Where is Nagano?
Nagano Prefecture is located basically in the center of Japan and is surrounded on all four sides by 3000-meter tall mountains, earning it the nickname of the “Roof of Japan”.
In 1998, Nagano hosted the Winter Olympics and Paralympics. The world-class snow resorts of Hakuba, Shiga Kogen Heights and Nozawa Onsen continue to attract winter sports enthusiasts every year. In addition, Nagano has convenient rail and expressway access to Tokyo, Nagoya, Kyoto and other major cities, and is in close proximity to such premier sightseeing spots as Mt. Fuji, Hida-Takayama and the Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route.The prefecture spreads out to the north and south over 13,562 square kilometers, making it Japan's fourth largest in size. Approximately 20% of the area is designated as Natural Parks.The prefecture boasts a sunny, inland climate, with an annual average of approximately 2000 hours of sunshine, and an average temperature of a moderate 12 degrees Celsius, with relatively low humidity.Besides being a treasure trove of nature, history and culture. Nagano is bursting with natural hot springs, making it the king of Onsens.
Jigokudani Wild Monkey Park is the only place in the world you can see wild monkeys bathing in an onsen. Seeing their human-like expression on their faces as they soak is sure to bring a smile to your face.Karuizawa has historically been Japan's most popular summer resort town. In addition to a multitude of golf courses and tennis courts and a well-appointed ski area, Karuizawa also features an expansive outlet shopping mall for year-round leisure enjoyment.
Matsumoto Castle has the oldest 5-storied wooden donjon in the country and is a designated national treasure. Its black and white stucco siding provides a striking contrast with the beautiful Japan Alps in the background.
Tsumago-juku, thanks to the preservation efforts of its townspeople, looks much the way it did during the feudal Edo era. Stepping into this classic post town gives one the feeling of having slipped back in time. Many people enjoy walking the 8 kilometers to Magome along the old Kyoto-to-Edo (Tokyo) Nakasendo Road, parts of which have the original cobblestone.
In addition, thanks to the crisp, clean water and air, Nagano is famous for its delicious soba noodles, apples and sake, as well as oyaki dumplings, gohei mochi snacks, bamboo leaf-wrapped sasa-zushi. These and other traditional foods are part of Nagano's culinary heritage and one of the prefecture's biggest attractions.
Weather in Nagano
Nagano's climate typically features a large span between daily high temperatures and daily lows. And there is a considerable difference between the average temperature of the warmest month and the coldest month. Humidity is also relatively low.
Nagano has a dry climate, with one of the lowest annual precipitation rates in the country. The area from Nagano City to Ueda and Saku is in a rain shadow and has particularly low rainfall.
Nagano has a high rate of clean air and cloudless skies, and thus boasts some of the highest amounts of sunlight in the country. The Suwa / Matsumoto area especially has a high rate of hours of sunlight.
There is a distinct difference in snow accumulation amounts within the prefecture. Northern Nagano has many days of snow, while the lowlands of Central and Southern Nagano have a drier atmosphere with sunnier days.
JIGOKUDANI WILD MONKEY PARK (SNOW MONKEY)
There is nowhere else in the world you will find monkeys enjoying a hot bath in the middle of the mountains. The Snow Monkeys live in Hell's Valley (Jigokudani), at the foot of Shiga Heights an area known for its heavy snowfall in winter and its abundance of natural hot spring water.
Jigokudani, in which the park is located, means "hell valley" and is a common name for Japanese valleys with volcanic activity. Although its landscape is not as dramatic as some of Japan's other jigokudani valleys, Yamanouchi's Jigokudani does produce a few steaming hot springs. There is a ryokan called Korakukan in the valley, which visitors will pass along the way to the monkey park.
About 200 or so Japanese Macaque monkeys inhabit the area and despite the harsh conditions (snow-covered for one-third of the year) and the rough cliffs and hot springs bursting from the ground (hence the Jigokudani “Hell's Valley” name), the area is heaven for the monkeys. The reason is that same hot spring water collects in pools that the monkeys enjoy bathing in. This provides an opportunity for us humans to watch the Macaque up close and observe their fascinating behavior (not to mention enjoy the blissful looks on their faces as they soak in their onsen). Just before the entrance to the park is the Jigokudani Steam Vent, a nationally registered natural object and an impressive example of natural onsen forces at work. The Jigokudani Monkey Park offers visitors the unique experience of seeing wild monkeys bathing in a natural hot spring. The park is inhabited by Japanese Macaques, which are also known as Snow Monkeys. It is located in the monkey's natural habitat, in the forests of the Jigokudani valley in Yamanouchi, not far from the onsen towns of Shibu and Yudanaka. The park has one man-made pool around which the monkeys gather, located a few minutes' walk from the park entrance. Visitors will likely already encounter monkeys along the path to the pool. The monkeys live in large social groups, and it can be quite entertaining to watch their interactions. Accustomed to humans, the monkeys can be observed from very close and almost completely ignore their human guests. Naturally, it is prohibited to touch or feed the monkeys.
The park is open all year round, the bathing monkeys are particularly photogenic when the area is covered in snow. There is usually snow in the region from December to March, and the best timing for a visit is January and February. Monkeys enter the bath around the year, but they sometimes need some encouragement to do so by park wardens throwing food into the pool, especially during the warmer seasons of the year.
SHIBU ONSEN AREA
Shibu Onsen is a historic and attractive hot spring town in Yamanouchi, which has retained a traditional atmosphere. Nestled in a small valley, Shibu Onsen is spread out on a gentle slope beside the Yokoyugawa River, with Yudanaka Onsen located below and the Jigokudani Monkey Park above.
During its long history, the area has been visited for its hot spring water by a lot of people, including priests, samurai and poets. Some of the ryokan (Japanese style inns) that line Shibu's narrow streets, date back over 400 years, adding greatly to Shibu's atmosphere. Guests of the ryokan are encouraged to take a stroll around town in the traditional onsen clothing of yukata robes and geta sandals.
One incentive to walk around the town is to make use of the public bath houses, of which there are nine. The public baths are locked and, except for one, only accessible to locals and overnight guests, who are provided with a master key by their ryokan. The bath houses are small buildings, divided into a women's side and a men's side, and the baths themselves are quite simple. The bath houses are numbered, but also have special names and cure different ailments.
YUDANAKA ONSEN AREA
Yudanaka Onsen has a long history as a hot spring resort, dating back hundreds of years like the neighboring Shibu Onsen. However, Yudanaka has seen more development, giving it a more modern atmosphere. The atmosphere becomes more traditional as one walks upwards from the bottom of the gently sloping town, where the Yudanaka train station is located.
Yudanaka Station is the last stop along the Nagaden Nagano Line, so people traveling by train will first arrive in Yudanaka before exploring the rest of the Yamanouchi area. Right inside the station is the Kaede no Yu public bath, allowing visitors to start enjoying the area's hot spring water immediately upon arrival. There is a free footbath located just outside the station for travelers not quite ready to completely submerge in the water.
SHIGA KOGEN SKI RESORT
The Shiga Kogen Ski Area is a group of 19 ski resorts that have joined together to create the largest combined ski area in Japan. Shiga Kogen is so large that it would take at least two days to cover it all, yet a single lift ticket gives you access to all 52 lifts, gondolas and ropeways in the area.
Shiga-kōgen has one of the longest ski seasons in Japan with the official ski season commencing from mid-to-late November and continuing throughout April and until the first week of May (Golden Week (Japan). Christmas and the New Year's season is the peak period in Shiga-kōgen during the Japanese school holiday break. From April 1 onward, the spring ski season begins with lift ticket discounts offered and the Maruike, Hasuike, and Sunvalley ski areas cease operation.
Located in the highlands of Nagano Prefecture, Shiga Kogen is divided into two areas that are joined at Hasuike. The southern area leads to the top of the 2305 m tall Mount Yokote and has ski runs and hot springs along the way to the summit.
The northern area leads to Oku Shiga Kogen and is flanked by a number of 2000 m high peaks providing an immense area for skiers and snowboarders to explore. The northern area's Higashidateyama Resort hosted the slalom and giant slalom events of the 1998 Nagano Winter Olympics.
Nozawa-onsen is a hot spring village located in the northern part of Nagano Prefecture. On top of the mountain, there is Nozawa-onsen ski resort. This extensive ski resort, rich in powder snow, is loved by skiers from home and abroad. The village is located at the foot of Kenashi-yama (literally Mt No-hair), alt 1650 meters, in beautiful natural surroundings - lush green in spring and summer, coloured leaves in autumn and of course spectacular snow covered surroundings in winter.
This hot spring has a long history, and it is said it dates back to 8th century. In those days, it was not a custom to enjoy a hot spring as a resort facility. In the Edo period (1600~1868), as people began to do “Toji” which is to bathe to have benefits of hot spring, many people started to visit this village. It is thought that mostly people from nearby villages came to bathe during off-season on the farm. It is said the hot spring is good for stomach problems, rheumatism, feminine problems and palsy.
Today, there are 13 public hot spring baths which are managed by a local organization. Many locals and tourists visit the public baths every day. While it is free of charge, there is a box outside each public bath for visitors to give a tip. Among these 13 public baths, “Oyu,” located at the center of the village, is regarded as a symbol of Nozawa-onsen. Its beautiful bath house with the atmosphere of Edo period catches eye.Also, it is “Ogama” that creates a scene particular to Nozawa. With 90℃ hot water continuously bubbling up, this source of hot spring is rare and is designated as a natural monument. It is used as a place to boil vegetables and eggs. Narrow, winding streets and slopes add an interesting flavor to the village. Although prominent tourism development is not done in Nozawa-onsen, it is a highly popular hot spring resort. According to the popular hot spring resort ranking (2011) announced by Recruit CO., LTD., Nozawa-onsen won the 1st in the satisfaction level ranking.There are footbaths too to relax just by taking off shoes and soaking feet in a hot spring. Try it to relieve fatigue after skiing.
Zenkō-ji attracts pilgrims from all over Japan. This Buddhist temple was built in the 7th century. Nagano City, established in 1897, was originally a town built around the temple. Historically, Zenkō-ji is perhaps most famous for its involvement in the battles between Uesugi Kenshin and Takeda Shingen in the 16th century, when it served as one of Kenshin's bases of operations.Currently, Zenkō-ji is one of the few remaining pilgrimage sites in Japan.Zenkō-ji was founded before Buddhism in Japan split into several different sects. It currently belongs to both the Tendai and Jōdoshū schools of Buddhism, and is co-managed by twenty-five priests from the former school, and fourteen from the latter. The temple enshrines images of the Amida Buddha. According to legend, the image, having caused dispute between two clans, was dumped into a canal. It was later rescued by Honda Yoshimitsu. The temple was thus named "Zenkō," according to the Chinese transliteration of Yoshimitsu's name.
The main Buddhist image is a hibutsu (secret Buddha), a hidden Buddha statue, not shown to the public. This hibutsu is rumored to be the first Buddha statue to ever be brought to Japan. The commandments of the temple require the absolute secrecy of the statue, prohibiting it to be shown to anyone, including the chief priest of the temple. However, a replica of the statue (Maedachi Honzon) has been created which can be shown publicly once every six years in spring, in a ceremony called Gokaichō. This event attracts many worshipers and visitors. When the statue was on display in 2003, Zenkō-ji cooperated with Motozenkō-ji and Zenkō-ji of Kofu, Yamanashi Prefecture. The most recent display of "Maedachi Honzon" took place in April and May, 2015. The temple contains a statue of Binzuru, a physician who was said to be Buddha's follower. Visitors to the temple touch the statue in order to cure their ailments. The temple also contains an inner prayer chamber, accessible to visitors. Currently, a daily morning ritual is held there by the high priest or priestess. From the inner chamber, a narrow staircase leads down to a completely dark corridor. In this corridor worshippers try to touch a metal key hanging on the wall, in order to gain enlightenment. The key represents the Key to the Western Paradise of the Amida Buddha.
Visitors are allowed to attend morning rites and have their head touched with the prayer beads of a monk.
Matsumoto Castle is one of Japan's premier historic castles, along with Himeji Castle and Kumamoto Castle. The building is also known as the "Crow Castle" due to its black exterior. It was the seat of the Matsumoto domain. It is located in the city of Matsumoto, in Nagano Prefecture and is within easy reach of Tokyo by road or rail. The keep (tenshukaku), which was completed in the late sixteenth century, maintains its original wooden interiors and external stonework. It is listed as a National Treasure of Japan.Matsumoto Castle is a flatland castle (hirajiro) because it is not built on a hilltop or amid rivers, but on a plain.Its complete defences would have included an extensive system of inter-connecting walls, moats, and gatehouses. Matsumoto Castle is one of the most complete and beautiful among Japan's original castles. It is a "hirajiro" - a castle built on plains rather than on a hill or mountain. Matsumoto Castle is unique for having both a secondary donjon and a turret adjoined to its main keep. The castle structures, in combination with their characteristic black wainscoting, give off an air of grandeur and poise. Matsumotojo's main castle keep and its smaller, second donjon were built from 1592 to 1614. Both these structures were well-fortified as peace was not yet fully achieved at the time. In 1635, when military threats had ceased, a third, barely defended turret and another for moon viewing were added to the castle. The wooden interior of Matsumoto Castle provides an authentic experience unlike that felt at many other castles rebuilt of ferro-concrete. Interesting features of the castle include steep wooden stairs, openings to drop stones onto invaders, openings for archers, as well as an observation deck at the top, sixth floor of the main keep with nice views over the surrounding city. In spring, Matsumoto Castle is a popular cherry blossom spot. Many visit to stroll around the spacious castle grounds and park. Along the outer castle moat are hundreds of Somei Yoshino Cherry trees that provide lovely views when they are in full bloom around mid April each year.
Hakuba village is just over 40km to the west of Nagano city in the northern region of Nagano Prefecture. Since hosting the 1998 Nagano Winter Olympics, Hakuba Valley has been an increasingly popular travel destination for people from all over the world. This international resort village is at the heart of the spectacular Japanese Alps and Located just 270km from Tokyo in the Chubu Region are Japan's highest mountains and most historical and traditional landscap.
Host to the 1998 Winter Olympic Games, Hakuba is one of Japan's largest and most renowned alpine resorts. The Hakuba Valley is a huge expanse of spectacular alpine mountain ranges which provides the breathtaking background panorama for the surrounding traditional, agricultural villages of Otari and Hakuba and the nearby tranquil city of Omachi. The valley consists of 10 ski resorts, giving an incredible variety of alpine terrain, accommodating everyone from novice to expert.
When you start to think seriously about where to ski and ride, the scale of beauty surpasses expectation. Actually, in this big mountain valley on the island of Honshu, the statistics are overwhelming.If you can afford the time, we invite you to discover over 200 runs across 10 ski resorts and Hakuba is the skiing mecca of Japan.
This offers an incredible variety of terrain for skiers and snowboarders alike. Situated in the heart of the Japan Alps, the alpine scenery is truly stunning with huge rugged peaks.
With this many ski resorts to choose from the slopes are relatively empty during the week and fresh tracks can be found for days.Not only can you experience a taste of traditional Japanese life and spectacular scenery, Hakuba Vallery boasts a variety of fun activities to enjoy all year round.There are a couple of ski resort in Hakuba valley that we would like to recomend you in this winter seasons.
HAKUBA HAPPO ONE
Happo One (pronounced ‘oh-nay’) is the biggest resort in Hakuba is conveniently centrally located close to the central area of Hakuba, just 5 minutes from Hakuba Station.
This world class resort hosted the downhill events for the 1998 Nagano Olympics. The skiers here easily outnumber the snowboarders. Happo One is well known for it's long, steep and challenging piste runs, which cover an amazing 1071 metres of vertical skiing!
The intermediate and advanced skiers will get the most out of a day at Happo, with many steep and challenging runs. The Olympic course provides a super smooth and challenging 3.5km trail right to the bottom of the resort, which is great for really pushing the limits and going fast. Happo also has plenty of mogul runs to test your skill and your knees! This resort is also great place to start your skiing and snowboarding. The ski schools operate ready to help people of all ages find their feet. There is a great mix of easy green, intermediate red and more challenging black and double black runs to suit skiers of all levels. Happo-one is located on the eastern slopes of Mt Karamatsu and is one of the largest individual (stand-alone) ski and snowboard resorts in Japan. This resort has 26 lifts and over a 1,000m of vertical, the mountain offers everything from wide-open groomers, long cruising trails to steep, banked, powder filled lines. A great range of terrain to satisfy any intermediate / advanced rider and back country accessed from the top of the mountain. There is also a sectioned off area for kids only that features a small run as well as an area for playing in the snow, great for families. This resort offers an English speaking child-care and lessons.
GORYU – HAKUBA 47 COMBINED RESORTS
This world class combined ski resorts are located centrally in the Hakuba Valley. The most popular resort in the Hakuba Valley and the second largest resort in the valley, Hakuba Goryu and Hakuba 47 offer a diverse variety of powder runs terrain, parks, courses, and almost 1000m of vertical skiing.
With skiing and snowboarding usually available from late November until into the spring, it's a long season! The resort is connected with the Hakuba 47 Winter Sports Park resort at the top and they share a common lift ticket.
The upper mountain and Hakuba 47 provides steep challenging runs for the more intermediate and advanced. With north-west facing mountains, most of the area is unaffected by the sun, ensuring dry powder conditions. Hakuba 47 boasts the best terrain park and only super pipe in the area. The 47 side has an excellent terrain park area which features a 100m half pipe and several big air jumps and kickers. The park also features plenty of smaller jumps along well as rails, boxes and table tops. Hakuba47 was established in 1990. The resort name refers to the incredible 4 seasons of Hakuba which guests can enjoy 7 days a week. Many guests visit Hakuba47 during the winter months to enjoy snow skiing, snowboarding, snowshoe trekking, snowmobiling, snow picnics and play.
The lower areas of Goryu and Iimori cater well for beginners with wide open runs and a good consistent slope. Hakuba Goryu resort at the top and they share a common lift ticket. Hakuba Goryu offers a special Tree Riding Zone for people wanting to enjoy untouched powder tree runs.
There's many activities to choose from - as well as skiing and snowboarding, there's sledding, popular 'nighta' night-time skiing on the 1500 meter Toomi Gelende, 400 meter mogul course (often home to official mogul events), private pole courses and more. As well as the on-mountain facilities, facilities at base include a variety of restaurants, a nursery room for small children, resting areas and souvenir shops. Spectacular views of Goryu-dake and Karamatsu-dake can be enjoyed in good weather conditions. Hakuba Goryu has been operating since 1950 with a few name changes along the way. Hakuba 47 offers 1 Gondra,1 Quad lift and 4 pair lift,and Hakuba Goryu has 1 Gondra,3 Quad lift 9 Pair lifts.
HAKUBA IWATAKE SNOW FIELD
This ski resort is located just to the north of central village area, just 10min from Hakuba station is another great resort for the beginner and intermediate skiers, groups and families.
The resort has two main area - the base Village Side area and the Mountain Side area over round the back, with a gondola connecting the two. There is a cross country course at the base area of Hakuba Iwatake and two snowshoeing 'Walk Fields' (Nezuko-no-mori and Karamatsu-no-mori) in the Mountain Side part of the resort. Beginners at Iwatake are really well catered for. There are several small and medium length runs, with easy access from the high speed quad lifts that lead from the base area. There are wide, open, easy runs making it a great place to learn. Once your confidence grows, you can take the gondola to the top and enjoy the stunning views as you take a beginner run from the top all the way down to the base. There are also a few challenging intermediate course that come off the beginner course that you can try your hand at. The Advanced skiers are also catered for here at Iwatake. If groomed high-speed runs are your thing, then you'll find the Kamoshika area to the left of the base centre a great place to push yourself. If you're more into the natural forming ridges and powder skiing, then take the gondola up to the top and try the back area of the mountain or some of the advanced courses that start from the top Gondola station.
Iwatake also caters for the younger skiers and has a separate area for the family and children skiers alike. It is located towards the top of the resort and is in a nice protected and flat area.
Hakuba Iwatake is a must for the beginner and intermediate skiers as well as families wanting to ski together.
This ski resort consider to be Hakuba's best kept secret!! located about 20 minutes north of Hakuba Station, is the most northern resort in the Hakuba Valley. Although a small resort, Cortina receives the highest snowfall in the valley, boasting a huge open bowl. With frequent big snowfalls, it offers endless runs of untouched deep powder and challenging tree lines and chutes, for advanced skiers and boarders. This resort is Famous for it's amazing powder snow and off-piste skiing, Hakuba Cortina is a must for the intermediate and advanced skiers seeking a challenge. Beginner skiers enjoy the nice flat and wide open front run which flows through the middle of the bowl and is the great environment to hone your skills.At the base of the resort, there is the amazing hotel called Green Plaza Hotel. This European styled hotel acts as the base centre for Hakuba Cortina and has all the amenities you will need for a day on the slopes, including: several restaurants, tuning and rental stores, ski school, souvenir shops and even an onsen (Japanese style hot springs) for relaxing at the end of the day.
Tsugaike Kogen is an amazing large ski and snowboard resort located in Oari Otari village and is located 15 minutes north of Hakuba station and receives fewer guests than the other big resorts. This makes it a great escape and a perfect place for families to come and ski together.
This resort is perfect for the beginner skiers and snowboarders. Most of the runs are very wide and flat and provide the perfect space to work on your technique.
The main wide lower areas of Tsugaike Kogen are particularly suited to beginner skiers and snowboarders. For the advanced skiers, take the gondola up to the top station of the resort to find some fantastic steep and challenging runs located off the Tsugaike Kogen ridge lines. Whether you like the moguls, groomers or a bit of untouched powder, the red and black runs here at Tsugaike cater for all. There are also some park areas, including the Hit Park, for those who want to try the jumps, boxes and rails. Backcountry courses are also available at Tsugaike for the more adventurous. A snow shoe hike beyond the top of the resort on one of these guided tours will reward you some fantastic untouched powder and great off-piste skiing. If snowshoeing doesn't interest you but you still want to experience the backcountry, you could try your hand at heli-skiing, with prices from just 10,000yen per person. The Heli-skiing tour takes you far from the resort towards the peaks of the Japan Northern Alps and the amazing back country area on the Tsugaike Ridge. From here set your own pace and work your way back to the top of Tsugaike Kogen Resort. The Heli-skiing operates from March every year. For the beginners visiting Hakuba, Tsugaike is a must do resort. Intermediate and advanced skiers too should visit and try their hands at some of the challenging runs and back country experiences.
HELI-SKIING AND SNOWBOARDING AT TSUGAIKE KOGEN
One of the few places you can actually Heliski in Japan, this option will give you access to the large and almost untouched back country of the Tsugaike Highlands, located above the Tsugaike Ski Resort. If you can ski or board at an intermediate level, you will be able to handle the Tsugaike Heliskiing. Advanced skiers and boarders can rest assured that there is also plenty of spots to challenge yourselves on the descent.
Tsugaike Kogen ski resort offers you Heli-Skiing and boarding during March and April.
You will get a 20~30 minute ride from Tsugaike Resort all the way up to the top of the ridgeline, located a nice 14km from the base and 2200m above sea level. It's a great way to start the day as it feeds you back into the Tsugaike Resort, you can make a day of it and continue skiing the resort after you descend.
This is a fantastic way to experience Heliskiing for the first timer and still provides a great morning out for the more advanced skiers and riders. Tsugaike Heliskiing is available from March and runs most days provided the weather is suitable for flying.
HAKUBA SNOW SHOE TOUR
Snowshoe Tours are a great way to experience a world away from the crowds and lift-lines and explore the silence of Hakuba's more removed areas. The Hakuba area has endless trails on mountain ridges or through old growth forests and shrines, with truly some of the best Alpine views in all of Japan. Experience a world away from the crowds and lift-lines and explore the silence of Hakuba's more removed areas on snowshoes. Joined by one of our friendly guides, you'll don snow-boots and snowshoes and venture off into the snowy forests of the valley.
Along the way you can likely see many animal tracks, make snow angels, have some fun playing in the snow and take a little tea & snack break too.
Depending on the weather that day, we may be able to take one of the gondolas up as well to get even better views. If you like some more adventures, you can join the nightshoe tour and create memories that will stay with you years to come!! Enjoy the snowshoe walking under the bright stars of Hakuba. It is not unusual to see tracks of rabbit, fox, tanuki (raccoon dog) and kamoshika (Japanese serow) while out on the tour. The walk is not strenuous.
After walking tour, go back to your accommodation and take Onsen and relax!! You can hire the guide or join the group tour, either way you will have fun!