s on offer in Kusatsu and Karuizawa including nearby Mount Asama – one of Japan’s most active volcanoes and home to the unique Onioshidashi Volcanic Park.
For further suggestions and reasons to visit Kusatsu, please refer to our ‘25 Things To Do In & Around Kusatsu Onsen’ page. For accommodation listings, see our ‘Kusatsu Onsen Area’ hotel page.
19 / KISO ONTAKE MOUNTAIN RANGE & KISO VALLEY (VIA NAGOYA OR NAGANO) / all year round
The Kiso Ontake Mountain Range runs through the very center of Japan and dominated by Mount Ontake, Ontake is the second tallest volcano in Japan – behind Fuji – with an elevation of 3,067m. The region is blessed with rare beauty, typified by its lush forests, stunningly coloured rivers, rushing waterfalls, and picturesque towns and villages spread through the area.
The attractions Kiso Ontake Mountain Range include the fabled Nakasendo Trail – see blelow, the Ontake Ropeway, the Shirakawa Ice Pillars and numerous forest trails leading to stunning rivers and gorges – one of Central Japan’s less-visited but most remarkable enclaves.
Most famously, the Nakasendo Trail runs through this region including the best-preserved post towns of Narai, Magome and Tsumago. An area known as ‘Kiso-ji’, it has long been famous for its timber industry including traditional crafts and lacquerware. Readily accessible from Tokyo using the Tokaido Shinkansen to Nagoya and then the Limited Express Shinano onto a local station, the Kiso Ontake Mountain Range offers many reasons to visit in each season. The region is best enjoyed on a multi-day visit from Tokyo.
For tips and suggestions of what’s on offer in the area, see our ’25 Things To Do Around the Nakasendo & Kiso Valley’ page and for accommodation listings, see our ‘Kiso-Fukushima Area’ hotel page.
20 / WALK THE HISTORIC NAKASENDO (VIA NAGOYA OR NAGANO) / all year round
During Japan’s Edo Period (1603 to 1868) the Nakasendo was one of five major routes linking Kyoto to the new capital of Tokyo, then called ‘Edo’. Stretching over 500 kilometres between the two cities, the name Nakasendo translates as ‘中/naka = middle; 山 / sen = mountain; 道 / do = road’, or the ‘Road Through the Mountains’. Today, the hiking route known as the ‘Nakasendo Trail’ or ‘Nakasendo Way’ follows the historic road, transporting those who walk it through both pace and time and deep into the heart of Japan.
Sections of the trail can be walked to this day, with the most beautiful section passing through the Kiso Valley. Blessed with the beautifully preserved ‘postal towns’ of Narai, Magome and Tsumago. The trail can be walked any time of year however we recommend spring and autumn to coincide with the cherry blossoms and stunning autumn leaves. These are the most popular seasons for walking the trail so make sure to book your accommodation well in advance.
Walking the Nakasendo is best enjoyed as a multi-day itinerary, which can be easily combined with other great destinations in Kiso Ontake or nearby Matsumoto, Nagoya or Nagano City. For tips and suggestions of what’s on offer in the area, see our ’25 Things To Do Around the Nakasendo & Kiso Valley’ page and for accommodation listings, see our ‘Kiso-Fukushima Area’ hotel page.
21 / ENJOY A RURAL GETAWAY IN AZUMINO (VIA MATSUMOTO) / all year round
No matter how much you love Tokyo, before long – usually sooner rather than later – most people need to get out and have a break. Located just down the line from Matsumoto City, Azumino is a beautiful rural enclave in the shadow of the North Alps – the perfect place for a country getaway.
Home to scenic farmlands producing some of Nagano’s best fruit and vegetables, exploring Azumino through summer and autumn is a great way to enjoy the harvest including fruit-picking at one of the many local farms.
In recent years, a number of galleries and museums have opened in the area with restaurants and cafes complementing them perfectly. Cycling around the area from Hotaka Station is a great way to take in the atmosphere of the Azumino – just one of the many outdoor activities in the area. With great hot spring guesthouses and within easy reach of Matsumoto City, the Tateyama-Kurobe Alpine Route and Kamikochi – see below for details – Azumino is an ideal destination for a multi-day escape to Central Japan.
For more tips and suggestions, see our ’20 Things To Do In & Around Azumino’ page. For accommodation listings in the area, see our ‘Hotaka Onsen-kyo Area’ hotel page.
22 / KAMIKOCHI (VIA MATSUMOTO OR NAGANO) / April to November
Accessible via Matsumoto or Nagano City, Kamikochi is one of Central Japan’s most rewarding experiences. 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. For accommodation listings in and around Kamikochi, please see our ‘Kamikochi Area’ hotel page.
23 / TAKAYAMA & SHIRAKAWA-GO (VIA KAMIKOCHI) / all year round
Visitors heading to Kamikochi should consider tying the visit into two more of Central Japan’s most rewarding destinations – this historic old town of Takayama and World Heritage-listed villages of Shirakawa-go and Gokayama.
Descending from Kamikochi on the western-side of the mountain range, Takayama is around 60-minutes drive and a hugely popular destination famous for the preservation of its Edo Period (1603-1868) historic centre. Considered one of the best preserved Edo Period townscapes in Japan, Takayama can be busy during the day but is still worth exploring – especially if you do so in the morning or late afternoon and wander down some of the less busy streets.
Takayama is equally well-known for its food culture including Hida beef – considered some of the best in Japan – and its famous beef sushi, Takayama ramen and more! For foodies, Takayama is a real treat. If you have your eye on a particular restaurant, make sure to book in advance! For accommodation listings, see our ‘Takayama City Area’ hotel page.
An hour on from Takayama, the picturesque villages of Shirakawa-go and Gokayama were inscribed on the World Heritage list in 1995. Actually consisting of three villages, they are known for their distinctive ‘gassho-style’ thatch-roofed houses set in a beautiful alpine setting of rice fields and high mountains above.
World Heritage-listing has ensured that the villages are hugely popular with both domestic and international tourists but don’t let that put you off.
The villages are well-worth visiting and walking away for the central area of the main village of Ogimachi, will quickly have you unencumbered by other visitors.
If you really want to avoid the crowds, consider heading to the other villages of Suganuma and Ainokura. Much smaller than Ogimachi they are also far less visited and offer a peaceful experience of these important rural hamlets. For accommodation listings, see our ‘Shirakawa-go & Gokayama Area’ hotel page.
24 / TOYAMA (VIA THE TATEYAMA-KUROBE ALPINE ROUTE) / April to November
As discussed above, the Tateyama-Kurobe Alpine Route can be undertaken as a day-trip from Tokyo by ascending and descending on the Nagano-side of the mountain range*. Perfectly enjoyable as a day-trip, it is however a long day when coming from Tokyo therefore we recommend enjoying the Alpine Route on a multi-day visit, allowing you to traverse the entire route and descend on the Toyama-side of the North Alps.
Starting from Ogizawa Station on the Nagano-side, mountain transports carry you up to Murodo Station from where you can walk under the immense Snow Walls (at their most grand from mid-April to June) or walk the leisurely trails that span-out from the station (June to November), including a more serious hike to the summit of Tateyama – one of Japan’s three sacred mountains.
Staying atop Tateyama at one of several hotels around Murodo Station is a great way to experience one of Japan’s most beautiful alpine landscapes and renowned starscape at night before heading down the Toyama-side of the mountain to Tateyama Station, from where it’s quick onward journey to Toyama.
Located near the coast and fertile fishing grounds of Toyama Bay, the city and region is best known for its seafood – considered some of the best in Japan – which is best enjoyed at coastal markets or one of the city’s many fine restaurants.
Visitor’s to Toyama will discover a pleasant and modern city, often overlooked by international visitors but rewarding for anyone who stays and a convenient launching point from where to explore the region.
A stop on the Hokuriku Shinkansen Line, it’s a quick journey from Toyama onto Kanazawa or should you wish to head back to Tokyo, a direct return journey to the capital. For tips and suggestions of things to do in Toyama, see our ’25 Things To Do In & Around Toyama’ page, and for accommodation listings, see our ‘Toyama Area’ hotel page.
Please note, Toyama Station is a stop on the Hokuriku Shinkansen Line running from Tokyo to Kanazawa, meaning that visitors from Tokyo can head directly to the city and should they wish to, traverse the Alpine Route from the Toyama-side to the Nagano-side and back to Tokyo from Nagano Station.
25 / KANAZAWA, FUKUI & THE NORTH COAST / all year round
From Tokyo, the engaging city of Kanazawa can be approached multiple ways. The most direct route is using the Hokuriku Shinkansen, for which Tokyo Station and Kanazawa Station act as the terminals – 150 to 190-miuntes depending on which service you choose. Alternatively, visitors heading from Tokyo to Kamikochi and onto Takayama and Shirakawa-go, can easily then head onto Kanazawa by bus, and for visitors heading to the Tateyama-Kurobe Alpine Route and onto Toyama – another stop on the Hokuriku Shinkansen Line – it’s only a 20-minute train ride onto Kanazawa.
However you get there, Kanazawa is one of Japan’s most pleasant and historic cities boasting an attractive mix of historic areas, modern museums and great food. Part of the ancient Kaga Province, the name Kanazawa literally translates as ‘marsh of gold’. Today, Kanazawa remains a city of historic districts and modern entertainments. From the centrally-located Kanazawa City, it is a pleasant city to explore on-foot.
Attractions include one of Japan’s most famous gardens, Kenrokeun, along with Kanazawa Castle Park and the historic districts of Nagamachi and Higashi Chaya. Kanazawa boasts many excellent museums and galleries and a terrific food scene including one of Japan’s best seafood markets, Omicho. For tips and suggestions of everything on offer, see our ’25 Things To Do In & Around Kanazawa’ page and for accommodation listings, see our ‘Kanazawa Area’ hotel page.
From Kanazawa, it’s an easy onward journey to the neighbouring prefecture of Fukui. Often overlooked by international visitors, the region boasts some fantastic and rewarding destinations including the Fukui Prefectural Dinosaur Museum, the sprawling temple complex of Daihonzan Eihei-ji, castles, ancient ruins and access to the north coast.
Exploring the north coast by car is easy and recommended. Now far away from the maddening crowds of Tokyo, roads are simple to navigate and reward visitors with fantastic views and of course, great seafood at local markets and restaurants. If you have the time to do so, we recommend also heading to the remote Noto Peninsula from Kanazawa – one of Japan’s least visited but most beautiful regions. For further tips and suggestions, see our ’10 Things To Do in Fukui’ page and for accommodation listings, see our ‘Fukui Area’ hotel page.
26 / THE KII PENINSULA (VIA NAGOYA) / all year round
Easily accessible from Tokyo using the Tokaido Shinkansen, Nagoya is another of Japan’s great modern metropolises offering lots to do. Enjoyable as a destination in its own right, it’s a convenient from where to head north deeper into Central Japan – including the onsen towns of Gifu Prefecture and onto Takayama and Shirakaw-go, Kiso Ontake and the Nakasendo, or head west to the Kii Peninsula.
While you may not of heard of it, the Kii Peninsula is one of Japan’s most important spiritual destinations, boasting three hugely important destinations – the Ise Grand Shrine, the World Heritage-listed trails and shrines of the Kumano Kodo, and the temple mountain of Koyasan.
To explore the area fully takes multiple days but is well-worth doing so as visitors who allocate the time to enjoy the Kii Peninsula will be treated to one of Japan’s most meaningful and engaging destinations. For further information about what’s on offer including accommodation listings, see our ’25 Things To Do In & Around Nagoya’ page.
27 / HAKUBA: HIKING & GREEN SEASON FUN (VIA NAGANO) / May to November
Best known for its ski resorts, the mountains of Hakuba are just as big outside of winter and the area is quickly becoming known as much for what it has to offer in spring through to autumn.
As an access point to the North Alps – more properly referred to as the ‘Hida’ Mountains – Hakuba offers some of Central Japan’s best hiking and mountaineering from mid-June until early-October. Easily accessible from Hakuba village, Mount Shirouma is a great option looking to enjoy some fantastic hiking as an easy overnight trip from Tokyo.
In the midst of summer, the alpine areas of Nagano and Central Japan offer some welcome reflief from the heat and humidity of Tokyo, therefore we recommend going slow and spending a couple of nights in Hakuba to enjoy everything it has to offer including its multiple ropeways, more leisurely walking trails, mountain-biking and cycling, rafting, hot-air ballooning and guided outdoor experiences. For tips and suggestions of what’s on offer, see our ’25 Things To Do In & Around Tokyo’ page and for accommodation listings, see our ‘Hakuba Village Area’ hotel page.
28 / SHIGA KOGEN: ESCAPE BACK TO NATURE (VIA NAGANO) / May to November
Sitting within broader enclave of Yamanouchi, Shiga Kogen is best known as Japan’s largest ski resort. Less than 30-minutes drive from the Jigokudani Monkey Park, both Shiga and the monkey park also sit within the beautiful Joshinetsu Kogen National Park – an expansive alpine area blessed with pristine beauty, unique flora and fauna, and multiple mountain peaks.
As the snow recedes in May, the landscape opens-up, inviting visitors back to enjoy leisurely hiking and walking trails, fantastic nature and wildlife photography, ropeways, hot springs, and leisurely days away from the heat of the cities while in autumn, Shiga and nearby Kita-Shiga are blessed with some of the region’s best autumn leaves. For tips and suggestions of what to do in Shiga, see our ‘Explore Yamanouchi – Home of the Snow Monkeys’ page.
An overnight or multi-day visit to Shiga Kogen allows visitors to enjoy multiple destinations including the monkey park and attractions of nearby Nagano City.
Indeed, visitors wanting to combine a visit to Shiga with the other attractions of Yamanouchi and Nagano City can do so easily by choosing accommodation in those areas. For accommodation listings, see the relevant hotel page: Shiga Kogen Area / Yamanouchi Area / Nagano City Area.
29 / ECHIGO-TSUMARI ART FIELD (VIA YUZAWA) / best: July to September
Serviced by Echigo-Yuzawa Station on the Joetsu Shinkansen Line, Yuzawa is a small hot spring town with a big reputation for snow. Outside of winter however there’s just as much on offer including great hiking and mountaineering in the surrounding mountains, music festivals including Japan’s largest – Fuji Rock, and the increasingly popular Echigo-Tsumari Art Field.
First held in 2000, Echigo-Tsumari Art Triennial (ETAT) or Echigo-Tsumari Art Field is the creation of Niigata-born, Kitagawa Fram. As the director of Tokyo’s Art Front Gallery, Kitagawa Fram envisioned and initiated the arts festival as a means of rejuvenation of his home region.
The official triennial occurs every three years, with the next scheduled for summer 2021. Intervening years see a smaller summer festival however with many installations being placed outdoors in settings including forests, rivers and rice fields, the festival in effect never really stops and can be enjoyed all year round.
Installations and projects range for the grand in scale to small, with notable artworks by high-profile international and Japanese artists sitting alongside those by local people. Most easily accessed via Yuzawa, the festival is best enjoyed by hiring a car or arranging private transport between the sites and staying at least one night. For more information, see our ’15 Things To Do In Yuzawa & Niigata’ page and for accommodation listings, see our ‘Yuzawa Area’ hotel page.
30 / CLIMB MOUNT FUJI / July to September
Rounding things out back where we started, visitors wanting to head to Fuji and climb it will need to do so – or at least are best to do so – as an overnight trip.
Fuji’s official climbing season runs from early-July until mid-September, during which time, all trails and mountain facilities are open. Weather is typically mild and this time and snow will be gone from the mountain. Visitors have the option of summitting Fuji via different trails including the Yoshida Trail – open from early-July until mid-September – along with the Subashiri, Gotemba and Fujinomiya Trails – open from mid-July until mid-September.
Stations are positioned along each trail with most climbers choosing to walk from the 5th station of their chosen trail. The Yoshida Trail is the most popular and as such, the Fuji Subaru Line 5th Station on that trail is a very popular starting point for many visitors. From the 5th station, it takes between 5 to 7 hours to ascend and 3 to 5 hours to descend.
Climbing Fuji is an extremely popular undertaking for both Japanese and international visitors. The more popular trails are likely to be congested as you join a column of many hundreds of people moving up the mountain. Mountain huts are available around the 7th and 8th stations however these book-out, so should wish to use one, make sure to reserve your spot well in advance.
It is also worth noting that Fuji stands at just under 4000 metres in height. As you ascend, the air is notably thinner. It will affect most people and can have serious health implications for some visitors. Even in summer, temperatures can be cold – potentially below 0°C – near the summit, so make sure you are well-prepared and suitably dressed. For accommodation listings, see our ‘Kawaguchi Lake (Kawaguchi-ko) Onsen Area’ page.
Finally, Mount Fuji is an active volcano and your personal safety should be your first priority. The Japan Meteorological Agency provides real-time advice and warnings for the entire country. Prior to visiting Fuji, we recommend checking the following website.
PACKAGE & SAVE: BOOK YOUR TRIP TO NAGANO & CENTRAL JAPAN!
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 wonderful attractions including any of the suggested destinations listed above.
As a registered travel agent participating in the national ‘Go To Travel’ campaign, we can package your next trip to Nagano and Central Japan including transport, accommodation, tours, restaurants and more!
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.
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.
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 Nagano and Central Japan? Feel free to contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org and let’s get planning together!