Living in Nagano: Guide for Foreigners

  • Advice

Nagano is a city and prefecture located in the heart of the Chūbu region of Japan. This area is becoming increasingly popular among expats, because it’s only 1.5 hours away from Tokyo, yet offers a much more rural, peaceful and budget-friendly lifestyle. There is no shortage of tourist attractions in the prefecture, but it is also a beautiful residential area with a strong community and laid back atmosphere. 

Top Attractions in Nagano

Kagami Ike and Mt Togakushi in Nagano, Japan

Kagami Ike (literally "mirror pond") and Mt Togakushi by Big Ben in Japan is licensed under CC BY 2.0 

Although Nagano is not the first place that comes to mind when travelers think of Japan, it’s packed with natural and cultural attractions. 

Nagano is famous for its beautiful resorts. Kamikouchi and Karuizawa are especially popular during the summer days, and Shiga Kogen is a ski resort which gets crowded during the winter and is also where you can spot the snow monkeys often depicted in documentaries. 

Besides its lush greenery and stunning views, many of the natural areas in Nagano are visited because of their shrines. Togakushi Shrine is considered to be the most beautiful shrine in the prefecture, and you can find it through one of the hiking trails north of Nagano city. Besides its shrines, you will also discover historical castles in Nagano, likeds Ueda Castle and Matsumoto Castle. 

Nature isn’t all that Nagano has to offer; the city is also known for its cultural areas and museums. Visit the Sanada Treasure Museum to discover amazing artifacts from the Edo period, and the Shinano Art Museum to learn more about local artists. If arriving with children, you shouldn’t miss a visit to Chibikko Ninja Village, an interactive ninja amusement park, and the Nagano City Joyama Zoo, which specializes in small animals like monkeys and squirrels.  

What is it Like to Live in Nagano

Streets of Nagano, Japan

Nagano by Garrett Ziegler is licensed under CC BY 2.0 

It’s estimated that Nagano has more than 30,000 foreign residents, including those from other Asian countries, the U.S.A., and Australia. Though the area is still not as adapted to foreigners as some more touristy places, it’s a popular choice among those who want to practice their Japanese and live in an authentic, relaxed environment. 

Nagano has several hospitals that cater to international guests and have foreign language support, and there are also international and language schools for those who want to study in the prefecture. 

Many expats choose Nagano because the low cost of living allows them to live comfortably and save up money for other adventures. Most one and two-room apartments cost between 40,000 and 50,000 yen per month, which is at least half of what you would pay in Tokyo and other more popular areas. Groceries and transportation are also much cheaper than the Japanese average. 

The central station is Nagano Station in Nagano City, which is connected to Tokyo, Kanazawa, and Toyama via the Hokuriku Shinkansen line. The Shinonoi line is connected with Nagoya, and from there, you can easily reach Osaka and Kyoto. Being well-connected with all parts of Japan further increases the comfort of living in Nagano city and the prefecture as a whole. 

The Takeaways

Azumino, Nagano

Azumino, Nagano by Sei F. is licensed under CC BY 2.0 

If you want to live surrounded by nature and be completely immersed in Japanese culture, you will undoubtedly love Nagano. Offering countless natural wonders but also unique shops and restaurants, this prefecture is an affordable solution for travelers who want to be within a quick train ride to Tokyo, yet want to stay in a safer, cleaner and more peaceful environment. 

Sources: Gainjinpot, Numbeo, Jetro, City Cost, The Crazy Tourist, JP Rail, Tsunagu Japan, The Crazy Tourist

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