Nagano is located right in the center of Japan and home to the 1998 Winter Olympics. The region is known for its soft blankets of snow. Maybe you’ve already had a chance to visit one of its famous ski resorts during the winter. But have you visited Suwa to see its magnificent landscape? How about tried their delicious culinary cuisine made with fresh water and produce from the mountains? Or visited their spiritual “power spots” believed to have rejuvenating healing powers?
We’ve made a list of places to visit in Shimosuwa, Nagano for you to visit. Check out the area surrounding the Lower Shrines of Suwa Taisha ー one of the oldest shrines (and most powerful power spots) in Japan ー so you can refresh physically and spiritually with some local soba, shrines and tranquil scenery.
At the center of Nagano lies its largest lake with a circumference of nearly 16km and 759m above sea level. The beatific Suwa Lake is enjoyed year round as visitors come to see the spectacular gorge. Take a peaceful boat ride on the lake and down Tenryu River to have a full view of the surrounding landscape.
Suwa Lake Fireworks Festival and more
Every year in mid-August, the Suwa Lake Fireworks Festival showcases one of the largest firework displays in all of Japan. It lasts two hours and explodes 40,000 fireworks. See how the grand lake mirrors the illumination in the sky, and hear the dynamic “boom” of the explosion reverberate off the surrounding mountains. The sound will vibrate through your body. And if you’re close enough, you’ll even be able to catch falling ashes from the sky. But make sure you plan ahead and book accommodations early. Hotels and reserved seating go fast. Although, even if you don’t have a place to sit, walking around while eating skewers and shaved ice from the “Yatai” food stands is just as exciting.
Can’t make it? Not to worry! Every year on the first Saturday of September, the National New Fireworks Competition shows newly designed fireworks created by pyrotechnicians from all over the country. It’s as powerful and festive as the Suwa Lake Fireworks Festival. On top of that, every day from late July to the end of August, a fifteen-minute firework display is exhibited for the Summer Night Fire Festival. So you won’t be missing out!
If you’re lucky during the coldest days of winter, you may be able to see the rare, natural phenomenon known as the “God’s Crossing” on Suwa Lake. The surface water freezes but the natural hot spring under its surface keeps the lower waters from solidifying. That warm circulating water causes ice pressure ridges to form on the surface ice. Local Shinto tradition says the ridges are formed by the gods crossing the lake when traveling between the Upper and Lower Shrines of Suwa Grand Shrine.
Suwa Grand Shrine (Suwa Taisha)
The Suwa Grand Shrine is comprised of four shrines surrounding the lake. The Upper Shrines (Kamisha) are the Front Shrine (Maemiya) and Main Shrine (Honmiya). It’s on the South side of the lake in Chino and Suwa. The Lower Shrines (Shimosha) are Spring Shrine (Haruma) and Autumn Shrine (Akimiya) North of the lake in Shimosuwa. As you step into these shrines, you’ll feel peace and quiet. A serene sense may take over you. It is said praying at one of these shrines brings tremendous luck and prosperity. Think about how much good fortune it’ll bring to visit all four shrines.
The famous Onbashira Matsuri, symbolizing the renewal of Suwa Grand Shrine, is held every six years in the year of the Monkey and Tiger in the Chinese zodiac. The tradition has been continued for more than 1200 years. It’s exciting and sometimes dangerous as men ride massive logs ー that become the corner pillars of the shrines ー off steep hills.
Another festival is the Ofune Matsuri, or boat festival, to ritually transfer the spirits between the Harumiya and Akimiya shrines. The streets are filled with festivity – yatai, omikoshi, dancing, singing, fireworks. It’s something worth checking out.
Nijyushi Sekki Kagura (Traditional Japanese Food)
Address: 3571 Tatsumachi, Shimosuwa, Suwa District, Nagano
Hours: 11:00～15:00 Everyday except Wednesdays
Have a taste of the Shinshu’s countryside at Kagura after visiting the Lower Shrine ー its a one minute walk from Akimiya. Kagura serves simple yet delightful traditional Japanese cuisine made from carefully selected seasonal ingredients produced in Nagano. The rice, water, wild vegetables, miso, poultry are all delicately prepared to create the perfect dish for sophisticated “Kappo” dining. Their lunch menu is very reasonable with their set menu starting from only 900 yen. We recommend the “Tomoe-gozen.” It comes with Gohei Mochi topped with their specialty miso and Noppei Soup with wild vegetables. Enjoy the rich flavor of the Shichifuku Miso made by blending together seven ingredients. Some are the famous Nagano apples, walnuts and wolfberry. Dinner is reservation only starting from four people, so please call in to have their lovely seasonal course meal.
Taro Coffee No.2 （Cafe and Food）
Address: 3447 Yudamachi, Shimosuwa, Suwa District, Nagano
Hours: Tuesdays – Saturday from 18:00〜23:30L.O.
If you’re looking to have a cup of coffee in Suwa, Taro Coffee is the place to go. This unique cafe’s interior has a modern twist to a Japanese retro interior. They not only serve coffee but beer and a variety of food like German sausages and ramen. Depending on the day, they have special menus too. On Thursdays, they serve Okonomiyaki. So don’t forget to check that out. In the late afternoon, you’ll see some customers coming in to have a cool, refreshing glass of beer after a bathe in the hot spring next door.
Tangan No Yu （Hot Spring Bathing House）
Address: 3441 Yudamachi, Shimosuwa, Suwa District, Nagano
Hours: 5:30 -22:00 (Receiption closes at 9:30) No Holiday
Shimosuwa has many natural hot springs. Tanga No Yu, with 700 years of history, is just the right bathing house to have a quick dip. Some of their hot springs are very high in temperature, so you might not be able to stay in for very long. But it’s said to have qualities of treating injuries so you might want to give it a go. In the old days, samurais use to bathe here to heal their wounds from war. So relax in the outdoor hot spring (rotenburo) and feel the pleasant breeze on your face and body. Sweat a little. It’ll pump your circulation and leave you feeling refreshed and energized for the rest of the trip.
Suwanone (Music Box Museum)
Address: 5805 Shimosuwa-machi, Suwa District, Nagano
Hours: March – November 9:00 – 17:30, December – February 9:00 – 17:00
Closed on Mondays (If Mon. is a Festival Day then Tues.)
Tune yourself to the calming and charming melody of music boxes at Suwanone. After indulging in the wide collection of antique music boxes from around the world, listen to the history guide and watch the live stage performance featuring lifesize antique music boxes. You can even experience assembling a music box of your own ー choosing a song of your liking from a selection of over 700 songs. Make your original, one-and-only music box. Then, replenish yourself with a cup of tea and some cake at their cafe. Or have a beer and snack on their terrace. Enjoy your peaceful morning or afternoon here with a pleasant jingle.
Taisentei (Soba – Buckwheat Noodles)
Address: 3551-1 Shimosuwa-machi, Suwa District, Nagano
Hours: Lunch 11:00〜14:00, Dinner 18:00〜23:00 (L.O. 22:00), Closed Tuesdays
As you walk into Taisentei, a gorgeous red carpet will escort you through their beautiful traditional Japanese garden, tea room and gallery to finally arrive at their seating area. The wooden interior with an old-fashioned stove, tables and accustomed tatami seating makes you feel like your in a secret hideaway. What makes this place so amazing is that every dish is authentic ー not to mention, delicious. Our recommendation is the set menu with cold handmade buckwheat soba and an assortment of tempura. Seasonal wild vegetables and a luscious shrimp is fried to a crispy perfection. And a fresh piece of wasabi is served for you to grind to put on your noodles. Make sure to call in to make a reservation because they may close early if they run out of their tasty soba.
Address: 10616-540 Shimosuwa-machi, Suwa District, Nagano
Hours: April – September 9:00〜18:00, October – March 9:00〜17:00, No Holiday
If you’re a fan of Salvador Dali, you’ll be excited to see a piece of his collection to greet you at the entrance. The museum displays about 400 works by Henri Rousseau, Grandma Moses, Camilo Bombois and many other world renown artists. Since Harmo Museum is located right next to Suwa Lake, along with your tour, you’ll be able to enjoy the scenic view in the exhibition room with a glass wall. There, you can overlook the entire lake. Sit down and take in beautiful artwork as well as the scenery of the waters.
Make sure to check out our shop to get yourself a new pair of timeless knit shoes for your travels!