Yudanaka and Shibu are a pair of onsen resort towns at the base of Shiga Kogen near the Jigokudani Wild Monkey Park (home of the Snow Monkeys). If you go by train to the snow monkeys, you’ll likely pass through Yudanaka Station. Yudanaka, as with many resort towns, is struggling with shops and inns closing up due to not having anyone to take over the businesses as the current owners retire.
Nagano’s largest bank has teamed up with an investment fund to create a civic improvement organization called Waku-Waku Yamanouchi. (“Waku-waku” means to be excited.) They purchased 4 such businesses, renovated them, and are in the process of reopening them repurposed as guesthouses, a restaurant, an art-themed boutique-ryokan, and a coffee shop. I recently toured the new shops and certainly found them to be “waku-waku”!
An outdoor bath with beautiful views of the Yatsugatake mountain range in Komi city.
Japan is one of the most volcanically active countries in the world, blessing it with thousands of naturally heated mineral springs. These hot springs, or Onsen, have served an important role in Japanese daily life for hundreds of years. Locals came to the baths to cleanse themselves and socialize, and others came from far and wide to soak in springs that would cure their ills. Now, soaking in hot springs is an popular pastime attracting visitors from around the world. Read the rest of this entry »
A view of the lake from the rooftop of the Clasuwa restaurant.
In a land-locked prefecture, the Suwa area is surprisingly blessed with water. The surface of lake Suwa offers beautiful, reflective views of the surrounding mountains and sky. Hot springs bubble up from the grounds of Kami and Shimosuwa and feed over 150 public bathing facilities in the area. And, fresh water from the highlands helps brew Suwa’s many award-winning rice wines.
Visitors to the area have been increasing in advent of the 2016 Onbashira festival, so I thought I’d take a closer look at Suwa’s activities and sights.
The Japanese Alps are a treasure trove of natural wonder, and knowledgeable guides at Little Peaks in Norikura are just the ones to reveal the splendor. Today I had the pleasure of joining in a magical snowshoeing tour of Norikura.
Or is it? With practically everyone and her brother having the week off, it seems wherever you go there will be crowds, crowds, and still more crowds.
Here in Nagano, the major attractions such as Matsumoto Castle, the Utsukushigahara ridge drive, the resort town of Karuizawa etc. also tend to be jam-packed during peak holidays. And the many major events taking place in Nagano during Golden Week, such as the hot air balloon festival in Saku, the rape blossom festival in Iiyama and, especially, the once-every-seven-years Gokaicho at Zenkoji Temple in Nagano City, will likely draw hordes of visitors.
Don’t despair — the prefecture has plenty of off-the-beaten-path places and simple, local events to enjoy in a quiet, Nagano-like fashion. Read the rest of this entry »
In Japan, the winter is a season of “illumination”. There are some beautiful illumination spots lighted up by LEDs. In Nagano, Karuizawa, Azumino, and Suzaka’s illumination events are famous.
This winter, not large but unique illumination has started at Asama Hot Springs in Matsumoto. It is Japanese taste design lighting in front of Hot Plaza Asama, a day trip hot spring facility. You can watch the “healing illumination” while soaking your feet in the free foot hot spring.
Japanese-style illumination of origami cranes and Matsumoto temari balls, made and played in the castle in Edo period.
The lights on trees are designed to twinkle by natural wind, like stars in the sky.
Because of the M 6.7 earthquake that occurred on 22nd November and damaged some portions in Hakuba and Northern Nagano, even hotels in Asama Hot Springs suffered from cancellations, even though Matsumoto is in the center of Nagano Prefecture and didn’t have any direct damage.
Now, there are no problems at all sightseeing spots and ski resorts in Nagano, including transportation.
Kick-off ceremony of illumination
People in Asama Onsen hope this beautiful illumination will overcome the quake.
Asama Hot Spring is located in a convenient place in Matsumoto, Nagano. It is just a ten minute bus ride from Matsumoto Castle. It also has a very long history, 1,300 years or more and feudal lords of the Castle visited there in the Edo period (17th century).
All the lights are LEDs using small amounts of electricity
The illumination is shining 5pm to 0am until April 19.
More than twenty traditional Japanese ryokans in Asama Onsen and the illumination are wating for you.
The world-famous “Snow Monkeys” of the Jigokudani Wild Monkey Park are cute any time of the year soaking in their onsen bath. But it’s when it snows is when they are truly in their most photogenic element. And that area has started to get their winter snow fall, so now is your chance!
Winter bus schedules are now in effect, so I updated the train and bus matrix to get you from Nagano Station (and by extension, onsen town Togura-Kamiyamada) to the monkey park trailhead, Kanbayashi, and back for an easy day trip. (Note: This is just a partial schedule. Check at the Information Center at Nagano Station for full train and bus schedules.)
We just had a visitor from Sydney, Australia make the trip. He said he ‘only’ took about 200 pictures of the monkeys. The snow made for a dramatic backdrop, especially on the walk from Kanbayashi through the beautiful evergreen forest.
At 2568m, Mt. Asama is the largest mountain in eastern Nagano. The active volcano towers over Komoro and Karuizawa, frequently sending up plumes of volcanic ash and smoke. The Nagano Shinkansen is named after Mt. Asama, and riders of the bullet train get a front seat view of the awe-inspiring mountain.
But what does the world look like from the top of Mt. Asama? And can you see into the volcanic crater? I had always been curious, so on a recent day when our oldest son had a day off from middle school, we decided to make an ascent of the volcano.
Author and his son at the top of Mt. Asama's Maekake Crater