A real winter wonderland in the Japanese Alps, with plenty to offer year-round, Nagano Prefecture is the go-to place for those seeing high-altitude adventure in Japan. That’s why it played host to the majority of the events for the 1998 Winter Olympics, and remains a must-visit destination for skiers and snowboarders the world over.
The volcanic mountains also provide an abundance of natural onsen hot springs, which are enjoyed not only by humans, but monkeys too! That’s right — there’s a good chance you’ve seen Japan’s famous hot spring bathing macaques online, and this is where they live!
After the snows melt, man and monkey alike can head into the forests instead to explore the wealth of hiking trails and rivers which cut through the valleys between some of the highest mountains in all of Japan. City people won’t feel too out of place though; there are plenty of vibrant urban centers up here among the clouds, too.
The capital is Nagano City, home to Zenkoji Temple — one of the oldest in the country dating back to the 7th century. The city of Matsumoto has one of Japan’s best castles, with black walls which give it an otherworldly feeling when draped in snow. Aside from the big towns and cities, you’ll also find some small villages which seem completely frozen in time — pieces of living history from centuries past such as Narai and Tsumago.
Whether you come to hit the ski slopes of Nozawa Onsen Resort, kick back with well-heeled Tokyoites in the upmarket resort town of Karuizawa, or travel back in time to walk the pages of an old samurai novel, the atmosphere of Nagano will leave you feeling enchanted.