Travel Guide Asia Japan Honshu Chubu Nagano



Nagano - Zenko Ji quarters

Nagano - Zenko Ji quarters

© Gelli

Nagano is the capital of the Nagano Prefecture which is part of the Chubu region in central Honshu, Japan's main island. Almost 400,000 people call the city their home, which became better known after the 1998 Winter Olympics which were held in Nagano and its immediate surrounding Japanese Alps. Nagano is still one of the best places in the country for winter outdoor activities like skiing and snowboarding. In summer, there are good treks into the mountains and in both seasons you can enjoy a few good sites in the city itself.



Sights and Activities

  • Zenkō-ji, a 7th century Buddhist temple overlooking the city
  • Matsushiro, the former castle town of the Sanada clan, is located in the southern part of the city
  • Shiga Kogen is Japan's premier ski resort area
  • Jigokudani Monkey Park, famous for the wild Japanese Snow Monkeys often found bathing in its hot springs
  • Olympic buildings like the M-Wave speed skating arena with the largest wooden suspension roof in the world
  • Nagano Chausuyama Zoo
  • Outdoor dinosaur park
  • Botanical garden
  • Museum of natural history



Events and Festivals

Traditional Festivals

Japan has countless traditional festivals and holidays. Then when you add the local festivals that number just grows and grows. Here is a list of the few major national traditional festivals.

  • Japanese New Year (January 1) - the most important holiday in Japan. Although there are lots of customs and traditions most of them are done in the private. This is mainly a family holiday and Japan can feel very empty as almost everyone goes home. Travelling in Japan in during this time is difficult because everything is shut down.
  • Seijin No Hi (2nd Monday of January) - the coming of age holiday for Japanese women which 20. Traditionally families will buy any young woman how turned 20 in the last year a kimono. On this day almost all Japanese women will ear a kimono.
  • Hin Festival (March 3) - Also known as doll festival the Hin Matsuri festival is meant for young women. In early february families with daughters put dolls in order to make the women happy and healthy later in life. On Girls Day, on March 3, the dolls are put away until next year.
  • Shichi Go San Festival (Novermber 5) - Boys who are 3 and 5, and girls 3 and 7 are taken to a shinto shrine in traditional Japanese dress. The children are brought there to pray for good luck, good health and wealth.

National Holidays

  • Golden Week - Is quite often referred to as the "Japanese Spring Break." It is a combination of many state holidays, including Showa Day, Greenery Day, Children's Day, and Constitution Memorial Day in order to give a full week off. It takes place during the first full week of May. Everyone gets this week off in Japan so it is very bad time to travel because everything is crowded, expensive and most hotels will be full. There is also a major festival in the southern city of Fukuoka this week, it is called Hakata Dontaku.




Summers in Nagano are hot and relatively humid like most of the country. Temperatures hover around 30 °C from June to September while nights are generally between 18 and 22 °C during this time. Winters last from December to Marc when daytime temperatures are generally well above zero and nights in the city itself are around zero or just below though it gets much colder in the mountains. Summer months see most of the rain, though winters are far from dry as well. Spring and Autumn are pleasant times for a visit if you are not keen on skiing and want to avoid the hot conditions.



Getting There

By Plane

Nagano itself has no airport, but the nearest airport is Matsumoto Airport with Japan Airlines (JAL) having flights to/from Sapporo, Osaka and Fukuoka.
Buses connect the city and airport in about 70 minutes, the train to Matsumoto is faster but you will need a connection to the airport after that.

By Train

Japan Railways offers a number of services to other Japanese cities. Nagano is accessible from Tokyo station via the Hokuriku Shinkansen, formerly known as the Nagano Shinkansen. The trip takes anywhere from 80 to 110 minutes depending on the train that is used, but generally the Kagayaki (かがやき) and the Hakutaka (はくたか) services make fewer stops than the Asama (あさま). The fare is ¥8,200 for a reserved seat. Standard and Green Car seats are fully covered by the respective versions of the Japan Rail Pass, but if you want to use the premium GranClass seats - which feature airline-like business class seats and personal attendant service - you will have to pay the limited express and GranClass surcharges (an additional ¥11,910 from Tokyo to Nagano), as any version of the Japan Rail Pass only covers the base fare.

The regional JR East Rail Pass will cover the full trip from Tokyo to Nagano, but the more local JR Kanto Area Pass will only cover the trip to Saku-daira, a few stations short of Nagano; you will have to purchase a regular ticket (¥3,330 for a reserved seat) for the remainder of the journey.

The Wide View Shinano (ワイドビュー しなの) limited express train runs hourly from Nagoya to Nagano (3 hours, ¥7,330). From Kyoto or Osaka there are two ways to get to Nagano: Either take the Tokaido Shinkansen to Nagoya and change to the Shinano (¥12,000 from Osaka), or take the Thunderbird (サンダーバード) service to Kanazawa and then take the Hokuriku Shinkansen from Kanazawa to Nagano (¥14,290 from Osaka). Each of the options take approximately 4 to 4 1/2 hours from Osaka depending on stopping patterns, and both are fully covered by the Japan Rail Pass (except for Nozomi trains on the Tokaido Shinkansen).

By Bus

Highway buses from Tokyo depart from the terminal in Shinjuku, and from the Sunshine City Prince Hotel in Ikebukuro. The trip takes around three and a half hours, and the fare is ¥4000 one-way. The ¥7200 round trip fare is about half the cost of the Shinkansen.

Hankyu and Nankai buses also make a few daytime and nighttime runs from Osaka and Kyoto to Nagano. The day runs take about seven hours, and the night runs take nine hours. Expect to pay ¥6200 one-way, ¥10000 round trip from Osaka, and ¥5300 one-way, ¥9500 round-trip from Kyoto.



Getting Around

By Public Transport

There are buses that loop around the city center called the Gururingo (ぐるりん号). If you stay within the main area a ride is only 100yen.




  • Sakura, in the Nishi-no-Mon brewery - Most of the items on the menu feature miso (fermented bean-paste) which is made with sake by-products. (For an exotic dessert, try miso ice cream.)
  • Hungry Caterpillar Cafe (ハングリーキャタピラーカフェ), Daimon 56-1, Nagano (On main street south from Zenkoji, 100 metres south of Daimon intersection), ☎ +81 26-233-5510. 11:00-18:00. Great sandwiches. Many of the foods enjoyed by the Very Hungry Caterpillar can be found on the menu. There are many other nice cafes and restaurants in the charming courtyard at the rear.Shinsyu soba is famous in Japan. It is healthy, delicious and cheap.
  • Hanbey (半兵ヱ) (From Nagano Station's north exit (towards Zenkoji), cross the busy intersection and head down the alleyway one to the right of the main road (its also 2-3 left of the Starbucks). It's about 100 metres down on your left.). If the archaic kana above was not a big enough hint, this is a post-war themed izakaya. Fairly intimate dining for an izakaya with bar seating, tight booths and a tatami room for groups. The bar seating in particular wraps around the kitchen so you can see the staff cooking up a traditional Japanese storm. The walls are covered in war-time or post-war advertising right down to the old backwards right-to-left hiragana こばた ads and utterly bizarre airline ads. Music fits, too. No English and the menus lack any images whatsoever and are written 100 percent in kanji, but if this is no problem, you will be treated to a very pleasant surprise: the prices match the theme.
  • Irohado (いろは堂). Famous for its oyaki.




  • Bluebird, 1418 Minami Ishidocyo, Daito Building 3F (Take the West Exit from Nagano Station, walk a few minutes, cross the street near Starbucks and go up the narrow street. Bluebird is at the end, overlooking the street across from Again department store.), ☎ +81 2-6226-3945. Western-style pool/dart bar. Hip Hop nights and the occasional tattoo show.
  • High-Five (Take the West Exit from Nagano Station and walk a few minutes. It's in the alley between Hotel Ikemon and Hotel Nagano.), ☎ +81 90-1868-5815. Small centrally-located nightclub.
  • Shiga-Kogen Brewery (In Yudanaka on the way to Jigokudani Monkey Park.), ☎ +81 269-33-2155. A 200 year old sake brewery that has just opened a microbrewery. Free sake and beer tasting on site and excellent locally made beers.
  • Parley (パーレイ) (Take the main exit from Nagano Station and go down the alley just to the right of the main road. Located where the alley turns sharply to the right. Two doors down from Hanbey Izakaya.), ☎ +81 26-225-1020. The gaudy facade is shaped like a pirate ship and the interior won't disappoint. Apart from the electronic dart board, the theme is largely complete and flawless. Even the toilets follow the theme. Really. There's a cargo hold themed bar downstairs, too. This place attracts a young, upbeat crowd. The staff are cheerful, regularly cosplay as characters from Pirates of the Caribbean, and are fans of Gantz. Drinks for ¥500.




  • 1166 Backpackers, 1048 Nishimachi (About 15 minutes walk from Nagano station. Convenient location only 3 minutes walk from Zenkoji Temple), ☎ +81 26-217-2816. Owner very friendly with good English. Facilities are very good and clean. Dorm ¥2,600, private rooms ¥5,600 (2 people) or ¥7,200 (3 people).
  • Moritomizu Backpackers Hostel (森と水バックパッカーズ), 1-6-2 Nakagosho (Close to Nagano Station. About 25 minute walk to Zenkoji Temple), ☎ +81 26-217-5188. Check-in: 4:00pm, check-out: 10:00am. Easy-going, convenient budget hostel. Pleasant English-speaking staff can supply tourist and outdoor activity information. Kitchen, living room, hot showers, free WiFi available to all. No curfew. Train lovers welcome! Male dormitory/female dormitory ¥2600. Private rooms from ¥3,600. Discount for long stays and groups.
  • Zenkoji Kyoujuin (善光寺教授院ユースホステル), ☎ +81 26-232-2768. Check-in: 4:00pm, check-out: 10:00am. Housed in a former temple building a few blocks from Zenkoji Temple. Owner speaks basic English, and is more than happy to use it. Shared room with futon ¥3360, private room ¥4,000
  • Go-Honjin Fujiya (御本陳藤屋), Daimon-cho 80 (Just south of Zenkoji's main gate.). An elegant old traditional inn, founded in 1661 as a stage along the Northern Country road. The current building was constructed in 1923 and is a superb example of Taisho-era Western-style architecture.
  • The Saihokukan Hotel (犀北館ホテル), Agata-machi 528-1 (Five minutes SW of Zenkoji.), ☎ +81 26-235-3333. With a history of over 120 years, The Saihokukan Hotel is the choice hotel of the Emperor and his family when they visit Nagano semi-annually. The restaurants found within the hotel emphasize `slow food` methods of natural and healthy food preparation. Also a popular wedding venue with various styles and settings within and above the art laden walls.

You can use the form below to search for availability (Travellerspoint receives a commission for bookings made through the form)




Keep Connected


Manga cafes are dotted along the streets of almost every city in Japan. For a very reasonable price (about ¥100 per 15 minutes), you receive a private cubicle with a PC with internet access at blistering Japanese internet speeds. The chairs are incredibly comfortable (making them an excellent place to sleep for the cash-deprived), and you can even order snacks and drinks from the staff.

A number of business hotels have Internet access available if you have your own device, sometimes for free. It is also possible to find Wi-Fi "hot spots" around many large cities in Japan, especially near tech-related businesses and large corporate buildings with unsecured wireless networks. 3G Wireless Data and Pocket Wifi are other options.


See also: International Telephone Calls

Payphones (公衆電話 kōshū denwa) are easily found, particularly near train stations, although with the popularity of mobile phones, public pay phones are not quite as numerous as they once were. Gray and green pay phones accept ¥10 and ¥100 coins and prepaid cards. Be aware that not all places with public telephones have phones that accept coins, so it may be worthwhile to buy a phone card for emergency use. Some of the gray phones, as indicated on the display, can make international calls. Pre-paid cards can be purchased at convenience stores, train station kiosk stores and sometimes in vending machines next to the phone.

Modern Japanese mobile phones (携帯電話 keitai denwa or just keitai) tend to operate on unique cellular standards not always compatible with the rest of the world. 3G phones using the UMTS/WCDMA2100 standard and equipped with a 3G SIM card will most likely work. If your phone is up to spec, double-check with your carrier if they have a roaming agreement with either SoftBank or NTT DoCoMo. Coverage is generally excellent, unless you are heading to some remote mountainous areas. If you have no 3G phone but still have a 3G-compatible SIM card, you can rent a 3G phone in Japan and slot in your card, allowing you to keep your home phone number in Japan. For a longer trip, you can also purchase a phone, but doing this legally requires an Alien Registration Card (or an obliging Japanese friend willing to front for you).

The easier way is to get a prepaid phone. Prepaid phones are sold in most SoftBank and AU stores. If you already have a 3G phone, go with Softbank as it can sell SIMs as opposed to au whose prepaid service is phone-based like most CDMA carriers. Prepaid phones use a "card" with a pass key to "charge" a phone with minutes. These prepaid calling cards, unlike the phone itself, can be found in most convenience stores. A prepaid cell phone is available for as little as ¥5000 plus ¥3000 for a 60-90 day call time package, which will get drained at a rate of ¥100 per minute (¥10 per 6 seconds for AU's prepaid service). Both SoftBank and AU offer prepaid phones.


The Japanese postal service is excellent! Domestic and international mail service is very quick and reliable. The prices for sending letters, postcards and parcels vary depending on where you send if from and to which country you send it too, and of course depends on weight as well, so check this calculation page of Japan Post for more details. Post offices generally are open from 9:00am to 5:00pm on weekdays, closing at weekends and also on national holidays, though a few open on Saturdays from 9:00am to 3:00pm. Central post offices are sometimes open until 7:00pm, open on Saturdays from 9:00am to 5:00pm and on Sundays and holidays from 9:00am to 12:30pm. There are post offices in every major city and minor town. Another thing to remember is that the post office is one of the few places in Japan that is guaranteed to have ATMs that take international cards.


Quick Facts


  • Latitude: 36.6485496
  • Longitude: 138.1942432

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This is version 24. Last edited at 7:14 on Aug 17, 17 by Utrecht. 5 articles link to this page.

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