A history-packed northern Nagano castle town
Straddling the Chikuma River southeast of Nagano City , Ueda is home to a Ueda Johseki Park, majestic temples, and a historic hot spring area.
- The samurai-inspired atmosphere at Ueda Johseki 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 about one hour and 30 minutes.
From Nagano, it's just 12 minutes on the shinkansen or about 5 minutes on the Shinetsu Main Line or Shinano Railway local trains.
For further exploring in the Ueda area, a rental car is recommended.
The castle that defeated the Tokugawa army twice
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 Johseki 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. Enjoy flower viewing, and stick around to see the cherry blossoms illuminated at night.
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 into a historic hot spring town
In the mountains on Ueda's outskirts lies rustic Bessho Onsen. With roots reportedly reaching back over 1,000 years, it is said that 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 middle 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 the neighboring city of 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 area. Check with the Ueda Tourist Information Center for exact dates to see what events coincide with your visit. Here are some local favorites...
The Ueda Sanada Festival honors the city's famous warrior clan. Hundreds join the procession clothed in period costumes. There is taiko drumming, demonstrations with replica guns, and lots more located around the castle area.
There are also Noh performances in August.
The castle area is at its most colorful and lively during the summertime festivals. The Shinshu Ueda Gion Festival is a lively event with parades of Omikoshi portable shrines. The Ueda Wasshoi Festival sees the whole center of Ueda transformed into a festive scene. Both events are held in late July.
Head down to the water for the Shinshu Ueda Fireworks Festival on the shores of the Chikuma River in August.
Nagano, with its must-see temple Zenko-ji, is situated just down the road. The shinkansen passes through the 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.
* The information on this page may be subject to change due to COVID-19.