Northern Nagano

Exploring Jigokudani Monkey Park and ryokan stay in Yuyado Sekiya (9-10 Feb 2015)
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On our second day of exploring Nagano, we decided to focus on northern Nagano. Y had to pop in to Hakuba for a quick work visit, so I found us a really nice quaint ryokan called Yuyada Sekiya which was within walking distance to the famous Jigokudani Monkey Park.

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Driving through Azumino to Hakuba.

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Beautiful Japanese Alps greet us as we drive towards Hakuba.

We were lucky to get blue skies as we drove northwards towards Hakuba area on this very fine day before we were greeted by snow capped fields and Alps in the backdrop as we approached closer to this beautiful ski town. Hakuba is still a well kept secret for skiing in Japan, as many tend to go to Niseko, but Hakuba has fantastic powder snow conditions and was once the host for Winter Olympics back in 1998. We like it here as it’s less crowded and less built up compared to Niseko which is nice for a change sometimes. But well we only had a morning here, which I took the chance to do some sightseeing going up and done the gondola and enjoying the snowy weather. (I will definitely do a more detailed post on Hakuba the next time we go here for skiing.)

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Cute snow sculptures in Hakuba.

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Oh am so enjoying this snow at Hakuba Goryu. This is my true habitat.

After grabbing a quick bite in Hakuba, I don’t know where the time flew, but it was already 3 pm and we had to make our way to lovely Yuyado Sekiya 湯宿せきや (1406 Hirao, Yamanouchi, Shimotakai District, Nagano Prefecture 381-0401, Japan. Tel: 0269-33-2268) After driving for about another 1.5 hours, and seeing the sunset, we arrived in the ryokan. Founded since 1912, this traditional inn operates only 8 rooms and has classic Japanese rustic exteriors complimented by modern interiors and comforts throughout the inn, with a relaxation bar for drinks and a library with local books to read.

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Reception area of Yuyada Sekiya.

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Library for chilling out with local Japanese books.

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Common lounge area.

We were quickly shown to our room – also known as ‘water lily’ for the night. Though there are only stairs, the staff helped us to bring our luggage up to the second floor where our room was. This room had a good balance of Japanese traditional living with the comforts of modern living that we were used to, like a sofa and western style beds in place of tatami beds – yes despite going to so many ryokans, Y and I still can’t get used to tatami beds. It also had a decent sized onsen hot tub attached to the shower and toilet. Once we settled in, the Japanese lady poured us some tea to welcome us to our room, a typical thing they do in most ryokans, so in this case I think I would give it a slightly higher score it compared to Kai Matsumoto where we stayed the day before who didn’t do this.

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Our room for the night.

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Queen sized western style beds.

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Pantry area with fridge and kettle.

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TV room with massage chair.

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Living room.

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Personal toilet.

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Shower bathroom area.

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Outdoor onsen bathtub area.

We wasted no time and Y and I hopped into the attached open air bath in our room first for a quick soak before dinner. All the water in the hot springs here are tapped from the Kamibayashi hot springs, which also furnishes hot showers for the snow monkeys nearby. Shortly after, we were escorted to a private room nearby to enjoy our kaiseki dinner. I suspect maybe due to logistic issues, they prefer to serve the meals out of the rooms and closer to the kitchen where all the private dining rooms are situated. Known for the Shinshu cattle, it was a full blown kaiseki meal, although it puzzled me why they served the beef for the shabu course right at the start of the dinner, there were too many things to eat at one go.

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Kaiseki dinner including Shabu beef.

Straight after the meal, we went round to look at which private outdoor baths were worth going into. The interesting thing about the private outdoor baths here is no booking needs to be made, if the door is unlocked and no one is inside, we can go in and lock the door and it’s our space for that time we are in there. I think this ‘no booking’ system is fantastic. Y and I chose the natural rock bath while CT went to the one next door similar to ours. I have to say the water here is especially hot at 42 degrees celsius but we climatised to it quickly, and they have a cold water tap that we can switch on if we find the water too hot.

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Natural rock onsen for our private bath.

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Another wooden bath in one of the other private areas, but this was way too hot for us.

We rose up early in the morning as we had to set off to see the snow monkeys nearby, and there was a nice mix of Japanese pickles, grilled fish, tofu and tamago.

L1100814 Kaiseki breakfast to feed us before our road trip continues.

It had just snowed through the night, so the surroundings looked like a beautiful winter wonderland and we couldn’t help to take some pictures around the ryokan. I enjoyed my stay here, I think it was pretty decent for the price of 26000 yen per person (for room, breakfast and dinner included, excluding tax). I won’t mind coming here again to wind down after a skiing trip in Hakuba nearby.

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My selfie in front of our home for the night.

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Let it snow, let it snow!

We were told we could walk up to Jigokudani Monkey Park, but lazy us chose to drive up all the way there, which maybe wasn’t such a wise idea. We underestimated the snow situation and unfortunately got stuck in snow up the hill near the park. Thank God that there was a Japanese man driving a van in front of us who also got stuck in the snow, and luckily he had called the town rescue truck who came in 30 mins to save all of us poor stranded souls.

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Road directions towards Snow Monkey Park!

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Town rescue truck saving us!

Finally after the short drama, we drove down and decided to park in a safe car park where we won’t be stuck in snow, and walked into Jigokudani Park (6845 Yamanouchi-machi Shimotakai-gun, Nagano Japan 381-0401 Tel: 0269-33-4379). Well we again underestimated the walk, it was a good 30 minutes each way in and out of the park, and I would warn you to wear comfortable and appropriate snow shoes especially at this time of the year, as some parts are rather hilly and can get slippery.

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Admiring the many trees and snow filled park as we walk in.

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Am so tired, gotta take a rest, we are almost there!

After a rather tiring but invigorating walk in the cold air, we finally reached the actual monkey park where the snow monkeys reside in their natural habitat. As the park management actively feeds the monkeys here, the snow monkeys are really friendly and are very comfortable with the humans watching them and taking pictures of them. So unlike the monkeys we see back in Singapore who are really mischievous and would knick away any of our personal belongings and food with us when they had the chance to. There were many tourists in the park, and many had serious looking professional cameras, a couple even with tripod stands to observe these snow monkeys.

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Breathtaking views of Jigokudani Park with blue skies and snowy grounds.

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All the snow monkeys actively digging through the snow for seeds, etc.

We spent some time observing the snow monkeys and trying to catch a good shot of them, but they are so fast, I was lucky to take some of the shots below of them. I think it’s definitely worth coming here, but I can imagine some of my friends would definitely not want to do it given how lazy they are about walking ha ha.

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Snow monkey busy eating.

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My selfie with the snow monkeys.

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Definitely my best shot of the snow monkey. He was looking right into me.

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Snow monkey just fresh from dipping in the hot spring.

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My last shot here in Jigokudani Park before taking a long walk out.

We had to make our way to Nagano Station to head back to Tokyo, but when you are here, do drop by Obuse town, a small town known for their chestnut confectionary. This town with its sake warehouses, local art galleries, and Japanese homes lined along the chestnut path in the centre of town lends a charming, romantic feel to the town.

Our quick first stop, was a casual Marron store which looked like a warehouse from outside, but sold lots of fantastic produce made from marron (chestnut) and also apples which Nagano is known for. We bought some delicious apple jam, apple jelly candy and marron honey.

496-1 Nakamatsu, Obuse, Kamitakai District, Nagano Prefecture 381-0209, Japan
Tel: 026-242-6600

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Facade of marron store.

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Fruits on sale.

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Some of the marron and other flavoured honey on sale.

Next on the list was Fumido (414 Obuse, Obuse, Kamitakai District, Nagano Prefecture 381-0201, Japan, Tel: 026-247-3090) Tucked away from the main street of many other chestnut specialty stores, this shop is a haven for chestnut lovers. I didn’t really like the Japanese local biscuits and cakes they did with chestnut, but I really loved the Chestnut paste that comes in a jar, it spreads on like a jam and goes great on biscuits, so of course I bought that. And as we had no time for lunch, my lunch was a soft ice cream with chestnut on waffle cone. It was delicious, definitely worth the stop for!

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Exterior of Fumido.

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Exterior of Fumido.

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Fantastic selection of chestnut produce in cakes, biscuits, paste and honey.

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Soft ice cream with chestnut paste and chestnuts in a waffle cone.

It was a rather eventful trip to Nagano just in 3 days 2 nights, it’s amazing the amount of things we managed to cover! A pity we didn’t manage to visit the apparent all time famous soba place Uzuraya Soba which was a little far for us to go to in such a short time. Gotta save that for the next time I visit Nagano!

Check out my google maps which also lists some other interesting places in Obuse.

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