Mountain-ringed prefectural capital Nagano has been a place of pilgrimage since the Kamakura period, when it was a temple town centred on the magnificent Zenkō-ji, which still draws more than four million visitors per year.
Following Nagano's flirtation with international fame, hosting the Winter Olympic Games in 1998, the city has reverted to its friendly small-town self. While Zenkō-ji is the only real attraction in the city centre, Nagano is a pleasant regional base with plenty of accommodation and some excellent restaurants.
Zenkō-ji occupies a prominent place to the north of this grid city. Chūō-dōri leads south from the temple, doing a quick dogleg before hitting JR Nagano Station, 1.8km away; it is said that street-planners considered Zenkō-ji so auspicious that it should not be approached directly from the train. The bus terminus and private Nagano Dentetsu ('Nagaden') line are also at JR Nagano Station.
Need to know
Nagano destination guides
Wonder at the famous snow monkeys soaking in the hot springs