Yudanaka Things to Do
About 2km up the broad from Yudanaka you will find the hot spring resort town of Shibu Onsen. The town has a more preserved feel than Yudanaka, with narrow cobblestoned lanes lines with venerable wooden ryokan. Visitors may be observed strolling the lanes in their light cotton yukata and wooden geta sandals, taking the waters in one of the nine public hot spring baths, each of which provides the with different sources, and medical benefits.
If you are staying in town, you get free access to all nine of the baths. Should you manage to visit all nine, completing the "Kyu-to meguri", then you may expect to enjoy good fortune, protection from evil, safe delivery of healthy babies in addition to perpetual youth and longevity,Related to:
- Spa and Resort
- Luxury Travel
Snow Monkey Park (Jigokudani Yaen-Koen)
The idiosyncratic proprietor of Shimaya Ryokan had us in his van and whisked up the hill to the bus stop near the lower entrance to the Snow Monkey Park. It was a most pleasant walk for 40 minutes or so along a well graded forest path, along a steep hillside. Remnant snow still littered the sheltered places amongst the pine trees. By the path were signs describing the habits and history of the attraction. Snow Monkeys enjoy stealing food too, so visitors are advised to beware.
We saw our first group of Japanese macaques before we even reached the entrance to the park. They were playing chasey and play fighting in the trees, and scuffling in the remaining snow drifts. Then we made our way into the sunny valley where the snow monkeys have their very own hot spring. With all the snow melted, the artificial nature of the pool is apparent, but it doesn't detract from the enjoyment of watching the activities of these apes, who went about their activities (mostly grooming, sleeping or play fighting), mostly oblivious to the posse of camera-clicking tourists.
It costs 500 Yen to enter the park, and it is open from 8:30 - 17:00 April to October/ 9:00 to 16:00 November to March. Most activity in the morning (though our afternoon visit in April still allowed us to enjoy many monkeys - though few of them used the hot spring).
The park is connected by bus to Shibu Onsen and and Yudanaka, though it is quite a pleasant walk of about 90 minutes to get back to town from the park.Related to:
- Hiking and Walking
- National/State Park
The road from Yudanaka to the Monkey Park is very narrow, but totally drivable in a dry summer day (closed in the winter time).
Drive slowly, watch the upcoming traffic (mirrors placed on every curve help a lot) and it is perfectly safe.
On the end of the road will be paid parking lot (around $5) and little refreshment stand.
Park your car, put some UV sun screen on you, good shoes, hat and wet towel and head following the signs to the Monkey Park.
After hiking for about 15 minutes (easy trail, full of senior citizens and little children, but no strollers) you will pass the Koraku Kan onsen and you will arrive at the entrance of the park, where you will purchase your entrance ticket ($5).
Right after passing the ticket booth you will be surrounded by monkeys. They will be everywhere. Some will not pay attention to you, some will watch you just as much as you will watch them.
One thing for sure...despite overwhelming stench and millions of jumping fleas, you will have a great time and would want to stay there and stare at the monkeys for entire day, so bring plenty of cold water with you to drink and wet your towel.
Kokuya Ryokan: The Kaiseki Experience
At the Kokuya Ryokan, we had elected to take the 'half board' option, to better enjoy the onsen experience. It was a very good option to take, and though expensive, well worth every yen.
Dinner was served on a low table, in a private dining alcove. The efficient front desk even provided a reminder to hurry on down - it would take a while to get through the meal! The kaiseki meal is designed to showcase local ingredients, presented beautifully. As it happens, the signature food of Shibu Onsen is salmon, so quite a few of the courses featured the fish, prepared in different ways.
The courses we were served were as follows:
steamed fish cake
hot pot of thin sliced beef with vegetables
broiled salmon with scrambled egg
steamed rice flour dumpling with minced chicken
pot of steamed, grated turnip with 'surprises' (including oyster, prawn, scallop, chicken etc.)
tempura of yuba, deep fried salmon and sliced almond
soba noodle with wild plants
soup with sea bream, clam and chervil
Washed down of course, with sake....
Favorite Dish: The dish with steamed turnip, hiding surprise delicacies was a highlight, and I also enjoyed the tempura of yuba. I'd had soba noodles before in japan, but the texture of these ones was just perfect.
And of course, half board also included a very impressive 5 course breakfast next morning. Quite set us up for the day it did.Related to:
- Food and Dining
- Spa and Resort
- Luxury Travel
Snow Monkey Express
The private Nagano Electric Railway (長野電鉄 Nagano Dentetsu) is the best way to get to Yudanaka from Nagano JR station (itself only 90 minutes from Tokyo by shinkansen).
The limited express takes only 40 minutes (and costs about 100 Yen more than the slow train which takes a little more than an hour).
For timetables, best to look at hyperdia.com because the NER website is in Japanese only.
Note that the NER is NOT included on a Japan Rail Pass, so the fare of about 1200 Yen each way has to be paid by JR Pass users.
Buses to the ski resort Shiga Kogen do not stop in either Yudanaka or Shibu Onsen, but do give access to the bus stop near one of the Snow Monkey Park entrancesRelated to:
road to Jigokudani Park (Monkey Park)
The road from Yodanaka town to Jigokudani Park is narrow and windy but perfectly safe if you are driving slow and watching the mirrors located on every curve.
Here are some pictures from our ride.
2 Hotels in Yudanaka
Yudanaka Warnings and Dangers
The monkeys are thieves
Be careful with your glasses, camera or something in your pockets. Monkeys even go to the village to rob food or whatever they can find interesting. The monkey of the picture is observing the village looking for something to rob through an open window,Related to:
- Adventure Travel
- Budget Travel