May 23, 2015

Nagano

Nagano(長野)is a BIG prefecture in the middle of Honshu(本州)/ Chubu region(中部). It is famous for skiing, hot spring and nice sceneries. Due to it being really mountainous, I actually went to the prefecture 5 times, grouping different regions into different trips.



Being a fan of Edo period houses, first went to Kiso Valley(木曽路)at the west of the prefecture during my first summer in Japan. Tsumago(妻籠)was a post town on the Nakasendo route (path through mountains) linking Kyoto and Edo (present Tokyo). It is a well-maintained town preserving its looks and ambience since the Edo period. Also went to Magome(馬籠), another post town nearby that falls under Gifu prefecture(岐阜), though Tsumago has more things to see. It would be nice to stay a night there, though mine was a day trip.






My 2nd trip to the prefecture was to Matsumoto City(松本), north of Kiso, which can be covered together actually. I went there on the way back from Toyama's Tateyama Kurobe Alpine route.

Matsumoto Castle(松本城)is 1 of the 12 original castles in Japan. Find it the most beautiful and grandest of all.



Also went to Matsumoto Art Museum, which exhibits Kusama Yayoi's art works as Matsumoto is her hometown. And Nakamachi District, a former merchant district with nicely preserved houses. There are a few restaurants serving local specialty Shinshu Soba(信州そば).







Only spent 1D1N in Matsumoto, though it has a few more attractions enough for 2D. Stayed at Matsumoto Backpackers, a new and cozy guesthouse conveniently located near Matsumoto station.



My 3rd and 5th trips were to Karuizawa(軽井沢), located at the eastern border of the prefecture and is highly accessible from Tokyo via shinkansen. Heard that it is flooded with people from Tokyo in summer as it is a good place to escape heat due to the higher altitude. For both trips, I had visited in spring together with hot spring towns in Gunma prefecture, namely Kusatsu(草津)and Ikaho(伊香保).


I like Karuizawa. It reminds me of Otaru(小樽)in Hokkaido and Yufuin(湯布院)in Kyushu. Simple town layout, dotted with quaint cafes and shops, plus artsy and relaxing vibe. Enjoyed cycling to Kyu Karuizawa from the station, with many cafes and shops. The back of the Karuizawa Ginza shopping street has a few churches and many rustic houses of Western design, nice contrasting vibe. There is also Naka Karuizawa with some museums, and outlet malls at the other side of the station.






The 4th trip to the prefecture was to Nagano City for Mr Children's concert, and Takato Castle Park(高遠城址公園), located inconveniently in the middle of the prefecture. It is ranked as 1 of the 3 best spots to see sakura in Japan. Personally rank Hirosaki Castle in Aomori 1st, this 2nd, and Mount Yoshino in Nara 3rd.


Most people who visit there are locals, mostly via tour buses or car. When I was there, saw some foreigners too. It was a weekday and weather was bad, still, there were many people as sakura had reached full bloom.

The premise was 'flooded' with sakura really. Although only the ruins of the castle remain, the compound was still quite nice. Also had limited Takato Soba (strong buckwheat taste) at Takatokaku, main building of the park built in the Showa period.






After that, roamed the town near the bus terminal and had a really nice bath at Sakura no Yu(桜の湯), known for its sakura view when in bloom and skin-smoothing effects. Somehow the latter was really obvious when in the bath, interesting experience~



Even though I had visited the prefecture 5 times already, there are still quite a number of mountain resorts and hot spring towns I've yet to cover in this prefecture~

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