The Unofficial English Guide to Shinetsu-kogen

lake nojiri cruise

Lake Nojiri - Overview

Lake Nojiri (nojiriko) is an ancient glacial lake - Nagano’s second largest, and located within a three-four hour journey from Tokyo.

After Japan was opened up in the Meiji period the Nagano Mountains were ‘discovered’ by Christian missionaries, particularly the area around Karuizawa. To escape the hot summers of the Kanto plains many would retire to the coolness of the North Alps. These summer escapes for those of European blood were a common story across the colonised world, particularly with the British in Asia.

In the later Taisho period, many of these foreign missionaries began to come to Lake Nojiri instead to avoid the burgeoning crowds at Karuizawa. The subsequent 'international village' that arose on the shores of the lake is still a popular summer resort today.
The area's most famous current resident is C. W. (Nick) Nicol, a local author and conservationist whose passion is the local mountain area - Japan's last remaining old-growth birch forests, where bears still prowl. Upon enquiry locals can run hikes and foraging expeditions for wild foods like mushrooms and mountain vegetables.

Need a place to stay?
Pension Almanac
Only five minutes by car from the Shinano-machi interchange
Barton Hotel
Twenty minutes by car from Myokokogen station. The hotel has both an inside and outside onsen and is conveniently close to both Lake Nojiri and local resorts.
Labo Land
Only five minutes by car from the Shinano-machi interchange. Transportation to and from Kurohime station available

A variety of activities take place all year round at or near the lake, including the following:



  • In winter visitors can engage in the uniquely Japanese sport of fishing for smelt (wakasagi), using red-dyed ant-eggs as bait. Wakasagi are a tiny silvery freshwater fish about the size of an anchovy. As the lake freezes over (though be warned it is not thick ice for walking on!), specially designed boats are available for hire. You can sit in the cabin warmed by a kerosene heater sipping warm local shochu (a little similar to sake) as you fish.
  • There are many nearby ski resorts, including Kurohime. Check out our snow page for more details.

Indoor activities:

  • natural dyeing techniques
  • glass-making
  • pottery making

History - Lake Nojiri Naumann Elephant Museum
This museum includes an exhibition of the fossils of Naumann Elephant and Big-horned Deer from Jomon times around 40,000 years ago. These were excavated in the Lake Nojiri area and are displayed together with an exhibition of stone tools and bone tools.

Shopping - For just a fraction of the price you would pay in Tokyo or Osaka, the Lake Nojiri area has numerous roadside stalls and farmers' markets where you can buy great local produce. The tomatoes and peaches are renowned throughout Japan and the region has local farmers growing blueberries, apples, pears, corn, edamame (green soybeans) and dozens of other fruits and vegetables. You will also discover all sorts of local specialities such as Scotch thistle preserve, walnut jam and aloe vera honey.

Directions from Tokyo: Take a shinkansen (bullet) train to Nagano. Travelling time is 2.5 - 3 hours from JR Tokyo or JR Ueno stations (depending on connections and stops). Next swap to a train bound for Naoetsu and alight at Kurohime station. To get to Lake Nojiri take the 'Nagaden' bus from Kurohime Station. By car, take Route 18 or the Joshin-etsu Expressway between Nagano and Joetsu City and look for the turn-offs to Lake Nojiri (Nojiriko).

Want to look up a local area within Nojiri, Shinano-machi or Kurohime? Click here for the Diddlefinger map, check out the map below (courtesy of the Japan National Tourist Organisation), or another local map (English) is available here

Other nearby attractions

In nearby Shinanomachi lies the home of the revered Japanese poet, Issa.

Togakushi Shrine nestling amongst 900 year old cedars is just 45 minutes drive from Myoko City. It's not only a beautiful place to visit but it's delicious soba noodles are also famous throughout Japan. There is also a small reproduction samurai village and school.

Zenkoji Temple in Nagano City is also a popular tourist spot. Catch the Dentetsu line train to Gondo or Zenkoji stations and then walk about 10 minutes.

During late summer, areas of Kurohime Plateau (kurohime kogen) become covered in the new blooms of cosmos flowers - more than a million blooms in every colour of the rainbow. In early summer lavender grows all over an area on the south face of Mount Kurohime.

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