Every body loves the monkeys! And although, if you’re in luck, you can spot some monkeys in Hakuba, the famous Japanese snow monkeys are a day trip away. If you have a car set your navigation to Jigokudani Monkey Park. From the parking area you will need to walk about 30 minutes through a snowy forest so be prepared and bring some boots!
If you don’t have a car, the easiest way to get to see the monkeys is to join one of many tours departing Hakuba Goryu everyday. It’s a full days journey, includes lunch, and makes a few more sightseeing stops along the way. Most tours include Nagano City’s famous Zenkoji Temple, tours may also include a sake brewery where you can taste local sake for free! Book early, or better yet, book well in advance because these tours fill up quick.
Joyful Day Tours offers daily tours departing from Mont Blanc Hotel at 8:25
Sanroku Tours offers tours on Tuesdays and Fridays and has a pick up at Kamishiro Station Ski Japan has daily tours departing Hakuba Goryu Bus Stop
Your cheapest option, especially if you are traveling with a few people, would be to rent a car. More about renting a car here. But if you are not confident driving in the snow, or forgot to get an international driver’s license before departing your country, yet are on too tight a budget for a hassle free tour, you can simply take public transport instead!
To get to Jugokudani Monkey Park take a bus from Hakuba Goryu Bus Stop to Nagano, then transfer to an express bus bound for Shiga Kogen and get off at Kanbayashi Onsen Guchi Bus Stop. The most current timetables and fees posted in the information area at Lodge tabi-tabi. Let’s us help you find your way!
With bellies full of tasty treats, soba tea, and a lesson in Japanese culture, we headed off to Nagano city for the 9th annual Tomyo Festival. This incredibly beautiful festival of lights is held every year at Zenkoji Temple to commemorate the Nagano Olympics “and to pass on to the future generations the Olympic spirit of praying for peace. In this event, the message for peace is conveyed through lights with the aim of reaching out to the world”. The main buildings of the temple are lit up in different colored spot lights, while smaller temples (Zenkoji is made up of 41 temples and shrines) put on their own more intimate candle lit displays. There were also streets filled with lanterns crafted by various artists, while another cobble stone road was filled with boisterous vendors selling hot sake and local festival food. I’m already looking forward to the 10th annual Tomyo Festival. See you there next year, and peace be with you until then…
At 3 pm tabi-tabi staff and guests piled into the van ready to experience a little culture. First stop was Oyaki Mura in Ogawa. Oyaki is a veggie filled bun popular in Nagano prefecture, and mura means village. According to the oyaki maker (man in blue), in the old days people who lived in the mountains made these everyday. Due to a shortage of flat land, rice paddies were limited, therefore rice in short supply. The mountain people of Nagano grew wheat for flour, that could be made into dough and shaped and stuffed into oyaki. On this day we got to do the shaping and stuffing ourselves. We all made 2 varieties of oyaki. First, the standard nozawana which is a green leafy vegetable that tastes a little like spinach but is actually from the turnip family. Then, the unohana variety, which is a dry roasted tofu pulp mixed with veggies. We shaped and stuffed, and the the obasan (auntie) helped us close up our little pockets of veggies before the ojisan (uncle) cooked them up for us on the irori (open fire). After we had our fill of handmade (and very tasty!) oyaki, we climbed back into the van and headed off to Nagano city for the Tomyo Festival….. (see part two for the rest of our little adventure).
O-shogatsu means New Years in Japan, and although this is one of Japan’s biggest annual celebrations, there isn’t a whole lot of Champagne popping going on. Last night 10 tabi-tabi-ians said goodbye to the new year by eating some toshikoshi soba at The Tonegawa Soba Shop. Toshikoshi means end of the old year and start of the new year. Soba is a bowl of buckwheat noodles served in a hot soy based soup. The long noodles symbolize a long and hopefully healthy life.
After our steamy bowl of noodles, we walked through the old Iimori village to Chogokuji Temple for Hatsumode (New Year’s temple visit). Inside we listened to the Buddhist priest chant and pray for the new year that lay ahead, we then went to a large tatami room where we shared amazake (a sweet non-refined sake) and ate mochi, rice crakers, and tsukemono (pickled veggies).
Once we had our fill, we went outside again to ring the temple bell. Everyone got to have a go at swinging the large pendulum. According to tradition, the bell must be rung 108 times. Each ring represents one of 108 earthly temptations a person must overcome to achieve nirvana. I’m sure, 2012 is going to be a good year!
Akemashite Omedeto! (Happy New year!)
After surfing pow on my new Yuki-ita, we were itching to see some waves so off to the ocean we went:
It felt great to stretch our eyes out to the horizon:
When in Japan, especially when you are near the ocean, do as the Japanese do, and feast on some seafood!Nihon-kai (The Japanese sea) is said to bear some of the best delicacies,because of its frigid temperatures fish are fattier, and therefore even tastier. This is a great fish market along the west coast of Japan:
With so much choice we had a lot of trouble choosing:
Eventually we went with this HUGE buri (yellowtail) for only 1500 yen:
and the friendly fish butcher cleaned it up for us at no charge:
when we got home Yasu made Buri Shabu Shabu: