What To Do In Saku, Nagano: Stay Overnight At A Sake Brewery And 3 Other Unique Activities | CoolJapan

Mention the name “Nagano” and most people would probably associate it with the adorable red-faced, onsen-loving primates of Jigokudani Monkey Park in Yamanouchi, Nagano Prefecture. However,  the city of Saku in east-central Nagano, located just 1.5 hours by car from Yamanouchi, also offers visitors memorable encounters and is well worth a visit.

Here are four experiences to try the next time you’re in Saku:

Try your hand at being a sake brewer

Woman carrying fermented sake

Try your hand at being a sake brewer at KURABITO STAY in Saku City. (Photo from: KURABITO STAY)

Renowned for its high-quality rice and abundant water sources, the Saku region has been producing sake for over three centuries. At KURABITO STAY, which is located within Kitsukura Shuzo sake brewery, guests are invited to experience the sake brewing process — from steaming and cooling rice and to learning to make koji (rice with the mold that is the heart of the fermentation process) and mixing the mash. You even get to design your own sake label! For a unique and comfortable stay, the original accommodation for sake brewers, which is conveniently located right next to the brewery, has been converted into modern hotel rooms for guests.

Facade of Kurabito Brewery

The simple but beautiful accommodation was transformed from the traditional brewers’ quarters within the brewery compound. (Photo from: KURABITO STAY)

At the end of the 3-day and 2-night programme, you’ll be rewarded with a certificate that recognises you as a member of KURABITO STAY’s brewing team. Of course, it’s not all work and no play. During your stay in the brewery’s charming accommodation, you’ll get to enjoy local delicacies such as Shinshu salmon and Saku carp — all accompanied by locally brewed sake, of course. Before you book your trip, take note that sake brewing only takes place during a limited time — typically from October and goes on till March the following year.

Take a sip of one of Japan’s top craft beers

If you’re more of a beer geek than a sake aficionado, you’ll appreciate the artisanal brews from Yo-Ho Brewing, Japan’s largest craft beer brewery. While Yo-Ho Brewing’s taprooms are all located in the country’s capital, you can still try their famous beers at their brewery in Saku, which is open to tourists for a limited time in the summer months. Yo-Ho Brewing’s most popular export is the Yona Yona Ale, a zesty American pale ale, but you should also sample other creative brews like the Tokyo Black, a rich and creamy Porter, as well as the Sorry Umami IPA, where the umami flavour is extracted from bonito flakes. The craft brewery recently teamed up with Saku-based sake brewery, Totsuka Shuzo, to create craft spirits from ageing beer. This oddly delicious concoction is available at Totsuka Shuzo, and part of the proceeds will be channelled towards Foodbank Shinshu, a non-profit organisation based in the prefectural capital of Nagano.

Trek up an active volcano

Landscape of Mount Kitayokodake

Tsuboiwa is a lava plateau on Mount Kitayokodake.

For those raring for an adventure, head to Mount Kitayokodake, an active lava dome in the northern part of the Yatsugatake peaks. Start your hike at Ropeway Sancho Station, where you’ll walk across a lava plateau known as Tsuboiwa and through a zigzag trek through a conifer forest. After about an hour, you’ll arrive at Kitayokodake Hutte, a rustic mountain hut where you can take a breather before continuing your journey up a rocky slope to Mt. Kitayokodake, which consists of two peaks. From the top, you can enjoy sumptuous views of the surrounding conifer forests, which are especially picturesque in the fall.

Visit a whimsical World Silhouette Museum

Travelling with young children and prefer something more low-key? Pop by the entrancing World Silhouette Museum, which features the colourful works of Seiji Fujishiro, a world-famous shadow puppet artist in Japan. Using an ingenious mix of light, shadows as well as mirrors, music boxes and intricately cut paper, the artist creates a beautiful dreamscape you’ll want to get lost in. Look out for the 30M-long panoramic series "Four Seasons of Lake Shirakaba", an ethereal work of art that fills the entire wall of the exhibition room. There are also workshops available for those who want to try creating their own artistic masterpiece.

Cover photo from: KURABITO STAY