Nagano, Japan, is a ski area best-known as the site of the 1998 Winter Olympics. It is also the jumping-off point for countless trailheads in the Japanese Alps.

The small city is quiet by Japanese standards and is more of a transit hub than a destination itself. Its main claim to fame is a massive Buddhist temple, Zenko-ji, which sits at the heart of the modern city. Founded in 660, Zenko-ji stands out as a non-denominational temple that accepts all comers and has Buddhist nuns. It is famous for a statue of Sanzon Amida Buddha, so precious that people line up to see a replica, the original of which is displayed only once every six or seven years. The next festival will be held in 2021 or 2022.

From Nagano there is excellent skiing nearby in the Myoko range to the north. Myoko Suginohara has the longest single run in Japan at 5.2 mi/8.5 km and Akakura caters to the relaxed ski crowd, with apres-ski hot spring baths available at the bottom of the runs. Nearby Nozawa Onsen offers a similar ski and hot spring combination. For a massive ski area experience, visit the site of many Olympic events at Shiga Kogen, east of the city.

The options are nearly endless for hikers, but the easiest access from Nagano is to rugged, snowy Mount Hakuba in the west and alpine flower-coated Mount Myoko in the north..

While you're in the area, be sure to check out the town of Matsumoto, famed for its samurai fortress known as the Black Crow Castle. Matsumoto is also a bus access point (along with Takayama on the west side of the range) for the excellent Kamikochi hiking area in the North Alps.

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