Winter is at once harsh, unforgiving, and mysteriously beautiful. While snow falls relentlessly on you, your precious baggage and the streets around you, it covers the landscape in pure, unifying white. While the cold seeps through your down jacket and numerous sweaters, it also freezes waterfalls and lakes in time, creating gleaming columns and plates of ice. While the wind burns and turns your face the color of ripe strawberries, it also covers trees in sparkling layers of frost. If you can brave the elements, the wonders of winter far outweigh the cold.
The winters in Nagano, while cold, are picturesque. The mountains and valleys are covered in a carpet of snow, trees are frosted with ice, and fine diamond dust shimmers in the air. Japanese macaques warm themselves in steamy hot springs and solitary kamoshika (Japanese Serow) plow through the snowy woods foraging for food.
Most travelers flock to Nagano this time of year to enjoy its plentiful powder snow on the ski slopes, but there are plenty of activities for those interested in connecting with nature and playing in snow. See a new side of Nagano while snowshoeing through the woods or enjoy an exhilarating ride on a snowmobile. See our recommended winter activities below!
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While beer is a relatively new beverage in Japan, it wasn’t long before locals embraced it and created the crisp, refreshing lagers that its major breweries are known for today. The Sapporo, Kirin, Asahi, and Suntory brands can be found in grocery and convenience stores around the world, and one by one, new breweries are making their international debuts.
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In another attempt to beat the summer heat, I headed up to Shigakogen with a group of friends to enjoy the highland weather and the area’s unspoilt nature. There are a total of 19 trails around Shigakogen that climb its many peaks, wander its marshlands and cut through its forests. In addition to its beautiful ponds and mountains, the views of the Nagano Plain below are stunning.
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Areas around the globe have been experiencing some crazy weather over the past month due to the dreaded El Niño effect. Wintery parts of the world have been unusually warm and green, and some areas of Japan have been reaching highs of 25℃ or more. It has also meant a late winter for Nagano prefecture, but don’t fear, folks: winter is here. The mountains are capped in white and ski resorts are open for business. Soon enough, your breath will be visible in your apartment and your shampoo will be freezing overnight.
I went skiing in Shiga Heights Ski Resorts February 22. It was one week after big snowfall in Nagano, so the ski courses were covered with wonderful natural snow. We (five Japanese, one from America, and one from Britain) really enjoyed skiing and snowboarding in the best condition.
For information visit the PowerSports OSJ webpage
“BANZAI BANZAI BANZAI”
Clouds parted after torrential rain moments before – 7hours30minutes into the race… feelings of conradmanship & luck.
Just happy to be there.
This time Lake Onuma, but many other rewarding places waiting for you around Nagano, Mount Asama & Shigakogen, the Northern Alps.
This event was almost completely un-advertisied but still 400 participants:
Hope to see more of you running & walking in Nagano soon^-^
Around 20 new friends & 4 toe-nails later…it was amazing.
Better than NZ Ironman, or Obuse Marathon (which is also great fun – see here)
For more information about hikes around Shigakogen ask the Guide-KUMIAI (registered guides) at 98 Hall – Olympic Memorial & Conservation Center (see Tylers entry)
People come to Nagano from far and wide to enjoy its natural beauty. And within Nagano, it doesn’t get much better than Shiga Kogen. With its majestic mountains and deep forests, not to mention the famous snow monkeys and other wildlife, Shiga Kogen’s wilderness is sure to delight your senses and instill a sense of awe.
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Onsen water coming up out of a river bed?
You take a shovel to make your own bath?
And you adjust the water temperature by mixing in river water?
Sounds like something out of an onsen legend. But it’s not just a myth — it actually exists: Kiriake Onsen in the northern corner of Nagano Prefecture near the borders with Niigata and Gunma Prefectures.
You park your car at the lone ryokan, Yusenkaku, grab a shovel, cross the suspension bridge, walk down to the river, take care to avoid the onsen hot spots (the onsen temperature is supposedly a toe-tingling 57 deg C), find an area where the temperature is to your liking and move the rocks around until you have your own little onsen pool.
The other day, after we visited the snow monkeys, our family and some friends drove up and through Shiga Kogen and Oku-Shiga Kogen along the windy mountain road to Kiriake (approx. 45km and 2hours from Shibu-Yudanaka Onsen area).
Actually, I’d come here about 17 years ago. Back then, the road to Kiriake was a bumpy gravel one. It’s been paved since then, which may be the reason it’s lost some of it’s ‘hidden’ charm. Judging by the number of celebrity signatures, and by how many other people were there that day, the secret is out.
I had always wanted to have our kids experience this onsen-in-the-middle-of-a-river where you build a bath yourself. Plus, I was needing a relaxing break from the summer holiday rush. For me, this combination of natural setting and onsen is perfectly sublime.
You do actually use a shovel to make your own bath.
The onsen water does actually bubble up right in the middle of the river.
You do actually adjust the temperature yourself by mixing in river water.
And, being that it’s an all-natural phenomenom, the onsen keeps bubbling up in different spots. First over there, then over here, then, Ooh la la!, right here!
Although Kiriake is enjoyable any time of the year, being that it is located in the Akiyama (“autumn mountain”) District, it’s is probably at its prettiest when the fall leaves are in color. It’s location is very inconvenient, but that makes finding it that much more enjoyable. There really isn’t any bus access, so a car is highly recommended. Or, if you book a stay at Yusenkaku, they provided limited pick-up service.
I was all prepared to write about seeing the autumn leaves in Shiga Kogen and then noticed that Zeno beat me to it a week earlier and came back with some beautiful photos! So rather than try to steal the spotlight, I will tell of the wonderful drive I took my family on today — a drive up to Shiga Kogen, heading into Gunma and back into Nagano at Karuizawa.
As has been the trend in my family lately, we packed up the hiking boots, the day packs and the kids and headed to the mountains for some short hikes with beautiful views. We drove up from Nakano on Route 292 and continued on that road past the junction of Route 471. There are a number of marshes with boardwalks built over them in this area, as well as some nice little trails heading off into the autumn foliage. We took a stroll along a small trail near an onsen that you can clearly see belching steam on the right side of the road as you head in the direction of Gunma Prefecture. You’ll see lots of reds, oranges and yellows here, as well as the white birch trees and the green pines scattered throughout.
Back in the car, we head further uphill. And before long, we found ourselves in Gunma Prefecture, but not before reaching the highest point of the trip, on the slope of Yokote-yama, where the view down toward the rest of Shiga-Kogen, Nakano and Nagano City is absolutely spectacular!
Continuing on, we arrived at Shirane-san in Gunma (yeah, I know, this is a Nagano blog, but Shirane-san is in Shiga-Kogen and really is most easily accessible from Nagano, so let’s leave it be). Shirane-san is an active volcano that has a rather unique feature: a poisonous, acid pond in its crater. The sulfur and other gases in the area turn the water in the crater a light, pastel blue and it is great to see.
However, due to recent volcanic activity(yikes!) it is no longer safe to take the nearer course up to the crater. We walked up the, slightly farther away route available, but still got to enjoy the view. Our five-year-old was afraid the mountain would start erupting fire, and she was anxious to get off the mountain as soon as possible, but other than that, it was a great hike up. Our almost-three-year-old daughter was able to walk all the way up on her own, but as always, she wanted to be carried back down. Whatever course you take, it is steep in places, but paved, either with concrete or with round stones, as was the route we took today.
Later, we headed down to Kusatsu, an onsen village well-known to people in Japan and one that always seems to be jammed with traffic whenever we go. Kusatsu has a very large, yet delightful public rotenburo (or, outdoor bath) in a park you can visit. Its town center features a large area devoted to gathering sulfer and other minerals found in the water there (more info on Kusatsu here). Aside from picking up some onsen manju, we didn’t stop in Kusatsu on this trip, and instead headed on, passing through lots of rolling forest land and back into Nagano along the Shiraito Toll Road to Karuizawa. There was a lot of wonderful autumn colors along the Shiraito Toll Road, and it looked as if that area has yet to reach its peak as of this posting.
It was a great day trip, and I recommend it, even if you are too late for the autumn colors. Our course was the Nagano Expressway to Shinshu Nakano Interchange. Then Route 292 all the way through Shiga Kogen and beyond Kusatsu Onsen. After that, we took Route 146 back into Nagano Prefecture and then turned left onto the Shiraito Toll Road, which took us straight into the center of Karuizawa.
Only one word of warning: Be sure to dress warmly! It is cold up there, and the one word I heard most that day was “Samui!”