Shiojiri - The Place to Be!
You won't find it in your guidebook, although you might pass it on the train. Shiojiri is in the heart of Nagano, which is the center of all of Japan. Okay, not quite true. Shiojiri means "Salt Butt", and Nagano is more like the hillbilly center of all Japan. (which is why it's the sister prefecture of Missouri - random Japanese-USA trivia).
Truth be told, there isn't a lot to do in Shiojiri, but as it's the place I lived for two years, I have a duty to promote it. So, all of my general Japan-y culture tips and moments are placed here, in the town I like to think of as "Frostbutt".
"Japan to a T"
The glory that is Shiojiri extends far beyond it's fame as the end of the old Nagasendo salt road. Shiojiri is a few miles south of the enjoyable town of Matsumoto, which means we're ten minutes closer to Tokyo *cheesy grin* We're also a thriving port of internationalization. There are over 2,000 Brazilians living in the town, as well as Chinese, Koreans, Malaysians, Americans, Canadians, etc. But more importantly, the grocery store recently started stocking Cambell's tomato soup.
"Mountain Music to my Ears"
The key defining feature of Shiojiri is the mountains. Mountains are great if you have a car and like to ski. I don't. It's also OK if you have heated flooring or a ventilated heating system. I don't. I get high on kerosene fumes whenever I try to heat my apartment.
But Shiojiri makes up for it. First, we have the biggest Halloween party in central Japan (likely in all of Japan). Families with children living in Japan would do well to visit Shiojiri the weekend before Halloween so the kids can feel like they're at home.
Second, we have wine. Lots of it. If you had a car and a guide, you could spend the day wandering from one winery to the next. But I prefer picking up a bottle of my favorite red "Alps Wine" at the grocery store and relaxing at home.