Nagano by Car

October 16th, 2015 by
Category: Information, Sightseeing

It's not the destination, but the journey!

I have lived in Nagano for about three years now and have been lucky to have a car for most of my time here. Unfortunately, that vehicle is currently rusting away in its expensive parking spot (it’s overdue for an inspection…), so I can sympathize with people visiting Nagano only by bus and train. While Nagano’s most famous attractions are accessible by public transportation, there are some areas that are just out of reach. But even though my car-wings are clipped, yours don’t have to be. There are many places to rent cars throughout Nagano for visitors looking to experience the prefecture at their own pace. While you’re driving around Nagano, check out some of these places:

Maguse Onsen

A outdoor onsen bath overlooks beautiful green valleys.

What a view.

This hot spring spa is tucked away in the mountains of Kijima-daira, near Yamanouchi (the Snow Monkey Park) and Iiyama (new shinkansen station!). While some tour buses make the trek up to it, there is no public transportation that runs there.

It is renowned for its wintertime views from the outdoor bath, which have been rated as the best winter hot spring views in all of Japan. While I sometimes don’t trust Japan’s various ‘Top 3’ categorizations, this one has to be seen to be believed. Afterwards, you can try their unpasteurized milk soft-serve ice cream. It sounds strange, but it’s actually quite delicious. It’s so airy that I imagine it’s what clouds taste like.

Update: A friend recently told me about a bus that runs between Iiyama station and Maguse Onsen! More details below.

The Venus line

Fields of flowers and seas of clouds

For fans of scenic drives, this road is a must -see. The Venus line connects three highland areas in central Nagano: Utsukushigahara, Tateshina and Kirigamine-kogen. Beginning in either Matsumoto city or Chino city, you drive through wooded groves, mountainsides and highland plains. The scenery is wonderful any time of year, and you may lucky enough to see a sea of clouds, called ‘Unkai’ in Japanese, while you’re driving along. You’ll also pass the Utsukushigahara open-air art museum, a sculpture park of over 350 large scale pieces arranged on a grassy highland plain. The Venus line is very popular with Sunday drivers and bikers, so be sure to start early if you’re driving it on the weekend!

Shiga-Kusatsu Route

One of the views on the Nagano-side of the drive.

This route begins in Yamanouchi and ends in the onsen town of Kusatsu (in Gunma). Like the Venus line, this road travels over a highland area and has beautiful sights. It also passes an active volcano, Kusatsu-Shirane-san. Its sulfurous caldera glows an eerie aquamarine color and never freezes. Drivers can park at the rest stop and hike up to the viewing platform to see it. *However, as of now, the viewing platform is closed due to volcanic activity.* You’ll reach Kusatsu after a pleasant 1.5 to 2 hour drive. While you’re there, you can bathe in its many hot springs known for their medicinal properties. Or, you could watch yu-momi, a traditional ‘massage’ technique to lower the temperature of the water (it sounds boring, but it’s actually quite cool!). Even though it’s not in Nagano, it’s still a great place to visit. I would know—I’ve been there three times already. Be aware that this road closes in late October/early November due to snowfall.

Kusatsu's central hot spring source, 'Yu-batake.'

Takayama Village and the Matsukawa Gorge

The Matsukawa ravine in winter

Takayama village is to the east of Nagano city on the far side of Suzaka city. It is accessible by bus, but taking a car is much more convenient. Throughout the village are a variety of hot springs featuring stunning views of ravines and waterfalls, as well as hot springs where men and women can soak together ( in Japanese: kon-yoku onsen). In spring, gigantic weeping cherry trees blossom among the farmers’ fields and in fall the Matsukawa Gorge turns shades of red, yellow and gold. The many waterfalls along the Gorge make for great pictures any time of year. As you drive through it, you’ll pass the Yamada farm and eventually reach the Shiga-Kusatsu road. From there, you can continue to Yamanouchi or Kusatsu.

While Nagano’s many sights are accessible by bus and train, having a car allows you to visit sights that most tourists (and even some locals) never see! Nagano is well-connected from north to south, but can be surprisingly difficult to navigate from east to west (and vice versa).For anyone living in Nagano, a car is a must-have. And with more rental centers, Nagano is becoming a more convenient place for tourists to rent cars as well.

Additional Info

For more information about renting a car in Nagano, look at the Toyota rent-a-car
You can also find more information about places to visit by car by looking at the Good Luck! Nagano magazine, linked on our front page.

(Back to text)

Kijimadaira-mura Shuttle Bus

The bus travels between Iiyama Station (飯山駅(4番のりば)) and Maguse Onsen (馬曲温泉 望郷の湯) six times a day, first bus towards the onsen at 8:50 and last bus returning to the station at 17:35. Board the bus at station platform #4 and ride it to the end of the line. One-way fare is 700 yen.

See this link for a map and bus timetable (Japanese).

113 Responses to “Nagano by Car

  1. Hi Blair,

    Thank you for the informative review.
    We will be travelling around Nagano and Matsumoto in late April (22/23) by car. I would like to know the road condition (especially the route to Jigokudani snow monkey park) during this period. Are snow tires still required? Are the roads open?


  2. Hi Denise,

    You’re welcome and I’m glad that you found it useful in your planning.

    The weather has been sunny and warm recently and there is no snow on the roads anymore. You won’t need snow tires to drive around now, and you can reach the Jigokudani Snow Monkey park parking area with ease. See more about access to the Snow Monkey park on their website.

    By the way, the road between Shigakogen and Kusatsu, Rte. 292, will open from April 21st this year (2017). Due to the nearby Shirane volcano the road is only open between 8:00 and 17:00 daily.

    The Venus Line will also be fully opened by noon on April 21st, 2017.

    Let me know if I can help you with anything else!


  3. Hi,
    We are going Nagano but driving from Narita. Is it safe to drive during winter around 27 December 2017. We are from Singapore, never had experience driving in winter.
    Hear from you:)

  4. Hi Marilyn,

    It depends on the roads that you will be using. Highway roads and city roads should be clear, but rural roads and mountain roads may have snow or ice. Generally, Nagano area roads are plowed quickly and frequently salted to prevent icing, so you shouldn’t have trouble driving during winter. Still, I recommend reading a bit about winter driving before you arrive. Also, rent a vehicle with 4WD and make sure it comes with snow tires.

    Let me know if you have any other questions, and have a safe trip!


  5. Hi Blair!

    My friends and I are going on a Nagano-Takayama route this coming Feb1-5. Is it safe to drive around that time? We already booked a car with snow tires but not 4WD. I would really appreciate it if you can give us additional pointers on driving up there.

  6. 2/2 Drive from Tokyo To Nagano
    Jigokudani Monkey Park
    Shibu Onsen &Kiso Valley
    2/3 Drive to Matsumoto
    Visit Matsumot Castle
    Drive to Takayama
    Hida Folk Village
    2/4 Explore Historical Museums
    Daytrip to Shirakawa-Go
    2/5 Drive from Takayama to Fuji
    Fuji to Tokyo

    This is roughly our itinerary. If you have any more suggestions we can add or modify it would be great. Thanks~

  7. Hi Paula,

    While I recommend both snow tires and 4WD, as long as you aren’t planning to drive in the mountains (to Shigakogen, Madarao, or other ski resorts) then you should be fine without 4WD. Snow tires are a must.

    It still snows in February but the expressways and major roads remain relatively clear.

    One thing that I noticed in your itinerary is that you listed Shibu Onsen and the Kiso Valley on the same day. Those are at least 2 hours apart by car. I would recommend visiting the Kiso Valley on the 3rd after visiting Matsumoto as it’s much closer. From the Kiso Valley, you can then take Route 361 to Takayama City.

    Unfortunately, I don’t have personal experience traveling around Toyama or Gifu, so you may also want to inquire with their tourism departments about driving in winter. I cannot say for sure what road conditions are like there. If you have any other questions about Nagano, please don’t hesitate to ask.


  8. Hi Blair!

    Thank you so much for your quick reply and suggestions.
    I have readjusted the itinerary below as follows. Do you think its feasible, time-wise?

    Nagano Station to Jigokudani Monkey Park
    Zenkoji temple then sake tasting at local sake brewery
    Go back to Nagano station then travel to Matsumoto
    Matsumoto Castle
    Travel to Kiso Valley
    Take Tsumago-Magome hike trail
    Take bus to Narai
    Go back to Matsumoto and take bus/train to Takayama

    If you have any other suggestions as to how we can maximize and enjoy our quick time in Nagano i would really appreciate it.

  9. Hi Paula,

    Will you be driving or taking public transportation during your visit? If you’ll be driving, just be aware that Japan has a zero-tolerance policy on drinking and driving, so sake tasting will have to wait until you’re finished traveling in the evening. And since these areas are all located along the train lines, a car won’t be necessary anyway.

    Feb. 2nd looks fine, but the next day may be a bit tight. Matsumoto and Magome are about two hours apart, and the hike between Tsumago and Magome takes about three hours, so you will already spend seven hours traveling around that day. The last bus from Matsumoto to Takayama (see timetable here) leaves at 5:05 PM, so I recommend getting an early start. Your second day may look like this:

    • Day 2
      7:14 AM> Take the Wide View Shinano No. 2 train from Matsumoto to Nakatsugawa. (Arrive 8:22 AM.)
      8:22 AM> Take a taxi to Magome-juku, or wait for the 9:10 AM bus.
      9:00 AM> Walk through Magome-juku and begin Nakasendo hike.
      12:30 PM> Arrive in Tsumago-juku. Have lunch. When finished, take a taxi or Magome bus to Nagiso Station.
      2:44 PM> Take the train to Matsumoto. Arrive at 4:41 PM.
      5:05 PM> Board the bus bound for Takayama.

    As you can see, the schedule is tight and there’s no time to fit in Narai-juku here. If you were driving and left very early in the morning it may be possible to visit them all, but the 5:05 bus to Takayama makes it difficult to manage.

    Let me know if you have any other questions.


  10. Hi Blair

    I’m thinking of visiting Snow Monkey Park and Shibu Onsen after leaving Karuizawa before I head back to Tokyo. Do you know how long it takes to drive from Karuizawa to Snow Monkey Park /Shibu Onsen?

    I hope to be able to return my car at Shibu Onsen/Yukanada station before I take the Shinakensen back to Toyko.

    Sounds workable?

    Appreciate your tips.

  11. Hi Julia,

    Driving from Karuizawa to Shibu Onsen will take just over 1.5 hours via the Joshin’etsu Expressway. Taking the 18 and 80 to the Komoro IC Entrance, get on the expressway heading towards Nagano/Joetsu. Get off at the Shinshu Nakano IC exit and head straight. From the exit to your destination is about 15-20 minutes.

    For returning your car, Toyota Rent-a-car accepts drop-offs at any location within Nagano prefecture for no extra charge. There is no location in Shibu Onsen, so I recommend driving to Nagano City after your trip to the snow monkeys and returning it there. From Nagano City, you can get directly on the shinkansen back to Tokyo.

    Toyota Rent-a-car Japan website:

    I hope that helps!


  12. Hi Blair

    Your write up has gotten me excited about driving in Nagano 🙂 .
    I love the venus line especially !

    We’ll (2 adults, 2 kids –>1-17 y.o, 1-12y.o) be arriving at Nagano on 15 Dec 17 & leaving on 17 Dec 17 morning for Tokyo.

    We’ll be taking Shinkansen from Tokyo and should arrive Nagano 12 noon.
    We’ll be staying at Hotel Metropolitan Nagano

    My current plan is
    – 15 Dec – Snow Monkey Park
    – 15 Dec – Zenko ji temple

    – 16 Dec – Shiga Kogen Ski
    – 16 Dec – Onsen

    I’m interested in going around in a rented car but my husband does not have any experience in driving in winter.

    1) Do you think it’ll be ok during that period of our trip to drive?

    2) Which Onsen will you recommend that is convenient for us?

    3) Any suggestion as to where / what else we can do?

    Thank you very much Blair. 🙂

  13. Hi Rina,

    I’m glad to hear that! Driving around Nagano opens up many new possibilities that you can’t reach with public transportation. I’ve answered your questions below.

    1) The driving shouldn’t be too difficult near the city, but as you approach the mountains it may become treacherous. Make sure to rent a car with 4-wheel-drive and snow tires. The road up to Shigakogen is particularly difficult in winter, and I wouldn’t recommend it to new winter drivers if there’s snow/ice on the road. Instead, you may want to visit Ryuo Ski Park for skiing as the drive is much easier.

    2) Some other places nearby that you may want to visit include:

    • Obuse
      Quaint town with traditional buildings, cafes and art museums. Famous for chestnuts and chestnut sweets.
    • Togakushi
      A plateau above Nagano City covered in forest. There are five shrines scattered throughout the woods. The Okusha shrine is at the base of Mt. Togakushi and is at the end of a beautiful 30-min. walk past 400-year-old trees (may be covered in snow at that time).
    • Soba-making
      Make your own soba noodles at a large soba restaurant in Southern Nagano City (Shinshu Soba Kura Drive-in).

    3) For Onsen, I still think Maguse Onsen is one of the most scenic hot springs you’ll find in Northern Nagano. Also not far away is Hotel Selan’s Toomi no Yu, another outdoor hot spring with a great view.

    I hope that answers your question!


  14. Hi Blair,

    I’m excited to be able to return back to Japan (have been visited Osaka, Kyoto,nara, Sapporo previously-self drive trip).

    This round, I plan to self drive with my husband and 2 toddlers(6&4years old). The trip will start from:
    4 till 9 Feb 2018 – Tokyo & surrounding
    9till 12Feb18 – pick up rental car & drive up to Toyama (plan to visit Shirakawago & snow monkey)
    12till 15Feb18 – Toyama to Nagoya
    Nagoya back to Haneda Airport (return car)

    FYI, I have never had any experience driving during winter. Will it be ok to drive along these road during winter (with snow tires & chain)?
    I have received few comment that the road will be slippery and narrow and not safe to drive during winter. But I really want to explore outskirt area rather than town.

    Please give your thought.


  15. Hi Aza,

    Unfortunately, I’m not an expert on the Toyama area so I don’t know the road conditions there during winter. But the expressway has an exit outside of Shirakawago, making the journey there relatively easy by car.

    Where exactly will you be staying in Toyama? Shirakawago is technically in Gifu Prefecture, and Takayama City, Gifu is closer to Shirakawago than Toyama City is. If you want to visit the Snow Monkeys in Nagano, this may affect your travel.

    For example, from Takayama City, the only way to Nagano would be through the mountains (via Route 158), and if there’s snow on the road it may be a difficult journey for someone who isn’t used to winter driving. From Toyama City, you would take the Hokuriku Expressway towards Niigata, eventually merging onto the Joshinetsu Expressway at Joetsu. Using the expressway from Toyama City would be a safer option (roads are wide, relatively straight, and well-plowed).

    I hope that helps you with your planning for your trip. Let me know if you have any other questions!


  16. Hi Blair,

    What it like driving in March? We are family with small children so we like to take things easy

    We are planning to travel with a car with a rough itinerary of
    9-12th tokyo
    12-15 Hakone
    15-18 karuizawa, snow monkey
    18-21 takayama, shirakawago
    21-23 nagoya

    My husband doesn’t have any snow driving experience. Would it still be quite snowy during this time?


  17. Hi Cat,

    Driving is March is not difficult, as temperatures tend to stay above freezing and there aren’t many snow showers. As long as you rent a car with snow tires and 4WD, you should have no problems.

    Let me know if you have any other questions!


  18. Hi Blair,

    Thanks in advance for your input. We pick up a Nissan 4wd with snow tires on Saturday 10th March from Nagoya Airport, will stay overnight and drive to Nozawa Onsen on the Sunday. Google tells me that it is just under 4 hours using the expressways with a number of options. I’m confused about which route to take and would like to take the most scenic even it it compromises the travel time.

    Any recommendations?



    BTW… I’m not a stranger to driving in Nagano in the winter.

  19. Hi Mick,

    From Nagoya to Nozawa during winter, I recommend the following route for a scenic drive:

    From Nagoya Airport, get on the Tomei Expressway, eventually merging onto the Chuo Expressway. Get off at the Chuo Expressway at the Nakatsugawa IC exit and take Route 19 through the Kiso Valley. After passing through the Kiso Valley, continue along the 19 as it becomes Route 20, then get on the Nagano Expressway at the Shiojiri IC entrance. Continue along the Nagano Expressway as it becomes the Joshin’etsu Expressway at Koshoku Junction. Eventually get off the expressway at the Toyota Iiyama IC exit. From there, take Routes 117, 419, and 38 to Nozawa Onsen Village.

    Getting off the expressway and passing through the Kiso Valley is a longer but much more scenic drive. You can stop at some of the post-towns along the way to see their Edo period architecture. The whole trip takes about five hours this way. See the route on Google Maps here.

    Finally, the weather in March usually isn’t as wintry as January and February, so driving shouldn’t be difficult if you have snow tires and 4WD.

    I hope that answers your question!


  20. Hi, Blair,
    WE will visit Nagano in 24th December 2018. Plan to visit Snow monkey .. Takayama, Shirakawa. Is it possible for us to self driving or better by JR train ?

  21. Hi Nancy,

    It is definitely possible to drive between the snow monkeys, Takayama, and Shirakawa. Let me know if you have any specific questions about driving then.


  22. Hi Blair,
    I am planning to visit Chubu area in autumn.
    I will arrive Nagoya International airport on morning of 19th Nov 2018 and depart on morning of 29th Nov at same airport.
    What would you recommend if we wish to drive and see interesting places in autumn.


  23. Hi there SY Tay,

    I’ve included some places which I recommend visiting in mid November. This is a general list, but if you have any specific interests I can give you some more specific suggestions.

    Fall Leaves

    • Tenryu River
      The Tenryu River travels from Nagano through Aichi and Shizuoka before draining into the Pacific Ocean. Its turbulent waters carved steep valleys in Southern Nagano like Tenryu-kyo, where you can see colorful autumn leaves in November. Several local tour companies offer boat rides throughout the year.
    • Komoro Kaikoen
      Komoro Kaikoen was the site of Komoro Castle during the Warring States period. While the keep no longer remains, its maze-like stone walls still remain throughout the park. During late October to mid November, the park is covered in red and gold autumn leaves.


    • Kiso Valley
      Home of Magome, Tsumago, and Narai post towns of the Nakasendo Road. The steep, wooded valleys preserve the atmosphere of Edo Period Japan.
    • Matsumoto Castle
      One of Japan’s five National Treasure castles, it stands proudly in front of the Japanese Alps.
    • Senjojiki Cirque
      The Chuo Alps Ropeway rises up to 2,600m heights. The main spectacle here is Senjojiki Cirque, an ampitheater-like shape in the mountains carved by glaciers thousands of years ago. During mid November, the plateau is covered in icy crystal.
    • The Venus Line
      Listed above, but worth noting again. The Venus Line is beautiful drive through Nagano’s central highlands. It closes for winter in late November (usually around the 22nd) so be sure to visit it near the start of your trip.


    • Miharashi Farm
      A tourist farm with fruitpicking, cooking lessons, restaurants, and even its own hot spring! During November, you can enjoy apple-picking or learn how to make soba noodles.

    Outside of Nagano

    • Shirakawago
      A well-preserved village with traditional thatched-roof houses. The traditional wooden buildings in unspoilt nature is a beautiful sight.
    • Hida Takayama
      Hida Takayama in Gifu Prefecture has plenty of well-preserved townscapes, villages, and temples in beautiful natural scenery.

    I hope that helps!


  24. Hi Blair!
    We are visiting Nagano the over christmas period this Dec. We’ve never driven in snow before and am wondering if its safe for us to drive the following route:

    Day 1: Nagano to Snow Monkeys
    Day 2: Snow Monkeys to Takayama (perhaps stay overnight at Okuhida / visit Shinhotaka Ropeway)
    Day 3: Takayama to Shirakawago to Kanazawa
    Day 4: Kayazana to Myoko (Ski resort)

    My biggest concern is the route from Snow monkey to Takayama. We can possibility take a bus / train but would prefer a rental car for convenience (2 adults and 2 small children).
    Thank you!

  25. Hi!
    We are a family with 2 adults and 2 young boys and planning to visit Nagano this Dec 22-28th. We don’t have much experience driving in snow, and am wondering if it’s safe to do the following trip via self drive
    Day 1- Nagano to Yamanouchi, stay over at Shibu onsen
    Day 2- Shibu Onsen to Takayama
    day 3 – Takayama to Shirakawago to Kanazawa
    Day 4 – Kanazawa to Myoko
    Rest of days – ski at myoko / or head to Tokyo for food and shopping

    I’m concerned if it’s dangerous to do the drive from Nagano to Takayama during Dec, would there be too much snow to drive safely? We will get a 4wd with snow tires


  26. Hi Rui (and Rei?),

    Thanks for your question.

    Driving during winter can be intimidating if you have no previous winter driving experience. On most days, the roads are fine and you won’t have any problems, but incliment weather can make things more difficult. Be especially careful on cold days after rain, as ice may form on the roads. If there’s a blizzard, you may want to take public transportation instead. Most car rental agencies will accept early returns (for a small fee).

    That being said, your drive between Nagano and Takayama shouldn’t be that difficult, aside from taking about 3 hours. If you’re worrried about weather and road conditions, you can take the longer way via the Joshinetsu and Hokuriku Expressways (about 3 hours and 40 minutes).

    I hope that helps answer your question.



  27. Hi Blair,
    Thanks for your reply! Sorry for the double post, I thought the first one didn’t work so posted again with another email address.
    Think we will stick to trains and buses for winter (we’re risk averse), and visit again in spring or autumn for the self drive trip!


  28. Hi,

    We are travelling to Tokyo and would like to visit Nagano with a rented car in mid December for two weeks. As there are elders, babies and children travelling together, where would you recommend ?

  29. Hi,
    We are travelling in late Aug 2018, driving from Narita Airport to Nagano City, can you provide me a road map to drive?
    Do note that I’m not from Japan but have a international driving licence.

    thank you

  30. Hi Benjamin,

    I’m sorry, but we don’t have any roadmaps available. I would recommend using a GPS to aid in your travel to Nagano.

    You can see directions from Narita to Nagano City in Google Maps here. You can take the expressway directly out of the airport and continue straight to Nagano from there.

    I hope that helps answer your question.


  31. I am planning to drive from Takayama to Matsumoto. Could you tell me which would be the prettier drive, Hwy 158 or Hwy 361? Thanks.


  32. Hi Greg,

    Both routes should have plenty of natural scenery, but I’m personally fond of the Kiso Area, so I recommend trying Hwy 361. You’ll pass Kuzo Toge, a lookout with great views of Mt. Ontake; Kaida Kogen, an idyllic pasture with Kisouma horses; as well as Narai-juku, one of the region’s immaculately preserved post towns.

    Let me know if you have any other questions!


  33. Hi Blair,

    We will be traveling next week on the 14th Sep from Tokyo to Nagano ~Tateyama Alpine Route-Toyama-Shirakawa-Matsumoto-Takayama and back to Tokyo for about 8 days. May I know is it better and safe to drive around these area ? Beside,if we go for the Tateyama Alpine from Nagano where should we park the car and can we pick up the car after the route or we need to exit in Toyama? Please advice,thank you !

    Best regards
    Ms Soh

  34. Ms. Soh,

    Thanks for your question.

    First, driving around Nagano prefecture in autumn is not difficult or dangerous. You should have no issues on the roads.

    The Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route has car forwarding services between Ogisawa (Nagano side) and Tateyama (Toyama side) stations. There are two companies that provide car forwarding: Tateyama Traffic Service and Sankeisha.

    Car-forwarding services can be pretty expensive, so you may want to drop off your rental car by Nagano Station and take a bus to Ogizawa Station instead. After traveling across the Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route, you can pick up another vehicle around Toyama Station. For more information about car rentals in Nagano, see this recent blog post.

    I hope that answers your question. Let me know if I can help with anything else!


  35. Hi Blair,
    Stumble on your website by chance. Not sure if my question below had been answered previously.

    We’ll be travelling to Japan mid January, and Nagano is on the list for 5 days. Questions:

    1. Is it cheaper to drive from Haneda to Nagano, or is it more economical to take the train?
    There are 2 adults and 2 children (11 + 7). Or is it better to take the train and then hire car in Nagano?
    2. What is the best route to take by driving (less dangerous)? I’ve done some winter driving in New Zealand, so I know that it can get a bit hairy.
    3. Are there plenty of petrol stations along the road to Nagano?

  36. Hi Andy,

    Thanks for your question about traveling to Nagano this winter. I’ve answered them below:

    1. It may be slightly cheaper to take the Hokuriku Shinkansen than drive yourself. A one-way car rental between Tokyo and Nagano will cost about 20,000 yen for a day plus tolls (about 6,250 yen), while the Shinkansen will cost 8,000 yen per adult and 4,000 yen per elementary-school-aged child (for 2 adults and 2 children, about 24,000 yen). Additionally, driving will take about 3.5 hours while the Shinkansen takes only 1.5 hours. If you have a lot of luggage to haul, it may be worth taking a vehicle. Otherwise, pick up a car in Nagano instead.

    2. Between Tokyo and Nagano, you would take Kan’etsu and Joshin’etsu Expressways. The expressways in Japan are easy to drive and should not be covered in much snow. Nevertheless, snow tires are required to drive on the expressway during winter. Make sure to get snow tires on any rental car that you hire. If you want to know more about roads in Nagano, let me know what areas in Nagano you plan to visit.

    3. There are plenty of petrol stations that can be found at expressway service stops.

    I hope that helps answer your question!


  37. Hi Blair,

    We’ll be travelling to Japan in early Feb.19 and planning to drive from Takayama to Matsumoto. Is it safe to drive via route 158?

    Thank you,

  38. Hi Wipark,

    Thanks for your comment.

    Route 158 is open during winter, excepting the portion between Hirayu and Nakanoyu Onsen. Instead, take the Abo-toge toll road as a detour.

    The open portion of Route 158 should not be a difficult drive as long as you have a car with snow tires (4WD would be a plus). Be sure to check the weather report before your trip and make a plan B in case of inclement weather.

    I hope that helps answer your question!


  39. Hi
    Will renting a car in Matsumoto and dropping it at Nagano will lead to dropping charges even though they are in same Perfecture .
    Itinerary looks like this:
    Planning to rent a car on 22nd April in Matsumoto, visit castle, Drive to Takeyama.
    23rd Kamikochi , evening at Onsen
    24th drive to Shirakawa go and then may be look out for some cherry blossoms in Nagano countryside. Drop car at Nagano.
    25th Alpine route.
    Thank you

  40. Hi there,

    Thanks for your comment.

    You can find a list of rental agencies around Nagano Prefecture on our blog about renting a car in Japan. Toyota Rent-a-Car and Nippon Rent-a-Car offer free one-way rentals if you pick up and drop off the car in the same prefecture.

    Let me know if you have any other questions about visiting Nagano!


  41. Blair you are too cool and patient with all of us. Merci!
    I will be coming up from Narita then driving after towards the Okayama area in July.
    So far, the only plan I have is to walk the Magone -Tsumago towns and sleep in that area for 1 night. I want to do,two other nights up and around there with one of these nights in a Ryokan. What route would you suggest? I love the scenery , picniks, little stops. I am not sure about summer time drives or snow monkeys in the middle of the summer.

  42. Hi Marc,

    Will you be traveling through the Kiso Valley by car? If you’d like to see as much of the area as possible, traveling by car is your best option. Trains in Kiso usually pass once an hour, which may be inconvenient if you plan to stop in many places along the way.

    Here’s an idea for a three-day visit through the Kiso Valley and Matsumoto. This includes many smaller spots with great scenery. I’ve also put a few links down below that may help you plan your trip.

    Day 1

    Day 2

    Day 3

    Other helpful posts:

    Let me know if you have any other questions!


  43. Thank you Blair. I love it. Thanks so much. I will plan around that an enjoy myself silly….
    All the best,

  44. Hi Blair,

    I will be traveling by car to visit Gunma the end of November to early December. Below is my plan and would you mind to let me know if it is reasonable?

    11/29/19 – Starts from taking Shinkansen from Haneda airport to Takasaki Station – staying for the night there and to rent a car.
    11/30/19 – Drive from Takasaki Station to Osawa Station – staying at on onsen ryokan there that night
    12/01/19 – Check out from ryokan then drive to Takaragawa Onsen Osenkaku to see their public onsen bath. After that, we will drive to Kusatsu onsen town to stay there for 2 nights.
    12/02/19 – Drive from Kusatsu onsen town to Jigokudani Monkey Park early in the morning and may be also driving to Matsukawa Gorge if there is enough time in the afternoon.
    12/03/19 – Check out from Kusatsu onsen town and drive down to Mount Haruna, then two art museums in Karuizawa. Finally, returning rental car to Takasaki Station then head back to Tokyo.

    Many thanks in advance for your time reviewing my plan.

    Best, Sharon

  45. Hi Sharon,

    Thanks for your comment.

    On driving to Jigokudani Yaen Koen from Kusatsu, don’t forget that the Shiga-Kusatsu route will be closed during winter. You’ll have to drive down through Tsumagoi or Karuizawa and back up to Yamanouchi to reach the park. Through Tsumagoi is faster but goes through mountain roads–about 2 hours. Through Karuizawa is slower but an easier drive–about 2.5 hours. See the route in Google Maps: Tsumagoi or Karuizawa.

    I can’t speak much for the rest of your itinerary as I haven’t traveled around Gunma during winter, but it sounds like a nice trip! Let me know if you have any other questions.


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