Japanese Culture and Food: Nagano

Nagano is one of few prefectures in Japan that doesn’t share a border with the coast. In fact, only seven prefectures (including Nagano) don’t have a direct connection to Japan’s coastline. Nagano is a very mountainous region with a population exceeding two million as of 2019. Like other prefectures in Japan, the capital city shares its name with the prefecture – Nagano city.

In this blog, you can learn about Nagano’s unique culture, as well as the types of food that you’ll encounter if you visit as a tourist.

Snow monkey, Japanese macaque bathe in onsen hot spring at Jigokudani wild snow monkey park in Nagano Japan

Nagano Culture

The many mountain ranges in Nagano lend a lot of beauty to this prefecture, and so Nagano has gained a reputation as a fantastic destination for winter tourism. Nagano hosted the 1998 Winter Olympics too, and this further boosted the prefecture’s status for winter tourism.

You can also learn a lot about traditional Japan. Tsumago and Narai are two rustic villages in Nagano that recreate the ancient samurai culture that Japan is famous for – and these villages do so effortlessly, as they have hardly changed for hundreds of years.

The Matsumoto Castle is another popular destination for tourists looking to indulge themselves in the myth, legends and real history behind the samurai culture of Nagano. The castle is also nicknamed ‘crow-castle’ for its jet-black walls. It functioned between 1508 and 1868 and was wonderfully kept; the majority of the castle exists as it did during its use, although various gates have been rebuilt.

Another popular place for tourism is the Mastushiro Castle, located in the city of Nagano. This castle was opened over fifty years later than the Matsumoto Castle, but its central location in the city of Nagano means that it gets a lot of visitors every year. Like Matsumoto Castle, this area of Nagano City also features a lot of beautiful traditional style roads and buildings – perfect for taking pictures on.

Matsumoto is also famous for selling temari balls – a popular children’s toy in era’s past. This cloth ball is now a popular gift used for interior decoration. It is constructed from vibrantly patterned silk, which is carefully cut and sewn together. When you shake it, a small bell tinkles on the inside. These charming toys make for lovely gifts to friends and family.

 

Nagano Food

Nagano’s mountainous lands have enabled it to procure fantastic winter tourism trade in the modern-day, but in pre-industrial Japan growing food in Nagano was made much harder by the same mountains that make Nagano so unique.

Snow country of Japan.【Hakuba Village】

Shinshu Soba

According to JapanTravel, soba’s birthplace is in here, as the earliest records of soba point to Nagano, but this prefecture is famous for soba even now, due to its high-quality soba dishes.

Shinshu soba is a specific brand of soba made in Nagano. There are many features of Nagano’s geography that lends itself well to the production of buckwheat soba noodles and wasabi. One such reason is that there is plenty of volcanic ash soil, which contains plenty of nutrients to help plants grow. The mountainous areas also experience extreme temperature variation, which made it difficult to grow rice but did not impact the growth of buckwheat. As a result, Nagano traditionally relied on soba for a long time as a primary food source, and so it became ingrained in Nagano’s culture.

Soba noodle with fried shrimp

If you’re visiting Japan in the future but have never tried our delicious cuisine, we recommend that you try one of our soba dishes in our Japanese restaurant in Manchester or our Japanese restaurant in Liverpool. Learn what kinds of dishes are popular before you go so that you can look forward to trying them again in their homeland setting.

We also have a variety of tasting platters if you’re looking for a quick but thorough education on Japanese cuisine.

Oyaki

Like Shinshu soba, oyaki relies on Nagano’s favourite plant – buckwheat. Oyaki is made with buckwheat flour mixed with water, and then this dough is stuffed with locally grown vegetables, seasoned with soy sauce and salt.

Visually, oyaki looks very similar to imagawayaki but the two are not to be confused! Imagawayaki is made from a lighter batter and is actually a dessert. To make things even more confusing, these two dishes are often sold side by side in stores, so it can be difficult to know which to pick if you’re not fluent with Japanese language and culture.

Oyaki Grilled Buns.

If you’re interested in trying a piece of Japan’s culinary delights from the United Kingdom, you should visit one of our restaurants where you can try expertly crafted Japanese cuisine, without travelling all the way to Japan.

We look forward to seeing you soon!