Lake Nojiri (Nojiri-ko), an ancient glacial lake, is located about 12 miles north of Nagano City in the town of Shinano, Nagano Prefecture. It is Nagano’s second largest lake next to Lake Suwa and the spot where Japanese residents have been secretly sneaking off to for years and where many own summer houses in the kokusaimura (international village) area.
Following Japan’s long isolation period, Christian missionaries living in Japan would run off to Nagano’s Northern Alps to escape the region’s hot summers. Later, during the Taisho period, many of these foreign missionaries began to come to Lake Nojiri instead to avoid the growing crowds at Karuizawa. Subsequently, an international village arose on the shores of the lake, which is still a popular summer resort today.
When you visit the area, you will find a lively and diverse foreign community, friendly locals, great fresh food and a host of water sports, which draws locals and foreigners alike. During the summer months, water skiing, swimming, golfing, wakeboarding, wind-surfing, pleasure boating, cycling, hiking, and fishing are very popular. In late summer, visitors can witness over a million cosmos flowers in bloom in Kurohime Kogen (Kurohime Plateau). The flowers bloom in just about every color of the rainbow and are a spectacular site to see. The lake is also host to the Lake Nojiri Hanabi Matsuri (fireworks festival), which takes place every year at the end of July. In the winter months, visitors can try their hand at Japanese smelt fishing in a heated boat while sipping warm shochu.
For the history buffs, the Togakushi Shrine nestled among 900-year-old cedar trees is just a 30 minute drive from Lake Nojiri. Approximately 1 hour away, you will find the Zenkoji Buddhist Temple. Built in the 7th century, it is perhaps most famous for its involvement in the battles between Uesugi Kenshin and Takeda Shingen in the 16th century, when it served as one of Kenshin’s bases of operations.
In 1948, a tooth fossil of an Asian straight-tusked elephant (known as the Naumann Elephant) was discovered at Lake Nojiri. Consequently, there is a museum which exhibits the Naumann Elephant fossils as well as fossils of big-horned deer that roamed the area 40,000 years ago during the Jomon period. You will also find an assortment of stone and bone tools on display. (Address: 287-5 Nojiri)
You can access Lake Nojiri via the Hokuriku Shinkansen (bullet train) from either the Tokyo or the Ueno Stations. By car, take Route 18 or the Joshin-etsu Expressway between Nagano and Joetsu City and look for the turn-offs to Lake Nojiri.