Hakuba, Nozawa Onsen and Shiga Kogen are particularly well known among Nagano’s extremely popular ski resorts.
They were selected as the site of the 18th Winter Olympics held in 1998. The concentration of ski resorts offering a wide variety of experiences includes the Happo one Ski Resort in Hakuba, which is the largest in Japan.
At Nozawa Onsen, in the northern part of Nagano Prefecture, a smooth sheet of high-quality snow covers the slopes, making a good place for beginner skiers to have some fun. Part of the appeal here is being able to gaze upon the pristine forests of Japanese beech and hard rime.
Shiga Kogen, which is covered with quality powder snow, has a diversity of courses to satisfy everyone from beginners to experts. The slopes are open for an extended period from mid-November through late May so you can even enjoy skiing in the spring.
One-Day Nature and History Route
Nippon Alps Area: Hakuba, Azumino, Matsumoto
How about taking a side trip during your stay in Hakuba to visit the natural splendor of Azumino and historical Matsumoto? Bicycles are available to rent in both towns so you can have a fun-packed day.
To reach Azumino, take the JR Oito Line from Hakuba for about an hour-and-a-half and get off at Hotaka Station. Rental bicycles, a great way to get around, can be found at a shop near the station. Cycling while viewing the far-off snowy landscape of the Northern Alps is a spectacular experience. You can take a tour of the facility where glass is blown at the Azumino Glass Studio, only 20 minutes away by bicycle. Ride another 10 minutes to reach Daio Wasabi Farm. Admission is free. The farm has a truly Japanese farmland landscape with wasabi fields and a mill. When you start to get hungry after a walk among the natural surroundings, order some zarusoba (regular size: 800 yen), a dish of cold buckwheat noodles served at the farm’s soba restaurant.
The noodles are made with Nagano buckwheat flour and pure well water from Azumino. They also come with fresh wasabi straight from the farm’s fields so you can savor the authentic flavor and aroma. For dessert we recommend the soft serve wasabi ice cream that has subtle wasabi scent. You can buy some at the take-out corner.
Next, go back to Hotaka Station and get on the JR Oito Line again. In about 30 minutes you’ll arrive at Matsumoto Station. During the Edo period (1603 – 1868), historical Matsumoto prospered as a castle town. Western-style buildings were constructed here during the Taisho period (1912 – 1926) that still stand today. Take a walk and check out the atmospheric streets of the town for a time you’re sure to never forget. First, take a walk up to Matsumoto Castle.
The keep in the middle of its grounds, which was built over 400 years ago, is designated as a national treasure. Enter the keep where you can enjoy a sweeping view of Matsumoto to make you feel what it was like to be a castle lord.
The Omotenashi Guards come between 2 and 3 pm to let visitors inside the castle try on armor and take commemorative photos. You can also request a guide by a volunteer tour guide who speaks English (or another language) by making a reservation in advance. Winter is the perfect season to visit Matsumoto The candy market in January features candy stalls and a fair. At the Sankuro Festival, children collect pines and other New Year’s decorations from houses to build a bonfire. The Hyocho Festival features ice sculpture displays.
There are also free rickshaws you can rent near the castle. Get on one and head for the Matsumoto City Museum of Art. In addition to the permanent exhibit that includes “Kabocha” (Japanese for “pumpkin”), an illusory painting with a polka dot motif by Yayoi Kusama (a famous modern artist and Matsumoto native) you can also view the “Maboroshi no Hana” (meaning “Phantom Grass”), a unique three-dimensional work placed at the museum’s entrance. After getting your fill of art, head back towards Matsumoto Castle and a street called Nawate-dori, which is lined with pubs and restaurants in a romantic setting reminiscent of a samurai residence.
It’s a perfect place to hunt for souvenirs. After a nice walk, how about a refreshing bath at the Shioi-no-yu public baths, which were built during the Taisho period? The number of old-style public baths with an atmosphere like this is dwindling in Japan, so it will be a precious experience. In addition, the water here is fresh from a mineral spring and is safe to drink. Why not wash away the day’s weariness while you reflect back on the charms of the town of Matsumoto?
Azumino Tourism Association
5951-1, Hotaka, Azumino-city
8: 30 a.m. – 6: 00 p.m.
Closed: Not regularly
Azumino Glass Studio
5076-17, Hotaka, Toyoshina-minami-hotaka, Azumino-city
9:00 a.m. – 4:30 p.m.
Daio Wasabi Farm
1692, Hotaka, Azumino-city, Nagano
9:00 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. [December – February] (*Subject to change.)
Shin Matsumoto Monogatari(Matsumoto City Tourist Information official website)
National Treasure Matsumoto Castle
4-1, Marunouchi, Matsumoto-city
8:30 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.(Entrance accepted until 4:30 p.m.)
Closed: The year-end through the New Year period (December 29 –January 3)
Admission: Adults 600 yen, Students of elementary and junior high school 300 yen
Matsumoto City Museum of Art
4-2-22, Chuo, Matsumoto-city
9:00 a.m. – 4:30 p.m.
Closed: Mon.(Closed the next day when Monday falls on a national holiday)
Admission: Adults 400 yen, Students of university and high school 200 yen, Children under junior high school age are free
3-6-3, Ote, Matsumoto-city
3:00 p.m. – 10:00 p.m.
Bathing fee 380 yen
Indulgent One-Day Open-Air Hot Spring Tour
North Shinano Area (Nozawa Onsen, Shiga Kogen, Yudanaka Shibu Onsen-kyo)
After you have a great time skiing in Shiga Kogen or going to Nozawa Onsen, we recommend touring the public bath houses in a nearby hot spring village. These baths are open to the public and are scattered across town. It’s great fun to put on a yukata (robe) and a pair of geta (wooden sandals) to casually make the rounds of the hot springs.
Nozawa Onsen has 13 public bath houses, all of which are free to enter. You can also enjoy collecting the 13 different stamps available at each public bath on a 300-yen stamp notebook. There’s even a place where you can make “hot spring eggs,” a type of half-boiled egg cooked with the hot spring’s heat. The town is even livelier during the traditional Dosojin Festival in mid-January.
Yudanaka Shibu Onsen-kyo, about 30 minutes away by bus in Shiga Kogen, is a famous hot spring town. In particular, Shibu Onsen has several public bath houses along the street. Only local residents and visitors staying in the town’s accommodations can enter, but Shibunoyu allows anyone to enter between 10 am and 4 pm for a 500 yen fee. You can also enjoy collecting an assortment of public bath stamps in this town, but if you’re staying at an inn or hotel in this hot spring village, then you can exchange a full notebook for a 300-yen hand towel. Nearby is Jigokudani Monkey Park, where snow monkeys bathe in the hot spring. Seeing them as they relax in the warm waters is a heart-warming experience that will make for a wonderful travel memory.
Nagano Cuisine in the Nippon Alps & North Shinano Areas
Soba, a noodle made from buckwheat, is a famous product throughout Nagano Prefecture. We recommend tojisoba, a type you eat in winter by dipping in a pot filled with hot broth so you can enjoy both the soba’s aroma and the broth’s delicious flavor. Another way to have a memorable experience during your trip is to visit any of the many places in the prefecture where you can try making soba for yourself.
This local dish is made by wrapping vegetables and other ingredients in flour and steaming or baking it. It typically contains nozawana, a vegetable that is a local specialty in Nozawa Onsen, but oyaki is prepared in a wide variety of ways, such as sweet versions containing adzuki beans or pumpkin.
This version of the galette, a French specialty, is a thin, round, flat piece of baked Hakuba buckwheat flour and water with meat or cheese stuffed inside. It is then topped with ingredients such as locally grown vegetables to make an original dish from Hakuba.
Local Sweets for 500 Yen and Under!
Shioyokan Sweets from Kurita Seika in Matsumoto for 350 Yen
The prosperous castle town of Matsumoto created a Japanese confectionary culture. There is an anecdote that says that when there was a shortage of salt during the Warring States Period (15th – 16th centuries), the lord of an opposing domain sent salt. The day of the salt’s arrival is still a day of festivals in Matsumoto. And although the lord who sent the salt was an enemy, the people added salt to a sweet bean jelly (yokan) to extol his benevolence and create the shioyokan. The salt brings out the jelly’s sweetness to give it a richer flavor. It also makes a great gift because it stays fresh for a long period of 300 days. There is also Tsubuaniri Shioyokan containing extra mashed sweet bean paste for 750 yen each.
1-5-29, Josei, Mastumoto-city, Nagano
9:00a.m. – 5:00p.m.
Closed: Sun. and Holidays
True Wasabi Soft-Serve Ice Cream from Azumino Daio Wasabi Farm for 330 Yen
This treat mixes milk and ice with freshly picked wasabi. The invigorating aroma of wasabi goes great with the rich blend of milk and ice. It lacks wasabi’s characteristically pungent smell to give it a fresh sweetness.
Nozawa Onsen & Yudanaka Shibu Onsen-kyo Hot Spring Manju for 50+ Yen Each
Hot spring villages sell onsen manju (Hot Spring Manju) which are sweets filled with bean jam. They come in variety of shapes, colors and even flavors such as adzuki beans and miso. It’s fun to try them out and compare their taste.