4-Day Tour of Ishikawa, Gifu and Nagano from Osaka

Traipse through Kanazawa and other Michelin 3-Star sites on the way to Nagano Prefecture for a stay highlighted by Alpine wonders, a grand castle and even grander temple, the iconic snow monkeys, a traditional ryokan inn and a luxurious resort town.


Traipse through Kanazawa and other Michelin 3-Star sites on the way to Nagano Prefecture for a stay highlighted by Alpine wonders, a grand castle and even grander temple, the iconic snow monkeys, a traditional ryokan inn and a luxurious resort town.

Trip Highlights

  • Head to Nagano Prefecture stopping at Kanazawa, the World Heritage Site of Shirakawa-go, and Hida Takayama along the way
  • Ascend to Kamikochi—the gem of the Japanese Alps (mid-April till mid-November)
  • Tour Matsumoto Castle, Japan’s oldest surviving keep
  • Trek to the world-famous snow monkeys at Jigokudani
  • Stay at a traditional ryokan in Yudanaka Shibu Hot Springs and soak in an onsen bath
  • Breathe the rarified air at the ritzy resort town of Karuizawa


Day 1: Kanazawa, Shirakawa-go and Hida Takayama, rated as 3-Stars by the Michelin Green Guide

A convenient way to approach Nagano Prefecture is to travel via Kanazawa—the city that flourished with samurai culture in the Edo Period—then head to the quaint thatched roof village of Shirakawa-go and the town of Hida Takayama that features gorgeous Japanese craftsmanship.

8:42 Depart Osaka Station on JR Limited Express Thunderbird to Kanazawa
 152 min.
Kenrokuen Garden
Artisans and high culture prospered in Kanazawa under the patronage of the powerful Maeda Clan and the results can be enjoyed today at sites such as Kenrokuen Garden, the Nagamachi samurai houses and the Higashi Chaya geisha district. More modern additions to the city’s fabric include the D. T. Suzuki Museum and the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art—and the Omi Market is as bustling as ever.
14:00 Depart Kanazawa Station to Shirakawa-go on Nohi Bus (reservation required)
 85 min.
15:25 Shirakawa-go
A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Shirakawa-go preserves its thatched roof houses creating a pastoral scene unmarred by modern progress.
16:35 Depart Shirakawa-go to Takayama on Nohi Bus
 50 min.
17:25 Hida Takayama
Takayama has traditionally been home to many skilled craftsmen whose handiwork can be seen in the beautiful construction work of the historical townscape.
 Hotel or ryokan in Takayama

Day 2: Kamikochi and Castle Town Matsumoto

Take a bus over the mountains marking the border with Nagano Prefecture, stopping at Kamikochi—the gateway to the Northern Japanese Alps—before descending to the castle town of Matsumoto and its majestic keep.

9:40 Depart Takayama Bus Center to Hirayu Onsen on Nohi Bus
 58 min.
10:50 Depart Hirayu Onsen to Taisho-ike Bus Stop on Nohi Bus
 16 min.
11:15 Taisho Pond
Formed in 1915 by a volcanic eruption of nearby Mt. Yakedake, Taisho Pond and its semi-submerged tree stumps are testament to the violent power of nature. With mountains reflecting in its surface, the pond is one of Kamikochi’s most popular sights.
 60 min.
12:15 Kappa Bridge
This iconic suspension bridge over the turquoise-blue Azusa River is the symbol of Kamikochi. It perfectly frames the majestic Hotaka Range in the distance, which are snowcapped in spring and early summer.

Option: Hike to Myojin Pond (round trip 120 min.)


Take a leisurely stroll along the Azusa River and loop around to sacred Myojin Pond where you will find the venerable Hotaka Shrine.

15:15 Depart Kamikochi Bus Terminal to Shin-Shimashima Station on Alpico Bus
 55 min.
16:43 Depart Shin-Shimashima to Matsumoto Station on Kamikochi Line
 30 min.
17:13 Arrive at Matsumoto Station
 Walk (15 min.) or Local Bus (8 min.)
Matsumoto Castle
Matsumoto Castle is one of the only original wooden castles remaining in Japan. With the Japanese Alps in the background, the view from the top floor is spectacular on a clear day. See here for differences between Osaka and Matsumoto castles.
Matsumoto City Center
Matsumoto is a classic castle town with the bustling Nawate and Nakamachi Shopping Streets especially being reminiscent of the samurai era. Stop in at one of the many cafes along those promenades
 Hotel or ryokan in Matsumoto

Day 3: Snow Monkey and Hot Spring Resort

Head to the northern side of the prefecture for a quintessential Nagano experience—seeing the world-famous snow monkeys and staying the night at a traditional onsen (hot spring) inn.

Depart Matsumoto to Nagano on JR Limited Express “Shinano”
 54 min.
10:30 Depart Nagano Station on the Nagaden Bus bound for Shiga Kogen
 47 min.
11:07 Depart the Snow Monkey Park Bus Stop on foot
 (walk) 30 min.
11:37 Jigokudani Wild Snow Monkey Park
After lunch at Enza Café walk the 1.8 km forest trail to the park (sturdy boots and hiking wear recommended). See the Japanese macaques in “Hell Valley” blissfully enjoying their steaming hot spring bath.
12:40 Depart Jigokudani Wild Snow Monkey Park on foot
 (walk) 30 min.
13:19 Depart Snow Monkey Park bus stop (times vary in winter)
 local bus or walk
13:31 Yudanaka Shibu Hot Springs
Reward yourself with a relaxing stay at a traditional Japanese ryokan inn and a soak in rejuvenating hot spring mineral water bath at one of the many inns at Yudanaka-Shibu Onsen.
 Ryokan in Yudanaka Shibu Hot Springs

Day 4: Solemn Temple and Luxury Resort

Finish your journey through Nagano with a pilgrimage to its most important temple followed by a visit to the fashionable resort town of Karuizawa.

9:54 Depart Yudanaka Station to Gondo Station on Nagano Dentetsu express “Yukemuri”
 43 min.
10:40 Zenkoji Temple / Shopping Streets
With a history originating from 642 AD, Zenkoji Temple pre-dates the fragmenting of Buddhism in Japan and hence does not belong to any one school. People of all denominations are welcome, and it is said all are called to make a pilgrimage to Zenkoji at least once. The main hall, a National Treasure, is the largest wooden building in Eastern Japan and its roof has the largest surface area of its kind in the country. The temple’s massive scale is sure to impress you.
Nagano City is a temple town built around venerable Zenkoji Temple. Take time to explore the shops of Nakamise-dori, the street approaching the temple.
14:29 Depart Nagano Station to Karuizawa on the Hokuriku Shinkansen bound for Tokyo
 32 min.
First popularized by Western missionaries escaping the summer heat, Karuizawa has developed into a world-class resort town which even hosts international conferences. The outlet mall is a big draw but a plethora of museums and upscale eateries await, as well as more unique shopping such as the Hotchi Farmers Market and upscale Harunire Terrace. Renting a bicycle is a popular way to get around Karuizawa.
From Karuizawa, it is a quick 65 minutes by Shinkansen to Tokyo.



For further reference, Osaka’s official tourism website features a 4-day / 3-night itinerary for seeing more of Matsumoto, Karuizawa, and vicinity and a 5-day / 4-night itinerary for seeing more of Jigokudani Wild Monkey Park, Zenkoji Temple and vicinity.