#1 About to take off skiing at Shiga Kogen
Here in Nagano, it gets so cold in the winter that you don't want to go out. So what do Nagano-ites do for fun in the winter? Well, here's Tyler's Top 10 Things to Do in Nagano in the Winter:
Embrace the cold, and get out and enjoy Nagano's spectacular nature. One of the best ways to do that is to go skiing in the mountains. With so many world class, Olympic level ski resorts in the prefecture, it would be a shame not to take advantage and hit the slopes. Of all the ski areas in Nagano, I personally like Shiga Kogen to the east of Nagano City, for its remote mountainous beauty. I took our sons there after New Years. We skied around for half a day, and barely scratched the surface of what Shiga has to offer.
Shiga Kogen ski info here
If you prefer to enjoy the snowy scenery at a slower pace than skiing, then snowshoeing is the way to go. You can go cross country skiing or snowshoeing at various places throughout Nagano, but I personally suggest Togakushi. Mirror Pond, the Forest Reserve, and the mystical path to the Inner Shrine, Okusha, which is lined by massive cedar trees. The rich hues of the cedar bark contrasts so beautifully with the snow.
Togakushi's winter info is here。 Also, don't miss Togakushi's white season English pamphlet.
For people who want to do some winter sports activities but the weather isn't cooperating or it's too much trouble to go to the mountains, how about ice skating? During New Years, our family went skating at M-Wave in Nagano City. It was a lot of fun, and they even had skates to fit me -- 30cm!
M-Wave's website is here
If Nagano's cold winter is getting to you, how about going for a soak in an onsen hot spring mineral bath? Nagano is blessed with scores of onsens throughout the prefecture. Many have outdoor baths that let you enjoy views of the mountains as you soak in the onsen. Norikura's milky white onsen, Azumaya Kogen Hotel near Mount Asama, and Maguse Onsen who's outdoor bath features views of the northern Alps are just a few. Last month, our family went to the Takayama Onsen area and enjoyed the views from one of the baths at Shichimi Onsen.
Shichimi Onsen's Koyokan website is here
5. Snow Monkeys
"Walk a half an hour through the snow to some some monkey soaking in an onsen?" Well, it wouldn't be a snow monkey if there weren't any snow! This is the best time of the year to see the monkeys of Jigokudani Wild Monkey Park in their natural environment, escaping the snow and cold by bathing in the onsen. And I promise: the blissful look of the monkeys' faces as they soak in the onsen will be worth the trip.
Jigokudani's Snow Monkey website is here
6. Strawberry Picking
I know what you're thinking -- "Strawberry picking in the winter? Isn't that done in July out at a strawberry field?" Well, here in Japan, the berries are grown in greenhouses, making winter prime picking time. It's also a way we Nagano-ites escape the cold, by going inside a heated greenhouse. And you get to eat yummy berries to boot! Note: Strawberry picking in Japan involves paying to enter the greenhouse, where they give you a bowl of sweet condensed milk for berry dipping, and you get to pick and eat to your heart's (and tummy's) content. Berries for taking home are sold separately. One such greenhouse is Agri-Park, near Yashiro Station on the Shinano Railway line.Click here for Agri-Park's website.
7. Art & History Museums
Winter also presents an opportunity to visit those museums you had always wanted to check out. You get to tweak your artistic and/or historical interests, plus its warm inside the museums! Right across the street from Agri-Park (the strawberry place mentioned in #6 above), is the Nagano Prefectural History Museum, as well as the Mori Shogunzuka Keyhole tomb. Check out more about these two underrated historical centers here.
8. "Taiken" Experiences
As in #7 above, if you want to get in from the cold and do some cultural-related activity, winter is a great time to do so. Here in Nagano, there's everything from soba noodle making to ninja lessons. Two "experiences" that I suggest are traditional silk weaving for adults (Koiwai Tsumugi in Ueda) and prehistoric Jomon era craft making for kids (Sarashina Ancient Experiences Park in Chikuma City)
9. Hot Pot Cuisine
Hot Pot meals, or "o-nabe" as they are known in Japanese, are popular throughout Asia. But hot pots are a perfect match for Nagano's cold winters, especially if the ingredients include some local favorites, such as deer meat or wild boar meat. Such only-in-Nagano o-nabe are available at Gotoku-tei restaurant near Nagano Station. Click here for Gotoku-tei's website
10. Azumino Wasabi Fields
The Daio Wasabi Farm in Azumino is pretty special. Wasabi only grows in the cleanest, clearest water. Azumino has that, in rivers fed by run-off from the Japanese Alps. On top of the pristine water, you have Azumino's quiet, natural setting. Amidst all of this, and with the backdrop of the Alps, you have the wasabi fields laid out in rows with streams running through them. The farm is rewarding to see any time of the year, but in winter, when the leaves are off the trees, the bare branches give an even stronger contrast to the green of the wasabi plants and the steel grey of the riverlets. (If you go, make sure to try the wasabi soft serve ice cream, too!). Daio's website is here.
There you have it. If you try all 10 of these winter activities and are left wanting more, let me know and I'll be glad to provide a list of runners-up! Come and experience what Nagano has to offer this winter.
#2 Togakushi starting to get snow
#3 Our Family Ice Skating at M-Wave
#4 Shichi Onsen's open air bath with snowy view
#5 Blissful Snow Monkey
#6 Strawberry picking in a warm greenhouse
7. 1600-year old Mori keyhole tomb
#8 "Experiencing" silk weaving
#9 Gotoku-tei's Nagano nabe