Neighboring the beautiful and historical Zenko-ji temple, Joyama Park is home to the Nagano City Youth Science Museum and Joyama Zoo. Ideally juxtaposed, both are a fun diversion from your Nagano itinerary with children in tow.
Though outwardly nondescript, the two-level Nagano City Youth Science Museum is great for all ages and free to preschool-aged kids and younger. Detailed explanations are only presented in Japanese, but English titles are included on the introduction of each display. Scientific concepts like the function of gears, solar power, seismic activity, and space exploration are efficiently represented. The exhibits are mostly interactive, like an equation-solving robot, stringless harp, and mini TV studio. It's even possible to climb aboard a helicopter, car, train car, and bicycle simulator. Fun "eye candy" includes a mini train display and theater. The museum even offers a play area for the rambunctious as well as curious, which includes a mini pitching cage, roller slide, small trampoline, and ball pit (or as it is aptly labeled in katakana, a "ball pool"). A small baby play area sits adjacent for the youngest visitors. All in all, it's easy to spend a couple of worthwhile hours here.
Just steps from the science museum and with no entrance fee, you'll find the Joyama Zoo. Various species are on display in basic, no-frill enclosures, including lemurs, penguins, flamingos, and the famous Japanese macaques (snow monkeys). Hailing from nearby mountainous Jigokudani, the onsen-bathing macaques bring many visitors to the Nagano area. Though less authentic, viewing them at the zoo on their man-made crag is far less crowded and cold than in their natural habitat. You may find it easier to linger and enjoy their antics.
For a small fee, the zoo also offers basic amusement that younger children will enjoy, like a mini race track with coin-operated but manual cars, a small elevated monorail, and a carousel.
Finally, if the weather is pleasant and there's still time to spare, you will find an outdoor playground and green space towards the center of the park. A visit here may be the perfect conclusion to a fun-filled family day.