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Rachell’s Pick: 8 Places in Nagano & Niigata not to be missed

Rachell’s Pick: 8 Places in Nagano & Niigata not to be missed

Japan holds some of my fondest travel memories, and I simply can’t wait to be back again. Regardless of the season, Japan has an amazing array of sights and sceneries for us to enjoy. We got the chance to visit the prefectures of Nagano (長野県 Nagano-ken) and Niigata (新潟県 Niigata-ken), located in Chubu Region (中部地方 Chūbu Chihō) of Honshū in Japan, during the winter season and it was a beautiful, snowy experience I will never forget. 


In this article, I will be introducing you guys to eight must-visit places in Nagano and Niigata that I personally love!


A little background about our itinerary on that trip - we first landed at Narita Airport (成田国際空港 Narita Kokusai Kūkō) and took the N’EX (Narita Express) to Tokyo (東京駅 Tōkyō-eki), which took around 55 minutes to arrive. We got to enjoy a comfortable ride accompanied by wonderful views, with our excitement for what lies ahead increasing along the way. Upon reaching Tokyo Station, we took the Hokuriku Shinkansen to Karuizawa Station (軽井沢駅 Karuizawa-eki). Since we were using the JR East Pass, Karuizawa Station was a convenient base-stop for us to access various places on foot. However, if you’re keen to reach these places via the nearest train stations, simply top up the fare as needed and let the adventure begin!


1. Shiraito Falls

(Image credit: photoAC)


Adapting to the cold temperature! (Image credit: Rachell)


When we first arrived at Shiraito Falls (白糸の滝 Shiraito no Taki), it was night time, and the entire place was gently lit up by beautiful purplish-blue lights. The place was so romantic and peaceful, and I also loved the animal ice sculptures around the site. What was different about this waterfall compared to others I’ve seen is that the water cuts through the rock and flows out like multiple layers of curtains, kind of like a lasagne!


Later on during the trip, we revisited Shiraito Falls again in the daytime. With its backdrop covered in a soft blanket of white snow, it gave a soothing vibe to the place, an entirely different experience from the night we visited!


Shiraito Falls (白糸の滝)
Address: Nagakura, Karuizawa, Kitasaku-gun, Nagano 389-0111
Nearest station: Karuizawa Station (軽井沢駅)
Opening hours: 24 hours
Tel: +81 267-42-5538


2. Onioshidashi Park

(Image credit: Rachell)


The Onioshidashi Volcanic Park (鬼押出し園 Onioshidashien) left a really deep impression because of its rocky, jagged, and awe-inspiring landscape, which was a result of a volcanic eruption. True to its intimidating appearance, the name “Onioshidashi” translates to “pushing the demon out”. According to legend, there was a demon that lived on Mount Asama (浅間山 Asama-yama). And the eruption in 1783 was so intense, that it looked like a demon was spewing out lava and rocks from the volcano! As we went during winter, we got to admire the scenery with a contrast between the fierce dark volcanic rocks and white fluffy snow, and also had the opportunity to take lots of nice photos!


Onioshidashi Volcanic Park (鬼押出し園)
Address: 1053 Kanbara, Tsumagoi, Agatsuma-gun, Gunma 377-1593
Nearest station: Karuizawa Station 
Opening hours: 8am5pm daily
Tel: +81 279-86-4141


3. Karuizawa Prince Shopping Plaza

(Image credit: Rachell)


Of course, an overseas trip is not completed without some shopping, right?


We were so excited upon arriving at Karuizawa Prince Shopping Plaza (軽井沢プリンスショッピングプラザ)! With brands like Gucci, Prada, Adidas, Chloe, and many more at discounted rates plus tax-free shopping, who could resist? Within just 10 minutes of entering our first stopan Adidas outletwe’ve already gotten ourselves a pair of couple shoes, jacket, socks and t-shirts. If you’re into retail therapy, I’d highly recommend allocating more time here!


Karuizawa Prince Shopping Plaza (軽井沢プリンスショッピングプラザ) 
Address: Karuizawa, Kitasaku-gun, Nagano 389-0102
Nearest station: Karuizawa Station (軽井沢駅)
Opening hours: 10am7pm daily
Tel: +81 267-42-5211


4. Snow Monkey Park

(Image credit: Rachell)


The Jigokudani Monkey Park (地獄谷野猿公苑 Jigokudani Yaen Kōen) located in Yamanouchi (山ノ内町 Yamanouchi-machi), Nagano Prefecture. This is where you’ll get a chance to see the snow monkeys soak blissfully in the hot springs. But of course, this amusing view is not without effort! You’ll first need to walk for about 1.6km (about 30 minutes) along a trail of majestic trees. Remember to prepare proper footwear for this day, so you can have a comfortable and safe trek.


Snow Monkey Park (地獄谷野猿公苑)
Address: 6845 Hirao, Yamanochi, Shimotakai-gun, Nagano 381-0401
Nearest Station: Yudanaka Station (湯田中駅)
Opening hours: 8.30am5pm daily
Tel: +81 269-33-4379


5. Matsumoto Castle

(Image credit: Rachell)


Another must-visit place of interest would be the Matsumoto Castle (松本城 Matsumoto-jō)—commonly known as the ‘crow castle’ because of its black exterior. Its amazing architecture and well-maintained interior gave us a brief sneak preview of what it was during the feudal period of Japanese history. We were quite surprised by how steep the stairs inside were though, so please enjoy the tour of the castle carefully! We chanced upon the staff there clad in ninja & samurai outfits outside the castle and got to pose with them and their props.


Matsumoto Castle (松本城)
Address: 4-1 Marunouchi, Matsumoto, Nagano 390-0873
Nearest station: Matsumoto Station (松本駅)
Opening hours: 8.30am4.30pm daily


6. Zenkoji Temple

(Image credit: Rachell)


Even if you’re not into religious places of worship, I’d highly recommend paying the Zenkoji Temple (善光寺) a visit during your trip to Nagano. The unique feature about the Zenkoji Temple is its basement, which became darker and darker as we walked down the stairs until the front of us was pitch black. Here, we had to move our hands along the wall of the basement in search of a “key to paradise”, and we were told to make a wish when we find it and it’d be granted to us.


A truly unforgettable experience as your other senses become heightened when you can’t see what’s ahead of you, and I remember my emotions being a mixture of apprehension and excitement to find the “key to paradise”.


Zenkoji Temple (善光寺)
Address: 491 Naganomotoyoshichō, Nagano, 380-0851
Nearest station: JR Nagano Station (長野駅)
Opening hours: 24 hours
Tel: +81 26 234 3591


7. GALA Yuzawa Snow Resort

(Image credit: Rachell)


What I was most impressed about the GALA Yuzawa Snow Resort (ガーラ湯沢スキー場 Gāra Yuzawa sukī-jō) is that it is directly connected to GALA Yuzawa train station (ガーラ湯沢駅 Gāra-yuzawa-eki)! No need to rent a car nor bring along your ski gearonce you arrive at GALA Yuzawa train station, everything you may possibly need to enjoy yourself there is at the entrance of the Snow Resort. And their level of professionalism is not just limited to the adequate gears available for rental, but there are many counters to tend to visitors who speak different languages, so there are no language barriers.


I’d definitely want to visit GALA Yuzawa Snow Resort again and spend more time there!


GALA Yuzawa Snow Resort (ガーラ湯沢スキー場)
Address: 1039-2 Yuzawa, Minamiuonuma-gun, Niigata 949-6101
Nearest Station: JR GALA Yuzawa Station (ガーラ湯沢駅)
Opening hours: 8am-5pm
Tel: +81 25-785-6543


8. Joyful Train: Resort View Furusato

(Image credit: Rachell)

If you’re a huge train enthusiast, you love how trains work so seamlessly and efficiently, the amazing systems behind them, please experience Joyful Train: Resort View Furusato. And even if you’re not a train fanatic, you’ll still find yourself immersed in a journey strategically surrounded with refreshing views of the streams, lakes, rustic towns, while indulging in the comfort of a smooth train ride. The train will also make a brief stop at Obasute Station (姨捨駅 Obasute-eki) where you’d be awed by the panoramic view.


(Image credit: Rachell)


And that’s it! My list of 8 Places in Nagano and Niigata not to be missed. Of course, travelling to these places is only possible because we bought the 5-day JR East Pass. A JR Pass allows you unlimited rides for long distances within Japan, and is the most economical way to travel for tourists, especially for Free and Independent Travellers. If you are planning to visit Nagano and Niigata and are visiting these places, a JR East Pass would suffice!


The Japan Rail Fair by JAPAN RAIL CAFE

–A Virtual Trip to Japan–

20–22 & 27–28 November 2020



JAPAN RAIL CAFE proudly presents The Japan Rail Fair—the first ever online rail travel fair—to your screens! Learn more about the different aspects of Japan’s railway in this fun-filled week—where there will be exciting activities as well as informative webinars, sharing sessions, and engaging workshops that celebrate the wonders of Japan rail travel. More details will be released in early November, so in the meantime mark your calendars and we’ll see you rail-ly soon!



Join us in JR STORIES—a series of talks where we share personal travel stories and news on the focused region, featuring our Japan Lover Community. This time, find out more about rail travel in Japan with our guest speaker Rachell (@pxdkitty) as she shares more about her rail travel experiences in eastern Japan.


We would also like to feature your JR Stories! Simply share with us some of your most memorable shots in your previous rail travel trips in Japan on Instagram. Simply tag us at #jrstoriesrailtravel on your photos & videos on Instagram to be featured in this episode 


JR Stories: Rail Travel in Japan
Organised by JAPAN RAIL CAFE
Date: 22 November 2020
Time: 7-8pm
RSVP: https://fb.me/e/3pp8MG27Q
Join us LIVE on The Japan Rail Fair or Facebook 


Header image credit: Rachell


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