Gaze the stars from onsen and forget it all.
Located in Nagano Prefecture, a little over an hour away from Tokyo by shikansen (bullet train), Ueda city is something of a hidden gem of this part of Japan. Whilst Karuizawa may be more popular for winter retreats, and Matsumoto perhaps has a more storied history, Ueda is one of those places that has a little bit of everything for those wanting to sample the best that the Shinshu region has to offer in a short space of time.
Undoubtedly the star attraction of this great city, Ueda Castle dates from 1583, and served as a local base of operations for the Sanada clan, during Japan’s Sengoku period. Several bloody conflicts and change of owners later, the castle finally found its way into the hands of the Matsudaira clan, towards the end of Japan’s Edo Period, approximately 140 years ago.
During the year, the castle grounds are host to an autumn festival when the castle is enraptured in fall foliage. This usually takes place in October/November. In April, the castle sees locals and tourists alike for the Ueda Castle 1000 Sakura Festival. Amassed in pink cherry blossoms, the castle is stunning and this is another fantastic season to visit. Dates typically change from year to year for the events at the castle, so visitors should check the castle’s website (Japanese) for a schedule.
A hilltop castle, with the clear waters of the Chikuma River running alongside it, Ueda Castle is great both for history buffs and photo lovers alike.
Stargazing and art museums
Perhaps tourist traps such as castles aren’t really your thing. If so, then perhaps a trip to Ueda’s Utsukushigahara Open Air Museum would be more to your liking. This museum, which opened in 1981, is up in the hills on the outskirts of Ueda, with plenty of local onsens nearby too.
Whilst the museum is a great place to visit in the daytime, it is at night, when the full beauty of the night sky can be seen, away from city lights, that Utsukushigahara fully lives up to its name as a “field of beauty.”