Those who love the mountains should not miss out on the Nagano area (長野市). Because beautiful walks can certainly be made in the Japanese Alps. And otherwise, in winter there is still the opportunity for a beautiful Japanese ski adventure!
Nagano has about 400,000 inhabitants. It is not one of the most famous cities in Japan, but was highly regarded when it was allowed to organize the Olympic Winter Games in 1998. And they are still proud of that in this city! But Nagano and its surroundings have much more to offer. Read about the sights that must not be missed during your stay in Nagano!
History of Nagano: from temple to city
Most of Japan’s cities were created by building houses. Sounds logical, but Nagano has taken a different path. In the 7th century the Zenkoji Temple was built here. And after that a city has formed around the temple.
In the 16th century, the area around Nagano is the true backdrop for a true battle. Two families led by Takeda Shingen and Uesugi Kenshin fought several wars together on the Battle of Kawanakajima. The most famous battle was the fourth which took place in 1561. Both families suffered great losses and Shingen was considered the winner. But as he had lost so many men, he was soon defeated by another family. The battles at Kawanakajima are considered to be the most famous in Japanese history.
Some other important historical events:
- In 1847 a large earthquake took place in which more than 10,000 people lost their lives.
- It was not until 1897 that Nagano was given the status of a city.
- In 1998, a major event took place: the Winter Olympics. The Paralympic Winter Games were also held here.
I spent two nights in Nagano at Guesthouse Aun. An advantage of this guesthouse is that it is quite close to the JR Nagano Station. The owner is nice, only I found the dormitory with 4 beds fairly small. On the other hand, it was also cozy again. An important addition is that there is a kitchenette is present. And around the corner is a supermarket, so that’s another plus.
If you want to go to Jigokudani Snow Monkey Park you can also stay in the Yamanouchi region (Yudanaka or Shibu Onsen). This region is known for its many onsen, the hot springs. A place to relax!
Top 6 attractions in Nagano
There is a lot to do in the Nagano area. Below is a top 6 of the nicest attractions of this alpine city.
1. Zenkoji Temple: Looking for the key to paradise
The absolute highlight of Nagano is the Zenkoji Temple. This temple has the oldest Buddha statue ever brought to Japan. And the origins of the city started with the construction of this sanctuary. And finally, you can also look for the key to paradise! Doesn’t that sound like music to your ears? You can read more about it in the article Zenkoji Temple, Nagano | Search for the key to paradise!
2. Japanese Macaques in the Jigokudani Monkey Park
The Jigokudani Snow Monkey Park is 45 minutes away by public transport. Here you will meet the Japanese Macaques, who in winter take a dip in a traditional Japanese onsen. These are public hot springs where the Japanese population can be found regularly. But also in the summer you will find enough macaques here that walk around you. Want to know more? Then read the article Jigokudani Monkey Park | Meet the Japanese Monkeys in Traditional Onsen.
3. The Winter Olympics of 1998
Nagano only received worldwide attention when the Winter Olympics were held here in 1998. References to this event can be found regularly in the city. In the M-Wave Olympic Museum, which is still used as a skating rink, you can learn more about the Olympic Games in Nagano. It is located east of the city center and is open daily from 10am to 5pm. Admission is free. For more information: https://www.nagano-mwave.co.jp/m_wave/language/en.php
4. The Castle of Matsumoto
Matsumoto (松本) is about an hour by train from Nagano Station. The Limited Express Shinano train runs between Nagano and Nagoya and has a number of interesting places. Matsumoto is one of them. The main attraction is the Matsumoto Castle. It is together with two other castles in Japan on the Unesco World Heritage List. Did you know that the locals in the 19th century ensured that this beautiful castle would not be demolished? Want to know more? Then read the article Matsumoto castle | Discover the original Black Castle of Japan
5. Nakasendo Trail: From Magome to Tsumago
Are you looking for a traditional piece of Japan? Then take the Nakasendo Trail from Magome to Tsumago. This used to be part of the samurai’s route from Tokyo to Kyoto and back. Magome and Tsumago are two small villages that make you feel like you’re back in time.
From Nagano this trail is not suitable as a daytrip. By train it takes 2.5 hours to get there. But for a stopover between Nagano and Kyoto / Nagoya is a great option!
Read more about the Nakasendo Trail in the article Nakasendo Trail, Kiso Valley | Walk the road of the Samurai
6. The battlefield of Kawanakajima
For the real fans of the history of Japan, the park of Kawanakajima is a good option. As mentioned before, in the 16th century the most famous battles of Japanese history took place here. Nowadays there is a park (Hachimanpara) and a city museum which are of course dominated by the battles. For more information: http://en.nagano-cvb.or.jp/modules/sightseeing/page/56
From Tokyo it is about 2 hours by Shinkansen to Nagano. You leave from Ueno Station or Tokyo Station. Once arrived in Nagano Station it is a 25 minute walk to the Zenkoji Temple. By car from Tokyo to Nagano takes longer, about 3 hours.
Do you have more tips and remarks about Nagano and its surroundings? Feel free to leave a message below!