Nagano is a popular holiday destination easily accessible from Tokyo by JR Hokuriku Shinkansen. It boasts a comfortable mild climate in summer with stunning scenery created by mountain ranges known as the Japanese Alps. The mountainscape in combination with beautiful trees, plants, and wildlife makes Nagano the perfect place to relax all year round. Many people visit Nagano from spring to fall. The mountains are a very welcoming place to escape the blistering heat in summer. But Nagano is also one of Japan’s best places to go in winter! Heavy snowfall offers a wide range of winter adventures and memorable experiences that can be enjoyed regardless of age. We prepared a list of the 10 best winter experiences that you can’t miss in Nagano!
- 1. Skiing in Hakuba and Shiga Kogen
- 2. Kamakura no Sato 2023
- 3. Visit a winter festival
- 4. Snowshoeing & Winter Activities
- 5. Visit the snow monkeys
- 6. Togakushi Shrine
- 7. Nozawa Onsen
- 8. Buddhist Practices at Zenkoji
- 9. Hike the Nakasendo Trail
- 10. Outlet Shopping in Karuizawa
- Japan Wonder Travel Tours
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1. Skiing in Hakuba and Shiga Kogen
One of the best ways to make the most of your time in Nagano is to try winter activities. Nagano is home to world-class ski resorts, a true mecca for winter sports lovers from all over the world. Hakuba and Shiga Kogen are popular ski destinations in Japan with a great number of ski resorts with different levels of runs and slopes. There is a convenient express bus service that connects the two areas during the winter season. Taking the bus service will allow you to visit both of the areas and enjoy skiing while surrounded by stunning scenery completely covered with powder in winter!
2. Kamakura no Sato 2023
Kamakura no Sato (Kamakura Snow Dome Village) is a scenic tourist attraction in Iiyama city, Nagano. Iiyama city is widely famous for the heavy snowfall during the winter season, which enables locals to create snow huts (kamakura) and attracts tourists to the small village. You can have a memorable dining experience inside the snow huts which are beautifully lit up at night. Don’t miss the delicious hot pot made from locally sourced ingredients such as fresh vegetables and pork! During the Kamakura Festival which is held annually during the second weekend of February, the snowy village offers a range of enjoyable events, including snow activities for children and firework displays at night!
Iiyama Snow Hut Village 2023
January 20 – February 26
Admission village: free
Lunch: Adult ¥4,100 per person Child ¥2,600 per person
Dinner: Adult ¥4,600 per person Child ¥3,000 per person
*Private Igloo fee, a hot pot, and 1 rice ball included
Afternoon break time: Adult ¥1,800 per person Child ¥1,200 per person
*Private Igloo fee, daifuku or oshiruko (sweet red beans soup) included
Please note that the price above is only applied when you book online. If you book on the day of your visit or by calling, the price will raise.
3. Visit a winter festival
If you don’t mind the cold winter weather in Nagano, grab your coat and go outside to join great winter festivals. Nagano offers a range of lively winter festivals which feature different types of performances, exhibitions, and exciting events that keep you warm even on a snowy day.
Head to Matsumoto Castle Ice Sculpture Festival at the end of January, ice sculptors from all over Japan compete in the national ice carving competition championship. You can enjoy a number of ice sculptures exhibited around the historic castle designated as Japan’s National Treasure. Zenko-ji Omotesando Illumination is held from early November to mid-March at the 1.8 km street leading up to the Zenkoji Temple. Nagano Tomyo Lantern Festival is another fun winter festival that takes place at the same time at the beginning of February. Nozawa Fire Festival is well-known as one of Japan’s three great fire festivals with over 150 years of history! Every year on January 15th, this massive bonfire attracts a number of visitors to Nozawa Onsen.
4. Snowshoeing & Winter Activities
Snowshoeing is a perfect winter activity option that is enjoyable for everyone even if you’re a first-timer. It enables you to explore and enjoy the snowy mountains or frozen trails easily, actively, and comfortably. There are several companies that offer exciting guided tours. From snowshoeing to snow rafting, and from backcountry tours to snowmobile tours, there is a lot to do in Nagano. Especially in Shiga Kogen and Hakuba, you will find many different winter activities!
Recommended winter activities in Nagano
5. Visit the snow monkeys
It’s not only the great ski resorts in Nagano that draw thousands of visitors from every corner of the world. One of Nagano’s most famous attractions is the snow monkeys of Jigokudani Monkey Park! This world-famous tourist attraction is located in the mountainous valley of the Yokoyu river. If you visit in the winter season, you will be welcomed by countless numbers of wild monkeys relaxing in natural hot springs to keep themselves warm on the cold winter days! Enjoy watching them bathe and roam around the park freely. You can take pictures with them, but make sure to keep a safe distance as they are wild animals. Don’t forget to bring suitable winter shoes and warm clothes as it takes about 35 minutes to walk through a rough trail up to the park from the nearest bus stop
6. Togakushi Shrine
Togakushi Shrine is a magical historic site nestled in a sacred mountainous area at the base of Mt. Togakushi, Nagano city. The shrine complex consists of five shrines which are connected by beautiful hiking trails that take you through sacred forests. In winter, the forests get covered with an abundance of crispy snow creating a magnificent scenery. Enjoy the walk along the trails lined with centuries-old cedar trees in the snow and visit the historic buildings with over 2,000 years of history. While you are there, make sure to try the local specialty Togakushi Soba Noodles. These noodles from Nagano are a must-try that will get you all geared up for your hiking adventure.
7. Nozawa Onsen
If you travel around Japan during winter, nothing feels better than soaking in a relaxing hot spring with a snowy backdrop! Nozawa Onsen is a peaceful hot spring resort nestled at the base of Mt. Kenashi. Despite it being small, it is home to a great number of traditional Japanese ryokan which is sure to be an unforgettable experience for everyone. Enjoy exploring a wide range of local shops and restaurants, or book a winter adventure tour and go snowshoeing or backcountry skiing. Head to Nozawa Onsen Ski Resort and hit the family-friendly slopes, or join Nozawa Fire Festival which is held annually on January 15th!
8. Buddhist Practices at Zenkoji
Zenkoji Temple (善光寺) is one of the most famous and important Buddhist temples in Japan with more than 1,400 years of history. Visiting the temple itself will definitely be a memorable experience, but there are actually other ways to make your visit even more extraordinary. The temple offers a range of interesting Buddhist practices that visitors can also participate in. Try Zazen (Zen meditation), Shakyo (Hand-copying Buddhist Scriptures), or Goma Prayer at Daikanjin Temple located within the same temple grounds. You can also attend a morning service known as Oasa-ji held early in the morning every day!
9. Hike the Nakasendo Trail
The Nakasendo is a scenic mountain trail featuring well-preserved historic houses and buildings that date back to the Edo period (1603-1868). The trail was originally completed as one of the five main routes connecting Edo (the old name of Tokyo) all the way to Kyoto. Today it attracts numerous visitors with the stunning townscape as well as the refreshing walking trails running through the sacred mountains of the Kiso valley.
If you want to enjoy walking through Nakasendo in winter, head to the beautiful hiking trail between Magome-juku and Tsumago-juku. The small towns both once served as post towns that offered accommodation for travelers who needed to stay overnight while traveling between Kyoto and Tokyo. This hiking trail is safe and easy to tackle regardless of physical ability. It generally takes 2-3 hours to complete the beautiful 8km trail full of natural attractions such as waterfalls! You can hike (parts of) the Nakasendo trail all year round, but the traditional townscape blanketed in snow is even more magical! In February, the streets of the Nakasendo trail and the foot of Mount Ontake are illuminated with thousands of beautiful handmade ice candles.
10. Outlet Shopping in Karuizawa
If you want to do some shopping before you leave, you can head to Karuizawa Prince Shopping Plaza! This large outlet mall is home to about 200 shops including many that carry high-end brands, household goods, world-famous sportswear brands, and much more! Enjoy tax-free shopping at most outlet shops to get extra discounts on top of the already low prices they have all year round. When you need a break from shopping, head to a pleasant lawn field to unwind, or have some food at restaurants that serve local specialties such as shinshu beef steak and soba noodles at an affordable price! The outlet mall of Karuizawa is located right next to Karuizawa Station so it’s easy to make a day trip from Tokyo.
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From crisp snow to sweltering heat, Nagano is a great place to enjoy the four stunning seasons in Japan. However, in winter the snow transforms the Nagano area into a winter wonderland. Traveling to Nagano in winter is a great way to explore popular tourist destinations in the area. Hit the slopes and enjoy skiing or other winter sports activities, visit famous winter festivals, and most of all, capture the spectacular scenery created by the beautiful snow. Make sure to check the availability of each activity in advance as occasionally they are canceled due to heavy snowfall. You should also be well prepared for the (unpredictable) winter weather, especially when you go up to the mountains.
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Miho Shimizu is a Japanese freelance writer settled in Shizuoka with her husband and two rabbits. Fascinated with travelling at the age of 18, she has spent most of her long holidays exploring incredible spots around Japan. Also love to listen to music, draw, and read novels over a cup of green tea.
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