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Lake Suwa in Nagano: Seasonal Activities and 5 Great Places to Visit

Nagano's Lake Suwa is one of the most famous lakes in Japan offering excellent destinations for sightseeing. We introduce recommended activities for each season, as well as impressive shrines and museums in the area.   
2022.07.01

The Charm of Lake Suwa

Lake Suwa in Nagano: Seasonal Activities and 5 Great Places to Visit

Photo by Pixta

Located in Suwa City, southern Nagano, Lake Suwa is one of the most famous lakes in Japan. A breath of nature in the middle of two bustling cities, Suwa and Okaya, the lake makes it possible to enjoy city life and nature at the same time.

Moreover, Lake Suwa is a beautiful place to visit in any season, making it an excellent travel destination year-round.

Seasonal Activities at Lake Suwa

Spring

Lake Suwa: A Trip For All Seasons And Five Other Worthwhile Nearby Sites

Lake Suwa is known for its charming scenery, no matter the season. In the spring, the cherry blossom trees surrounding the lake come into bloom, making this area ideal for a picnic under the blossoms, as well as for walks and cycling tours.

Summer

Lake Suwa: A Trip For All Seasons And Five Other Worthwhile Nearby Sites

In summertime you can enjoy taking boat tours or renting a paddle boat. There are even fishing tours! At night time there are short, ten-minute firework shows over the lake. This is the summer night fireworks festival, and it starts with a grand show on the Marine Day weekend (July 18 in 2022). The festival lasts from the end of July until the end of August.

On August 15, the centerpiece firework show, one of the best in Japan, takes place. It is two hours long and has colorful fireworks, as well as shapes, objects, and even characters vividly recreated by firework patterns.

On the first weekend of September, another spectacular firework display takes place, this time showing off some of the new innovations in fireworks. The show lasts for an hour and a half.

Autumn

Lake Suwa in Nagano: Seasonal Activities and 5 Great Places to Visit

Photo by Pixta

The maples and cherry blossom trees around Lake Suwa change into beautiful fall foliage from around the end of September. On clear days, the summit of Mt. Fuji is visible across the lake, offering splendid views. Since Suwa is surrounded by mountains, it's quite astonishing that Japan's most famous peak is visible from here.

Winter

Lake Suwa: A Trip For All Seasons And Five Other Worthwhile Nearby Sites

While fireworks are associated with the lake in summer, it is the winter scenery that captivates most visitors. Lake Suwa becomes a winter wonderland, surrounded by snow-capped mountains and banks full of snow. The lake can freeze over, making it the perfect place to ice skate, or enjoy ice fishing.

The ice used to become so thick that tanks could drive across the lake. However, in recent years, due to climate change, the lake has not frozen as thick. As a result, fishing styles have changed, and the lake is now famous for fishing out of heated boats. If there is a good freeze, when the lake starts to thaw you can see Omiwatari, one of the biggest winter attractions.

Legend has it that a god travels from Suwa Taisha Shrine across the lake to meet his lover at the Akimiya Shrine. He leaves a trail across the lake, which is actually the ice starting to thaw and break up. These cracks and shingles make the Omiwatari.

Lake Suwa: A Trip For All Seasons And Five Other Worthwhile Nearby Sites

Gods aren't the only ones who travel to Lake Suwa; birds wintering from Siberia and mainland Asia bring in numerous bird watchers. Along with all kinds of waterfowl, some notable birds are the Owashi eagle and the white Siberian swans. There is something special to see at Lake Suwa in each season.

5 Amazing Places to Visit Near Lake Suwa

1. The Lakefront: Boat Tours, Hot Springs, Cycling, and More!

Lake Suwa: A Trip For All Seasons And Five Other Worthwhile Nearby Sites

Starting from Shinjuku Station, you can travel along the Chuo Line on the Azusa Express (5,960 yen one way) about two and half hours to arrive at Kamisuwa Station. From there, walk fifteen minutes west down to the lakefront. This is the main area of the lake. To one side you'll find shops, restaurants, hotels, and souvenir shops. On the other is Lake Suwa.

You'll also see the pier for boat tours. The boats are shaped like turtles or swans. They go for 20 minutes out on the lake and run between 9:30 and 16:00. They cost 920 yen for adults and 460 yen for children.

Lake Suwa: A Trip For All Seasons And Five Other Worthwhile Nearby Sites

Another option for getting out on the lake is the paddle boats. These cost 1,200 yen for a 30-minute rental.

You can also walk along the lake shore pathway and enjoy the nature and the parks nearby. There is a geyser that goes off every few hours that you can watch for free. Next to the geyser center, there is a foot bath where you can relax your sore muscles or warm up on cold winter day. That can also be done in one of the many hot spring spa resorts by the lake, which are some of Nagano’s best.

If you feel adventuresome, why not try grasshopper ice cream at the ice cream stand by the peer? Or, if you're looking for heartier fare, you can try Lake Suwa's specialty: freshwater eel, caught from the lake itself.

Lake Suwa: A Trip For All Seasons And Five Other Worthwhile Nearby Sites

The pathway actually turns into a 16-kilometer course around the lake. It takes about 4 hours to walk or an hour and a half by bike. On the lakefront, there are several shops offering bicycle rentals (*about 500 yen an hour, depending on the bike). On the other side of the lake, there is an impressive fountain.

2. Takashima Castle

Lake Suwa: A Trip For All Seasons And Five Other Worthwhile Nearby Sites

Take some extra time to visit a few other interesting places in the Lake Suwa area. A good place to start is Takashima Castle, located in a park complete with a pond and full of cherry trees in the spring.

This castle is also known as the floating castle of Lake Suwa because, when it was completed in 1598, the lake shore came to the castle’s edge. Rivers surrounded the other sides, forming a natural moat. With its 20.2-meter tower, the castle looked as if it rose out of the lake itself!

The Suwa clan ruled the area from the castle for ten generations until the Meiji Restoration (1868) brought an end to the feudal system. The castle was torn down in 1876 and made into a public park. Almost a hundred years later, it was reconstructed by the local residents.

Today you can enter the castle and learn more about its history. On the top floor of the tower, you can enjoy views of the city. The entry costs 300 yen for adults and 150 for children.

3. Suwa City Museum

Lake Suwa: A Trip For All Seasons And Five Other Worthwhile Nearby Sites

For more history about the area and the lake, you can visit the Suwa City Museum. It details the many fascinating legends of Lake Suwa, like Kappa--a legendary creature that is said to be half frog and half turtle.

The museum also displays artifacts from those ancient civilizations and explains some of the rituals that remain today such as the Obanshira Festival. The entrance to the museum costs 310 yen for adults and 150 yen for children.

Lake Suwa in Nagano: Seasonal Activities and 5 Great Places to Visit

Photo by Pixta

Suwa City Museum is across the street from the Suwa Taisha Shrine, the main historical shrine in the area, which is also linked to the Omiwatari legend.

4. Akimiya and Harumiya Shrines

Lake Suwa in Nagano: Seasonal Activities and 5 Great Places to Visit

Akimiya Shrine. Photo by Pixta
The other major historical shrines in the area are Akimiya and Harumiya, two sub-shrines of Suwa Taisha. They are located on the far side of the lake from the Suwa Taisha Shrine and the museum. They are about a 15-minute walk from each other.

Lake Suwa in Nagano: Seasonal Activities and 5 Great Places to Visit

Harumiya Shrine. Photo by Pixta

Many of the local festivals, like Obanshira and the boat festivals take place at these shrines. These shrines themselves are ancient.

Lake Suwa: A Trip For All Seasons And Five Other Worthwhile Nearby Sites

Next to the Harumiya Shrine is the Manji Stone Buddha, a Buddhist statue that was carved in 1657.

Legend has it that when the sculptor started carving the stone to make the torii gate for Harumiya Shrine, it started bleeding, so the sculptor carved it into a Buddha instead. From the shrine, there is a scenic pathway that crosses a river and leads to the Buddha sculpture. The shrines are free to enter.

5. Harmo Art Museum

Lake Suwa: A Trip For All Seasons And Five Other Worthwhile Nearby Sites

If you prefer art to history, Suwa also has many art museums. One of the most interesting art museums is the Harmo Museum. It has a collection of renowned European artists. You can see works from Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dali, Henri Rosseau, and Henri Matisse to name a few.

Explore Nagano Starting From Lake Suwa

No matter what time of year it is, Lake Suwa makes for a fabulous scenic getaway. There is something special about each season.

Whether it is fireworks in the summer, ice in the winter or trees in the fall and spring, or even just enjoying activities on the lakefront and visiting some nearby historical sites and museums, Lake Suwa is certain to become one of your favorite travel destinations.

Main image by Pixta

The information presented in this article is based on the time it was written. Note that there may be changes in the merchandise, services, and prices that have occurred after this article was published. Please contact the facility or facilities in this article directly before visiting.