A history-packed northern Nagano castle town
Straddling the Chikuma River southeast of Nagano City , Ueda is home to a stunning castle park, majestic temples, and a historic hot spring area.
- The samurai-inspired atmosphere at Ueda Castle Park
- Nagano's oldest hot spring area at Bessho Onsen
- Anrakuji Temple's classic octagonal pagoda
How to Get There
Ueda is on the Hokuriku Shinkansen line from Tokyo Station . The journey takes one hour and 15 minutes.
From Nagano, it's just 12 minutes on the shinkansen or about 40 minutes on the local Shinano Line.
For further exploring in the Ueda area, a rental car is recommended.
The little castle that could (almost)
Ueda Castle was built in the 16th century by the leaders of the Sanada samurai clan. They are locally renowned for having repelled the nation-building Tokugawa clan not once, but twice. The third time didn't go as well.
Today, reproductions of Ueda Castle's three turrets and main gate tower over a lovely park located within the former castle grounds. Ueda Castle Park is spectacular in the spring when its groves of cherry trees come into bloom. In mid-April, the park hosts the Ueda Castle Sen-Bon Sakura Matsuri, also known as the 1,000 Cherry Tree Festival. Come early to reserve a picnic spot. Stay late to enjoy the evening parties beneath the illuminated blossoms.
Many other festivals and events take place on the grounds throughout the year, including in the fall, when the park's abundant Japanese maple trees turn scarlet red.
Not far from the castle, the old merchant area of Yanagimachi Street preserves an old-world charm with traditional wooden shops and stone flagstone pathways.
Step out of the baths and into history
In the mountains on Ueda's outskirts lies rustic Bessho Onsen. With roots reportedly reaching back over 1,000 years, some claim it's the oldest hot spring area in the prefecture. Three separate springs with varying properties feed the local baths. You'll love the old-school charm of Oyu, Ishiyu, and Taishiyu Onsen, which are all open to day trippers. You'll also love the surprisingly inexpensive entrance fee.
Bessho Onsen boasts some of northern Nagano's most impressive temples, including Zenzan-ji, with its picturesque three-tiered pagoda.
There are many temples around the edge of the town, well worth the walking. The elegant and imposing Kitamuki Kannon Temple located near the village center offers spectacular views from the bell tower. Nestled in the woods at the edge of the village, Anraku-ji, the oldest Zen temple in Nagano, boasts the only octagonal three-tiered pagoda in the nation.
Additional amusements in Ueda
Outside of town, rice terraces hug the hillside and offer splendid views of the scenery below. Walking the narrow lanes between the fields gives a sense of how the people here have lived in centuries past.
Mugonkan, literally the "Silent Museum," is a moving tribute that displays the works of art students who perished during World War II.
In neighboring Chikuma you'll find Togura Kamiyamada Onsen, an international traveler-friendly resort with several bathing facilities and an appealing mountain fort.
Ueda hosts numerous events throughout the year. Many of them are held at the castle or in the downtown area. Check with the Ueda Tourist Information Center for exact dates to see what events coincide with your visit. Here are some local favorites...
Get your samurai fix with the Ueda Sanada Festival, which honors the city's famous warrior clan. Hundreds join the procession clothed in period costumes. There are taiko drumming, musket firing demonstrations and lots more located around the castle area.
The castle also hosts Noh Drama performances from August to November.
The downtown area is at its most colorful and lively during the summertime festivals. The Ueda Gion Festival is a boisterous street party with parades of Omikoshi portable shrines. The Ueda Wasshoi Dance Festival sees the whole center of Ueda transformed into a large public dance party. Both events are held in late July.
Head down to the water for the Fireworks Festival on the Chikuma River in August.
On Ueda's doorstep
Nagano, with its must-see temple Zenko-ji, is situated just down the road. The shinkansen passes through the upscale resort area of Karuizawa en route to Ueda. This area is worth visiting for shopping, wandering the historic Kyu-Karuizawa Ginza area, and catching beautiful views of Mt. Asama.
If you're prepared to drive, Ueda marks the start of the Japan Romantic Road, which takes you through the mountains and onsen towns of neighboring Gunma and Tochigi Prefectures, and all the way to Nikko.