Karuizawa is a picturesque resort town situated in a small, fertile valley beneath the shadow of Mt Asama, one of the most active volcanoes on Honshū. Its last significant eruption was in 2009, from which ashfall was reported as far as Tokyo. Despite the distant potential for volcanic cataclysm, Karuizawa has long been a popular retreat from Tokyo's summer heat.
Popular with hikers in spring, summer and autumn, and with skiers in the winter, this pretty forested region in the mountains northwest of Nagano city makes a lovely day trip or a peaceful overnight stay. Togakushi has been famed for soba for centuries. Pick up English-language maps from the Nagano Tourist Information Center or download one at www.togakushi-21.jp.
This wonderful working village tucked in a picturesque corner of the eastern Japan Alps is both a humming winter ski resort and a year-round onsen town – worth visiting any time of year. Settled as early as the 8th century, it's compact and quaint, though the maze of narrow streets will challenge even the best of drivers.
This lovely little town northeast of Nagano occupies a big place in Japanese art history and has a handful of interesting museums. The famed ukiyo-e (woodblock print) artist Hokusai (1760–1849) worked here during his final years. Obuse is also famed for kuri (chestnuts), which you can sample steamed with rice or in ice cream and sweets.
With some interesting temples and reputedly excellent waters, this mountain-ringed onsen town is worth passing through if you're nearby, but overall lacks something cohesive as a destination. Historically, it's been referred to as 'Little Kamakura' for the fact that it served as an administrative centre during the Kamakura period (1185–1333).
The site of several events during the 1998 Nagano Olympics and the 2005 Special Olympics World Winter Games, Shiga Kōgen is Japan's largest ski resort and one of the largest in the world: there are 21 linked areas covering 80 runs. Outside winter the mountain's lakes, ponds and overlooks make it an excellent destination for hikers.