November in Japan straddles the line between fall and winter.
Snow is already falling in the northern and mountain regions and the true winter cold is finally starting to bite.
Not only will you need to come prepared with a sweater or cardigan, but there will even be days when you might need a thick jacket too.
(If you want to travel light, you could probably replace some of these with thicker layers of underwear and heat tech clothing)
Activity-wise, November is still a wonderful time to check out the golden fall leaves.
It’s also the perfect season for mountain climbing, hiking and camping.
Some earlier ski resorts also open up around this time, so if you’re lucky, you may even be able to get some winter sports in.
Known as the “Japanese Alps,” Nagano Prefecture is surrounded by mountains and brimming with things to do in the great outdoors as you enjoy the last vestiges of autumn.
It is also famous for Karuizawa, one of the most prominent resort towns in the country.
This month, we’ll be looking at how to make the most of the natural wonders that Nagano offers, the wineries you can visit and sample and breweries that make very unique craft beers
Nagano Prefecture is a long prefecture that runs from north to south.
The leaves in the mountains in the northern inland areas begin to transform from the end of September while the south welcomes the peak of the autumn leaves in November.
Although there are lots of great fall leaves viewing spots, we want to introduce you to Tenryu Gorge in southern Nagano Prefecture in particular.
The valley, which runs for 2 km, was formed by erosion from the Tenryu River and is so named for the curious rock formation within it that looks like a dragon climbing out of the river toward the sky.
The area around the gorge features a 2 km round hiking trail which takes around 1 hour to complete at a leisurely pace.
You can even cross the 80 m high suspension bridge, the Tsutsuji Bridge, for a spectacular aerial view of the river below.
This is definitely one of the best places to visit if you want to see the golden leaves on a meandering stroll up a mountain trail, but if you want to experience these colors while doing something a little more action-packed, there is a boating option available that rides the current of the river downstream through the gorge too.
From this boat, the rows of red and golden leaves that line the river burn red like fire as the boatman guides the vessel down the river’s exciting and splashing rapids!
So make sure that you turn up in clothes that you don’t mind getting wet!
There’s another way to enjoy the autumn mountains that we would love to tell you about.
It’s paragliding! A sport that can be easily enjoyed in this area thanks to its surrounding mountains.
There are lots of spots throughout Nagano Prefecture that offer taster sessions for this sport.
One such paragliding paradise is Fujimi Panorama Resort, where you can challenge yourself to some dynamic flying with a drop of around 800 m.
This is an activity provided by a school that also issues paragliding licenses, so it’s very beginner-friendly too.
If that sounds daunting, don’t worry because you’ll be handing the reins to an instructor who knows the Japanese weather inside out and all you will need to think about is enjoying a walk through the air as the mountains carpeted in golden autumn leaves pass by underneath.
Even elementary school-aged children can try it!
Nagano Prefecture isn’t only home to fantastic views and kid-friendly sports and activities.
It also offers plenty of relaxing experiences geared toward a more refined and mature traveler.
Nagano Prefecture is lucky in that there is little rainfall and long hours of sunshine, which means that it has always been easy to grow peaches, pairs, grapes and cherries there.
In the past few years, wine production has become increasingly popular in the region.
Although the mention of wine may inspire mental images of rustic French and Italian vineyards, Japanese wine has really taken off lately and the industry nationwide has been garnering praise from the world over for its increasingly refined techniques and striking flavors.
Nagano Prefecture is perhaps the most suitable place in the whole of Japan for growing wine grapes thanks to its warm days and cool nights.
Wineries here produce everything from high-quality merlot to chardonnay and cabernet sauvignon.
There are four main wine valleys scattered throughout the prefecture, each producing different types of wine.
Many of these, both up-and-coming and long-established, produce wine with unique and distinct characteristics, so if the mood takes you, you can always stay for a few days and visit multiple places to find your perfect glass.
And since this is the fall season, you can also take advantage of the wonderful seasonal cuisine flavors on offer to find the perfect food and wine mariage.
Below are just four of our favorite winery options within the prefecture.
This winery earned a name for itself when former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe invited US President Donald Trump to dinner and wined and dined him with wine from this winery’s high-grade Solaris series, a 2013 Shinshu Higashiyama Cabernet Sauvignon.
This was not the only time that this winery’s goods were presented to foreign leaders as a 2012 Solaris Magnifica was also shared at another Abe dinner, this time with French President Emmanuel Macron.
“Solaris” means “sun” in Latin and one of the most important factors in making good quality wine is the use of specially selected grapes from fields that see a lot of sunlight.
While wine tasting and factory tours have been available in the past, during COVID-19, this winery is limiting business to wine and product sales only.
This winery takes charge of everything from cultivating the grapes to fermenting the wine.
The grapes they grow for chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, merlot, cabernet sauvignon and pinot noir are grown within a healthy ecosystem shared with a diverse range of plants and flowers and many a bug without using any excess agricultural chemicals.
Their onsite cafe/restaurant and wine store also serves food and homemade wine made with local ingredients. You can even partake in a wine tasting or take their food to go.
Rue de Vin’s blog uploads photos of their wine and their home territory in all its glory throughout each season and they even have an online store.
This winery was founded over 100 years ago in 1911.
Their wine is made from the grapes gown on their vast 7 hectare farm and those bought in from local contracted farmers.
These grapes, which are grown in a climate with a big difference between warm daytime temperatures and cold night time temperatures, produce a wine of complex flavor that can’t be achieved anywhere else.
In addition to wine, this winery also turn their hands to brandy and juice making.
This winery is another example of a farm that grows their own grapes and goes on to produce and sell their wine themselves.
Their vineyards are located in an area around 400 m above sea level where they grow grapes for all different kinds of wine, including chardonnay, kerner, pinot noir, merlot and cabernet sauvignon.
They’re perhaps best known for the high quality of their grapes using methods cultivated and developed through years upon years of research.
While Nagano has been a significant player in the Japanese wine industry for some time now, its craft beer is also beginning to turn heads.
While none of these take place in November, there are numerous craft beer themed events that take place throughout the year here which attract beer enthusiasts from far and wide.
Plenty of breweries are starting to pop up here too.
Just like the one in Nagano Prefecture’s historic castle town of Matsumoto City, the Matsumoto Brewery.
This brewery is extremely selective about the ingredients it uses to make beer and utilizes the crystal clear wter that flows down from the Northern Alps with Nagano-grown hops and wheat.
Their exciting lineup includes bitters, pale ales and even a grape ale made with locally grown grapes.
Also within Matsumoto City is the smaller BACCA Brewey, which makes everything from German wheat beer and pale ales to stouts and pilsners, forming a range that will keep even the most experienced beer drinker on their toes!
They also make a lot of unique products that combine beers with seasonal Nagano-grown fruit like watermelon, apples, plums, peaches and sakuraba cherry leaves.
The third brewery we’d recommend actually sits nearby the Senryu River, which we introduced earlier in this article, in Ina City.
In a Daze Brewing & Taproom was first opened in 2018 and are known for their craft beers and their pizzas cooked in their woodfire kiln.
They’ll even fill up your own flask or container if you bring it in to them and charge you by measure.
Lastly, we would like to recommend Anglo Japanese Brewing.
This company makes a beer that contains live yeast and shies away from the use of additives, colorings, antiseptics, preservatives or any heat-based processing or filtration.
It’s probably most famous for its traditional English ales and oak barrel-brewed sour beers.
Anglo Japanese Brewing’s taproom “Libushi” usually has 12 kinds of craft beer on tap. Since it’s located in a hot spring town, it’s the perfect spot to drop in for a drink or two after a lovely hot soak!
To fully enjoy the activities above, you’ll probably need to stay over and we’ve picked out some of our favorite unique accommodation spots below.
Nagano Prefecture is a popular destination for tourists because of its hot spring towns, ski resorts and refreshingly cool summers.
This means that there are also plenty of accommodation options available to suit your preferences and the purpose of your trip.
While there are lots of hot spring hotels and established hotels and inns available, these can be found extremely easily on any accommodation search site, so we’re going to concentrate on some lesser-known places that each have their unique selling point.
In a study by the Minsitry of the Environment, this campground was recognized as the site where the stars can be best seen in Japan.
It also stands at 1200 m above sea level and often sees snow, which only adds to the magical atmosphere.
There’s no doubt that falling asleep as you look up at a beautiful canopy of stars in the clear late fall skies would make an amazing once-in-a-lifetime memory, but make sure you remember to wrap up warm!
This is a stylish campground operated by Japanese apparel brand Urban Research.
It’s located in Tateshina, one of the resort areas of Nagano, and is loved by visitors for its tranquil views of the white birch forest and lake.
This doesn’t mean that there are no amenities though, as there is a craft beer-serving cafe/restaurant, hot spring and store onsite as well.
There is also a lodge that has been rennovated from an old hot spring inn and additional log cabins available if you don’t fancy sleeping in a tent.
There are plenty of activities nearby too, including a canoe tour of Lake Shirakaba and the Kitayatsugatake Ropeway.
This campsite is operated by Niigata-based outdoor goods manufacturer Snow Peak and was opened in northwest Nagano Prefecture in July 2020.
Featuring architecture from globally renowed architect Kengo Kuma, the accommodation is also facilitated with an outdoor goods store, a Starbucks and a restaurant where you can enjoy food made with local produce.
You can use one of the pre-erected onsite tents made by Snow Peak or rent one, so you can enjoy this campsite even if you don’t own any camping equipment yourself.
This accomodation is a renovated 100-year old traditional Japanese inn based in the Ina Valley in southern Nagano Prefecture.
The inn is limited to one group per night and can sleep up to eight guests, promising a special private stay for families and groups of friends.
There you can enjoy a package that offers local craft beer, wine, and dinner made from local ingredients cooked in a traditional sunken hearth.
The last place on our list of recommendations is Guesthouse Kura in Suzaka City in northern Nagano Prefecture.
This guesthouse is nestled within a traditional Japanese townscape in a town close to Jigokudani, where you can see the famous snow monkies bathing in the hot springs.
It’s got the usual guesthouse perks of a lounge and cafe space to meet up with other travellers, but also hosts many international visitors and offers Japanese language lessons too.
We hope this article gave you a good idea of why Nagano is such a popular destination within Japan.
But there are still far more dishes and activities based here that we wish we had space to introduce to you!
As the last fall month wanes and we enter into December, winter will arrive in Japan in earnest and lots of people will begin heading up north to Nagano for skiing.
Naturally, we also recommend Nagano Prefecture for the winter sports, but this time decided to encourage our readers to visit before the crowded winter season to enjoy everything else this wonderful prefecture has to offer before the crowds arrive.
Nagano is one of the prefectures that we love to talk about most, so please expect some more Nagano-themed articles in future posts!
We look forward to telling you even more about this awesome prefecture then!