Yamanouchi’s Not Just For Snow Monkeys

April 1st, 2016 by
Category: Information

Beautiful wooden buildings and relaxing hot springs are just a part of Yamanouchi’s charm.

I’ve spent several days over the last week exploring the Yamanouchi area. It’s most widely known as the home of the Snow Monkey Park (which is great, I agree) but there’s so much more around here for travelers to take advantage of. In a few days I went skiing and snowboarding, hopped in plenty of hot springs, enjoyed a variety of craft beer and local cuisine, and got up close and personal with Japanese archers.

The highlights from last week’s adventures are below.

Yamanouchi’s Traditional Onsen areas

A photo from the Yudanaka area during the Yamanouchi Lantern this winter.

In the center of Yamanouchi are its many onsen villages. The most famous of these is Shibu Onsen, where guests can hop between 9 different public baths. Each one is from a different hot spring source and comes with different properties. Some are good for your skin, some are better for circulation and others alleviate the symptoms of certain conditions. After you try a few of them you may start noticing the unique texture of the water and become an onsen connoisseur yourself.

To enjoy all these baths, our group stayed at Senshinkan Matsuya inn(1) in the heart of Shibu. Our hostess greeted us warmly and taught us all that we needed to know about the area and how to use the baths around town. She also showed us how to properly wear yukata robes (put the right side inside the left!), and then gave us time to wander ourselves before dinner.

My friend Chris (right) and I (left) wearing our Yukata in our room at Senshinkan Matsuya.

We had a traditional kaiseki-style dinner with various small plates of seasonal fare. Our meal featured Shinshu beef, Shinshu salmon and several delicious pieces of tempura. All of the other dishes were great too, even the dishes themselves! We had mushroom soup served in a clay tea kettle and soba arranged in a three-tiered gourd. The creativity and care with which it was prepared really impressed me, and the beef was pretty delicious as well.

A delicious Kaiseki-style meal at our hotel.

The Mountainous Resorts of Shiga and Kita Shigakogen

Yamanouchi is surrounded by mountains. Shigakogen, Kita Shigakogen and Mt. Kosha are all visible from town, and Mt. Madarao (near Iiyama) and Nozawa Onsen are not far away. Whether you’re interested in winter sports and snow activities, or green season hiking or mountain biking, there’s something for everyone in these beautiful highland areas.


A quick photo near the Hoppo Onsen ski area of Shigakogen.

An example of Shigakogen during summer. A great place to trek or drive!

Shigakogen is a UNESCO protected national park as well as Asia’s largest ski resort. In summer and fall, there are many hiking and trekking trails with beautiful views of the valley below. In winter, the whole world turns white and trees crystalize with snow. With 19 different ski areas, you can spend days exploring without visiting the same place twice. Snowmobiling, snowshoe tours and backcountry ski tours also operate out of Shigakogen.

While you’re here..

  • Try snowmobiling in the Yakebitai area of Shigakogen. Find more information here.
  • Visit the Yokoteyama Ski Resort for a beautiful view from the tallest peak of Shigakogen at 2307m. There is a delicious bakery and crumpet café at the top so you can leisurely enjoy the scenery.
  • Stop by Ichinose for a drink at the Teppa Room(2), where you can enjoy a variety of Shigakogen’s beers on tap.
  • From the end of April until November, you can drive through a beautiful portion of Shigakogen that connects Yamanouchi and Gunma’s Kusatsu Onsen.

Kita Shigakogen

We unfortunately caught the cloudiest part of the day and didn’t get any good shots of the terrace’s view, but the coffee and soups were great!

A 20-minute bus ride from Yudanaka station is Kita Shigakogen, home of Ryuoo Ski park and the Mt. Kosha ski resorts. For travelers interested in snow but not necessarily skiing or snowboarding, Ryuoo has a wide variety of snow activities to try including snow buggy riding, sledding and more. In addition, you can ride the 166-person gondola up to the Sora Terrace café, where beautiful panoramic views of Northern Nagano await you. The terrace and gondola also operate during the green season, and visitors can enjoy trekking at 1,700 meters above sea level.

While you’re here…

Beautiful views of Northern Nagano from a natural hot spring bath.

  • If you’re driving, visit Hotel Selan on your way back and take a dip in Toomi no Yu(3), an outdoor hot spring with amazing views of Yamanouchi, Nakano city and distant Nagano.
  • Try Sugakawa Soba, a variety of soba made with plant fibers. The resulting noodle is gluten-free and has a firm, slightly chewy texture. For more information about Nagano’s soba varieties, check out this recent blog post.

Delicious homemade noodles with an al dente bite.

Spring Monkeys

The snow monkeys are cute, and everyone loves catching photos of them relaxing in hot spring baths. But that’s not the only time to enjoy these creatures—they’re still around in spring along with plenty of adorable little babies. You may not see them bathing as much, but that means that they’ll be that much closer to you, frolicking and playing around.

While you’re here, stop by Café Enza for a bite to eat. They have a wide range of Japanese dishes along with some modern twists. The coffee is good and you should definitely think about ordering some fried satsumaimo (a type of Japanese sweet potato).

See below(4) for tips on driving to the monkey park.

“Ebesa” Interactive Cultural Workshops

(The Ebesa Workshops are no longer available)

One little known part of Yamanouchi is its tours of traditional Japanese arts. Practitioners in the area offer workshops where you can participate in tea ceremonies, watch geisha performances, make your own soba or even shoot a traditional Japanese longbow. These workshops are are part of the Ebesa tour initiative, which means “Let’s go!” in Yamanouchi’s local dialect.

Archers practice their aim in a mock competition at the Uotoshi Ryokan archery range.

As part of one of these tours, we visited Uotoshi Ryokan to see its archery dojo and learn about its history from the owner, Kazuhisa Miyasaka. We watched a practice match between five of the archers who train there before listening to Mr. Miyasaka tell us about Japanese archery. We were really surprised by his fluent English as he explained everything from the history of the bow to the physics of shooting it. We weren’t able to shoot any bows ourselves, but he offers three-hour archery lessons for those who want to.

Snow Monkey Beer Live

A delicious stout from the Shigakogen Brewery

Once a year, around mid to late March, the Shigakogen brewery hosts Snow Monkey Beer Live, an event where breweries from around Japan come to share some of their latest and most experimental beers. Highlights from this year’s show included a delicious barrel-aged imperial stout, a Shinshu Apple ale, and an earl-grey tea infused beer.

The fun takes place at Shigakogen’s Sogo 98 hall, a commemorative event space for the 1998 Winter Olympics. Free shuttle buses run from Yudanaka station and through Shigakogen’s many resorts so anyone in the area can easily join in. Tickets for the event cost around 4,500 yen and include 5 drink tickets and a commemorative beer glass.

Beer’s not the only entertainment. Regional artists and bands perform late into the evening as well.


Most visitors to Yamanouchi come for the Snow Monkey park, but there’s a lot more here for people to experience. Whether you’re interested in the outdoors, skiing, drinking beer or getting in touch with Japanese culture, this is a great base camp to explore Northern Nagano.

Look out for more on summer activities around Nagano in the coming months! And as always, you can reach us with any questions you have at go-nagano@pref.nagano.lg.jp. Until next time!

Additional Information

Senshinkan Matsuya (Back to text)

One of TripAdvisor’s 25 top B&Bs/Inns in Japan, located centrally in Shibu Onsen. See their English website here.

Teppa Room (Back to text)

Sample a wide variety of Shigakogen beers at this restaurant and bar in the first floor of Chalet Shiga in Ichinose.

Open from mid-December to the end of March

Hours: Weekdays: 15:00-23:00
Weekends: 11:30-23:00
Address: Chalet Shiga 1F, Ichinose, Shigakogen

Toomi no Yu Hotspring (Back to text)

This small onsen facility by Hotel Selan has a magnificient view of the surrounding valley. Separated into men and women’s sides, each section has an outdoor bath, showering facilities and sauna. A private bath is available to rent for families or couples.

Price: General entry: 600 yen
Private family bath: 2500 yen
Hours: 11:00-22:00
Address: Hotel Selan, 6995 Yomase, Yamanouchi

Driving to the Snow Monkey Park (Back to text)

There are two ways to reach the snow monkey park by car. One is to park near Cafe Enza and walk 30 minutes to the park, and the other is a closer parking lot that is only available during the green season (mid April onwards). You can locate it with your car’s GPS using this phone number: 0269-33-5733

Cafe Enza’s phone number is: 0269-38-1736

16 Responses to “Yamanouchi’s Not Just For Snow Monkeys

  1. Hi!

    I am currently planning a trip through the Nagano region in December. Do you know which areas will be closed? Is it a must to get snow tires? Also, I researched about Nagano and it’s mostly know for the ski resorts etc. I am planning to stay one day in Hakuba and are there any activites other than skiing available in the ski resort areas ( Hakuba and others)?

    You also wrote about the Kita Shigakogen. It sounds really interesting and I would like to go as well. How can I reach there? Sorry for the overwhelming number of questions..

  2. Hi Vanessa,

    Thanks for commenting! I hope you found this information useful in planning your trip.

    I definitely recommend snow tires if you’ll be driving during December. Snow often falls in December, and cars usually aren’t allowed onto the highway without snow tires. Snow may build up on the roads or ice may form over them so be careful when driving. Several routes throughout the prefecture also close during winter, in particular the Shiga-Kusatsu road which connects Shigakogen to Kusatsu Onsen, Gunma (Rt. 206); and the Venus Line which runs along Utsukushigahara, Tateshina and Kirigamine highlands.

    If you’d like to try an outdoor activity besides skiing or snowboarding while you’re here, I recommend snowmobiling or snow-shoeing as an alternative. Hakuba 47 Winter Sports Park and Shigakogen Yakebitai Yama offer snowmobiling through Hakuba Lion Adventures, and you can try snow-shoeing as a guided tour via the Evergreen Outdoor Center, or on your own in Shigakogen or Togakushi.

    Kita Shigakogen is located just north of Yamanouchi, home of Shibu Onsen and the snow monkeys. It is made up of several ski resorts, but the most popular one (and the one featured in this blog) is Ryuoo Ski Park. You can see plenty of information about the ski resort here (including access information).

    I hope that answers your question. Let me know if there’s anything else I can do to help!


  3. I’m looking to travel from Yamanouchi to Kyoto. The only option is see for getting from Yamanouchi to Iiyama is $250, by taxi. Is there a cheaper way to travel from Yamanouchi to Iiyama, or Nagano? This will be at the end of April.

  4. Hi Lori,

    Thanks for your comment! The easiest way to reach Kyoto from Yamanouchi by train would be this:

    1. Take the Nagano Dentetsu express or local train line from Yudanaka Station to Nagano Station (50 to 65 minutes)
    2. Take the Limited Express Shinano train from Nagano Station to Nagoya Station (181 minutes)
    3. Take the Shinkansen from Nagoya Station to Kyoto Station (35 minutes)

    The total price would come to 11,410 yen.

    Nagano Dentetsu Fare 1,160 yen
    Express Fee 100 yen
    Nagano-Kyoto Fare 6,480 yen
    Ltd. Express Shinano Seat Fee 1,190 yen
    Shinkansen Seat Fee 2,480 yen

    You may want to use the Hyperdia! website to arrange your travel plans.

    I hope that answers your question!


  5. Hello!

    We are interested in traveling to Nagano at the end of November/beginning of December this year and are curious about the weather. We’d love to see the region blanketed in snow but are worried that it may be a little too early in the season for this. I realize the weather can be unpredictable, but does it commonly snow in the region during that time?

    Thank you!

  6. Hi Amy,

    There are some snow showers in later November and snow usually begins to build up around mid-December. Late November is probably too early for immaculate, snowy scenery in Nagano. The past few years have been like this, but it is possible that it may snow earlier.

    Let me know if you have any other questions!


  7. Thank you so much for this information. I will be traveling with my husband and 3 older boys the first week in January. We are flying into Tokyo and then plan to take a train to somewhere in this area to snowmobile. I have looked into Lion Adventures. Do you have any suggestions? Also, do you know if we could rent ski wear? Hard to pack that much gear for one day! Thank you so much! I appreciate any suggestions!
    Thank you

  8. Hi Jeni,

    Hakuba Lion Adventures is a leading snowmobile tour operator in Nagano and offers snowmobiling at Hakuba 47 and Shiga Kogen’s Yakebitai-yama. If you’d like to try snowmobiling, I highly recommend them.

    Since early January is peak ski season, Hakuba will be quite busy; however, Shiga Kogen is not as popular with overseas guests. If you’d like a quieter area for skiing/snowmobiling, I suggest staying in Shiga Kogen.

    Regarding ski wear, yes, you can rent everything you need on the slopes!

    I hope that answers your question. Let me know if I can help with anything else.


  9. Hi,
    Kita Shigakogen looks really amazing, but i am not** staying at the ski resort, can i still visit the place as a guest just for the paranomic views?
    is it easy to hail a cab from the snow monkey park?


  10. Hi there,

    Anyone can visit the Sora Terrace by purchasing a gondola ticket at the resort and riding it to the top of the mountain. During winter you’ll want long boots to walk through the snow.

    You may be able to hail a taxi at the Snow Monkey Park, but I recommend taking the Ryuoo free shuttle bus from Yudanaka Station.

    I hope that answers your question!


  11. Hi, 6 of us plan to stay 3 days st Nagano city in January, we will visit snow monkey park, Matsumoto castle and Nagano city. I need advice for:
    1) any reliable private day tour to snow monkey park? Is it possible to visit Matsumoto castle at the same day? Where can I get the tour contacts?
    2) we will need to hire a van and driver to take us from Nagano city to Kusatsu onsen as we don’t want to drive in winter and want to save time from taking public transportations. Is it available ? I search online but couldn’t find any, please help.


  12. Hi Nate,

    You can find some tours to the Snow Monkey Park on the Snow Monkey Tours website. They have a number of tours featuring the snow monkeys and other local sightseeing areas.

    It is possible to visit Matsumoto Castle and the Snow Monkey Park in the same day, but be aware that it will take over two hours to travel between the two. If head to the monkey park in the morning and go to the castle in the evening, it may be more convenient to stay the night in Matsumoto.

    Regarding travel to Kusatsu, you can contact Chuo Taxi about chartering a van. Because the closest routes to Kusatsu from Nagano are closed in winter, you may not save very much time by taking a car instead of public transportation. At the moment, a car will take approx. 145 minutes to travel there, while public transportation may fluctuate between 150 to 160 minutes (Hokuriku Shinkansen and Karuizawa-Kusatsu line bus). While the van may be more convenient, I suspect that it will be significantly more expensive.

    I hope that answers your question.


  13. Hi,

    I have a couple of questions as my girlfriend and I are travelling to ShigaKogen in March for some snowsports and will be there for the Snow Monkey Beer Live Festival.

    1.) If we stay in either Yakebitaiyama or Ichinose will it be difficult to get back from the Beer Festival in the evenings?
    2.) Would we be better off getting accommodation in the Sun Valley/Hasuike area, even if just for the Beer festival nights?
    3.) Is it easy to travel from either of these areas for a day at Shibu Onsen?

  14. Hi Hayden,

    1) Free shuttle buses run through the Shigakogen area to bring hotel guests to the Snow Monkey Beer Live venue, so whether you stay in Yakebitaiyama, Ichinose, or another part of the ski resort, you can access the venue with no problems. If you would like to be as close as possible to the venue, look for hotels in the Biwaike or Hasuike areas.

    2) I don’t think it makes enough of a difference to switch hotels just for the event.

    3) Yes, travel between Shigakogen and Shibu Onsen is available via the Shigakogen line bus.

    I hope that helps!


  15. Hi Hayden
    As first time travelers to Japan, I am finding it quite difficult to decide where to gonin our short 2 weeks, but the Nagano region is appealing as it is not too far to go. Your blog has helped me to decide – thank you 🙂 We will be there towards the end of October and I have a couple of questions.
    We are travekling from Ishakawa Peninsula (probably, although that is open for negotiation, as our previous stop will be Takayama), is it best to hire a car?
    Do you have any nice hotel recommendations?
    Thanks for your help in advance
    Warmest regards , Janet and Heinz from Switzerland

  16. Hi Janet,

    I’m glad the Go! Nagano website and some of these blog posts have helped shaped your travel plans to Japan! Autumn is a beautiful time for visiting and there’s plenty to see, do, and eat.

    Regarding transportation, if you’ll be traveling from Ishikawa, I recommend taking the Hokuriku Shinkansen train from Kanazawa Station to Nagano Station. From there, you can take trains and buses to most sightseeing spots, or rent a car if you’d like to see out-of-the-way destinations.

    If you decide to travel directly from Takayama instead, you could take the Takayama-Matsumoto line bus to Matsumoto City. Along the way is also Kamikochi, one of Nagano’s most popular places for seeing autumn colors.

    Depending on your schedule, you may want to purchase a Japan Rail Pass to save money on train travel. For travel to the snow monkey park or around Kamikochi, see some of the bus passes on our website here.

    As for hotels, I recommend staying in a hot spring village to get the complete Japanese experience. Onsen ryokan inns around areas like Shibu or Yudanaka Onsen, Kamiyamada Onsen, or Bessho Onsen would be a good place to start. For a more secluded stay, a hotel in Shirahone Onsen near Kamikochi is a great pick too. If you’d like Western-style hotels, then something around Matsumoto or Nagano cities would be good. If you have any particular preferences I can give you some specific recommendations.

    I hope that answers your question!


Leave a Reply



This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.