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Winter wonder: Escape to Nagano and dine inside an igloo for the experience of a lifetime

Discover a winter wonderland in Nagano, Japan’s gateway to wintertime recreation. Dine inside of an igloo and warm up with a delicious, savory hot pot.
Winter wonder: Escape to Nagano — and dine inside an igloo — for the experience of a lifetime

Japan’s wide-ranging scenery is truly something to behold. Whether you’re lacing up your hiking boots and exploring the backcountry in the spring when the cherry blossoms are in full bloom or packing in your ski poles for a getaway on the powdery slopes, Nagano ticks all of the boxes when it comes to fun, outdoor recreation — especially during the winter season. 

Located within Japan’s far-reaching northern territory, this winter wonderland is considered a gateway to nearby sightseeing spots, world-class ski resorts, historic sites, and unique dining experiences. And that includes dining in a snow-covered igloo. 

Discover a world of wonder in Nagano, Japan. 

Explore Kamakura Village: Snow huts, hot springs, and an unmissable winter festival

Situated in the far north Nagano Prefecture, Kamakura Village provides travelers with an escape from the hustle-and-bustle of metropolitan life. 

This winter-exclusive attraction (held annually from late January to late February) comes to life each season with a series of wintertime events, experiences, and family-friendly snow activities, most notably the Kamakura Village igloos. 

Each winter season, 20 igloo-like snow houses, called kamakuras, are constructed throughout the area across a field of fresh white snow. While you can certainly visit during the daytime, the igloos are truly something to marvel at once the sun goes down. Each night the snow huts are illuminated by the soft, yellow glow of lanterns and lamps that add to the magical, wonderland-like atmosphere of the village.  

Visiting Kamakura Shrine: A place for worship in the mountains

Visiting Kamakura Shrine: A place for worship in the mountains

Positioned in the center of the vast snowscape of Kamakura Village is the Kamakura Shrine. Marked by its bright red torii gate, the shrine, like the other structures across the white landscape, is made entirely of snow. 

The genuine snow hut shrine is home to a sacred object, a divine rope known as a shimenawa that is used to ward off evil. The kamakura snow hut also has an offering box, just as you would find at any traditional Japanese shrine. 

You can visit Kamakura Shrine at any time through the winter season, and no reservation is needed for your visit.  

Nagano food: Enjoy a hot pot feast at Nagano Igloo Village 

Nagano food: Enjoy a hot pot feast at Nagano Igloo Village 

Sure to warm even the coldest of bones on a chilly winter day, a hearty serving of hot pot is a must after a day exploring the snowy landscapes of Nagano. And where better to enjoy a hot pot feast than from the confines of a snow-covered igloo? 

What is hot pot? 

Hot pot, also called soup-food or steamboat, is a cooking method that marries a savory soup stock with delicious ingredients like meat, leaf vegetables, seafood, dumplings, and mushrooms.  

Where to find hot pot in Iiyama Village, Nagano

Enter Restaurant Kamakura Village. Located just outside Iiyama Village, this unique restaurant forgoes the typical dining tables and the common restaurant format. Instead, hungry travelers enter a traditional Japanese igloo, or kamakura, when it’s time to eat. 

Once you’re inside of the kamakura, you can cozy up to a modest blanket-covered table, also known as a kotatsu, that is heated from below and warm up with the basket of blankets that the restaurant provides. Then, it’s time for the fun and equally tasty part — hot pot. 

A Nagano specialty hot pot is the perfect remedy for Japan’s frigid winter season. The local shinshu miso-based dish is brimming with locally sourced vegetables, mushrooms, and Iiyama City’s famous local pork (miyuki pork) — a hearty mix that is sure to warm your belly after a day outdoors. Be warned; your jaw may drop when your hot pot arrives at the table.  

Your order of bubbling hot pot is brought to the kamakura on a portable stove, ensuring that your savory meal stays warm throughout your entire reservation. This unforgettable culinary adventure awakens the senses with a gastronomic journey that spans from hot pot to a sweet s’mores dessert, with your choice of drink, too. 

Ready to experience what it is like to dine inside of an igloo? Reservations for the igloo dining experience are required, and seating is available for groups of up to eight people for both lunch and dinner. This unique dining experience is only available seasonally throughout the winter season.  

Iiyama Snow Festival: Music, mochi, and more

If you find yourself in Nagano at the beginning of February, you’ll likely have the opportunity to experience the Iiyama Snow Festival. And all of the festival fun is just a quick 10-minute commute south from the popular Iiyama Village.  

The festival features live music, a series of snow games, mochi cake pounding, adrenaline-inducing snowmobile rides, hut-making demos, and community snowshoe treks around the village area. Dozens of midsize to large detailed snow sculptures line the streets and are on display for everyone to see. And each night, fireworks light up the sky with their beautiful colors and celebratory pops and bangs. 

Togari Onsen: Experience Nagano’s natural hot springs 

Looking for more things to do near Iiyama? The Togari Onsen natural hot springs are a short 10-minute drive north from Iiyama Village. 

The natural springs are tucked inside of Snow Park Togari. Here you can experience the healing and beautifying benefits of the natural spring’s rejuvenating alkaline waters. 

Refresh your senses and rejuvenate your spirits in the outdoor, open-air bath and soothe your sore muscles after a long day of snowsports recreation. After a soak, you’ll be ready for another day of adventure in Nagano.   

Iiyama Village is accessible by taxi or bus; connections are available by way of highway bus or the high-speed Hokuriku Shinkansen railway line — a journey that takes about two hours when departing from Tokyo. Train rides are covered by Japan Rail Pass, Hokuriku Arch Pass, and the JR East Nagano/Niigata Area Pass.  

Olympic adventure: Explore Nagano’s après-ski scene in Hakuba

Olympic adventure: Explore Nagano’s après-ski scene in Hakuba 

The Tokyo games have recently captured the imaginations and attention of the entire world. Not too long ago, Hakuba was at the center of the sports universe. 

This small village in the Japanese Alps is located just outside of Nagano. It is here where top athletes from around the globe competed in the 1998 Winter Olympics. 

Visitors to the village can take a look at the impressive Hakuba Ski Jumping Stadium. The stadium was originally built for the Olympic Games and sits at the base of the Happo-one resort. A marvel in its own right, the ski jumps stand at 90 and 120 meters, respectively.  

Today, Hakuba Village offers a buzzy après-ski scene and a plethora of resorts that cater to the snowsports crowds. 

Hakuba is positioned west of Nagano City, about a one-hour drive. Hakuba Village is also conveniently located nearby other notable, world-famous ski areas, including Shiga Kogen, Madarao Mountain Resort, Myoko Kogen, and the popular hot springs destination Nozawa Onsen. 

Monkeying Around: Jigokudani Wild Monkey Park

A trip to Nagano Prefecture isn’t complete without a stop at Jigokudani Wild Monkey Park. 

Nestled within the Yamanouchi region, this nature preserve gives travelers the chance to spot some of the more than 200 Japanese Macaques, also known as snow monkeys, that call the area home.

Jigokudani Monkey Park is the only place in the world where you can see the wild primates relax in the serene, steamy natural hot springs of Nagano Prefecture.  

The monkeys gather in large social groups, and it’s not uncommon to encounter the snow monkeys on your way to the hot spring pools. While the snow monkeys are accustomed to humans, it’s prohibited to feed or touch them.

The park, and the monkeys, are most photogenic during the winter season, as a blanket of snow covers the area from December to March. 

You can arrive at Jigokudani Wild Monkey Park by bus, tour, or by your own vehicle by way of Hakuba. Once you arrive, the journey to the hot springs area of the park is about a 30-minute hike across wet and slippery terrain. 

More Mountains: Escape to Shiga Kogen, Madarao Mountain Resort, Myoko Kogen, and Nozawa Onsen 

Travelers from the world over come to Nagano Prefecture to experience world-class skiing against an unmistakable backdrop of northern Japan’s rugged mountains. 

Whatever your wintertime adventure itinerary looks like, these mountain escapes have exactly what you are searching for, traveler. 

Madarao Mountain Resort 

Freestyle runs, a snow park, and a large ski area are just some of the draws of Madarao Mountain Resort. 

The resort has many unique ski runs to hit, including groomed and ungroomed courses and runs that wind through bowl-shaped terrain.

Shiga Kogen

With slopes designed for beginners and experts alike, Shiga Kogen offers something for everyone. 

The second-highest ski resort in Japan, Shiga Kogen reaches into the clouds and offers prime skiing conditions through the winter season. And, with 19 different ski areas interlinked via its slopes and lift system, this ski hotspot is popular with locals and westerners alike.

Myoko Kogen 

Come for the skiing, stay for the hot springs. 

Myoko Kogen is a wintertime skiing destination, offering some of the best skiing in all of Asia. Brimming with hotels, lodges, and restaurants, Myoko Kogen provides everything you could ask for on a ski trip.

First formed in the 1930s, this winter paradise is notably Japan’s oldest ski resort. It’s also home to the longest ski run in Japan — a thrilling adventure that’s roughly 8.5km long. 

About those hot springs...

Just an hour’s drive from Myoko Kogen is Nozawa Onsen, an inviting hot spring village with a history that dates back to ancient times.  

More than a dozen small bathhouses (soto-yu) are located around the village, each with its own charm and all within walking distance of each other. 

The largest hot spring can be found at the center of town, tucked inside an alluring wood building. The locale is a symbol of the village, and like the other hot springs around town, it is simple and rustic. 

While you’ll undoubtedly want to jump right in, be cautious. The hot springs can be quite warm and may need to be cooled to a comfortable temperature by adding cold water.  

Make memories in the mountains: Plan your escape to Nagano today

Pack your snowshoes and your warmest winter jacket. Nagano’s mountains are calling — and you must answer. 

Surrounded by towering, picturesque mountains, Shinshu-Matsumoto Airport is at the center of Nagano Prefecture. The airport provides easy access to all that Japan’s northern region has to offer — from snow sports and skiing to unforgettable dining experiences and encounters with natural hot springs. 

For travelers arriving at Nagano Prefecture by way of Tokyo, the journey takes just one hour when flying with Japan Explorer Pass. The fare can be used to access over 30 cities across Japan Airlines’ domestic network. Start your journey with JAL today. And get ready for the experience of a lifetime in Nagano.  

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