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!
The best way to explore Japan’s country-side is with your own set of wheels. We suggest you check out ToCoo! rent-a-car. They have over 800 outlets, offer services from 12 different car rental companies, have a huge choice of vehicles, and an easy-to-use English website where you can check prices and reserve your vehicle. Although you can pick up your car at the airport when you arrive, most people prefer to make their way to Nagano by bus or train, and pick up their car in Nagano City instead. If you pick up your vehicle in Nagano or Matsumoto there is no extra fee for snow tyres, you can also request ski/snowboard racks, child seats, and all cars come with GPS. There is no extra fee for dropping off your vehicle at a different location as long as it is in the same prefecture. Smaller vehicles go for 4200 yen a day and they also offer long-term discounts. Driving in Japan is remarkably easy, other drivers are courteous, just remember to leave a little extra space between you and the car ahead when you are driving on snowy/icy roads. To rent a car in Japan you will need a credit card, a valid driver’s license, plus an international driver’s license which you have to get in your home country. Click on the pic for more details.
If you would prefer picking up your car in Hakuba, I suggest you book early! Here are some rental car companies with English services and pick ups in the Hakuba Valley:
True Player’s Skate Park will have its grand opening in April, but they’re already letting skaters ride the ramps. True Player’s is an excellent indoor park with big well shaped ramps and other street skate items, and for ¥500 a day you can’t go wrong anyway. True Player’s is in a gym on the same road as Mimizuku Onsen near Happo. I will add it to our recommendation map here.
Open: 12ish to 9ish (everyday-ish)
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).
We have passed Kajika Onsen Ryokan a number of times on our way to Takasekan Onsen in Oomachi. Even tried to go there once but because the onsen is only available from 10 to 3 for non-staying guests, it’s been a bit hard to catch. This time we were intent on trying Kajika Onsen and I am glad we made the extra effort. Kajika is a beautiful Ryokan surrounded by a peaceful snow-covered forest. They have one indoor and one outdoor bath available for non-staying guests to use before check-in time. The two baths have two different types of natural mineral waters. The indoor bath has simple alkaline clear water, while the outdoor bath smelled more sulfurous and was loaded with yu-no-hana which literally translates as bath flowers but looked more like bits of volcanic ash. Proof that it’s a 100% natural mineral water hotspring.
Open: 10:00 – 15:00
Price: ¥800 adults / ¥500 kids
Access: You can find it on our google map here
December 31st, 2011 was the first day I have ever snowshoed for the sake of snowshoeing. I usually have a board on my back and a beakon on my front, when I have snowshoes strapped to my feet. But on this beautiful blue bird day, I only brought my lunch, some hot tea, and great company.
I highly recommend getting away from the liftlines, and the powderhounds for this incredibly picturesque and amazingly peaceful trail that winds through forests and opens up to a panaromic view of Japan’s Northern Alps.
You can rent snowshoes at Minekata Ski Resort Hakuba for only 1000 yen, while the lift to the top is a mere 400. Another option is to buy a lift pass (half day 1900 yen, full day 2800 yen) do a bit of sliding, and a bit of walking. On the way back down, follow the cat track to Reflet, a great little cafe/restaurant that sells real hot chocolate and home-made cake. I also recommend their feshly baked cookies to take-away. A great way to end an awesome day.
UPDATE: Minekata will not be open for the 2014/15 season. 🙁
Yuki means “snow” and “ita” means board, but this is not your average snowboard. These handcrafted rockered snow planks that come complete with stomp pads and leash cords are the ultimate powder surfers. You can not imagine the fun you can have cruisin’ country roads, scoping lines, hiking hills, sampling from a quiver of sticks, and floating through pow surrounded by the tranquility of nature only broken by the laughter of friends.
Yuki-ita tours are now available at Lodge tabi-tabi. An afternoon session in a secret powder stash, door-to-door transportation, unlimited use of the above quiver of sticks, and a hot lunch with coffee or tea in the outdoors is less than a day pass at the resort.
Yasu will also be providing some basic instructions but once you try it you will see that no experience is necessary to stand up on a binding-less board and float down a powderful hill.
More pics here. Enquire within.
Daini Satonoyu is one of the onsets (hot springs) in the Happo Onsen group. This is probably my favorite of the bunch because it is HOT! Last time I went it was over 43 degrees. The washing area is right next to the bath so it is nice and warm there too. There are some onsen I won’t go to when I am feeling chilly because the washing area is just too cold. No problems here. The springs at the 4 Happo Onsens are high alkaline waters with a PH of 11, which means the water feels soft and makes your skin silky smooth. No rotenburo (outdoor bath), no windows, no view. Nothing fancy just good quality water at the right temperature (for me).
Hours: 12:00 – 21:00 (last entry is 20:30)
Price: adults ¥500 / children ¥250
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: