ITINERARIES Snow Monkeys and Hot Springs in Nagano Rustic hot spring resorts and world-famous monkeys
Nagano is the mountainous heart of Japan's main island, easily accessible from Tokyo by bullet train.
Nagano is a major city and key transport hub in the Hokuriku region . It is the main access point for visiting the snow monkeys and a destination in its own right. If your schedule allows, take some time to explore the city and its numerous attractions which include Zenkoji Temple , Togakushi-jinja Shrine , and the Tokagure Ninja Museum .
The Jigokudani monkey park, covered with snow almost one-third of the year, is home to Japan’s famous hot-spring-bathing snow monkeys and has become a major attraction. You can take the best pictures in winter, but the monkeys bathe all year round, and the area is quite beautiful in summer and autumn.
A short distance from the monkey park, Shibu Onsen is a picturesque Japanese hot spring resort on the banks of the Yokoyu river. The area's baths are supplied by multiple sources, each with distinctive properties and mineral contents.
There are a variety of traditional ryokan accommodations to choose from, with Kanaguya being one of the most famous. More than 200 years old, this magnificent ryokan is said to have been the model for the bathhouse in Hayao Miyazaki’s animated film “Spirited Away.”
An overnight stay is recommended, but there are footbaths and day-use hot springs in the area if you are on a tight schedule.
For more hot spring adventures, explore Takayama Onsen Village, a collection of seven small resorts. Among these, Yamada Onsen is most centrally located and has a pleasant public bath, Oyu. Takinoyu in nearby Matsukawa Keikoku Onsen is an excellent choice if you are looking for mixed-gender bathing.
While in the area, consider visiting the thundering Kaminari Falls. You can walk to the base of the falls in most seasons, except winter when the trail is closed because of snow.
The northern Nagano region receives a lot of snow in winter and is home to numerous ski resorts. Yamaboku Wild Snow Park, in the vicinity of the Takayama Onsen Village, has some challenging runs yet remains ideal for families with its kids’ park. Other popular resorts nearby include the 18 interconnected resorts of Shiga Kogen.
On the same train line connecting Nagano, Suzaka, and Yudanaka stations is the small town of Obuse, a pleasant and easy addition to any Nagano itinerary. The main highlight is the Hokusaikan—a museum dedicated to the internationally-renowned woodblock artist Hokusai, who spent some of his final years in the town. Afterward, stroll the town center dotted with small craft shops, local eateries and a couple of sake breweries.