SINGAPORE — Most people associate Nagano Prefecture with red-faced snow monkeys taking leisurely dips in an onsen (Japanese for “hot spring”) at Jigokudani Wild Monkey Park. But the area certainly has a lot more to offer.
Situated in the centre of Japan and surrounded by mountains, Nagano, which hosted the Winter Olympics and Paralympics in 1998, is a popular winter destination. Besides Hakuba Valley in northwest Nagano Prefecture, winter sports enthusiasts also flock to places like Nozawa Onsen and Shiga Kogen Heights to ski.
The area is also popular for its many hot springs – for humans — including onsen resorts like Yudanaka Shibu Onsen, Bessho Onsen, and even remote onsen villages like the Shinshu Takayama Hot Spring Resort Area in Takayama Village, Shirahone Onsen in the valley of Yugawa River and Maguse Onsen, which has an outdoor bath overlooking Nagano City.
Another must-see in the region is Matsumoto Castle, one of Japan’s most beautiful and best preserved castles, built between the 16th and 17th centuries, and one of only four castles designated as ‘National Treasures of Japan’. Visitors can enjoy views of the Japanese Alps in the distance and the surrounding Matsumoto City from the castle, and the most popular time to visit is perhaps in the spring, in early to mid-April, when visitors can admire the 300 cherry blossom trees in full bloom on its grounds.
Nagano is also famous for its fresh, juicy apples, peaches and apricots, which visitors can pick at various farms depending on the season. But Nagano is known mainly for its Soba Buckwheat noodles, made using buckwheat grown in areas like Togakushi and Kaita and mixed with fresh water from the mountains. The signature dish can be found in restaurants all around Nagano, but many choose to try their hand at making their own soba at the Soba Museum Tonkururin in Togakushi or at Soba Takagi in Matsumoto. HON JING YI
Visit http://www.go-nagano.net/ for more information on when and where to visit in Nagano Prefecture.