The mountain-ringed prefectural capital of Nagano (長野) has been a place of pilgrimage since the Kamakura period, when it was a temple town centred on the magnificent Zenkō-ji, which draws a stunning number of visitors to the city each year. The highlights of town are Zenkō-ji and the 1.8km stretch of interesting Chūō-dōri that leads almost directly north to the temple from the station. Monzen-machi means 'a town that developed before the gates of a temple' and Nagano is a classic example.
Since the shinkansen (bullet train) and the upgraded station complex arrived in time for Nagano to host the Winter Olympics in 1998, the city has become a lot 'closer' to Tokyo: only 1½ hours away. It still has a friendly, small-town feel about it, though, while retaining plenty of accommodation and some appealing restaurants and bars. Many visitors use Nagano as a base for visiting Togakushi, Obuse and the Jigokudani Monkey Park.