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Travel and Dining

Nagano is the name of both a city and a prefecture, and lies in the center of Japan, in an area popularly known as the “Roof of Japan”. While it is just east of the Japan Alps (where most of the highest peaks lie), it also has high alpine scenery as well as rolling, forested slopes. The beautiful area has several important tourist areas, and the most famous of these is Karuizawa, Japan’s most famous summer resort town.

Located only a little over an hour from Tokyo via bullet train, Karuizawa deserves a stop on any itinerary. We personally think it has more to offer than its more famous counterpart, Hakone. Like Hakone, Karuizawa also has mountain vistas, charming towns, hiking trails, hot springs and luxurious resort hotels. The only thing lacking is the chance of seeing Mt. Fuji. Karuizawa also has something more of a rarified and cultured air than mainstream Hakone.

Above: Stone church by Kendrick Kellogg in Karuizawa. Left: Hoshinoya Karuizawa. Below: Shinshu vegetables served at Hoshinoya's Japanese restaurant Kasuke.
Shinshu vegetables at Hoshinoya Karuizawa
Hoshinoya Karuizawa

This is because the resort area has been a fashionable place for summer homes since the late 19th century. Wealthy Japanese and Western families enjoyed the cool summer air and birch and larch forests, and it is where the Emperor met the Empress — famously — on the tennis court. The town has always been an intriguing mix of East and West, and charming Western-style 19th and early 20th century buildings still dot its old town and lie tucked away on forested lots. The area also has some modern architecture, most notably by Antonin Raymond, who once worked with Frank Lloyd Wright on the Imperial Hotel in Tokyo, as well as more recent creations such as the Stone Church by Kendrick Kellogg.

Shinshu Cuisine
Shinshu is the old name for Nagano, and Shinshu cuisine features mountain plants and mushrooms, as well as ayu (sweetfish) a small river fish that only lives in the cleanest, clearest rivers. However, it is perhaps most famous for soba (buckwheat noodles).

While most tourists stay in Karuizawa — for the best accommodations are in the area — Nagano is also a worthy stop. The city is home to Zenkoji, one of the most important Buddhist temples and a particularly important pilgrimage stop for women.

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