Nagano, on Japan’s main island Honshu, is the capital city of the prefecture of the same name. The city is most famous as being the home of the Zenkoji Temple, a national treasure. Visit this important site of pilgrimage, but also be sure to make the most of the region’s other attractions. At the nearby mountains, go skiing or see macaque monkeys bathe in hot springs. Learn about the culture of the samurai warriors and view 300-year-old chestnut and beech trees in Oku Susobana Natural Park.
Visit the grand complex of the Zenkoji Temple to see one of the largest wooden temples in Japan. The main temple dates back to the seventh century and is said to house a very early Buddha statue.
Take the train to the castle town in the suburb of Matsushiro to see the legacy of a 17th-century warlord. Discover the samurai way of life at the Sanada and Yokota Residences and the Sanada Treasure Museum. Explore a bunker which hid the Emperor and government during World War II.
At the Togakure Ninpo Museum, try your hand at shuriken throwing like a ninja. Navigate mazes and secret doors and learn about Nishina Daisuke, a samurai who created his own style of ninjutsu.
Head to the nearby Joshinetsu Kogen National park and marvel at the snow monkeys in the hot springs of the Jigokudani Wild Monkey Park in Yamanouchi. At the onsen (traditional Japanese resorts) in the area you can enjoy the thermal pools for yourself. In winter, choose from over 20 ski resorts to carve up the snow on the nearby Shiga plateau.
Nagano is about a 2-hour train journey from Tokyo. Its central transport hub provides good connections to the major attractions in and around the city. Hire a car to explore the countryside. Join mushroom and fruit-picking expeditions or visit a local miso manufacturer. Nagano has a long history of catering for Zenkoji Temple’s Buddhist monks, so vegetarians will want to linger in this scenic area.