We love Nagano! It’s the perfect holiday escape.

By on December 16, 2013
Families looking for a holiday retreat away from the deafening noise and crowd of Tokyo will find Nagano, a small charming, serene city surrounded by scenic mountains at viewing distance to the Alps with many recreational activities to offer, worth exploring.   From skiing to nature hiking, there’s something for small people and adults to experience and enjoy.  The short traveling time makes a visit to the place all the more convenient especially for families with small kids in tow.   After week-long jaunts to Nagano as an annual tradition, my family comes back to Tokyo, always refreshed and inspired to welcome the new year.   Nagano is dubbed as the perfect family getaway, and not without good reason.
Entertaining Monkeys

Cute, amusing snow monkeys abound at the ‘valleys of hell’, (the literal English translation of ‘Jigokudani Yaenkoen’ park but not to suggest anything to disturb your peace),  where visiting spectators take pleasure in snapping candid shots of what can sometimes be funny and endearing poses.  My children ages 2 and 4 giggle at  the Japanese macaques’  human-like gestures.  Watching mommy monkeys breastfeeding, some diving underwater holding their breath to get wheat, are just some of the fascinating things my children love.  Although known to survive harsh winter temperatures of up to minus 10 to 15 degrees centigrade,  these snow monkeys love soaking in onsen.  For us, there’s never a visit to Nagano without stopping by the park.

Cultural Immersion
After a power breakfast, a family hike to the best museums in town for art appreciation, is something that’s always on our agenda.

Kitano Museum of Art
If you love oriental art,  here’s where you will find most of Nagano’s cultural assets from Japanese paintings to sculptures and crafts dating back to the Meiji and Showa eras.  Occasionally, there are famous foreign artists’ masterpieces on exhibit too.   It is located on a slope leading to a breathtaking landscape garden.  Viewing visual arts could be a bit boring for some small kids so make an exit plan once they start screaming.

Zenko-ji Temple

Destroyed by fire 11 times and rebuilt each time, the temple was first erected in 1707 and said to be one of Japan’s National Treasure.  Inside the compound are old fascinating buildings important to the history of Japan.  The Sanmon gate along the Nakamise dori was one of two famous gates (the other is Niomon) that underwent restoration in 2007.  Buddhist worshippers line up in the morning to attend a ritual by a priestess who blesses their holy beads.

What makes visitors find this temple interesting has to do with legends linked to it. Binzuru, for example, a doctor and follower of Buddha, due to become the “enlightened one” and travel to the land of eternals (heaven to the Christians) was stopped by Buddha to continue his mission of doing good works on earth.  Today, people flock to the temple to touch the statue for healing.

The origin of the Japanese proverb “Led by an ox to Zenko-ji” came from another legend.  One day, an ox apparently ran away with the kimono that a stingy woman was washing.  The woman chased the ox and the latter led her to Zenko-ji where she fell asleep.  The ox briefly appeared in a dream revealing it was the Buddha.  The dream transformed the woman from stingy to a believer.  Today, the expression means ‘something good unexpectedly occurred’.


About Julie Wilson