A gorgeous, secluded region nestled between the mountains, Nagano seems to be a place that a lot of people tend to overlook and forget when thinking about the beauty Japan has to offer. With its rolling hills and high peaks, countryside farms are scattered throughout this area, making fresh and delicious produce readily available. It is a great escape from some of the major cities like Tokyo and Osaka. Swapping that out for scenic views, fresh crisp air, and the night sky uninterrupted by artificial lights, paving the way for stars to sparkle brightly in the dark is almost euphoric. Fortunately, Nagano gets the love it deserves in the winter seasons when the soft powdery snow, blankets the prefecture, which becomes a haven for winter sport enthusiasts across the globe. However, the allure of Nagano is present throughout all the seasons.
Found in the city of Matsumoto about an hour to an hour and a half from Nagano Station, this fortress of a castle strikes fear into those that gaze at its glory. Standing proudly tall with a moat that circles around it, the black and white exterior with its elegant design and sharp details, casts an aura of strength and power across the city. The elevation of the brute with its opening in the area below due to the moat, makes it look even more menacing up close by the water. To the side there is a small red bridge that curves with grace, forming a great view contrasting the black and white of the castle in the background with the bold red in the foreground.
In the autumn months when the leaves are transformed into fiery red hues the view of Matsumoto Castle is enhanced even more. Just the sight of the castle and the bridge, but with the added extra of the autumn leaves on top makes for a striking photo. Even the gardens that encompass the fortress looks so charming. The composition of this picture is just so Japanese with the picturesque leaves and sturdy fortress in the back, this place is not to be missed.
Possibly the most popular attraction in Nagano prefecture is the Jigokudani Monkey Park. The Japanese Macaques or more simply known as Snow Monkeys, have captured the hearts of millions across the globe enticing people to come visit them in their natural habitat. This is a must-see when visiting in winter as the temperature drops and the cold climate comes into effect, these wild creatures seek warm refuge inside the natural hot springs found snuggly tucked away in the mountains. This means that the journey up to the location can be a bit challenging and the snow does not make it any easier, but it is worth all the effort once you reach the end. There is just something fascinating about the spectacle of seeing these wild monkeys peacefully bathe in the hot spring water surrounded by snow and nature. With bathing in hot springs being such a large and integral part of Japanese culture, being able to witness it being practiced by the snow monkeys too is very precious. If afterwards you feel inclined to have a similar experience yourself, the Yamanouchi area offers several high-quality hot springs, just for humans to enjoy.
Remember earlier when the beauty of Nagano’s mountains and high peaks were mentioned? Well, here is the epitome of that statement. Kiso Valley is home to the old Nakasendo Trail and offers many spectacular mountains to climb and vistas to view. One especially draws the attention: Senjojiki Cirque. An area where you are almost eclipsed by the magnificently formed alps which are divine all year round. While yes, whenever alps are mentioned anywhere in the world the immediate thought that comes to mind is it in winter with the place blanketed in snow. However, it can be argued that this place in autumn can be just as impressive than winter.
Once the days become slightly colder and the autumn foliage is in full bloom, the alps are transformed into a vibrant canvas across the land. There are hiking trails to view the autumnal colors that stretch far, so it can accommodate for both beginner and expert hikers. If the idea of a hike sounds daunting to you but you still would love to come see it in all its glory, there is a cable car that extends up the mountain offering sweeping sights. You will feel as if you are flying through a wonderland. If that does not seem challenging to you and you are seeking something a lot more adventurous, you can find multiple mountain huts at the peaks where you can stay overnight to see another display of nature’s beauty in the form of a sunset and/or a sunrise. Being able to experience a full day of hiking through the dazzlingly colored nature and ending the day at a summit overlooking the valleys high above is really quite spectacular. This is mother nature at its finest.