Discover the Japanese Alps

Between the regions of Kyoto and Kyoto stand the Japanese Alps and its majestic peaks culminating over 3000 meters high. Popular all year round for the spectacular landscapes and wild nature that they offer to the travelers, the Japanese Alps take on a particular shine during winter. In addition to the marvels of the snowy landscapes, the traveler can take a peek into the past, enjoy local activities and even try out some snow sports


Mount Toomi,  Nagano Prefecture

Nagano and its surrounding area

Known for the 1998 Winter Olympics, Nagano is also the main city in the Japanese Alps. From there, places of interest in the region are easily reachable.

One of the main attractions is undoubtedly the Zenko-ji temple, which attracts 8 million pilgrims each year. It is a unique place as it is shelters the oldest known Buddha statue, brought to Japan in 552AD, and is also known for not being affiliated to any established sect.

For an unforgettable experience, don’t hesitate to stay the night in one of the many temples next to the Zenko-ji. In these temples you will be able to enjoy the shojon-ryori, the typical vegetarian meal.
South of Nagano, in Matsumoto city is one of Japan’s oldest castles, which still retains its original wooden structures. It was built in 1595 and its history is deeply rooted in Japanese heritage. 



Shirakawa-go, a UNESCO World heritage site

In the heart of the mountain, lies the traditional village of Shirakawa-go. Registered in the UNESCO since 1995, it is famous for its gassho-zukuri houses, or “joint-hands constructions” as they are said to resemble Buddha’s praying hands.
These enormous houses with thatched roofs were ideally suited for rigorous winters in the region. Built without nails, their attics were used to shelter silkworm farms and their mulberry trees were also used for paper fabrication.
Wish to spend the night? Some of these houses are also inns.
Access: From Nagano, take the train to Takayama and then the Nohi bus line
UNESCO website 


Jigokudani, the monkey paradise

This onsen, very popular with the Japanese, is also the snow monkeys’ favorite. They are said to have discovered its virtues whilst trying to pick soy beans floating on the surface of the spring.
After a two kilometer long walk in Jigokudani, along a snowy hiking path, you will be able to observe these animals, basking and grooming each other in the warm pool specially reserved for them. This touching spectacle alone deserves taking the trip!
Access: from Nagano, take the local train to Yudanaka and the bus to Kanbayashi Onsen.
Official website with webcam. 


Along the Nakasendo...

The ancient trade road Nakasendo used to link Kyoto to Edo (Tokyo’s ancient name). Some of the rest stops along the road remain virtually unchanged and benefit from a strict conservation rule.
Stroll through the villages of Tsumago and Magome, connected by a 7 km hiking trail. You will be immersed in an atmosphere worthy of a samurai movie… After the walk, warm up in one of the oldest dated houses still intact and open to the public.

Access: the post offices are located between Matsumoto and Nagoya. Get off at Nakatsugawa and then take the bus. 


Skiing in Japan ?

What may come as a surprising fact to foreigners, skiing is an activity widely practiced in Japan. For winter sport lovers, the Japanese Alps can offer you a wide variety of ski resorts. The resorts offer many opportunities to relax in the hot springs while enjoying the local specialties.
Nozawa is to be mentioned for its traditional atmosphere and its onsens, Hakuba, the most popular one with its 12 ski areas, and finally Shiga Kogen, without a doubt the largest station in Japan which has no less than 21 ski areas.
Access: All these stations are accessible directly by bus from Nagano


How to get there ?

The train is still the best way to visit the Japanese Alps, especially with the Japan Rail Pass.
From Tokyo, get to Nagano with the Asama Shinkansen in 1h30  or to Matsumoto with the Super Azusa in 2h30 (departure from Shinjuku).

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