Thousands of pilgrims each year come to Nagano's attraction, Zenkoji Temple. Founded in the 7th century this temple is unique to Japan for two reasons; it belongs to no particular Buddhist sect, and it has never closed its doors to women. Nagano is a great place to include on your itinerary. Only 90 minutes by shinkansen from Tokyo, Nagano also boasts great ski resorts and Jigokudani Spa home to the indigenous monkeys found bathing in the open-air onsens. Groups of wild monkeys live in the Yaen-koen Park, which is located in the mountains in Nagano. In winter the monkeys warm themselves by soaking in the hot springs while the snow falls on their heads.
Hakuba is well known as a ski resort town and was the venue of the 1998 Winter Olympics. It boasts a variety of ski slopes and the Hakuba Olympic Village Memorial Hall which has Olympic memorabilia on display for visitors to see. There are also ski jumping areas and the ski jumping stadium used in the Winter Olympics is still in use today.
The town of Karuizawa in Nagano Prefecture is also a noteworthy place to stay. Although well known as a retreat from the hustle and bustle of city life with lots of picturesque mountain scenery, it is also known amongst Japanese people as the place where John Lennon and Yoko Ono went for their honeymoon. Not to mention the good coffee at the Mikasa Hotel cafe, or the outlet shopping that is available on a visit to Karuizawa. The ham has a good reputation; the ham tastes very close to Italian prosciutto!
Nozawa Onsen is a well-known hot spring and ski resort that lies to the north of Nagano Prefecture. Besides the ski resorts and slopes that can be enjoyed there, the unique free-to-use public bathhouses called "Sotoyu" are all over the village and can be used by anyone.
In January each year, there is the Dosajin Fire Festival where you are able to see a magnificent display of fierce flames in a ritual that shows an attack on a makeshift shrine. If you choose to go there with a school group, please do not let any of your group members take the cups offered on the way out!
Yudanaka Onsen is the gateway to Yamanouchi and is situated along the way to Jigokudani Monkey Park. It has a long established history as a hot spring resort town and has a public bath in the station for you to enjoy upon arrival. Outside, there is a free footbath as well so you can experience the therapeutic hot waters of the area without delay! Although more developed than the neighbouring town Shibu Onsen, the further up the slope you travel upon leaving the station, the more traditional the atmosphere becomes. This particular town is relaxed and you perhaps will not want to leave!