Guideto JapanCulture History
Landlocked Nagano Prefecture in the Chūbu region of central Honshū is sometimes known as the “roof of Japan,” as it is dominated by the mountainous territory of the Japanese Alps. Its high altitude means it is relatively unaffected by typhoons and seasonal rains. The prefecture includes the country’s furthest point from the sea, which is some 115 kilometers away, and at eight, it has the most borders with other prefectures.
Nagano Prefecture at a Glance
- Established in 1871 (formerly Shinano province)
- Capital: Nagano
- Population: 2,048,000 (as of Oct. 2020)
- Area: 13,562 km2
The highland plateau of Kamikōchi in Chūbu-Sangaku National Park is a popular spot for hiking, whether on the trails or in the surrounding mountains. Autumn leaves in October are a particular draw. The macaques at Jigokudani Monkey Park have become famous for taking baths in hot springs, particularly in the snowy months, and visitors can observe them taking a soak. Tsumago, a former post town on the Nakasendō Highway, recreates the atmosphere of the Edo period (1603–1868).
Nagano hosted the Winter Olympics in 1998, with events taking place in the capital of Nagano and at nearby ski areas, as well as in the globally famous ski region of Hakuba in the Northern Alps. The prefecture saw a considerable boost to its popularity as a winter sports destination from the October 1997 completion of the Nagano Shinkansen, just ahead of the games.
Nagano Prefecture has the most farmers of any prefecture, and is a leading producer of lettuce, celery, hakusai (Chinese cabbage), and apples. The prefecture’s Shinshū soba, bearing another name for the prefecture, is well known and restaurants selling the buckwheat noodles are common. Nagano is also a major manufacturer of microscopes, pressure gauges, and other machinery.
- Matsui Sumako (1886–1919): A pioneering actress in the shingeki (new theater), known for performances including as Nora in Ibsen’s A Doll’s House.
- Hisaishi Jō (1950–): Composer famous for writing the scores for numerous films by Miyazaki Hayao and Kitano Takeshi.
- Shinkai Makoto (1973–): Animator and filmmaker who wrote and directed the international hit Kimi no na wa (Your Name).
(Originally published in English. Banner photo: Kappabashi [Kappa Bridge] and surrounding scenery at Kamikōchi in Nagano Prefecture. © Pixta.)
For the complete list of the country’s 47 prefectures, see “The Prefectures of Japan.”