As summer vacation starts, Nagano Prefecture is gearing up for its biggest tourist season. Here are my suggestions for the best ways to enjoy Nagano’s summer:
1. Mountain Climbing
Nagano is known as “The Roof of Japan” with all of its majestic mountains. And climbing them is the best way to appreciate their massive scale. Just be sure to treat the mountains with respect, and prepare accordingly for changes in weather, etc. Too of the mountains I recently climbed are
*Mt. Yakedake from Kamikochi
*Mt. Asama from Tengu Onsen / Asama Sansou.
2. Ride a Ropeway to Alpine Heaven
An easier way to experience Nagano’s 2000-meter plus high alpine world is to ride one of the many ropeways, ski lifts, or other forms of transport operating in the summer. A few suggestions:
*Komagadake Ropeway from Komagane to the Senjoki Cirque
*Happoone ski lift to Happo Pond
*Kurobe Dam Alpine Route
3. Play in a River
Japan’s summer is hot! One great way to cool off is to jump in a river fed by refreshingly cold snow melt. Most rivers are thought of as being too dangerous to play in, but here in Nagano there are lots of options. A couple examples are:
*”Mizu to Midori Outdoor Experience Pavilion” in Komagane
*Togakushi Campground (Sakasa River)
Being an innkeeper, I should try to promote staying at ryokans. However, I personally love camping and Nagano has too many great camping spots to ignore. Here a some our family likes the most:
*Korakuen Campground on the shores of Lake Nojiri
*Togakushi Campground at the base of Mt. Togakushi and within a short walk to the famed cedar trees lining the path to Togakushi’s Inner Shrine.
5. Scenic Drives
If you have a car, Nagano has some famous scenic drives such as Utsukushigahara’s Venus Line and the Vocano Route between Mt. Asama and Shiga Kogen / Mt. Shirane. There are also an innumerable amount of windy countryside roads to be enjoyed. One is the road from Omi IC on the Nagano Expwy to see the Dosojin roadside gods.
6. Onsen Hopping
Nagano has the most day-use onsens of any prefecture in Japan. From onsens featuring expansive views to ones hidden away in a remote mountain location, and from onsen waters that are a sulphery milky white to some that are a deep shade of orange-red from the iron content, Nagano has the most amazing variety of onsens. My personal favorite is:
*Kiriake Onsen in the Akiyama district behind Shiga Kogen in northeastern Nagano. The mineral water bubbles up naturally in a river bed where you move rocks around to make your own bath.
7. Fresh Juicy Fruits and Crispy Vegetables
Summer in Nagano starts with the apricot season then transitions to plums, peaches and blueberries before shifting to grapes and summer apples. Kawakami Village and the Sugadaira plateau help make Nagano Japan’s largest source of summer lettuce. You’ll never find fresher, crispier summer vegetables or juicier fruit anywhere!
8. Firework Displays
Suwa Lake’s massive annual fireworks display takes place every year on August 15th. It headlines a series of pyrotechnic demonstrations held all summer long throughout the prefecture. Here in onsen town Togura-Kamiyamada where I live, ours is held on August 7th above the Chikuma River.
Togura Kamiyamada Onsen’s Summer Festival (held the 3rd weekend of July) is, of course, the best in the world (Sorry — I’m a bit biased), but every community in the prefecture celebrates one (or more!) festival throughout the summer. Just a couple examples are the Bon-Odori dance at Zenkoji (August 13-15th) and the Tanabata Festival at Ueda City’s Unnomachi district around August 7th.
10. Going for a stroll wearing a Yukata robe
This is actually my top recommendation on how to enjoy Nagano’s summer. Shibu Onsen, Bessho Onsen and other hot spring resort towns are perfect for taking a walk while wearing a yukata robe. Most ryokans provide wooden geta to wear on your feat making the iconic clip-clop sound (in Japanese, “kara-koro”). Here in Togura-Kamiyamada Onsen, there is a foot bath and even “shateki” cork gun target shooting parlors to enjoy as you explore the town in your yukata and geta.
Come and enjoy Nagano Prefecture this summer