NaganoNagano prefecture, in the Chubu district of Japan. It flourished as a temple city of Zenkō-ji, a famous temple.
By trainNagano is accessible from Tokyo station via the Hokuriku Shinkansen, formerly known as the Nagano Shinkansen. The trip takes anywhere from 80 to 110 minutes depending on the train that is used, but generally the Kagayaki (かがやき) and the Hakutaka (はくたか) services make fewer stops than the Asama (あさま). The fare is ¥8,200 for a reserved seat. Standard and Green Car seats are fully covered by the respective versions of the Japan Rail Pass, but if you want to use the premium GranClass seats - which feature airline-like business class seats and personal attendant service - you will have to pay the limited express and GranClass surcharges (an additional ¥11,910 from Tokyo to Nagano), as any version of the Japan Rail Pass only covers the base fare.
The regional JR East Rail Pass will cover the full trip from Tokyo to Nagano, but the more local JR Kanto Area Pass will only cover the trip to Saku-daira, a few stations short of Nagano; you will have to purchase a regular ticket (¥3,330 for a reserved seat) for the remainder of the journey.
The Wide View Shinano (ワイドビュー しなの) limited express train runs hourly from Nagoya to Nagano (3 hours, ¥7,330). From Kyoto or Osaka there are two ways to get to Nagano: either take the Tokaido Shinkansen to Nagoya and change to the Shinano (¥12,000 from Osaka), or take the Thunderbird (サンダーバード) service to Kanazawa and then take the Hokuriku Shinkansen from Kanazawa to Nagano (¥14,290 from Osaka). Each of the options take approximately 4 -4½ hours from Osaka depending on stopping patterns, and both are fully covered by the Japan Rail Pass (except for Nozomi trains on the Tokaido Shinkansen).
By busHighway buses from Tokyo depart from the terminal in Shinjuku, and from the Sunshine City Prince Hotel in Ikebukuro. The trip takes around three and a half hours, and the fare is ¥4000 one-way. The ¥7200 round trip fare is about half the cost of the Shinkansen.
Hankyu and Nankai buses also make a few daytime and nighttime runs from Osaka and Kyoto to Nagano. The day runs take about seven hours, and the night runs take nine hours. Expect to pay ¥6200 one-way, ¥10000 round trip from Osaka, and ¥5300 one-way, ¥9500 round-trip from Kyoto.
ZenkōjiThis temple, built in the 7th century, is a major pilgrimage site. Its major draw is the hibutsu (秘仏), or hidden buddha, a statue that is displayed to the public only every six years (the last time was in 2015). A major renovation of the great inner gate was finished in 2007. You can see a beautiful row of houses along the street. There are restaurants with atmosphere. You can also buy talismon as a souvenir.
address: Nishinomoncho 941A sake brewery with attached restaurant and shops, all housed in traditional buildings. The brewery has a small free museum, though it consists of little more than some historic photographs and a view of the stainless-steel brewing equipment.
address: Hakoshimizu 1-4-4The prefecture's premier art museum. The Higashiyama Kaii Gallery showcases the tranquil landscapes (depicting Northern Europe as well as Japan) of one of the masters of nihon-ga (traditional "Japanese-style painting").
BinzuruNagano's big summer festival, held on the first Saturday in August. Every year, more than 200 groups take part in this festival. They walk and dance through Chuo-dori, clacking together wooden scoops called shamoji. The festival's name comes from the Japanese version of Indian Buddhist saint Pindola Bharadvaja, and the procession ends at Zenkoji temple where festival-goers rub a well-worn Binzuru statue for luck.
Kagai Onsen Ichiyoukanphone: +81 26-278-2016address: Matsushiro Machi Higashijo 松代町東条55This unusual onsen has separate long narrow flowing indoor baths with brown water for males and females, and two outdoor mixed baths. Bring a large towel.
Omura Onsen Makibanoyuphone: +81 26-278-5687address: Matsushiro Machi Omura 4108 松代町大室4108Has a large outdoor bath (rotenburo) with magnificent views across the Zenkouji Plain to the Northern Alps. Great anytime, but best in winter.
Matsushiro Underground Imperial HeadquartersLarge underground bunker complex built during the Second World War, it was meant to protect the Emperor and the central organs of government, but Japan surrendered before its completion.
Nagano is famous for Togakushi soba. Also be sure to get some Oyaki, a delicious and cheap Japanese dumpling. It comes in many different flavoured fillings, both sweet and savoury.
address: Daimon-cho 83A 280-year-old store specializing in shichimi ("seven flavors"), a condiment consisting of ground chili peppers, sesame, citrus, and other spices, commonly sprinkled on soba noodle soup. Yawataya's distinctive tin containers are a fixture in soba shops throughout Japan.
- Sakura, in the Nishi-no-Mon brewery (above). Most of the items on the menu feature miso (fermented bean-paste) which is made with sake by-products. (For an exotic dessert, try miso ice cream.)
Hungry Caterpillar Cafeaddress: Daimon 56-1, NaganoGreat sandwiches. Many of the foods enjoyed by the Very Hungry Caterpillar can be found on the menu. There are many other nice cafes and restaurants in the charming courtyard at the rear.Shinsyu soba is famous in Japan. It is healthy, delicious and cheap.
HanbeyIf the archaic kana above was not a big enough hint, this is a post-war themed izakaya. Fairly intimate dining for an izakaya with bar seating, tight booths and a tatami room for groups. The bar seating in particular wraps around the kitchen so you can see the staff cooking up a traditional Japanese storm. The walls are covered in war-time or post-war advertising right down to the old backwards right-to-left hiragana こばた ads and utterly bizarre airline ads. Music fits, too. No English and the menus lack any images whatsoever and are written 100 percent in kanji, but if this is no problem, you will be treated to a very pleasant surprise: the prices match the theme.
IrohadoFamous for its oyaki.
Bluebirdaddress: 1418 Minami Ishidocyo, Daito Building 3FWestern-style pool/dart bar. Hip Hop nights and the occasional tattoo show.
High-FiveSmall centrally-located nightclub.
Shiga-Kogen BreweryA 200-year-old sake brewery that has opened a microbrewery. Free sake and beer tasting on site and excellent locally made beers.
Parleyphone: +81 26-225-1020The gaudy facade is shaped like a pirate ship and the interior won't disappoint. Apart from the electronic dart board, the theme is largely complete and flawless. Even the toilets follow the theme. Really. There's a cargo hold themed bar downstairs, too. This place attracts a young, upbeat crowd. The staff are cheerful, regularly cosplay as characters from Pirates of the Caribbean, and are fans of Gantz.
phone: +81 26-217-2816address: 1048 NishimachiOwner very friendly with good English. Facilities are very good and clean.
phone: +81 26-217-5188address: 1-6-2 NakagoshoEasy-going, convenient budget hostel. Pleasant English-speaking staff can supply tourist and outdoor activity information. Kitchen, living room, hot showers, free WiFi available to all. No curfew. Train lovers welcome!
phone: +81 26-232-2768Housed in a former temple building a few blocks from Zenkoji Temple. Owner speaks basic English, and is more than happy to use it.
address: Daimon-cho 80An elegant old traditional inn, founded in 1661 as a stage along the Northern Country road. The current building was constructed in 1923 and is a superb example of Taisho-era Western-style architecture.
phone: +81 26-235-3333address: Agata-machi 528-1With a history of over 120 years, the Saihokukan Hotel is the choice hotel of the Emperor and his family when they visit Nagano semi-annually. The restaurants found within the hotel emphasize `slow food` methods of natural and healthy food preparation. Also a popular wedding venue with various styles and settings within and above the art laden walls.
- Jigokudani Monkey Park — snowbathing monkeys just half an hour away
- Joshinetsu Kogen National Park — home to Shiga Kogen, Japan's largest ski resort
- Chikuma - take the Shinano railway south to Chikuma or Togura stations and explore the onsens, mountains and temples of this small city straddling the picturesque Chikuma River