Start from Nagano: Matsumoto, Takayama, Shirakawa-go, Kanazawa

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Start your trip from Nagano. This city was the base for the 1998 Winter Olympics and still has many of the original facilities strewn all over the city. These facilities however, are not the main attraction. The main attraction is a temple complex by the name of Zenko-ji, the virtuous light temple. Buddhism entered Japan during the 6th century and with the introduction of Buddhism followed the first Buddhist statue in Japan. This statue was the start of Zenko-ji, now one of Japan’s most prestigious temples.



Just 1 hour from Nagano is the city of Matsumoto which is most famous for its black castle. The castle is one of the few original remaining castles in Japan. You can enter the castle and walk all the way to the top of the building, from where you can see the mountains of the northern Alps all around the city. Matsumoto has many others attractions to discover like a street with storage houses from the Edo Period, or the nearby Azumino Wasabi farm or Kamikochi, a natural wonder.



Get on the bus from Matsumoto and make your way to Takayama. Takayama was a wealthy town which thrived because of the merchants constantly coming and going. Unlike many other historic places, this old town center is still beautifully preserved. Sake breweries, old shops, town houses, shrines and temples, and an open-air history museum make this town one of the most recommended rural destinations for visitors to Japan.



Shirakawa-go is a UNESCO world heritage site and has been so since 1995. The town is famous for its farmhouses that with its high thatched roofs. These roofs are known as prayers to Buddha, with the roofs looking like hands linked together in prayer. With some houses with a history of over 250 years old, the roofs were perfect for this heavy snow area as the snow fell from the houses easily. Nowadays you can get accommodation in one of those houses.



Kanazawa is a little Kyoto with its castle, geisha and samurai district, and one of Japan’s 3 most beautiful gardens. The nice thing about Kanazawa is that it is not as busy with tourists as the city of Kyoto. There is still plenty to see – such as the garden, the tea houses, and samurai manors – and do – going to the local fish market for snow crabs, exploring the many museums, etc.

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