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!
I’m often asked to recommend a place to stay in Tokyo but since I live in the city 5 months of the year and have always had my own apartment, I have never had to look for accommodation, well, until last week that is. I moved out of my old place and while looking for a new Tokyo abode I had to find a place to crash for one night so I took this opportunity to look for an interesting place to stay. We had heard about Toco Backpackers and Nui Hostel from a friend, who’s friend’s friend, is part owner.
Nui is more than just a hostel, it’s an amazing creatively designed space meant to bring together people from all over the world. Set in an old warehouse, it still has lots of industrial touches like the high ceilings, floor to ceiling glass doors across the front, and the over-sized freight elevator. Comforting touches of nature are incorporated with their 8 meter long tree-trunk bar, and a massive de-barked tree that stands in the center of the 1st floor lounge. The bathroom doors have original handles forged by a local lady black smith artisan. Nui has private rooms and dormitories available on the upper floors. They have free wifi throughout the building and a computer for all to use. I have no doubt that the yet-to-be-completed kitchen and library on the 5th floor will be another amazing creative feat of eclectic design.
If you are looking for something more Japanesy, you might want to try their second location, Toco Backpacker’s Inn and Free Space Bar Lounge, an old ryokan built in 1920 and completely refurbished by the same creative crew that built Nui Hostel & Bar Lounge.
Although both locations are within easy reach of Narita and Haneda airports, you should keep in mind that neither neighbourhood, Iria or Kuramae, are in the must-see section of your guidebook. Instead, Nui and Toco, provide a great escape from the big city bustle with easy access to the rest of Tokyo.
Driving in Japan doesn’t have to be daunting. Nexco Highways Japan has an excellent site for people who want to be in the driver’s seat. With information on tolls, rest-stop details, recommended tourist attractions, restaurants, and shopping along the way, it’s a great way to plan your travels, and keep you from getting lost. Check it out here:
道 (Michi) means road, の (no) is a possessive like our ‘s, and 駅 (eki) means station. Together you have “Road Station“, which have all of the conveniences of train stations but is made for drivers and their cars. All michi-no-eki are organized by the government, and provide basic travel needs like free parking, 24 hour restrooms, and tourist information. Michi-no-eki is also the hub of many small towns providing them a place to promote tourism and trade. You can often find locally grown veggies, food stalls and restaurants with local specialties, souvenirs, hand-made goods, and sometimes even onsens! Michi-no-eki‘s merchants are carefully selected to represent the town so you can be sure to find the best food and the most welcoming folks at the road-side michi-no-eki.
Hakuba’s michi-no-eki is an easy walk from Lodge tabi-tabi, check it out on our walking map here. They have a soba shop, oyaki shop, and in the summer, a gelato stand. They sell local veggies and souvenirs, and provide free parking and restrooms. If you have a car, I highly recommend visiting the Otari michi-no-eki. Otari is the next town if you are driving towards the coast. If you are driving to Nagano City, you will pass Poka Poka Land, Miasa’s michi-no-eki, which has a spa with powerful jet-baths, sell cheap local vegetables, and has a great restaurant next door called Miasa Shokudo. Japan has close to 1000 michi-no-eki scattered throughout rural Japan so take note of the michi-no-eki symbol below and you’ll know where to take a break the next time you are on the road.
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).
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.
On March 3rd a whole crew of us found powder paradise, our very own Powder Paradise in fact. See if you can spot anyone else in the resort?! You can read about it here.
Rich, one of the Snow Season Japan guests that came and stayed for the 2011 season, made this awesome little video about this awesome powder day. Makes me “Woohoohoo!” everytime I watch it!
Woke up at 5 and 8 of us were on the road by 6.
We drove for 2 hours through the Japanese countryside:
and snowy mountain roads:
then found powder paradise:
Needless to say, we were pretty excited:
We showed our appreciation and worshipped the Goddess of snow by spreading her offerings around … until we couldn’t take anymore and partook in the ritual of bathing in thermal waters granted to us by mother earth.
We were then blessed with more offerings from the sea as we filled up on sushi: