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Nagano PrefectureGo to Slide Show

Go see the Monkeys!


Frost Covered Trees
Gunma prefecture is kind of Tokyo's back yard - close to get to by train or tour bus.  Nagano is a little further away.  In a Tokyo centered country, it would be faster for us to get from Gunma to Nagano by taking a train toward Tokyo, transferring mid way and then taking a train back out to Nagano.  Because we had a car, we took a more direct route (as the crow flies), going over a pass and descending into the Nagano prefecture.  That pass happened to have a ski hill (which meant the roads were well cleared) so it was smooth sailing.


Yudanaka Onsen

Nagano Prefecture is the home to many ski hills and small Onsen communities.  Yudanaka Onsen is one such Onsen town.  From the deck of our hotel room you could see several ski hills lit up for night skiing.  This end of the valley (Yudanaka) is home to small community, but further down the valley the city grows.

Helen And I In YukataRotemburo On Deck
This Ryokan was one of our high end picks.  While a regular Ryokan lends you a Yukata for the night, this onsen has a library of Yukata and lets you pick a pattern of your choice.  Like our first Ryokan, this Ryokan has a hot spring fed tub out on the deck where you can soak while you take in the local mountains.  They also have a media room where you can surf the web, read their magazines or sign out music CD's or DVDs. 

Room In Yudanaka
Beef Sliced Thin
When you read Japanese tourist info, you are often struck by how many food shots there are.  It seems quite acceptable to summarize a hotel with a picture of a plate of food.  Destinations in Japan really area a food and accomodations package - many Ryokan have unique or signature local dishes that you simply can't get anywhere else.   A considerable part of what you are paying is for the food and the presentation of it.  Our Ryokan made perhaps one of the best noodle dishes I have ever eaten (and sadly I didn't take a photo of it) - and it was local soba noodles.  Our meals had a lot of local mushrooms, local beef and the usual assortment of top quality imported seafood.  I believe a dinner I had had five different types of Miso - again a local product.


 
Mushroom Clear BrothStacked Soba NoodlesTaster Box Of Grilled Items


Our Ryokan is one of many in this area.  They are here for the hot spring water and the proximity to the ski hills and "attactions"

Hot Spring Eggs For Sale
Just down the road from our hotel is a small old style community of traditional Ryokan centered around nine traditional bath houses.  These bath houses, which are free to use, used to be the way the community kept clean.  Now it's a full on tourist attraction with stamps and everything.  If you stand around long enough, you will see parties scurrying from one bath to another to do them all.
 
Public Bath HouseStamping APassport After Visiting ABath

Monkey Park

Jigokudani Yaenkoen was made famous (for me at least) by a National Geographic article from 2003.  The Park itself has hosted the monkeys for about 50 years now.  The animals are fed - there is a gentlemen in a bright orange suit who ever few hours throws grain around.  That said, it's quite clear the monkeys enjoy their stays in the hot springs and are well adjusted to the human presence.

Picking Grain Out Of SnowYoung Monkey Covered In Snow

As you walk closer to the park, you start to see monkeys.  At first, they are just moving shapes in the distance but as you approach you see monkeys digging through the snow looking for seeds.  These monkeys have a very thick coat of fur and don't seem to mind the cold. 

Foggy Monkey With Snow

 
While there are probably more than 100 monkeys in the area, only a dozen or so monkeys use the hot spring at any one time.   Some monkeys use their time looks for seeds in the pool, others sit and relax, still others use the time for grooming.
 
  Mouth In WaterPeering Over RockRed Face In Hot Spring

Looking AsideEnjoying The GroomingMonkey Palm
 
Younger monkeys run around the pool, jump into the pool (often splashing their parents) and sometimes swim (they can't always reach the bottom).  Often you can see large males sitting outside of the pool watching.  After a period of time, the noise gets larger and one group of monkeys will leave the pool (voluntarily or with yelling) to make space for the next clan.  Of course all of this is interrupted if the food man starts throwing grain.
 
  Young Monkey DrippingYoung Monkey On PostGrain Below Water

Full Red FaceThree Quarters Red Face
 
Mark And A Monkey
Amazingly to me, the Monekys seem to ignore the ring of humans standing around taking photos of them.  The local ski hills run "Monkey Tours", so it can be crowded when a tour bus shows up.  The monkeys are curious about reflections so they do sometimes reach for lenses.  After sometime watching the monkeys, most tourists try to get a "me and a monkey" picture, but I didn't see anyone try to touch an animal.

Helen And A Monkey

Using A Tripod
Of course the young monkey don't respect the human-monkey barrier as much as the older animals.  To the amusement of many, younger monkeys use tripods (thankfully not in use) and playthings, and really enjoy jumping on photo bags.  I didn't see monkeys trying to get into bags which is obviously a good thing.

Two Monkeys On Camera Bags

Obuse

Sadly, not every town in Japan is blessed with hot springs.  Obuse is small town close to ski mountains and hot springs, but has neither - it's most agricultural.  They have built shopping community to make any tourist happy - several Sake makes, a couple of good museums and lots of local food.  Our favorite was the craft sake maker Masuichi-Ichimura - they had tasting of sakes that would sell for $130 a bottle.  Their milky sake was quite nice and their packaging was top end.  It's nice to see innovation.

Enter The Sake BreweryCraft SakeMilky Sake Tasting

Maguse Onsen

Sometimes when you draw a line on the map between two destinations, you see attractions close to your path that while they may not be overnight worthy, they are certainly worth a stop.  Maguse Onsen is a man made onsen (they drilled a deep hole until they found hot water)  built by the local municipality as a economic and recreation resource for the area.  You drive up the mountain until you get to a large parking lot and a purpose built facility.

Maguse OnsenReflections In The Pool

The pools have an excellent valley view - no fences to block in the sights.  If walk a little out of the pool area, you can look down on traffic that winds it up up the mountain.  The bath is segregated (the women's bath is a little larger) but it's only a small knoll of garden that separates the two pools.  Being mid week in the middle on winter, we were all alone in the pools.

Helen And I In The Bath

There is a small restaurant up here, but sadly it was too early in the day to stop for lunch.  They did have soft serve ice cream though so we indulged.  I know that pipe wells aren't nearly as romantic as natural sources, but I kind of wish we had more of these community hot springs around Vancouver.

Nozawa Onsen

Nozawa Onsen is the closest we found to Whister in our travels to Japan.  The village is immediately adjacent to the ski hill - you can walk from your Ryokan onto a lift.  Unlike Whister though, you can also walk to the local hot spring bath to enjoy a soak.

Steam From Nozawa OnsenOnsen Eggs For Sale

What makes this town special is it's large "cooking" Onsen.  The waters coming out of the ground here are so hot that they can be used to cook vegetables.  Local families have dedicated space in these springs where they can cook their produce for immediate use or conversion to pickles or other tasty treats.  Of course there isn't much fresh local produce this time of year so the springs are mostly covered (except for cooking eggs for the tourists).



Steam In The MorningCovered Hot Spring WaterFrosty Springs
 
Nozawa Public Bath
The town has a tour of free "baths" - hot spring fed baths that were once used by locals instead of a bath in the home.  In my experience of ski trips, it's not uncommon to "over do it" on the first day.  Having a "day off tour" of the local baths would be a great way to prepare you for your next day on the slopes.

Public BathPublic Foot Bath
 

Steamed Buns For Sale
My favorite local food of the region was the steamed buns!  There were half a dozen vegetarian buns (and a few meat types), that are very similar to the Chinese style "bao".  Several were spicy and they include locally grown and prepared vegetables.  I wish we had something similar in Vancouver.

Steamed Bun
Continuing East, we drove over another mountain pass an into Gifu prefecture.



Helen And A Monkey
Picking Grain Out Of Snow
Species: Macaca fuscata (Japanese macaque)
Craft Sake
Tags: sake
Public Foot Bath
Altitude: 678m (2224 feet)
Location: Go To...
Tags: foot bath, Japan
Looking Aside
Frosty Springs
Tags: frost, hot spring, Japan
Helen And I In Yukata
Person: Helen, John
Frost Covered Trees
Altitude: 1176m (3858 feet)
Location: Go To...
Tags: forest, frost, Japan
Beef Sliced Thin
Tags: food porn, Japan
Room In Yudanaka
Tags: Japan, place to stay
Enjoying The Grooming
Young Monkey On Post
Species: Macaca fuscata (Japanese macaque)
Altitude: 866m (2841 feet)
Location: Go To...
Public Bath
Nozawa Public Bath
Tags: bathing, Japan
Rotemburo On Deck
Tags: bathing, Japan
Hot Spring Eggs For Sale
Altitude: 668m (2191 feet)
Location: Go To...
Tags: eggs, hot spring, Japan
Three Quarters Red Face
Grain Below Water
Species: Macaca fuscata (Japanese macaque)
Tags: bathing, hot spring, Japan, safari
Onsen Eggs For Sale
Altitude: 573m (1879 feet)
Location: Go To...
Tags: eggs
Steam From Nozawa Onsen
Altitude: 573m (1879 feet)
Location: Go To...
Tags: hot spring, Japan, steam
Mushroom Clear Broth
Tags: food porn, Japan
Reflections In The Pool
Tags: hot spring, reflection
Steam In The Morning
Tags: bloom, hot spring, Japan, steam
Maguse Onsen
Steamed Bun
Tags: Japan, street food
Steamed Buns For Sale
Tags: bloom, Japan, steam
Foggy Monkey With Snow
Red Face In Hot Spring
Species: Macaca fuscata (Japanese macaque)
Stacked Soba Noodles
Tags: food porn, Japan
Taster Box Of Grilled Items
Tags: food porn, Japan
Mark And A Monkey
Person: Mark
Milky Sake Tasting
Tags: drink, sake
Mouth In Water
Altitude: 847m (2778 feet)
Location: Go To...
Two Monkeys On Camera Bags
Stamping APassport After Visiting ABath
Tags: bathing, house, Japan
Using A Tripod
Tags: camera gear, Japan
Monkey Palm
Species: Macaca fuscata (Japanese macaque)
Full Red Face
Tags: Japan, portrait
Helen And I In The Bath
Person: Helen, John
Altitude: 719m (2358 feet)
Location: Go To...
Young Monkey Covered In Snow
Species: Macaca fuscata (Japanese macaque)
Altitude: 869m (2851 feet)
Location: Go To...
Covered Hot Spring Water
Tags: frost, hot spring, Japan, steam
Enter The Sake Brewery
Peering Over Rock
Young Monkey Dripping
Public Bath House
Altitude: 672m (2204 feet)
Location: Go To...
Tags: bathing, house, Japan
Tags: Japan(21), hot spring(7), bathing(5), steam(4), food porn(4), frost(3)
People: John(2), Helen(2), Mark(1)
From: John Harvey Photo > Trips out of the Country > A Fourth Trip to Japan > Nagano
From: John Harvey Photo > A Fourth Trip to Japan > Nagano

well if you are willing to go the lengths there is a great steamed bun store at surrey central station i recommend it. By the way great tutorials it helped me a lot.
Jomar Padilla
Saturday, September 12th, 2009 at 08:39:39

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