Iiyama / NaganoRest and Relaxation in Rural Japan: Iiyama in Nagano Prefecture


Situated in the northernmost part of Nagano Prefecture, Iiyama is merely an hour and a half away from Tokyo via the Hokuriku Shinkansen. The city has diverse geography that includes flatlands alongside Japan’s longest river, the Chikuma River, as well as forested mountains, highlands, and hot springs.

For that reason, Iiyama is popular for activities such as skiing and snowshoeing in the winter, and trekking, hiking, or cycling in the summer. At the same time, the town’s beautiful Buddhist temples and subdued, ancient Shinto shrines underscore the region’s rich history and culture.

Enjoy Meals Made with Love and Local Ingredients

All of the ingredients come from Nagano, with most produced in Iiyama.

Just a short drive from Iiyama Station, across from the town’s famous Mayumi Takahashi Doll Museum, is Ajikura Tsukiakari. It may look like any other restaurant, but here you are treated more like a family member coming home rather than an ordinary customer. Local mothers actually prepare rice balls and fillings, and many of the menu items are closer to healthy, home-style cooking than standard restaurant fare.

Sasa-zushi is a local specialty of sushi rice, toppings, and condiments served on bamboo grass leaves.

More importantly, the kind-hearted cooks here pride themselves on adhering to the concept of "local production for local consumption." No artificial flavors, additives, or colors are incorporated, and most of the ingredients are procured in Iiyama (direct from the grower!) or other parts of Nagano Prefecture. Look forward to tasting traditional specialties such as sasa-zushi (see photo) and imo-namasu (slices of potato marinated in vinegar).

Immerse Yourself in a Beech Forest at Nabekura Kogen

A guide at Mori-no-Ie shows photos illustrating the snow level in winter.

Mori-no-Ie is a welcoming nature activity center in Nabekura Kogen, a section of highland in Iiyama located at an altitude of 550 meters. Cabins are available for rent year-round here, and Mori-no-Ie also arranges a number of activities at the visitor center such as trekking, canoeing, snowshoe tours, all designed to facilitate getting outdoors and enjoying the natural world.

Tall, stately beech trees create a light green, shady canopy.

There are activities for all ranges of age or experience. One easy and educational program accessible to almost anyone is the Beech Forest walking tour. You’ll follow the guide into the forest on well-maintained trails, sometimes lined with soft wood chips or passing over boardwalks, as you learn to spot the subtle traces of insect and animal wildlife.

Stay Overnight at Togari Hot Springs

Meals served here are healthy, with a plethora of fresh, local vegetables.

The best way to cure any travel fatigue is to do what the Japanese do–soak in the hot springs! Iiyama is home to several different excellent hot springs, or onsen in Japanese, one of which is the Togari Onsen area. Here, Shikisaino Yado Kanoe is a small, traditional inn that not only has its own alkaline hot springs, but is also based in a tranquil spot with few other buildings around.

Pick fruits and vegetables in the backyard and the owners will use them in your meals.

Whether at dinner or breakfast, meals are prepared with healthy, seasonal ingredients, many of which are cultivated in the inn’s garden right outside. If you’re interested, you can even try picking some of those yourself beforehand! Furthermore, look forward to tasting Nagano's famous dishes such as soba (buckwheat noodles) and Shinshu miso (soybean paste), while delicious local Japanese sake is also available.

Cycle Through Iiyama’s Pastoral Landscape

Rental bicycles and a guide await you at Iiyama Station.

Located on the first floor of Iiyama Station, Shinetsu Shizenkyo Activity Center is a base for a variety of outdoor activities. Here you can rent a wide variety of bicycles, including road bikes, mountain bikes, cross bikes, and recently e-bikes, as well as any outdoor clothing and accessories you might need. To really get off the beaten track and visit some of Iiyama’s most scenic spots, set out with a local guide on a cycling tour.

After leaving the urban center behind, you’ll be captivated by the expansive views of Iiyama’s countryside.

Those seeking adventure can join exhilarating mountain bike downhill tours, but even courses around Iiyama’s low-lying parts beyond the train station are a wonderful way to see a variety of spectacular scenery in any season. On the route, you’ll cross the Chikuma River and circle around the foothills as you pass rice paddies, picturesque farmhouses, and old Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples, learning about the culture and locals’ way of life.

Enjoy Lunch with a River View

Sit outside and admire the view of Japan’s longest river, the Chikuma River.

The Michi-no-Eki (roadside station) “Hana-no-Eki / Chikumagawa” is much more than just a rest area for travelers. Souvenirs are available and you can also enjoy delicious meals with local ingredients at Café Satowa. The facility is located right alongside the Chikuma River, and from the outdoor seating area you’ll be able to appreciate scenic vistas of the riverbed amid the backdrop of distant mountains.

Much of the fresh produce is grown by local farmers.

After lunch, stop at the small market next door and you’ll see a lineup of fresh fruits and vegetables produced by Iiyama farmers. While you’re there, you may even spot a farmer bringing in their products and putting them directly on the shelf–evidence of just how fresh the items are!

Design Your Own Souvenir with Traditional Metal Carving

Learn the techniques firsthand from a master craftsman.

Iiyama has several old Buddhist temples in the town center, and this area is likened to a “Little Kyoto” when snow piles up around them in the winter. The long history of Buddhist tradition in Iiyama led to the rise of craftsmen specializing in the decorative metal fittings used on the small Buddhist altars placed in Japanese homes.

Anyone can master the art and take home a custom souvenir.

At Iiyama Station, attend a workshop to learn about the craftsmen’s metalworking techniques and then try your hand at making copper or brass accessories, like bookmarks. Involving just a hammer and a metal engraving tool, this is an experience that nearly anyone can do, regardless of artistic ability, and you’ll be able to take home a souvenir much more meaningful than anything store-bought.

Access information

Getting to Iiyama, Nagano:

Iiyama is easily reached from Tokyo in about 1.5 hours by the Hokuriku Shinkansen.

Article provided by: JTB Communication Design, Inc.

*This information is from the time of this article's publication.
*Prices and options mentioned are subject to change. Unless stated otherwise, prices do not include tax.
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About “Countryside Stays“

If you’re looking for a new way to experience Japan, sign up for a farm-stay experience through the Countryside Stays Japan program and participate in traditional rural-lifestyle activities in recommended countryside locations.


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