10 Best Places to Visit in Nagano Prefecture - Ski Resorts, National Parks, and Ancient Castles! (2023 Edition)

Nagano is Japan’s 4th largest prefecture, and is known for its expansive mountain-covered wilderness, making it a mecca for winter sports. It is home to several Japanese national parks, full of wonders like the famous “snow monkeys” and the idyllic scenery of Kamikochi. Dotted by ancient castles, townscapes, hot springs, temples, and more, Nagano is also a strikingly well-preserved slice of traditional Japan. Here are 10 must-visit Nagano tourist spots to add to your Nagano travel itinerary!

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The long and narrow country of Japan is divided into what are called the 47 prefectures, but are actually 43 prefectures, 2 urban prefectures (Osaka and Kyoto), one territory (Hokkaido), and one metropolis (Tokyo).

Each area has their own unique nature, with their own good characteristics and peculiarities.

Of course, when you talk about sightseeing in Japan, places like Tokyo and Kyoto are famous, but other than that there are plenty of sightseeing areas to go to.

Among those is Nagano prefecture, which sits almost exactly in the center of the Japanese archipelago.

Nagano is bordered by eight prefectures (Gunma, Saitama, Yamanashi, Shizuoka, Aichi, Gifu, Toyama, and Niigata) and is narrow east-to-west but long north-to-south. 

It is the fourth biggest prefecture in Japan. It's usually broken up into northern, eastern, and western areas, and even within this one prefecture each area has its own dialect.

Its ancient name was Shinshuu, and to this day items from Nagano have the name Shinshuu attached, and it is possibly used more than the name Nagano.

Here are ten recommended spots to visit in Shinshuu.

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1. Karuizawa


Nao Iizuka/Flickr


Kin Mun Lee/Flickr

Karuizawa is famous as a summer resort and overflows with tourists in the summer.

It's known as the city where John Lennon brought his family for a long stay and Bill Gates rents holiday villas. Many writers and rich people have built their vacation houses here.

There are many churches and wedding halls here, as well as many Western-style restaurants.

2. Shiga Kogen Ski Resort




peaceful-jp-scenery (busy)/Flickr

It's located at a high elevation and surrounded by beautiful nature with an abundance of snow in the winter, so it's a famous ski resort.

3. Kamikouchi


Aya Yen/Flickr


Aya Yen/Flickr

It was Japan's first mountain resort, and has since been awarded special protected habitat as well as special scenic area status. Each year 1,500,000 people visit.

4. Azumino





This area has the clear stream flowing from the northern Japanese alps, and they cultivate wasabi, rainbow trout, and Shinshuu salmon here, all things that wouldn't live in dirty water.

There are many art galleries and museums, and it's a place where people who like to look at art and visit small, unique stores will enjoy.

5. Zenkouji



This is a temple that is built in Nagano's prefectural capital, Nagano City.

This building has been designated as both a national treasure and a national important cultural property.

The restaurants and stores around it also have their own unique charms.

6. Matsumoto Castle


m-louis /Flickr

This castle, in Matsumoto City, was used from the Azuchi-Momoyama period to the Edo period. The castle tower is designated as a national treasure.

7. Ueda Castle


Takuya Oikawa/Flickr

This castle has become the Ueda Shiroato Koen ("Ueda castle ruins park"), and every spring it flourishes with cherry blossoms and people often go cherry blossom viewing here.

8. Komoro Castle



Only renmants of the castle are left, so it is surrounded by the Komori Shiroato Kaiko Park, which has a zoo and a museum that you can enjoy.

It was used as a location in one of the famous Tora-san movies.

This is another popular flower-viewing place in the spring. Around the castle there are also plenty of Shinshuu soba restaurants.


9. Suwako Onsen

This hot spring gushes out of the land in Suwa City, Nagano.

In the hot spring town around Suwako, Katakurakan, Japan's oldest health preservation spring, is famous for its thousand person bath. Katakurakan is also designated as a national important cultural property.

10. Shimosuwa Onsen


tetsuya yamamoto/Flickr



This hot spring is also in the Suwa region, but in Shimosuwa Town.

In the surrounding hot psring village, there's Suma Grand Shrine which is famous for being a power spot, and Lake Suma, which is surrounded by inns and ryokan.

Originally it was just a place where travelers stopped for the night, and there are many inns and buildings that have kept the traditional Japanese facades of inn towns.

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The information in this article is accurate at the time of publication.

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