July 28: Coinciding with the increase of 9 areas to Level 5, Nagano Prefecture has issued a Special Medical System Alert (source, JP), warning of strain on hospital systems and economic impact if current trends continue. Under the alert, new provisions such as sending self-testing kits to patients with symptoms at low risk of severe illness are outlined. If you are worried you may have symptoms, see Consultations below to contact your local Health Center, or reach out to the COVID-19 Multilingual Call Center 24 hours a day at 0120-974-998.
May 23: Nagano Prefecture has changed its alert level designation standards. Based on new infections within 1 week per 100,000 population: Level 1 (<30), Level 2 (30+), Level 3 (60+), Level 4 (120+ and 25% treatment bed use), Level 5 (180+ and 35% treatment bed use), Level 6 (Treatment bed use above 50%)
Nagano Prefecture is currently offering free PCR and quantitative antigen tests to those without current symptoms or confirmed close contacts. See this post for additional information.
If you received a first-time vaccination or booster shot while abroad, you must report it to your municipality to receive vouchers for future booster shots. Forms are usually available at town and city halls, or municipal websites. Ask your caretakers or email the PAs with questions!
View the Nagano Intercultural Consultation Center’s English COVID-19 page here.
Need English-language assistance? You can reach the COVID-19 Multilingual Call Center 24 hours a day at 0120-974-998. You can also find them on Facebook here, or add them on LINE.
If you are concerned about a fever or other possible symptoms, contact your designated health center, using the number above for translation if needed. (See Consultations below.)
In the southern half of the Nagano Prefecture lies its capital and largest city, Nagano City. While the city is surrounded by mountains on all sides, it is easily accessible through Japan’s train system and it is only an hour and a half away from Tokyo via shinkansen. Nagano City, while one of the first modern towns in Nagano prefecture (formerly known as the Shinano Provence) after the Meiji restoration, is steeped in history. Originally developed as a temple town, within the city also lies the Kawanakajima Battleground and it was the host of the 1998 Winter Olympics. However, the most famous destination in Nagano City is Zenko-ji. Built in the 7th century, this Buddhist temple is an important part of Japan’s cultural heritage.
Zenko-ji is located about 2 kilometers away from Nagano Station. Whether taking the 15 minute bus ride or the 30 minute walk, it is definitely a landmark you will want to visit during your time in Nagano. The temple was built during a contentious period in Japanese history: during the 6th and 7th centuries, after Buddhism was introduced to the country via Korean and Chinese influence, the country debated whether or not the practice of Buddhism was beneficial to the Japanese people. While Buddhism was practiced by some of the aristocracy, others considered the new religion as the cause of disorder in the kingdom. This debate brings us the legendary origin of Zenko-ji. It is said that one of the first images of the Buddha was thrown into a river in Osaka where a Shinano samurai, Yoshimitsu Honda, rescued it and brought it back to the Shinano area. According to the official website, Zenko-ji was built in 642 AD to house this important Buddha image. While the original image has been sealed away for centuries, you can still get a glimpse of the official replica which is brought out every 7 years during an event called “Gokaicho.” While the original Buddha statue remains hidden from public view, the temple still receives crowds of visitors every day from all over Japan.
There are many events at Zenko-ji you can experience. Every morning there is a morning service, called “O-Asaji,” that you can witness. Beginning at sunrise, visitors can receive blessings from the top priest. You can also purchase a ticket to witness the morning service inside the temple. There are various festivals and special events throughout the year. Recently, there was a fantastic winter illumination event at the temple in which lights and projections decorated the main hall and surrounding buildings. The Omotesando (the pilgrim’s path leading up to the temple) is also illuminated, which usually starts in early November and lasts until mid-February. On the Omotesando, there are many shops where you can buy omiyage and Nagano-famous foods like soba noodles and oyaki. The Nagano Prefectural Art Museum is next to the temple, too. The area around Zenko-ji has many cafes, izakayas, and shops, so if it’s your first time in the area there will be plenty of things for you to do.
Arguably, the most popular time to visit Zenko-ji is during New Year’s celebrations. The New Year festivities begin on December 31st. The New Year holiday is traditionally a family celebration in Japan where young people and families travel to visit their family homes to ring in the new year with their loved ones. However, in my experience, Nagano City and the area around Zenko-ji were filled with younger, 20-something people out with friends this New Years holiday. Many restaurants and bars are closed during the winter holidays, but there are still a few places open between Nagano Station and the temple where you can enjoy some food and drinks with friends. The street leading up to the temple was bustling this year with most of the shops and restaurants open late and a lot of stalls selling different street foods. My friends and I enjoyed grilled beef skewers, takoyaki, and miso soft serve ice cream while we wandered the area around midnight. If you decide to visit Zenko-ji during the next New Year’s holiday, be warned: the line to enter the temple is very long after midnight and the following days. However, despite the crowd, the atmosphere around the temple is buzzing with excitement and it is definitely worth a visit on New Years to experience one of the most important holidays in Japan.
Overall, Zenko-ji is one of the best cultural landmarks to visit in the Nagano Prefecture. The history of the temple is an important cornerstone in Japan’s Buddhist history and continues to be of cultural importance to this day. Everyone who comes to Nagano should visit Zenko-ji at least once during their time here. I hope you can enjoy Zenko-ji as much as I have during my time in Nagano!
We hope everyone is having a great beginning of the year.
Starting now until February 22nd, JET has opened its applications for its Program Coordinator Position!
Please check your contracting organizations for more information if you are interested!
The list of required documents for the application will be in the attached email by CLAIRE. Your contracting organization should have the documents already emailed to those applicable but if they do not have the information for any reason, please contact us at email@example.com
This year’s Hokushin East NagaYes will be held in Iiyama City!
Try your hand at making traditional Japanese paper (Washi) and create your own postcard adorned with leaves and wildflowers! While your postcard is being dried (it takes about 1 hour), you will tour the Iiyama City Art Museum and Museum of Traditional Arts to learn more about local arts and traditional crafts produced in Nagano.
There will be a prize for our Washi Master!
(UPDATED) When: February 23, 2023 (Thursday; Public Holiday) at 2 pm Where: Iiyama Handicraft Paper Studio, a 6-min walk from Iiyama Station (Click here for Google Maps) Fee: 510 yen (210 yen for postcard making, 300 yen for Museum admission) What to bring: Yourself! Participant Cap: 14 people RSVP: https://forms.gle/ZazQRewQZ7SwhS189(Deadline is Feb 20, 2023)
Access and Parking BY TRAIN From Nagano Station, take the 12:33 pm Iiyama Line (local train, 550 yen one way) or the 12:53 pm Hokuriku Shinkansen (1390 yen one way) to Iiyama Station
BY CAR There is abundant parking space at the paper studio.
For more information, please contact Gloria at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Christmas is almost upon us. In Japan, many families are putting in their reservations for… Kentucky Fried Chicken and Christmas cake! Here in Nagano prefecture, our very own Saku City happens to be one of the TOP 3 cake towns in Japan.
“I want to know some local recommendations in one of the best cake cities in Japan!”
“I want to get a Christmas cake, but I don’t know what places are taking reservations…”
“I’m not near Saku, but I want to try a Japanese Christmas cake!”
If any of these have crossed your mind, read on for a local sweet-lover’s guide! (disclaimer: this list is not exhaustive)
Amy’s year-round favorites in Saku City, one of the Japan’s TOP 3 cake towns
A local favorite from birthday cakes and special occasions, to treats for anytime in between. The café in the back is a comfortable place to enjoy your cake and a drink (and serves seasonal parfaits, as well!). Although prices here are just slightly higher than others, the detail in the flavors and textures makes for artisan-level sweets that are well worth the money.
Christmas cake reservation-only until December 17th, cash only
Cafe closed December 22-25 to handle cake reservations
In addition to the usual offerings, personalized cakes featuring adorable animals and characters are the specialty here. This year’s Christmas cake selection includes a rabbit-shaped shortcake filled with strawberries, custard, and berry sauce! 🐰Interestingly, you can also order a “secret” cake, for those looking for a super special Christmas surprise…
Christmas cake orders accepted until reservation limit is reached.
Patisserie Honey CoCo
The desserts here are superior not only in their adorable designs, the sponge cake is also one of the best I’ve ever eaten. They also sell baked sweets in the cutest packaging, great for giving as gifts! You can’t go wrong with anything you buy here.
accepting reservations for Christmas wreath-like fruit tarts as of December 13
Accessible Christmas cakes for those farther away
Chateraise (until December 16)
Ginza Cozy Corner (reservations vary by store)
Convenience stores –> wide variety of designs. BTS cake, anyone?
Some grocery stores like AEON take reservations for outsourced cakes, and in the case of an emergency, you can usually buy parts to make your own cake! Just buy pre-made sponge layers, cream, maybe some fruit and decorations to make for a fun, budget-friendly, and personalized alternative.
Whether you celebrate Christmas or not, the cakes and desserts in Saku are worth a visit any time of year!
Wishing all readers a safe, warm, holiday season! ⛄
The annual Nagano International Christmas Carols event is just around the corner! Join us on Saturday, December 17th for lots of international Christmas fun!
Once again, this year we will be singing in English, Chinese, Korean, and Japanese, and we will also be hosting a World Greetings Game and Christmas Card Making Activity during the intermission time.
Children who stop by the carols will receive a card with the flags and greetings of each country represented in the Christmas Carols group. When they greet the international participants (us!) in our respective languages, we will sign their card. If they can collect all the signatures, they’ll recieve a reward!
For those that want to make their own Christmas cards, we will have a table prepared with the tools you need to prepare a cute card!
RSVP by Friday, November 18th to Satoe (email@example.com) with your name and the country that you will be representing or sign up on this google forms.
Please see the posters below (English, Japanese, Chinese, & Korean) for further details. Find the Facebook event here.
Traditional crafts are crafts that have been used in daily lives for a long time. These crafts are still currently handmade using the original raw materials and traditional techniques. Nagano Prefecture, also known as Shinshu, has a rich history, and is home to seven traditional crafts designated by the Minister of Economy, Trade, and Industry. They are Kiso lacquerware, Matsumoto furniture, Shinshu tsumugi silk, Iiyama Buddhist altar, Uchiyama Japanese paper, Shinshu Forged Blades, and Nagiso woodturning. Let’s take a look!
Kiso lacquerware (Kiso shikki)
Kiso lacquerware has more than 400 years of history, and it is made with local materials such as Japanese cypress and cercidiphyllum. By making use of an iron-rich rust clay called “Sabitsuchi” in the undercoating process, the lacquerware produced are more solid and durable than those from other production areas. Low tables made with this technique are popular in Japan, and Kiso lacquerware gained international fame after it was used to make the 1998 Nagano Olympic Winter Games medals.
Major area(s) of production: Shiojiri City.
Matsumoto furniture (Matsumoto kagu)
Matsumoto furniture is crafted in the Matsumoto area and has been produced for over three hundred years. Made with natural wood from Japanese cherry birch, chestnut, oak and zelkova, wood pieces are assembled using traditional wood joinery techniques after natural and machine drying. Besides from traditional Japanese furniture like dressers, shelves and low tables, Western-style furniture like tables and chairs are also being made.
Major area(s) of production: Matsumoto City, etc.
Shunshu tsumugi silk (Shinshu tsumugi)
Shinshu tsumugi is a type of silk fabric produced throughout Nagano Prefecture, where each region has their own production styles and techniques. This craft is completely hand-made, from hand-spun threads to traditional dyeing techniques using natural plant dyes. It is said that every piece of cloth is unique as the same shades can never be created twice. Besides kimonos, it is also being made into wallets and neckties.
Major area(s) of production: Matsumoto City, Ueda City, Iida City, Nagano City, Okaya City, etc.
Iiyama Buddhist altar (Iiyama butsudan)
Iiyama Buddhist altar is characterized by the gorgeous three-dimensional gold leaf maki-e and the wooden arch set above the inner sanctuary. Another unique feature is the maintenance process called “Sentaku,” which means “washing” in Japanese, where the Buddhist altar can be taken apart and polished to look brand new again. This sustainable Buddhist altar takes 8 processes to make, each handled by a different professional craftsman.
Major area(s) of production: Iiyama City
Uchiyama Japanese paper (Uchiyama gami)
Uchiyama Japanese paper is made with 100% paper mulberry, which gives the paper excellent strength, air permeability, translucency and heat retention. Paper mulberry bark is first softened by boiling, then the tree bark fibers are bleached by spreading them on snow. It makes use of the ozone that is naturally released by the melting snow. Since it is bleached naturally, Uchiyama Japanese paper hardly gets browned from the sun and can be preserved for a long time.
Major area(s) of production: Iiyama City
Shinshu forged blades (Shinshu uchihamono)
Shinshu forged blades began production during the Battles of Kawanakajima in the 16th century, where many blacksmiths moved to Nagano Prefecture to fix weapons for armies. Local villagers learned blacksmithing while working at those smithies, and applied those techniques into making kitchen knives and farming tools such as sickles and hoes. Nowadays, products are prized for their toughness, high sharpness and long-lasting cutting quality.
Major area(s) of production: Shinano-machi, Iizuna-machi, etc.
Nagiso woodturning (Nagiso rokuro zaiku)
Nagiso woodwork products are distinguished by their beautiful wood grain that is brought out by a unique method of wood-turning. Records show they have been shipped to Nagoya and Osaka since the early 18th century. Plain wood bowls and containers used to store Japanese tea sets were made then, but nowadays, daily items like low vases and ballpens are also being made. Masters called Kijishi take into account the color, grain and type of wood when making these beautiful products.
Major area(s) of production: Nagiso-machi, etc.
If you would like to know more about the traditional crafts in Nagano Prefecture, you can visit this website or the Iiyama City Museum of Traditional Arts. The museum is only a 10-minute walk from Iiyama Station! Moreover, you can visit the paper-making studio adjacent to the museum and make your very own Uchiyama Japanese paper!
There are also 21 traditional crafts designated by the Governor of Nagano Prefecture (website in Japanese). I hope you will enjoy discovering the wonderful traditional crafts during your time in Nagano!
Kamikōchi (上高地) is without a doubt, one of my favourite places in Nagano-ken. If you enjoy being in nature, like hiking or mountain climbing, are seeking a new experience, or just fancy a break from the day-to-day … Kamikochi is the place for you! It is perfect for beginner hikers and seasoned climbers alike – all are welcome!
For kanji learners, it used to be spelt 神垣内 (Kami-ko-uchi), but 上高地 (Kami-kō-chi) is now more common.
Located in western Nagano-ken, Kamikochi is a high mountain valley and popular resort in the Hida Mountains range (the Northern Alps) of the Japanese Alps. It has been preserved as part of the Chūbu-Sangaku National Park since 1934 and is designated as one of Japan’s National Cultural Assets: Special Natural Monuments and Special Places of Scenic Beauty.
Kamikochi stretches for roughly 18 kilometres along the Azusa River Valley, about 1500 meters above sea level, and is surrounded by tall mountains, including such as Mount Hotaka (Hotakadake – 3190m) and the active volcano Mount Yake (Yakedake – 2455m).
The Rev. Walter Weston, a British Anglican missionary, is credited with lobbying to preserve the Kamikochi area and popularising alpine sports in this area. His book, ‘Mountaineering and Exploration in the Japan Alps’ became a travel literature classic and he established the first Japanese Alpine Club in 1905. He is called ‘The Father of Mountaineering in Japan’ and there is a commemorative plaque to him at Kamikochi. Kamikochi was made even more famous when Ryunosuke Akutagawa mentioned Kamikochi and the Kappa bridge in his 1927 novella ‘Kappa’, a satire of Taisho Japan using the mytholgical Kappa (a Japanese yokai that lives in streams, rivers, and lakes).
Kamikochi is open to the public from the 17th April to the 15th November, but some hotels and shops close a week or two before the official closing date. There are two camping areas, a number of hotels (Western-style and traditional ryokans), and plenty of mountains huts so several options for multi-day hiking trips. There are a small number of restaurants, cafes, and souvenir shops, as well as a post office and visitor and tourist information centres. The Visitor Centre is open from 08:00 to 17:00 (18:00 in August), and contains books and information about the geography, geology, fauna and flora, as well as the folklore of Kamikochi, and information for mountain climbers.
The views are spectacular whatever time of year you go, but are especially beautiful when the autumn foliage appears, which usually peaks mid-late October. Kamikochi is also famed for its wide range of alpine plants which can be enjoyed from May to October with the best time from mid May to July. There is plenty of wildlife to be enjoyed too and many people visit Kamikochi to see the Macaque monkeys and various birds. Black bears are present but are very shy and rarely encountered. Signs are posted by the Park wardens when bears are spotted to keep the public informed, and many hikers wear ‘bear bells’ on their rucksacks (which can be purchased in the souvenir shops and Visitor Centre). Other elusive wildlife includes the Raicho (rock ptarmigan) and Kamoshika (Japanese serow).
Bear in mind that due to its elevation, Kamikochi is considerably cooler than ‘down below’ whatever the time of year. Please check the weather carefully before you go and make sure you are prepared with layers, hats, gloves and heat pads in cooler months. The hiking trails along the Azusa River from Taisho Pond to the Myojin Bridge are relatively flat, with a few steps here and there, but sturdy footwear is recommended as there is uneven ground in many places. For those wishing to climb the surrounding peaks, mid June to mid September is the recommended period.
The central area around Kappa Bridge (Kappabashi) gets very busy during the summer holidays (mid July to August) and especially on weekends during the autumn leaf season in October. Several events take place in Kamikochi each year, including the opening ceremony in April, a stamp collecting walk rally from May to July, the Weston Memorial Festival in June, the Hotaka Shrine Boat Festival in October, and the closing ceremony in November.
Private cars are banned and the only access to Kamikochi is by bus or taxi. If you are travelling by car, follow the National Route 158 from Matsumoto or Takayama. There are several parking lots near the entrance gate to Kamikochi at Hirayu (Takayama side) or Sawando (Matsumoto side), usually ¥600-700 for all day parking. The last time I visited, we arrived about 08:00 and the car parks at Sawando were already filling up. From the car parks, you can take the bus (¥1000 one way) or a taxi (¥4000-5000 one way) which usually takes 20-30 minutes. The taxi is a fixed rate depending on pick up and drop off points – detailed information on buses and taxis can be found at the Kamikochi website listed below. There are plenty of signs and usually a car park attendant to assist. The first time I visited Kamikochi, my friends asked the taxi driver to stop at Taisho Pond so we could take some photos before continuing on to our chosen stop.
There are three bus stops at Kamikochi. The first is Taishoike bus stop next to the Taishioike Hotel and the Taisho Pond (Taishoike). Taisho Pond was created in 1915 when Mount Yakedake erupted and dammed the Azusa River, and named for the Taisho era at that time.
The next bus stop is the Teikoko Hotel Mae bus stop, next to the Imperial Hotel (Teikoku Hotel) and across from the Tashiro Bridge. Walking from the Taishioike bus stop to the Tashiro Bridge takes about 40 minutes. En route is the Tashiro Pond, one of Kamikochi’s most scenic spots. A small pond surrounded by marshland, it can be dazzling in clear weather or shrouded in ethereal mists. Another popular scenic spot is the Dakesawa Marsh, a 5-10 minute walk from Kappa Bridge along the hiking trail to Myojin Pond. There are several marsh areas in Kamikochi but there are wooden walkways through them so the path is always accessible.
Kamikochi Bus Terminal is the final stop and a 20 minute walk from Tashiro Bridge. There are some buses that travel directly to the Kamikochi Bus Terminal. From Matsumoto take the train to Shin-Shimashima Station (30 minutes) and then a bus to Kamikochi (1 hour). The one way train and bus fare is ¥2710. Detailed information can be found on the Kamikochi website. The Visitor centre and Kappa Bridge are a 5-10 minute walk from the Bus Terminal. There is a tap where you can refill your water bottle for free with water from the mountains on one side of the bridge, next to the Kamikochi Soft Cream shop.
From Kappa Bridge, there are several hiking trails that go up and down the valley or head up into the surrounding mountains. As I mentioned earlier, the hiking trails along the Azusa River are relatively flat and can be easily completed in a couple of hours. There is a trail on both sides of the river so you can walk up one side and back down on the other.
At the end of the main trail is Myojin Bridge, Myojin Pond, and Hotaka Shrine. It takes about 1 hour to walk there from Kappa Bridge. If you are interested in collecting Goshuin, you can purchase one at the Hotaka Shrine for ¥500. If you wish to see the beautifully serene gourd-shaped Myojin Pond, you need to buy a ticket for ¥500 at the Shrine. A rare waterweed called Icho Baika Mo grows here, along with fresh water trout (Iwana in Japanese) and mallards.
There is also an atmospheric lodge and restaurant here called the Kamonji-Goya, built in 1880 by Kamijo Kamonji who guided the Rev. Walter Weston, and it is still managed by his descendents. They serve delicious fresh river trout, killed and cooked on site in traditional fire pits – highly recommended!
A set menu for ¥1700 yen consists of rice, grilled salted trout, pickles, and miso soup. The whole fish can be eaten, if you so wish! The fish is small so the head and fins are crunchy and delicious, and after all that walking, you’ll be hungry anyway! Mottaiai, ne! If fish is not your thing, there is soba but all the broths are dashi (fish stock). They also serve plain soba and yam soba, but if you are a vegetarian or have dietary requirements, please check the other eateries around Kappa Bridge or bring your own food. Kamonji-Goya restaurant is open from 08:30 to 16:00.
It takes a little planning to visit Kamikochi but it is well worth the effort! No matter which season you visit in, Kamikochi is sure to take your breath away and leave you feeling relaxed and rejuvenated. I certainly hope that you are able to visit this very special place during your time in Japan.