Tasting Sake in the Japanese Countryside

October 25th, 2018 by
Category: Cuisine, Information

A ball of pine hung outside means, “There’s sake here!”

When visiting a foreign culture, you would be amiss not to taste the local cuisine and drink while you’re here. In Japan, that includes lots of delicious dishes like sushi, ramen, tempura, and, of course, sake.

Sake, called Nihonshu in Japanese, is considered by many to be a mysterious beverage. It is often referred to as rice wine in English, but that name doesn’t seem to fit quite right. It doesn’t look like wine, and it doesn’t really taste like wine either. It’s something completely of its own. How do you learn more about it? By drinking it, of course!

Whether you have experience tasting sake or not, you can expand your sake knowledge by tasting it right from the source. Japan’s many sake breweries that have been producing this complex libation for centuries, and can enlighten you on sake’s many styles and flavors, from floral, elegant Daiginjo to the straight-forward and dry Karakuchi.

Nagano has over 80 sake breweries around the prefecture—the second highest number of all prefectures in Japan—where you can taste local flavors slowly perfected over the centuries. Below are breweries and specialty shops where you can try a range of the prefecture’s most delicious sake.
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Nagano’s Hidden Ski Resorts

December 22nd, 2017 by
Category: Information, Outdoor Activities

Excellent glades and powder at one of Nagano’s hidden ski resorts: Madarao Kogen.

If you’ve ever considered a ski trip to Nagano, chances are you’ve heard of Hakuba Valley and Nozawa Onsen. But what about the others? While there’s certainly a lot of fun to be had at some of the more popular resorts, the recent spike in tourism has led to crowded lifts. Besides, you never know what you’ll find if you trek off the beaten path. If you’re thinking of making a trip to the land of the rising sun, here are a few lesser known resorts you need to visit.
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Five Ways to Enjoy the Snow

December 1st, 2017 by
Category: Information, Outdoor Activities, Seasonal Topics

Winter is a wonderful playground.

The winters in Nagano, while cold, are picturesque. The mountains and valleys are covered in a carpet of snow, trees are frosted with ice, and fine diamond dust shimmers in the air. Japanese macaques warm themselves in steamy hot springs and solitary kamoshika (Japanese Serow) plow through the snowy woods foraging for food.

Most travelers flock to Nagano this time of year to enjoy its plentiful powder snow on the ski slopes, but there are plenty of activities for those interested in connecting with nature and playing in snow. See a new side of Nagano while snowshoeing through the woods or enjoy an exhilarating ride on a snowmobile. See our recommended winter activities below!
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Five Unique and Memorable Hot Springs

November 3rd, 2017 by
Category: Information, Onsens (Hot Springs)

You can bathe in some wild and wonderful places around Nagano.

One of Japan’s greatest charms is its natural hot springs and bathing culture. While sitting naked in a bath with a bunch of strangers can be intimidating at first, once you take a dip in an onsen you’ll never feel the same. Unlike a hot tub or Jacuzzi, the water is completely natural and isn’t treated with harsh chemicals; the water leaves your skin feeling smooth, natural minerals revitalize your senses, and the heat warms you from the inside out.

In Nagano, there’s a huge variety of hot springs to choose from. Different springs offer baths of different temperature and mineral composition, which offer various health and beauty benefits. Some facilities are new and shiny while others are made from old wood caked in years of mineral build-up. You could spend years here and not visit them all! Since your time here may be short, I’d like to introduce some particularly memorable and unique hot springs around Nagano to visit.

1. Build your own Hot Spring at Kiriake Onsen

Bring a shovel and dig your own onsen out of the river.


Would you like to be an onsen pioneer and dig up your own bath in the wilderness? Natural spring water wells up from the ground into the Nakatsu River on the border of Nagano and Niigata. There are several hotels along the river that rent out shovels to visitors so they can build their own outdoor baths! You can adjust the temperature to your liking by rearranging rocks around your spot. Let in more river water to cool it down, or block the flow for a steamy +40°C hot tub.

Access

To reach Kiriake Onsen, a car is recommended but it is also possible by public transportation. Take the JR Iiyama line from Nagano Station to Morimiyanohara Station (103 min.), and then take the Minami Echigo Kanko bus bound for Kayama Onsen to Akiyamago Kiriake Onsen (60 min., see timetable). By car, it is 70 minutes via route 117 from the Joshin’etsu Expressway Toyota-Iiyama IC exit.

2. Meet “the One” at Shosenkaku’s Omiai Buro

Take a chance at love at Shosenkaku’s Omiai Buro.

In Shosenkaku’s outdoor hot spring, a small shrine with a window connects the men and women’s outdoor baths. Women can open the window blind and chat with men on the other side. For shy couples, it may be a chance to enjoy the hot spring together, and for singles, a chance to meet the love of their lives! So far, the Omiai window has been responsible for three marriages. Who will be next?

Details and Access

Shosenkaku is south of Nagano City near Imai and Kawanakajima Stations. You can take a 12 min. taxi from Kawanakajima Station, or walk for 30 min. from Imai Station. It is open year-round from 12:00 to 20:00 on weekdays (11:00 to 20:00 on Saturdays and holidays). Entrance fee is 650 yen for adults (250 for children).

3. Relax in Japan’s Highest Outdoor Bath at Honzawa Onsen

Soak in relaxing waters at 2,150m high.


At 2,150m high, this natural outdoor bath is a unique and wild destination. A car will only take you so far; instead, you’ll have to hike on foot for over two hours to reach it. After your hike, you’ll be rewarded with a beautiful view of Yatsugatake’s mountains and a steamy, sulfurous bath to sooth your tired muscles. You can travel up for just the day, or you can spend the night in the Honzawa Onsen lodge and tackle Mt. Akadake, Mt. Iodake, or Mt. Tengu.

Details

The lodge and onsen are open year-round, but winter travel is not recommended unless you have winter climbing experience. A night in the lodge ranges from 8,700 to 11,200 yen, and the outdoor bath is 600 yen. Be aware that there are no changing rooms for the outdoor bath!

Access

From JR Koumi Station, take the Matsubarako line bus to Inagoyu. From there, it’s a 3 hour hike to the hot spring. If you’re traveling by car, park at Honsawa Onsen Iriguchi. From there it’s a 2 hour and 15 minute walk.

4. Bathing with Apples around Nagano

Nakadanaso’s apple bath is an ode to first love.


Among Japan’s 47 prefectures, Nagano takes second place for both apple production and number of hot spring areas (don’t even get us started on all of Nagano’s other “second place” rankings…), so it was only natural that someone eventually combined the two. The colorful floating apples not only please the eye, but fill the bathroom with a sweet, autumnal aroma.

The first place to offer an apple-filled bath is said to be Nakadanaso in Nagano’s Komoro City. The owners filled the hot spring with apples in homage to one of Shimazaki Toson’s poems called “First Love,” a story about a young boy who falls in love with a girl tending her apple orchard. Now, guests can enjoy the apple bath at Nakadanaso between October and May of every year, and other hot springs around the prefecture have followed suit.

Details and Access

Nakadanaso can be reached on foot from Komoro Station in just 15 minutes. The hot spring is open to visitors from 11:30 to 14:00, and costs 1,000 yen for adults (500 for children).

Another option is Toyono’s Ringo no Yu which has apple baths on the 5th, 15th, and 25th of each month (open from 11:00 to 22:00, closed on the 4th Tuesday of every month). Entrance is 410 yen for adults (300 for children). It’s just a 12 min. walk from Toyono Station.

5. Take a Dip with Monkeys at Korakukan?

The monkeys love hanging around the outdoor baths of Korakukan and drinking from the pools.


Jigokudani Yaen Koen is famous for its hot-spring-bathing snow monkeys, but the phenomenon originated at the nearby Korakukan inn. Monkeys occasionally traveled into the valley to warm themselves during the harsh winters, sitting in small pools by the side of the river. Over the years, some of the monkeys became accustomed to the sight of people who were relaxing in the inn’s outdoor baths, eventually taking a dip themselves!

Korakukan is located beside the monkey park and offers great views of the area. Monkeys also treat the inn as a jungle gym and are not shy about hanging around the inn’s baths. After watching monkeys taking a dip at the Snow Monkey park, head to Korakukan and take a dip while monkeys watch you!

Details and Access

Korakukan can be found next to the Snow Monkey Park. The inn’s hot springs are open for visitors from 12:00 to 15:00 and the entrance fee is 600 yen for adults (300 for children). Indoor and outdoor baths are available. There is a women’s only outdoor bath and a mixed bath. Special bathing suits are available to rent for women.

Learn More about Japan’s Hot Springs

A vacation to Nagano wouldn’t be complete without a visit to one of its over 200 hot spring areas. Tourists flock to hot spring resort areas such as Nozawa, Shibu, Shirahone, Bessho, and Hirugami, and there are plenty of hot springs in arm’s reach of ski resorts and hiking trails for outdoor enthusiasts. Before visiting one yourself, or just to brush up on your hot spring knowledge, take a look at our blog on how to enjoy hot springs.

And as always, if you have any questions, feel free to leave us a comment below!

A Haven for Craft Beer in the Japanese Alps

April 7th, 2017 by
Category: Cuisine, Information, Shopping

Specialty beer spotted during last year’s Onbashira Festival. (Reijin Brewery)

While beer is a relatively new beverage in Japan, it wasn’t long before locals embraced it and created the crisp, refreshing lagers that its major breweries are known for today. The Sapporo, Kirin, Asahi, and Suntory brands can be found in grocery and convenience stores around the world, and one by one, new breweries are making their international debuts.
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Soba-Making Lessons in Nagano

March 10th, 2017 by
Category: Cuisine, Experience, Information

Make your own delicious soba in Nagano!

Soba noodles can be eaten throughout Japan but they are especially famous in Nagano. With abundant buckwheat and fresh water from the mountains, Nagano’s artisans make simple yet incredibly aromatic soba. After a plate or two or three, you find yourself hooked on this deceptively delicious dish.

And while it’s not necessarily true that the soba you make yourself is more delicious—let’s be honest, our crudely cut soba noodles pale in comparison to a soba master’s—the experience is a whole lot of fun and makes for a great memory. There are a number of places throughout the prefecture where you can try making soba for yourself and learn to appreciate soba made by the professionals.
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Enjoying Onsen Hot Springs in Nagano

June 10th, 2016 by
Category: Onsens (Hot Springs)

An outdoor bath with beautiful views of the Yatsugatake mountain range in Komi city[1].

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.
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Newborn Snow Monkeys (Video)

April 29th, 2012 by
Category: Information, Report, Seasonal Topics, Sightseeing

Though I have guided tours to the SNOW MONKEY PARK many times, it was my first time to see real tiny shaky fragile newborns. I could not resist taking photos and videos of the monkeys to show you.

a new born monkey (right) with its mother (left)

The baby above was making its first unsteady steps. Read the rest of this entry »

“Monkeys, Monkeys, Everywhere!” Best Snow Monkey shots this winter

April 12th, 2012 by
Category: Information, Outdoor Activities, Seasonal Topics, Sightseeing
 Monkeys, monkeys, everywhere.

Snow Monkeys in pairs–
“Mother and Baby”

Baby monkey and Mother in snow

“Friends always together”

Snow Monkeys grooming–
“Well-Cared-For Child Monkey”

Bathing in a hot spring, onsen–
” So many Monkeys bathing together!”

Wise-looking Monkeys–
” Deep in thoughts “

People happy watching the Snow Monkeys
” Worth visiting!”

Since 1964, the Snow Monkey Park, the official name of which is Jigokudani yaen-koen, has been visited and loved by millions of people from all over the world. As a place where the interesting life of the Japanese Macaques can be observed nearby, and as a place of unique snow monkeys bathing in natural hot spring (Onsen) , Jigokudani Yaenkoen is just so popular both home and abroad even after the March 11th.

My fellow tour guides and I have conducted Snow Monkey Tours almost every week for more than three months. We tried very hard to successfully cope with the task. Cheerful smiles and happy faces of our guests were our best reward!
The Snow Monkey park will have another lovely season; from late April or May, you will be able to see tiny little nowborns  carried in their mothers’ arms. There will be no snow on the path to the park anymore. Enjoy a wonderful day in Nagano!

The Snow Monkeys!

January 20th, 2011 by
Category: Events, Experience, Information, Onsens (Hot Springs), Report, Sightseeing

You know something has reached the big time when they add a THE to the front of it; THE BEATLES, THE BODY SHOP, THE DAISO (OK, so maybe this¥100 shop is not THAT famous but anyway…) .

And (unbelievably after having been coming to Nagano for as long as I have and never once visited), the other day I finally got a chance to pay a trip to see THE Snow Monkeys!!!

4b14c

After hiking up though a snowbound cedar forest, the first bit of wildlife we saw was not a monkey after all but a Kamoshika (Japanese Serow) struggling uphill through thick powder. But a steady trail of Macaque poop told us we were on the right trail and after 30 minutes or so, we arrived at the valley directly beneath the monkey park where a bridge crosses over the river to the best (and only!) Soba noodles in the area. We climbed the final flight of stairs to the ticket gate and proceeded on to the main monkey bathing area.2-start-gate

The park itself is a curious cross between a national park, safari park and disneyland – without the trimmings. Don’t expect fancy explanations or commentary; facilities are simple, but the monkeys are very, very cute and you can get right up close to take all the pictures you want. In the main bath were around 25 of the little furry fellas,  posing for the tourists’ portraits, crapping, scrapping and wallowing in the hot spring. Apparently, there are 160+ of them altogether in the troop – they spend the night in the surrounding forest and head down to the Onsen during the day. Anyway, if you’re in the Nagano area this winter they are definitely worth a trip which can be combined with a trip to one of the amazing Onsens nearby at Yudanaka or Shibu where you can get great food, check out a traditional Onsen Town and of course relax in a hot bath WITHOUT any monkeys 🙂

4-snow-monkey
Like ’em or love ’em, The Snow Monkeys are a firm favourite on the Nagano Must-See list. See here for Access info.