Visit Nagano For an Ueda Day Trip, and Make Your Own Fireworks in Japan! ・ Hidden Day Trip Destinations Near Tokyo

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Try this unique Japanese day tour to create fireworks with your own two hands and enjoy your own custom fireworks display, like a private Japanese festival! Ueda, Nagano is a day trip less than two hours from Tokyo by shinkansen, and you won’t find a fireworks making workshop like this anwhere else!

Ueda, Nagano: A Tokyo Area Destination We’d Almost Like to Keep a Secret

For those with niche interests, the city of Ueda might spark a memory thanks to its involvement in the 1998 Nagano Winter Olympics, or its use as the setting of the popular anime film Summer Wars. But this little city in Nagano is more than just a backdrop! Ueda has many of the things you look for when traveling in Japan, including a history packed with real samurai and ninjas, hot springs in use for over 1,400 years, mountains covered in white snow ripe for skiing, and starry night skies. It also has one big advantage as a destination for short-term sightseers: it's close enough to make a good day trip destination from Tokyo. (Ueda is only an hour and a half from Tokyo by shinkansen.) With so much off-the-beaten-path charm, it's tempting not to share this hidden destination with the world, but we think it will fit perfectly into the itinerary of any traveler looking to get away from Tokyo for a day and see another side of Japan.

Within Japan, on the other hand, Ueda is known for its summertime fireworks. The Shinshu Ueda Fireworks Festival is put together every year by three Japanese fireworks companies, and the breathtaking display is launched over a local river, with viewing areas so close to the action that each firework hits with an outsized impact. And in this city famous for fireworks, a local firework manufacturer is now offering travelers a one-of-a-kind opportunity to try firework manufacturing for themselves, in the form of a unique day trip tour with a fireworks making workshop. Join us as we try this once-in-a-lifetime fireworks day trip tour for ourselves, to try our hands at explosives and get hands-on with custom fireworks, and enjoy a little local Ueda flavor while we're there!

JR Ueda Station (JR上田駅)
1-1-1 Tenjin, Ueda, Nagano
Access: 1½ hours from Tokyo Station via the Hokuriku Shinkansen (approx. 6,260 yen)

Ueda Fireworks Workshop Day Trip Tour

At its heart, this tour is all about the fireworks, but the itinerary offers a full day of fun around Ueda, dipping into local history and Nagano cuisine!

9:15 Gather at Ueda Station / 9:30 Bus Departs

The easiest way to get to Ueda is to take the shinkansen, which goes straight from Tokyo Station to Ueda Station in about an hour and a half. This particular route isn't usually all that crowded, so you're usually safe buying a ticket from the machine in the morning and sitting in one of the non-reserved cars, but if you prefer to reserve your shinkansen seat you can also purchase your tickets online in advance.

10:00 ~ 12:00 Fireworks Making Workshop

The morning starts with the highlight of this Ueda itinerary, because the fireworks you make during the tour need to go through a series of finishing processes (drying, etc.) between the workshop time and the final launch. So first thing in the morning, each participant gets hands-on right away, starting by choosing a color and carefully placing each little firework "star" inside a round shell. These pyrotechnic stars are the little parts that create vibrant colors in the sky, and you can choose your favorite (or mix a couple) from a selection including pink, red, green, yellow, and special sparkly varieties that crackle before they fizzle out. The multi-step process includes lining the shell with stars, stuffing the center with black powder, tapping everything perfectly into place, and finally taping it up to create a finished firework. It's one thing to go see fireworks at a festival or a theme park, but it's totally different to make them yourself – it's not an opportunity you're likely to find anywhere else!

The fireworks you make during the workshop look pretty big in the sky, but the size of the finished product pre-launch is only about as big as a fist. Fireworks, it turns out, can vary a lot in size! Before you leave the fireworks factory, make sure you check out the sample fireworks shells they keep on hand, to see how big the fireworks they use in the Shinshu Ueda Fireworks Festival actually get. It's a little like a fireworks museum!


12:45 ~ 14:00 Soba Noodle Cooking Lesson

Time really flies when you're elbow-deep in fireworks and your hands are turning black from the stars, but before you know it it's time to scrub those fingers clean and move on to lunch at the Yukimura Yume Workshop. This unique space has a shop selling locally produced foods and souvenirs, free electric bike rentals for sightseers, and above all else, cooking lessons where you can make your own soba noodles from scratch and enjoy them for lunch! Soba noodles are made from buckwheat flour, and all the buckwheat used for these cooking lessons is grown locally in Ueda, where the buckwheat is said to be especially delicious thanks to the local climate, with large temperature differences during the day and night. As you might suspect, the Ueda area has plenty of restaurants offering soba, but nothing tastes as good as a batch of noodles made entirely from scratch and boiled within minutes – especially when you yourself measure out the buckwheat flower, mix and knead the dough, and slice each noodle into shape. Enjoy them with a simple dipping sauce to really savor the flavor! (On your way out of the Yukimura Yume Workshop, you can check out the souvenirs as well.)

Yukimura Yume Workshop (ゆきむら夢工房)
6090-1 Sanadamachiosa, Ueda, Nagano
Hours: 8:30 – 17:15 (closed over the New Year's holidays)

14:30 ~ 17:00 Explore the Ueda Castle Ruins, Anrakuji Temple, & the Bessho Onsen Neighborhood

There's nothing better than a leisurely walk after lunch, and this walking tour takes you on a route through some of Ueda's most historic areas. Back in the Sengoku period (1467-1568) Ueda was the domain of Sanada Yukimura, a widely beloved samurai whose fame has earned him titles such as "The Last Sengoku Hero," or even "The Number One Warrior in Japan." And even now, hundreds of years after Yukimura's death in the Battle of Tennoji, the samurai can still be found all over the city, painted on walls, standing tall in bronze statues, smiling cutely as an illustrated character, and scattered throughout every local souvenir shop. Among the ruins of Ueda Castle, once inhabited by Yukimura and his Sanada clan family, you might even be able to meet the great samurai and his retainers themselves, as if they'd walked straight out of history.

Afterwards, explore the quaint Bessho Onsen area surrounding Nagano's most historic hot spring (people have been soaking in the waters for 1,400 years), and visit Anrakuji to see hints of Heian-era (794-1185) Buddhist culture. This ancient temple has an iconic Dainichi Nyorai statue, and a grand octagonal pagoda that's the only one of its kind in Japan.

Ueda Castle Ruins (上田城跡)
2 Ninomaru, Ueda, Nagano

Bessho Onsen Area (別所温泉)
Besshoonsen, Ueda, Nagano

Anrakuji Temple (安楽寺)
2361 Besshoonsen, Ueda, Nagano


18:00 ~ 18:30 Enjoy the Handmade Fireworks Viewing Party

As the sun begins to set and the day comes to a close, it's finally time for the tour's grand finale, with the launch of the fireworks made during the morning's workshop. This isn't your average firework display, because you not only get to enjoy the beauty of each colorful explosion (and revel in the luxury of a private fireworks launch), but you also get to feel the pride that comes with seeing each beautiful firework made with your own two hands, or the hands of your fellow tour-mates. Participants are given the opportunity to shout their own wishes before their firework is launched, and the fireworks decorate the sky with the grandeur of the hopes and dreams of everyone involved. When the group's handmade fireworks have all been launched, the event ends with an added finale, put together using a selection of fireworks expertly made locally by Japan's leading pyrotechnic craftsmen!

Ueda Fireworks Workshop Day Trip Tour (上田市花火づくり体験ツアー)
Gathering Place/Time: JR Ueda Station Onsen Exit / 9:15 (~9:30 departure)
Time: Approx. 9½ hours in total (9:15 to 18:30~19:00)
Fee: adults 35,000 yen + 8,500 yen bus fee | under 18 years 8,800 yen + 8,500 yen bus fee
*Tour groups will be a minimum of 10, a maximum of 16 participants. Firework workshop participants will be divided into groups of four.
*Official website currently offline. Look out for the next batch of tours coming soon!

Discover More of Ueda’s Hidden Charms

The day trip above provides a great first look at Ueda, and includes some of the most spectacular experiences the city has to offer. But for those who want to see even more of Ueda and all its Japanese small-town charm, there's enough to keep you entertained for much longer than a day, and plenty of fun surprises to find. Here are a few additional Ueda recommendations!

Japan is known for local delicacies, and when Japanese people travel, they usually bring home local specialty foods as souvenirs. In Ueda, the go-to option for local sweets is misuzu-ame or misuzu candy (みすゞ飴), which have been made in the city for over 100 years. These fruity candies have a firm jelly texture, and each one comes covered in a thin film of edible rice paper only 0.02 mm thick, which melts in your mouth. Each of the half-a-dozen fruit flavors is made with fruit grown locally in Nagano, or in Wakayama to the south, and the addition of colorful packaging makes them a fun gift.

Misuzu-ame Hompo (みすゞ飴本舗)
1-1-21 Central, Ueda, Nagano
Hours: 10:00 – 18:00 (closed over the New Year's holidays)
Official Website (en)

When you think of Japan, you might imagine fierce samurai or swift ninjas, but these days you might also think of traditional "wagashi" (和菓子) sweets. Specialty shop Chino Wagashi is about a ten-minute walk from Ueda Station, and it offers a rotating selection of seasonal sweets, plus other fun perennial choices. There are little Japanese cakes supposedly shaped like the cornerstones of the Ueda Castle walls, and even some sweets made with interesting ingredients like tofu or soba (buckwheat).

Chino Wagashi (御菓子処千野)
3-2-18 Central, Ueda, Nagano
Hours: 9:30 – 18:00 (closed Wednesdays & on the Lunar New Year)
Official Website (jp)

Extra Ueda Experiences

Ever wanted to try meditation the way real Japanese monks do? Head to Nichirinji Temple for the real Soto Zen Buddhist experience, and join a "zazen" (座禅) meditation session first thing in the morning to start the day especially awake and alert. It's certainly very refreshing to clear your mind in a quiet room so far from the hustle and bustle of Japan's busy streets, and if you're worried about falling asleep, don't. For this variety of meditation, a supervising monk circles the room with an eye on participants. If there's reason to think you need it (or if you request it), he'll smack your shoulder with a firm and hearty thwack using a piece of flat wood, to help you concentrate on your meditation.

Tenshozan Nichirinji Temple (天照山日輪寺)
2-14-3 Central, Ueda, Nagano
Zazen Meditation Sessions: 1st & 21st of every month / 6:00 – 6:30
Official Website (jp)

"Bee Heaven" (蜂天国) is the only bee, wasp, and hornet museum of its kind in the whole world, thanks to a collection of about 600 enormous hives made by the Japanese yellow hornet. The museum has some educational displays, but it's mostly focused on what you might call "hive art," taking you into the world of the hornets and showing off hives of all shapes and sizes. There's a traditional Japanese shrine… dedicated to beehives, and a giant example of hive art in the shape of Mt. Fuji, in addition to the rooms upon rooms of large gives hanging off of every variety of object you could think of. The gift shop also sells a selection of different honeys, along with snacks and cosmetics made with honey and royal jelly. If you want to go a little bee crazy (or hornet mad), this is the place to do it.

Bee Heaven (蜂天国)
435-1 Kazawa, Tomi, Nagano
Hours: 9:00 – 17:00 (closed Wednesdays & New Year's holidays)
Admission: adults 300 yen | students 100 yen
Official Website (jp)

As a hot springs town, it would be a shame to stay for longer than a day trip in Ueda without enjoying a soak in an onsen, and the best way to do that is to stay in a traditional local ryokan. One homey option near Ueda Station is Jukyuan, an inn with roots dating back to the Meiji-era (1868-1912), and renovated rooms that provide a comfortably traditional place to stay the night. The ryokan's steaming-hot onsen baths are open every morning and night, and each room gets a chance to reserve them for private use!

Ueda Onsen Jukyuan (上田温泉祥園・寿久庵)
1-1-84 Ote, Ueda, Nagano
Check-in/Check-out: 14:00~ / ~10:00
Official Website (jp)

A New Choice for Tokyo Day Trips

There are many reasons to fill your itinerary with day trips when traveling overseas – going somewhere for the day means you can get out of the big city for a few hours, see somewhere totally different, travel without any excess baggage weighing you down, and know exactly where you're heading back to at the end of a busy day. Day trips are even easier when you get a tour schedule planned out for you, with all the local must-sees included. And this trip has all that, plus the addition of a one-of-a-kind workshop you're not going to find anywhere else. Making your own fireworks, and enjoying your own personal fireworks spectacular in small-town Nagano, isn't the kind of experience you're likely to forget anytime soon. If you're ready to get away from Tokyo, explore a little bit of the Japanese countryside, and enjoy a day trip that will leave memories to last a lifetime, hop on the shinkansen and make a trip to Ueda part of your itinerary!

▶︎ Find more Nagano travel information here!

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    • Tokyo (東京) is Japan's busy capital, and the most populous metropolitan area in the world. While the city as a whole is quite modern, crowded with skyscrapers and bustling crowds, Tokyo also holds onto its traditional side in places like the Imperial Palace and Asakusa neighborhood. It's one of the world's top cities when it comes to culture, the arts, fashion, games, high-tech industries, transportation, and more.

    • The Chubu Region (中部地方) is located right in the center of Japan's main island, and consists of 9 prefectures: Aichi, Fukui, Gifu, Ishikawa, Nagano, Niigata, Shizuoka, Toyama, and Yamanashi. It's primarily famous for its mountains, as the region contains both Mt. Fuji and the Japanese Alps. The ski resorts in Niigata and Nagano also draw visitors from around the world, making it a popular winter destination.

    • Nagano Prefecture's popularity starts with a wealth of historic treasures, like Matsumoto Castle, Zenkoji Temple, and Togakushi Shrine, but the highlight might just be the prefecture's natural vistas surrounded by the "Japanese Alps." Nagano's fruit is famous, and there are plenty of places to pick it fresh, and the area is full of hot springs, including Jigokudani Monkey Park―where monkeys take baths as well! Thanks to the construction of the Hokuriku shinkansen line, Nagano is easily reachable from the Tokyo area, adding it to plenty of travel itineraries. And after the 1998 Nagano Winter Olympics, ski resorts like Hakuba and Shiga Kogen are known around the world.

    • Aichi Prefecture sits in the center of the Japanese islands, and its capital city, Nagoya, is a center of politics, commerce, and culture. While Aichi is home to major industry, and is even the birthplace of Toyota cars, it's proximity to the sea and the mountains means it's also a place with beautiful natural scenery, like Saku Island, Koijigahama Beach, Mt. Horaiji. Often used a stage for major battles in Japanese history, Sengoku era commanders like Oda Nobunaga, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, and Tokugawa Ieyasu left their own footprints on Aichi, and historic buildings like Nagoya Castle, Inuyama Castle, and those in Meiji Mura are still around to tell the tale.


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      Niigata is a prefecture on Japan's main island of Honshu, situated right on the coast of the Sea of Japan, and abundant with the gifts of nature. It's known for popular ski resorts such as Echigo-Yuzawa, Japanese national parks, and natural hot spring baths, plus local products like fresh seafood, rice, and sake. Visitors often spend time in the prefectural capital, Niigata City, or venture across the water to Sado Island.


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      Shizuoka Prefecture is sandwiched between eastern and western Japan, giving the prefecture easy access to both Tokyo and Osaka. Not only is it known for beautiful natural attractions, with everything from Mount Fuji to Suruga Bay, Lake Hamanako, and Sumata Pass―Shizuoka's Izu Peninsula is known as a go-to spot for hot springs lovers, with famous onsen like Atami, Ito, Shimoda, Shuzenji, and Dogashima. Shizuoka attracts all kinds of travelers thanks to historic connections with the Tokugawa clan, the Oigawa Railway, fresh eel cuisine, Hamamatsu gyoza, and famously high-quality green tea.

    • Kansai (関西) is a region that includes Mie, Nara, Wakayama, Kyoto, Osaka, Hyogo, and Shiga Prefectures. Kansai contained Japan's ancient capital for hundreds of years, and it's making a comeback as one of the most popular parts of Japan. Kyoto's temples and shrines, Osaka Castle, and the deer of Nara are all considered must-sees. Plus, the people of Kansai are especially friendly, making it a fun place to hang out.

    • Kyoto flourished as the capital of Japan between the years 794 and 1100, becoming a center for poilitics and culture, and to this day it's a great place for close encounters with Japanese history. The cobbled streets of Gion, the atmospheric road to Kiyomizudera Temple, Kinkakuji's golden walls and countless historic attractions, even Arashiyama's Togetsukyo Bridge―Kyoto is a place of many attractions. With new charms to experience throughout the seasons, travelers can't stop themselves from returning again and again.

    • Nara Prefecture's important history reaches back to 710, a time now called the Nara era, when it was once capital of Japan. Called "Heijo-kyo" during its time as a capital, it's said that nara was once the end of the silk road, leading it to flourish as a uniquely international region and produce important cultural properties of all kinds. To make the most of each season, travelers head to Nara Park, where the Nara deer who wander freely, or climb Mount Yoshino, a famous cherry blossom spot.

    • Osaka is known for friendly (and funny) people, but its history is nothing to laugh at, playing a major part in Toyotomi Hideyoshi's 16th century unification of Japan. Thanks to long years of economic activity, it's one of Japan's biggest cities, and Osaka's popular food culture earned it the nickname "The Kitchen of the Nation." To this day Osaka is the model of western Japan, and alongside historic structures like Osaka Castle, it also has major shopping malls like Umeda's Grand Front Osaka and Tennoji's Abeno Harukas. Osaka is a place to eat, eat, eat, with local specialties like takoyaki, okonomiyaki, and kushi-katsu, and for extra fun, it's home to Universal Studios Japan.


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      The Chugoku Region (中国地方) consists of five prefectures: Hiroshima, Okayama, Shimane, Tottori, and Yamaguchi. In Chugoku you’ll find the sand dunes of Tottori, and Hiroshima’s atomic bomb site, plus centers of ancient history like Grand Shrine of Izumo.


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      Hiroshima Prefecture has everything, from world heritage sites to beautiful nature and delicious local cuisine, and it's either an hour and a half from Tokyo by plane, or four hours by train. Itsukushima Shrine on Miyajima Island and the Atomic Bomb Dome, two Hiroshima UNESCO sites, are famous around the world, but in Japan it's also famous for food. Seafood from the Seto Inland Sea, especially oysters, Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki, and Setouchi lemons are all popular, and the natural scenery alone is worth seeing.


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      On the other side of the Seto Inland Sea opposite Japan’s main island, Shikoku (四国) is a region made up of four prefectures: Ehime, Kagawa, Kochi, and Tokushima. The area is famous for its udon (in Kagawa), and the beautiful Dogo Onsen hot springs (in Ehime).

    • Kagawa Prefecture is on the northern part of the island of Shikoku, facing Japan's main island and the Seto Inland Sea. It's known for being the smallest prefecture in Japan, by area, but at the same time Kagawa is called the "Udon Prefecture" thanks to its famous sanuki udon. Aside from Kotohiragu Shrine and Ritsurin Garden, the prefecture's small islands are popular, and Kagawa is full of unique destinations, like Angel Road. They say that if you lay eyes on Zenigata Sunae, a huge Kagawa sand painting, you'll never have money troubles ever again.

    • Located in the most southwestern part of Japan, Kyushu (九州) is an island of 7 prefectures: Fukuoka, Saga, Nagasaki, Kumamoto, Oita, Miyazaki, and Kagoshima. The island's unique culture has been influenced by Chinese and Dutch trade, along with missionaries coming in through Nagasaki's port. Modern-day travelers love the lush natural scenery and fresh food, plus the natural hot springs found all throughout the area (thanks to volcanic activity)!


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      Fukuoka Prefecture has the highest population on the southern island of Kyushu, with two major cities: Fukuoka and Kitakyushu. Thanks to growing transportation networks, Fukuoka is more accessible than ever, and so are the many local attractions. On top of historical spots like Dazaifu Tenmangu Shrine, travelers shouldn't miss Fukuoka's food scene, with motsu nabe (offal hotpot), mentaiko (spicy cod roe), and famous Hakata ramen―best eaten from a food stall in the Nakasu area of Hakata. Plus, it's full of all sorts of destinations for travelers, like trendy shopping centers, and the beautiful nature of Itoshima and Yanagawa.


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      Kagoshima Prefecture played a major role in Japan's modernization as a backdrop for famous historical figures like samurais Saigo Takamori and Okubo Toshimichi, who pushed Japan out of the Edo era and into the Meiji. Because of that, Sengan-en Garden is just one of many historical destinations, and when it comes to attractions Kagoshima has plenty: the active volcano of Sakurajima, popular hot springs Ibusuki Onsen and Kirishima Onsen, World Heritage Site Yakushima Island, even what Japan calls the "island closest to heaven," Amami Oshima. Kagoshima might be found on the very southernmost tip of the southern island of Kyushu, but there's plenty to see.


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      The island chain of Okinawa (沖縄) makes up the southernmost tip of Japan, which is why it's also the most tropical area in the country. Thanks to a history of independence and totally distinct political and cultural events, Okinawa has a unique culture, and remnants of the Ryukyu Kingdom are still visible all over the islands. Food, language, traditional dress, it's all a little different! It's also said to be the birthplace of karate.