Nagano prefecture is located north west of Tokyo, in the centre of Chubu region. The prefecture is well known for its beautiful nature such as mountains, forests and highlands. In 1998, the Winter Olympics were organised in Nagano, boosting the areas’ popularity amongst snow activity lovers. Nowadays it is a known destination for snow activities and hot springs in winter time, but also for hiking in summer time. Nagano city can be reached from Tokyo in under 2 hours per Shinkansen. If you love nature and outdoor activities, this will be one of your favourite areas. Let’s discover some of the highlights!
1. The Snow Monkey Park
Have you ever seen the monkey taking bath? In Japan, you can see the famous snow monkeys relaxing in an onsen in winter season. In Nagano prefecture, up in the mountains, the Japanese Macaques survive the tough winters by grouping around natural hot springs. It is an amazingly fun thing to observe, and many people see a visit to the snow monkeys as one of the highlights of their trip to Japan!
The Snow Monkey Park is the place where the monkeys bathe in the hot springs during the winter season. The park is also called “Jigokudani Yaen-park”. This mountainous area is the natural habitat of the macaques. During the cold winters, the monkeys stay alive by seeking shelter in the onsen, where the wild animals can be spotted at close distance without fences.
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Read more about the snow monkeys and our tips for your visit in our blog
planning your visit to the snow monkeys
2. Yudanaka and Shibu Onsen area
Yudanaka and Shibu Onsen area lies approximately 10 minutes away from the Snow Monkey Park by car. Yudanaka station is also gateway to this area. So after your visit to the snow monkeys, follow their example and relax in one of the onsen of Shibu Onsen. In total there are nine different onsen and it is said that a visit to all nine onsen will bring good fortune! There are some traditional ryokans in Shibu Onsen, so you can stay overnight as well.
3. Nagano City area
Nagano City is the capital of Nagano Prefecture, located about 50 minutes from The Snow Monkey Park. It is most organised and developed city in Nagano with many interesting places closely located to visit. Zenkoji temple, one of the most important and popular temples in Japan, is one of the most famous places in Nagano. Togakushi shrine is a great place to visit too. The Togakushi shrine consists of three shrines, connected by beautiful hiking trails that are surrounded by beautiful nature. Close to Togakushi mountain The area is also famous for the Kids Ninja Village, a ninja school that is also popular amongst adults! A trip to Nagano City could also never be complete without trying some of the local specialities; soba noodles. Make sure you enjoy this signature dish for lunch or dinner, or both!
4. Shiga Kogen snow resort
When you visit Nagano to see snow monkeys, you will probably plan your visit in the winter season, when there is snow. About 25 minutes from the Snow Monkey Park you will find the famous ski resort Shiga Kogen. Skiing in Japan has become a very popular activity, because of its great quantity of high quality of snow. Shiga Kogen is Japan’s largest ski resort that has some of the best and most reliable powder in Japan. This is because of the topography and elevation of the resort in combination with the cold temperatures. These circumstances give very dry powder snow that stays on the ground for longer and in better condition than most others resorts.
5. Nozawa Onsen
Nozawa Onsen is a hot spring and ski resort village near Nagano. The nostalgic town is famous for its many different types of onsen, in total 13, which have been maintained by the local community since the Edo Period and are freely open to the public. The ski area comprises about 50km of ski slopes, making it a great weekend trip. The village is especially popular amongst international travellers because of its snow quality, its traditional cute centre and because English speaking travellers are well catered for.
6. Kiso valley
Kiso Valley is known as a historic preservation area. In Edo period (1603 – 1868), the Nakasendo road was one of the two roads connecting Edo (Tokyo) and Kyoto. Because of restrictions by the shogunate, people usually travelled this road by foot, causing villages where travellers could eat and rest, to pop up every few kilometers. Some towns along the Kanasendo (“path through mountains’), such as Naraijuku & Tsumagojuku, were preserved to look as they did during the Edo Period. It is little far from the Snow Monkey Park, a 2-hrs drive, but it is definitely worth a visit.
Hotels Around Snow Monkey Park
These are recommended hotels located in the area around Snow Monkey Park. While it is possible to do a day trip from Tokyo, we recommend you stay at least one night to discover the area. If you stay at Shibu Onsen area, make sure to check these accommodations! These traditional Japanese ryokan all offer free pick-up and/or transportation to the Snow Monkey Park and several onsen, both indoor and outdoor.
A visit to the Snow Monkey Park and seeing the Japanese Macaques relax in the onsen is considered by many a must do, or even a highlight of their trip to Japan. We recommend you make most out of your visit to Nagano prefecture and stay overnight and visit the highlights mentioned in this article. Combine the outdoor activities with a relaxing moment at the onsen, followed by a traditional local soba noodles meal!