The Prefecture that has it all
Nagano Prefecture is famous for its winter skiing and summer hiking but with its fair share of historic castles, shrines and temples, and most of all its stunning natural scenery and the hospitality of its people and the freshness of its healthy food.
Nagano is often called the roof of Japan, or Japan’s Switzerland, because of its many spectacular and high mountain ranges and its position in the center of the main island of Honshu. The mountain ranges are covered in deep green forests and wildflower meadows and topped by snow clad rocky peaks. Between the mountain ranges are swift flowing clear rivers with wide fertile valleys and basins which make the prefecture one of Japan’s largest agricultural producers and a place for fresh and delicious fruits and vegetables. Its no wonder that the people of Nagano are the longest lived in Japan.
Nagano is landlocked and yet it straddles some of the major inland road and rail routes between Tokyo in the East and Nagoya/Kyoto/Osaka in the west. This makes it easily accessible within 2 to 3 hours travel time for the visitor coming from Tokyo, Nagoya or Kyoto by train, bus, or car.
Since Nagano hosted the Winter Olympics in 1998, many foreign visitors have been coming to Nagano in winter to enjoy its deep powder snow and its relaxing hot spring resorts. Places like Hakuba, Happone, and Nozawa, offer the best kind of snow holiday you can get with great hospitality and plenty of excellent Japanese cuisine at a cost that is much less than what you would pay in Europe or North America. On top of that, what could be more entertaining than watching the monkeys enjoying hots spring baths in the snow.
In summer, many Japanese escape the hot and humid weather of the cities to Nagano’s higher plateaus to enjoy the cooler and dryer weather. There are a number of picturesque summer resort towns, like Karuizawa, Tateshina, Kiyosato and Nojiri where outdoor activities such as golf, tennis, cycling, parasailing, rafting etc. are very popular. And if you enjoy hiking, then Nagano has a smorgasbord of varied and interesting hiking trails with well-equipped mountain lodge. For a challenge, the spear-like Mt Yarigatake at 3190 meters is a worthwhile but tough climb. The charming mountain resort of Kamikochi is the perfect base for a range of easy to difficult walks into the high peaks of the Northern Alps.
Interspersed along the mountain valleys are small cities and towns which are steeped in the rich history and culture of Japan. Nagano City, the capital, is famous for its Zenkoji Temple, founded in 642 AD and a National Treasurer. Matsumoto City is famous for its castle, also a National Treasure built in 1604, and Suwa Jinja, one of the most famous shrines in Japan, is famous for its Onbashira Festival – a must see event held every 6 years when brave men ride huge logs that are slid down a mountain to the shrine. And if you are seeking out the famous cherry blossoms of Japan, you must go to Takato, where 3,000 strikingly pink trees are lit up at night for a spectacular display. Or if you are seeking spectacular fireworks displays, then Lake Suwa is the place to go in August where you can see the Japan fireworks championships at play every night over the lake.
So, when you come to Japan make sure to visit Nagano Prefecture where you can combine an exhilarating outdoor and nature experience with a deep Japan culture and traditions experience.
*Article by Phil, originally published on Deep Japan
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