Nagano Prefecture offers many of Japan’s natural, historical and cultural treasures. Close to Nagano City, the temple town and capital of the prefecture, are the famous Jigokudani “snow monkeys”, and while there are many natural hot springs and tourist traps, there are also many intriguing sites such as the WWII Imperial Headquarters Tunnels in historic Matsushiro that few visitors to Japan know about or have the chance to explore.
In the center of the prefecture is Matsumoto City, which is culturally sophisticated and rich in history with its heritage buildings, famous national treasure designated castle and interesting Japan Folklore Museum, as well as being the gateway to the remote and beautiful Kamikochi and Norikura. With 16 peaks higher than 3,000 meters (9850 feet), the Northern, Central and Southern Alps offer excellent skiing, trekking and climbing opportunities in the four national parks. In 1998 Nagano hosted the Winter Olympics, and with its excellent transport infrastructure you can enjoy everything from heliskiing/heliboarding to art museums and historic sights.
Further south the Jomon era artifacts near Lake Suwa illustrate Nagano’s rich human history. Apples, grapes, pears and peaches cultivated in valleys such as Azumino and the Ina valley are renown throughout Japan, as increasingly are the high tech electronics and precision engineering industries that have flocked to Nagano due to the pure water and excellent transport connections. Cultural attractions abound ranging from modern art collections, museums such as the Japan Ukiyoe Museum, to gourmet dining, craft beer, sake and whisky, while live music and visual arts abound.
In all seasons there is plenty to do. In winter, apart from the excellent ski resorts, you can enjoy ice sculptures and ice fishing in Shirakabako and snowboard past the eerie “snow monsters” in the fascinating Tateshina highlands. During the summer you can shoot the rapids of the Tenryu Gorge, soar high into the cool alpine wilderness from Komagane on the world’s second longest ropeway, and hike from there through spectacular mountain scenery to the Kiso valley and the ancient Nakasendo with its beautiful post towns such as Magome and Tsumago.
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