We may be moving past the era of Kinfolk, but simplicity is still beauty (especially in Japan)—and this is precisely what makes Nagano prefecture a rewarding experience for city dwellers. Rather than an amusement park of endless stimuli, Nagano is a place to revel in the age-old act of constructing a fire to stay warm in the winter, or the watching the melodic brewing of drip coffee while The Beatles play gently in the background.
It almost sounds like a cliche at this point—an escape to the pastoral countryside with a fireplace and coffee—but that’s exactly what I did for a whole week, and really, I have no regrets. At the Journal, we’ve picked a few select spots for your next winter cruise. We are sure Nagano is no slouch in the summer, but everyone knows winter holds all the best rewards.
Maru Cafe // 5341-1 Hiraga, Saku 385-0034, Nagano Prefecture
Maru Cafe is carved out of an old wooden silk mill, and is dedicated to the creation of wholesome and delicious dishes by focusing on locally sourced ingredients and thoughtful preparation. The cafe is managed by a charming couple named Ray and Mari, who first met at a co-op farm. What was strikingly memorable about my meal wasn’t the experience of some virtuosic technique, but that each bite was so deeply satisfying despite its simple preparation. They had actually just closed the kitchen by the time I entered, but Mari kindly prepared a light meal as Ray shared his appreciation of local craft beer and natural wine.
Nagato Ranch Dairy Farm// 3539-2 Nagato Town, Chiisagata-gun, Nagano Prefecture
Nagato Ranch sits on the top of a vast spread of rolling hills, dotted with roaming cattle. It’s a world apart from the factory farms which produce most of the meat we’re used to consuming, and is eerily perfect with its abundance of space and enchanting scenery. If not for the view, visit for the handmade mozzarella and freshly churned soft-serve—both open to the public to try and make for themselves.
Below / Yushi Cafe’s homemade pumpkin cake and just-roasted coffee.
From the smell of fresh coffee to the tall iron stove crackling in the corner, Yushi Cafe is the embodiment of slow-living. It’s a place to savour freshly roasted beans and homemade pumpkin cake while doodling on a notepad. I quickly became a regular over my stay, returning again and again for a little quiet time and, naturally, a caffeine fueled zing to start the day.
Chikuma Nishiki Brewery// Saku City, Nagano Prefecture
Despite the overlooking mountains, the land in Eastern Nagano is open and flat—a perfect recipe for rice production and, of course, brewing sake. Chikuma Nishiki has been open since 1681, although they only moved to their current location in 1962. They almost exclusively use local rice for their sake, which is pure and a touch off-dry. There’s a wide selection of sake and shochu to taste, so if you’re driving be sure to bring a taste testing lab rat to sniff out a good bottle to bring back for dinner. Their nama-daiginjo was one of the best we tried in the area, and is definitely worth a try.
Pictured Above / Jigokudani wild macaque park
Jigokudani Yaen-Koen// 6845 Yamanouchi-machi Shimotakai-gun Nagano Prefecture
This wild macaque park could go without an introduction, having been famously photographed time and time again. In fact, I was hesitant to visit at first, having read reviews of the abundance of tourists and how the park itself was a giant tourist trap. However, the shutterbug in me prevailed and I can’t say that I regret going. The walk to the hot springs is breathtaking in itself—a snaking path encased in ice through fairytale-like woods. It’s a beautiful (and slippery) walk that brings you right into a snowy valley filled with macaques and men bathing side by side.
Yachiho Kogen Fishing Lake// 384-0704 Nagano-ken, Minamisaku-gun, Sakuho-machi, Yakōri
Enclosed by a forest, this fishing lake makes for a tranquil day trip in the summer. We found it luckily through a tip-off from our host, as most visitors will pass through the region without knowing of its existence. Although I arrived in the winter when all the facilities were closed, it still retained its beauty albeit with a frostier color palette.
Above / Sanson Terrace countryside houses.
Sanson Terrace// Saku, Nagano
Sanson Terrace is a collection of countryside houses run by superhost Daigo. All of them are heavily influenced by Finnish design sensibilities, and are all built by Daigo himself. His specially insulated winter cottage is designed to allow heat from the fire stove to circulate to the upper floor, warming your bed before you sleep. Its back door opens out onto a small Japanese rock garden and a field of wild grass. Book it now at http://sanson-terrace.jp/
This post was shot and written by Anne Berry.