Captivating Nagano in Winter

Iiyama - Kamakura Snow Dome Village Travelling project

In 2020, Japan Wonder Travel was given a project by the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) to promote 14 selected prefectures that have been affected by typhoons. We offered 20 internationals living in Japan, the opportunity to travel to several destinations and share their experiences while travelling and also after.

Tiffany – Nagano prefecture

A wanderlust is overrated, but never short of truth. I’m Tiffany, a masters student of Global Studies based in Tokyo, Japan. This time round, I set foot in Nagano – a prefecture flourished in the west of Japan. As one who explores not only the sights and sounds of a new place, I’ve got to admit a gastronomical experience can either make or break any trip! So come along with me as the bountiful city of Nagano unfolds itself.

Travelling between Nagano and Tokyo

The most convenient and time-efficient way to reach Nagano from Tokyo would definitely be the shinkansen. Priced at approximately 8,000 yen one way- a reserved seat included- for a 100 minutes ride, the shinkansen guarantees comfort and a smooth journey ahead minus the hassle of road traffic.

Reserve your Nagano shinkansen tickets in advance here or purchase them on the same departure day at the JR EAST Travel Service Center, Tokyo Station; open every day of the year from 7:30 – 20:30. For a budget alternative, take the bus departing at major train stations in Tokyo.

Day 1

Tokyo-IIyama 

At 8am, I started my trip to Iiyama – a city in Nagano – from Tokyo station. What better way to embark then with a healthy bento filled with nutritious local Japanese delicacies.

Available for purchase at the ticket gate of Tokyo station, towards the shinkansen platform.

After arriving at Iiyama station, travellers can rest assured with their belongings as lockers are available at the main entrance of the station, priced between ¥400 to ¥700 according to sizes.

Iiyama – Kamakura Snow Dome Village

Iiyama is one of those places where the warmth of locals can be felt tangibly, especially at the Kamakura Snow Dome Village. Open only during winter from the end of January to the end of February, locals come together to build each snow hut and offer delicious piping hot nabe also known as hot pot.

The noroshi nabe is filled with vegetables such as cabbage, radish, carrot, mushrooms, taro root and burdock as well as miyuki pork, all produced locally served with a miso soup base.

You’ll be sure to exit the snow dome with a satisfied smile on your face, gently prompted by friendly staffs who even offers to take photos for you. No worries if you’re travelling with limited Japanese survival phrases as some staffs speak English too.

Reservation for a minimum of two pax is necessary to enjoy dining in the iglo. Though recent news of global warming has affected snowfall, the snow count in Nagano has been gaining momentum and business is going on as usual.

Access: only a 15mins taxi ride from Iiyama station or take the bus conveniently located outside the station. Check the bus timetable here

Iiyama – Kamakura Snow Dome Village
January 24th to March 1st 2020
¥3,500 – ¥4,000/ adult
¥2,100- ¥2,500/ child

Kamakura Snow Dome Village – Madarao Mountain Resort

From Kamakura Snow Dome Village, take the bus from Shinanodaira bus stop back to Iiyama station. The next challenge awaits in the mountain!

A full lunch deserves some exercise, and here I am taking the Madarao-Tangram bus to Madarao Mountain Resort, where plenty of snow slopes stand mighty and tall for those interested in winter sports such as skiing and snowboarding.

Madarao Mountain Resort features various kinds of trails where beginners, intermediates and advanced can all enjoy. There is also a separate trail for kids where they can play freely. Trail map available here. As I arrived later than usual, I bought the individual lift pass priced at ¥500 one way.

Coming from a tropical country, I would consider myself rather new to the sports though I’ve tried my hands on it twice before. So fear not beginners, as there are ski and snowboard schools for non-Japanese speakers.

Sign up for private or group lessons with experienced coaches from Action Snow Sports in Madarao and try out different trails under supervision. The last thing you want while traveling is to sustain injuries uncalled for!

For avid winter sports lovers, check out the lift ticket pricing here.

The stay for the night is Madarao Kanko Hotel located just 5 minutes away by free shuttle service from Madarao Mountain Resort or a short 10 minutes’ walk downhill.

Sleeping in the tatami-styled room has never been this comfortable and warm!

Winding down to a dinner table full of spectacular colours got me excited. The staffs at Madarao Kanko Hotel spoke English and were thoroughly helpful by taking into account my needs and inquiries with professional etiquettes.

Day 2

Started out day two with yet another round of skiing. Renting the gears were no hassle at all as multiple locations offer ski or snowboard rentals at reasonable price.

Once again overwhelmed by the beauty of nature as my sight is covered by snow blanketed floors.

Madarao – Nagano city

Finally off to Nagano for all its gems! By gems, I meant a heavenly taste bud adventure where the land boasts of oyaki, a traditional snack enjoyed by locals either steamed or boiled. I personally enjoyed the steamed version as each ingredient filled in the buckwheat dough was genuinely felt in every bite!

Local Food

If you’re ever in Nagano, why not try the oyaki’s at 西澤おやき (nishizawa oyaki)- a shop run by a couple of older women nestled under Nagano station. Genuinely flavourful!

Nagano city- Zenkoji

As for lunch, there are plenty of soba noodles options in the quaint part of Zenkoji where Zenkoji temple lies.

Here, I tried the handmade sarashina soba with tempura at かどの大丸 (kado daimaru) where you can catch the chef kneading and twisting the dough live in front of the shop. かどの大丸has been around for over 300 years and its one you won’t want to miss. The soba priced at ¥1,400 was made of laborious efforts and a touch of sincerity, if you’d ask me!

Do note that most shops don’t serve meals if you’re arriving in Zenkoji at or after 3pm, and will reopen around 5pm.

Access: 7 minute’s walk from Zenkojishita station, located at the corner of the Zenkoji intersection.

Walking around Zenkoji, you’ll instantly feel a sense of modernity trapped in old streets and shops.  

Alas! Arriving at Zenkoji Temple, where Nagano draws its roots. Built in the 642 AD, it contains the oldest statue of Buddha in Japan considered as a cultural asset and National Treasure.  Eager to know more? Read about Zenkoji Temple here.

Access: 10 minutes train ride from Nagano station followed by 11 minutes’ walk.

Desserts

Anyone with a sweet-tooth? Nagano knows exactly how to steal your heart with their dessert at 善光寺ぷりん (Zenkoji Purin). This shop serves pudding in 5 different flavours such as original, green tea (matcha), roasted green tea (houjicha), black tea (koucha) and sesame (goma). If you’re indecisive, try their original flavoured pudding served with caramel sauce on the side, I’m certain it will not fail you!

Access: 5 minute’s walk from Zenkoji Temple

Amazake, literally translated to sweet fermented drink, is one of the favourites here! You’ll find them in every nook and cranny of Zenkoji town, perfect for young kids as it does not contain alcohol and can be enjoyed both chilled and in normal temperatures.

You may be aware that Nagano is famous throughout Japan for their apples. Appetizing in appearance and taste, they’ve changed their game plan of just offering apples in their usual form. At the street leading up to Zenkoji Temple, you’ll be mesmerized with the aroma of freshly baked custard apple pie priced at ¥370 each, only at Beni-Beni.

Conclusion

​This marks the end of my short but breath-taking trip to 長野. The trip was surprisingly fulfilling from dining in an iglo, to challenging myself with winter sports, from trying out a good selection of local foods, to exploring the history behind what defines Nagano today.

This two-day itinerary will be sure to make you indulge in the moment and dive deeper into what lies beneath each photos. Considering taking a day trip from Tokyo? Nagano also has you covered! Start crafting your next trip here and create unforgettable memories at Nagano.

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Hotel she stayed during her trip


We were very excited to work with Tiffany-san, and all the other guests for this project, and will continue to do our best to promote the less known destinations as much as we can. Keep an eye on our Facebook and Instagram to find another project with us.
And of course, if you need any help to find hidden gems in Japan, Japan Wonder Travel will happily help you out.

Happy travelling!

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