Monday, March 7, 2011

The Yudanaka Onsen Snow Monkey Experience (Part 1)

Look at what we saw yesterday!
We went to Nagano prefecture last weekend to see the snow, the hot springs, and the monkeys who hang out in the hot springs when it snows.

I can promise you that I will never get tired of Japanese trains. We spent about 6 hours getting there on three different trains. All were on time. None were crowded. We didn't have to go through security or take off our shoes (until we sat down). The governor of Florida might want to look into something like this.
About half way there, we started to see the snow-covered mountains.
Our camera is great, but it can't capture this scenery well.
In a rare miss in my travel research skills, I booked our hotel based on reviews from enthusiastic foreigners (rather than a Japanese suggestion). The ryokan was in this town, and the ryokan itself was friendly, but really shabby. This welcome sign kind of sums it up. Wish we could see the famous view behind you, Mr. Tacky-sign!
There is a big fault under this area that puts out hot spring water. Here the boys are playing in the hot water fountain in front of our ryokan.
After checking in, we went to visit the town where we should have stayed. (Can you see that I'm still not over it?).

We tasted sake and beer at this place. Pour-your-own. Slow down, Darrin...
We bought a bottle of this one.

Upstairs we visited the sake barrels....
A little shrine in the storage room.
The sake-barrels were on floor 7 and a half.
A really nice tasting room and gallery. We loved these beams.

Here's another bad shot of the mountains near the cool town, Shibu-onsen.

Shibu onsen has an old-town feel and nine "public" baths (for guests staying in the town) fed by the hot springs. The boys got towels that they could stamp at each bath, even though we didn't go into them.
Here's number eight:

Hey.... More stairs!
Here's a monkey hanging out on one of the ryokan balconies.

In front of one ryokan they were cooking eggs in the hot spring water.
Manhole cover:
Guests make an event of walking to all nine hot spring baths in their yukata and geta. You can't tell, but everyone's feet are bright pink because the water is really hot (like 50C). Remember the eggs?

After walking around the town-we-wanted-to-stay-in, we stopped in this sushi place for dinner.
Seiji Ozawa ate here!
This tray was clean in about 3 minutes. See Hugo going for the salmon eggs?

The restaurant also had some of the craziest toilet slippers we had ever seen.
We saw this kannon on the walk back...
Sunday morning, we visited the monkey park, with a great tourguide I found online:

Hiking up...

Even the motorbikes have snow chains!
A smelled like you'd expect.
Then, at the top of this hike you can see the famous snow monkeys. A man built this large onsen for them in the 1960's after he saw a few monkeys bathing in a natural hot spring. In the past few years, these guys have become really really popular!
The Sunday morning crowd:

Alek is enjoying the view...what do you see, Alek?

In other areas of the park, the monkeys run around and play and ignore the 2,000 people who are taking their picture.

I saw more foreigners here than I have ever seen in Japan.

Here's Max practicing his dominant monkey-stare.

That's all for now. I will write tomorrow about what we did after this adventure! (hint: ninja)


  1. More (ubearable) beautiful pictures of wonderful food! What are you guys going to do when you get back to Newark? I'm wondering if you enjoyed the sake'. I knew about but never saw the snow monkeys, and your pictures made it pretty clear that they are remarkably "tame", or at least very relaxed around humans. Does it ever happen that they get aggressive? It just occured to me that maybe the cherry blossoms will be coming soon, and I'm looking very much forward to see blogs on that. Thanks again for this free entertainment!

  2. What an amazing adventure you're having in Japan! Monkey, snow-capped mts, (more sushi), and sake...dreamy...!