The city of Nagano has a long history and was formally established as a city on April 1, 1897. It was the first established city within Nagano Prefecture and the 43rd city in Japan. Nagano City is located within Nagano Prefecture, which was known up 1871 as the Shinshu province. The name Shinshu is still commonly used as a name for the prefecture and a lot of products in the prefecture are shown with “Shinshu” labeling.
Making your way to Nagano has never been easier with the new Shinkansen line between Tokyo and Kanazawa making a stop at Nagano. If you are coming from the south, from Nagoya, then you can take the express train. Everywhere within the city can be reached on foot, but the bus is also very affordable (150JPY) and well organized.
The city of Nagano has always been important city in Japan because of the presence of the Zenko-ji Temple. It gained prominence worldwide when the prefecture staged the 1998 Winter Olympics and the number of visitors to the prefecture surged when the BBC aired their Snow Monkey documentary back in 2009. The city center has a few things to offer for sightseeing, but Nagano’s biggest advantage is its convenient location in the center of Japan.
The biggest attraction within the city is Zenko-ji Temple. Zenko-ji Temple is home to the first Buddhist statue in Japan and over 10 million people visit the temple every year. The Zenko-ji Temple is one of the spots we visit in our 1 Day Tour, so if you are interested in learning more about Zenko-ji Temple, then please join us on a tour! Besides the main city of Nagano, there are a also few little towns under the municipality of Nagano City that have a lot of historical importance such as Togakushi and Matsushiro.
Togakushi has a 700 year old history of ninja and there are several Shinto shrines that play an important part in Japanese mythology. There is also delicious soba available at Togakushi. Not only that, the Togakushi area also has skiing, hiking and advanced level mountain climbing to offer.
Matsushiro was home to the Sanada clan, which was an influential samurai clan around 500 years ago. The castle founded by the Sanada was destroyed by a fire in 1872, but the main gates have been restored and the castle ground is still impressive to see. Besides the castle, many other historical buildings around the area belonged to the Sanada clan.
If you are looking for a restaurant you won’t have to look far. In front of the station there are many izakaya (Japanese style bars) and other western restaurants. However, if you would stay too far from the station, it can get quite difficult to find something. There are a few foods we recommend to eat during your stay in Nagano, many of which you can find around the Zenko-ji Temple area. The best local dishes are soba (buckwheat) noodles, oyaki and pickled vegetables that you can find at various souvenir shops along Nakamise Street.
As for outdoor activities, during winter there are several ski resorts like Shiga Kogen, Hakuba, Nozawa and Kita-Shiga. All of these are accessible in more or less an hour from Nagano City.
During the summer the snow will have melted and you can see the lush green highlands. Hiking around the Shiga Kogen is highly recommendable then.