ผ่านมาอีกพักหนึ่ง Ducking Tiger ก็ได้รับเลือกให้เป็นส่วนหนึ่งของโปรเจ็ค Tokyo & Around Tokyo เพื่อโปรโมตการท่องเที่ยวเชิงกีฬาในจังหวัดรอบ ๆ โตเกียว โดยซับโปรเจ็คที่เราได้คือโปรโมตการปั่นจักรยานที่ตอนเหนือของจังหวัดนากาโนะเสียนี่ !
I have an American friend whose name is Michael Rice. He’s been living in Japan for over 30 years, has native-level command of the language, and is known for his presenter role in an NHK World’s programme called ‘Cycle Around Japan’. His collective mileage of riding around this island nation is well over 100,000 kilometres. One day, I asked him if there’s any particular route he likes, he paused for a bit before showing me this route.
This route is in Nagano Prefecture, with the distance just a tad over 100 kilometres and the elevation gain whoppingly almost 3,000 metres. This conversation was back in Thailand. Back then, I made a note back in my mind that Nagano is worth a riding trip if I were to visit Japan.
And in a twist of fate, two years later, I’m now pursuing a post-graduate degree in Nagano Prefecture…
And in another twist of fate, DT was chosen to promote the area around the northern part of Nagano and Niigata as a part of Tokyo And Around Tokyo Project!
A task to promote the area that I live in and love? Yes, please!
As a resident of Nagano Prefecture, I can assure you with first-hand experience that this is a truly wonderful place. What you’re about to read are my honest persuasions to you to visit this place I currently call home.
1. It’s easily accessible.
Being located in the central part of Japan, this gem is easily accessible from either of the two popular landing ports: Tokyo and Nagoya. From Tokyo it’s 80-100 minutes via Hokuriku Shinkansen, and from Nagoya it’s ~180 minutes via Limited Express Shinano, both options are direct so you don’t need to worry about dragging luggages across platforms in search of the next correct one. Just take a nap and set a vibrate-only alarm 10 minutes before arrival. Seamless.
2. It’s lush.
In Japan, there’s something called Shinrin-yoku, lit. ‘forest bathing’. It’s a type of preventive medicine supported by literatures. It’s proven that by spending time leisurely in forests, your health and your general well-being is improved. Cortisol level decreases, high blood pressure decreases, and psychological stress decreases, amongst many other parameters that were measured. The effect is not proportional to the time spent either. A few days in a forest will give benefits that last a few weeks
And this being Japan, they usually take a mundane concept to another level. With forest bathing, they designate certain places as forest bathing bases, by clearly designating walking routes and adding facilities to them, like small clinics, forest food restaurants, guided walks & other activities, and cosy hotels to spend the nights.
The final line is that, while some prefectures has one base and some has none, Nagano is the only prefecture to have two. One of the two, Asakawa Forest, is the first registered base ever and is the birthplace of forest bathing in Japan. (A conference was held there in 1982 and it was decided that Shinrin-yoku is beneficial and people should be encouraged to partake in it.) Speaks volume of how lush and green this place is.
3. It’s an alpine heaven.
While the tallest mountain in Japan is the iconic Fuji, the list of top 12 tallest mountains in Japan is occupied by 9 peaks in Nagano, thanks to Japan Alps. As such, this prefecture is really mountainous. It’s rather easy to draw a random route on RideWithGPS that is 50 km long and accumulates climbing over 2,000 metres. The highest prefectural road in Japan is here. The highest national road is also here. If you like climbing, I don’t think I need to say more. If climbing isn’t your thing and you just want to enjoy the scenery, Alpico buses will take you to all attractions on high mountains. Public transport is great for people and the planet.
4. You don’t have to bring your own bicycles.
This is not true for every area in Japan. However, Nagano is so famous for its outdoor activities that many rental bicycle companies set up their businesses here. By not having to fly in with your bicycle and travel with it, this means a lot of freedom in planning. Instead of a pure cycling trip from the first day to the last, you might ride for a few days and travel without a bicycle for the rest. This flexibility will allow your non-cycling friends and partner to join the trip with ease.
5. And yes, did I say outdoor activities?
If you are a casual cyclist, Nagano and its mountains might sound tiresome to you. But don’t turn away just yet, because there are a lot more activities that may suit your interest. How about picking coveted Shinshu apples and sampling fine wines in Iizuna? Or calming your minds and visiting temples shrouded in mists in revered Togakushi? Or trekking/camping/hiking in ever-popular Kamikochi? Or skiing/snowboarding in Hakuba, the 1998 Winter Olympics venue?
Final words before finishing off, I’ll drop some more keywords about things that Nagano Prefecture is famous for, but I haven’t mentioned above. Feel free to look up any of these that pique your interest:
Jigokudani (monkeys in onsen)
Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route (roads flanked by 10m snow walls)
Karuizawa (upmarket shopping and mountain resorts)
Matsumoto (one of Japan’s original castles that wasn’t destroyed in wars and rebuilt later)
Hokusai Museum Obuse (the painter of Great Waves Off Kanagawa spent his later years here, and a museum showcasing his paintings was built)
Shinshu apples (not a name of an apple varietal but rather any apples grown here, although some varietals like Shinano Gold and Shinano Dolce were actually conceived here by a research station and only grown here)
This article was written in association with Tokyo and Around Tokyo Project and Ride Experience. DT was guided in familiarisation trip organised by our contractors. However, the viewpoint in this article is entirely our own.