Go see the Monkeys!
prefecture is kind of Tokyo
to get to by train or tour bus. Nagano is a little further
In a Tokyo centered country, it would be faster for us to get from
to Nagano by taking a train
toward Tokyo, transferring mid way and then taking a train back out to
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.
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.
This Ryokan was one of our high end
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
When you read Japanese tourist info, you are
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
Amazingly to me, the Monekys seem to ignore
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.
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.
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.
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
onsen (they drilled a deep hole until they found hot water) built
the local municipality as a economic and recreation resource for the
area. You drive up the mountain until you get to a large parking
and a purpose built facility.
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
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
we were all alone in the pools.
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
indulged. I know that pipe wells aren't nearly as romantic as
sources, but I kind of wish we had more of these community hot springs
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.
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).
The town has a tour of free "baths" - hot
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
My favorite local
food of the region was the
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.
Continuing East, we drove over another mountain
pass an into Gifu
Tags: Japan(21), hot spring(7), bathing(5), steam(4), food porn(4), frost(3)
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.
Saturday, September 12th, 2009 at 08:39:39
Last Modified Tuesday, June 9th, 2009 at 01:38:52 Edit
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