The second stop on our 2018 tour of Japan was Nagano. Since no one in the family skis why did we go to Nagano? Monkeys. Snow monkeys to be precise, at Jigokudani Yaen-Koen [wikipedia.org]. We’ve been to see the Monkeys in the Onsen before [confusion.cc] but my youngest daughter does not remember and my niece had never been.
The trip to Nagano from Nikkō [confusion.cc] is via Tokyo: (almost) all Shinkansen tracks lead to Tokyo. We had a bit of a mishap changing trains in Tokyo we actually got on the wrong train, we were five minutes early at the platform. Such is the efficiency of the Japanese rail network. We figured it out quite quickly as there were people in our seat, but it was not quick enough sine we had to wrangle our luggage, the train had already left the station. The conductor told us that we could just get off at the next stop and take the next train. What he did not tell us is that the train we were on only made one stop between Tokyo and Nagano, and it was almost halfway. Since we were on a fast train it took about 40 minutes before the stop. Then, as our train was a slower one we had to wait on the track for 20 minutes, all because we were 5 minutes early at the platform in Tokyo.
Eventually we did make it to Nagano and our hotel. The first thing we did was to check the weather forecast. We were hopping to see some snow and our best chance would be at Jigokudani since it’s up in the hills. There was only a small chance of snow the first night but there was a 70 to 80 percent chance of a decent snow —3 to 5 cm— the second night. So we decided to spend our first day exploring downtown Nagano.
We spent the late morning and most of the afternoon wandering around the grounds of Zenkōji
We woke early on our second day in Nagano hopping for snow. Despite the high chance overnight there was not a flake to be seen. Still we hopped to se some at the Jigokudani which is actually in Yamanouchi. We caught an early bus from Nagano station for the hour and a half ride. Unfortunately there was no fresh snow once we go there. There was snow on the hills and old crusty snow on the grass and under the trees. But it had not snowed overnight and what snow there was was melting in the sun.
It was a beautiful walk up from the bus stop to the actual bath used by the monkeys. About two or two and a half kilometers, from the bus stop it’s half a kilometer along a side road to the actual entrance to the park. From the entrance it’s a beautiful walk in the woods, though a bit muddy in the melting snow.
The monkeys were much the same as the last time we went, but last time it was snowing and that made for an all together more amazing experience. It’s fun to get up close to the monkeys in the bath and take some photos. It’s a bit disappointing if it’s your first time and you realize this is not a natural hot spring pool, it was built for the monkeys. All the travel shows and photos you see hide this but it’s obvious when you are there. Also there are more people crowded around the hot spring than monkeys. It’s a highly artificial photo opportunity. That said you can get some awesome photos.
Back down the hill the kids managed to have a snowball fight with the old snow among the plants around the parking lot while we waited for our return trip.
Other than that we enjoyed some shopping —my kids are obsessed with Japanese stationary so, yea, picked up some markers, pencils, etc. etc.— and my wife and I managed to find a few places to eat local food so she could enjoy something other than convenience store fare, the kids continued lived off of Lawson’s and 7-11, though they did eat soba.