Many cities in Japan make for great day trips. You can station yourself in one place and effortlessly take the trains out to neighboring suburbs and cities. It’s an ideal situation for a traveler with little time to spare and a small wallet unable to accommodate overnight occasions in every city.
Nagano is one of those great day trip destinations. However, there isn’t much to see in the city center itself. Why I chose to spend 2 nights there, I haven’t the slightest clue, but it seemed like a good idea when I was planning my travels throughout Japan. After spending the night in Fukuoka, I needed to make my way back North, and for some reason unbeknownst to me, Nagano is where I chose to make a pit stop. 7 hours on trains from Fukuoka to Osaka to Nagoya to Nagano was more taxing than I anticipated. Although, as the train cruised through the mountains dusted in snow, the scenery was so breathtaking like something out of a Christmas wonderland, I could’ve spent all night on the trains and been peacefully content.
Arriving in Nagano on a bitter cold afternoon, I went in search for my hostel that wasn’t marked with signage of any kind. Had I not saved the directions on my phone, I would’ve roamed the streets like a stray cat before eventually asking for help. Once at the hostel, I felt completely drained and ended up going to sleep at 6:30pm. With a head cold sneaking up on me, I was hardly concerned with seeing much of the oddball town, but the hostel staff had hoped otherwise.
As endearing and helpful as the staff turned out to be, their questions about my plans for my visit came beckoning every morning and every evening. It felt like a nagging mother trying to get her children out of the house, and the push to eat their free apples didn’t help their case (Nagano is famous for apples). I can’t complain about their desire for my time in Nagano to be the best possible experience because I’d want the same for them if they were to visit the USA.
Having skipped my first night in town babying a cold, I spent the next day visiting Zenkoji temple, walking around the city, and visiting the M Wave arena where one can go ice skating. My deteriorated appetite called for no more than free breakfasts at the hostel, lunch at a SWEET double decker restaurant (pictured above), and some questionable Indian food on my last night. Other than that, there’s not much going on in Nagano. You would have to take a bus or train about 45-60 minutes outside the city to see anything remotely interesting. The following morning, I made my way back to Tokyo. So Nagano ended up just being a pit stop, and that’s okay. It was a much needed break from temple/shrine/castle and noodle hopping.
So if you’re looking for a quiet escape off the beaten track, Nagano would be a good place to rest your head for a couple days and/or get some work done without distraction.