Three day trip in Nagano!
As I mentioned in my last post, Sophia University is currently on winter vacation for about 2 weeks meaning lots of free time leading up through New Years. With all this extra time during a bustling holiday season I decided to make a 3 day trip to Nagano from Tokyo by Highway bus. Nagano is about three and a half hours by car/bus from Tokyo and is much colder with about 2.57 meters (101 inches) of snow total during the winter season. Nagano is also known for having hosted the winter Olympics in 1996.
I stayed at a cozy hostel very close to Zenkoji temple from Nagano station. It was an amazing and beautiful trip and it snowed the first 2 days I was there, which was perfect for me as I wanted to see snow while in Japan! I arrived at Nagano station around 3pm and luckily it was still light out and so I headed out to explore Zenkoji temple after dropping off my luggage at the hostel. Zenkoji is a Buddhist temple built around the 7th century and houses one of the first known Buddhist images brought into Japan.
There were also many beautiful snow covered gardens and memorials sites around the temple worth seeing such as a memorial for the women who served the Tokugawa household as well as the Rokujizo statues.
The shops around also Zenkoji sell unique flavored ice creams such as miso and soba flavored, both were interesting to sample and definitely worth a try if you enjoy unique flavored foods.
Also if you ever go to Nagano don't forget to have some soba while in Nagano as it is also a place famous for the origin of soba noodles (Japanese buckwheat noodles). Yes, don't be like me as I was too busy running around in the snow and regrettably forgot to have some while there.
Snow definitely makes beautiful places and things even more magical. It was getting dark and the winds and snow were picking up and so I headed back to my hostel for some much needed nabe dinner and rest to prepare for my trip to Jigokudani for snow monkey sight seeing the next day.
From Nagano it is about 45 minutes from Shibu onsen (an onsen or hotspring village) from there it is a 10 minute bus ride and 30 minute hike up to the famed snow monkey park in Jigokudani (the name literally means hell's valley due to the numerous natural hot springs in the area). The park gets more crowded during the day and I wanted a more peaceful experience hence I got up around 7 in the morning to catch the earliest train there.
The park offers a close up and unique experience for visitors wanting to see snow monkeys in their natural habitat. The hike up to the park itself was very peaceful and beautiful especially in the quiet early morning. On my way back down around noon it definitely got more crowded and noisy; which is why I highly recommend going there as early as possible if you do decide to visit.
The snow monkeys all had very interesting facial expressions and personalities. From the alpha monkey watching over and scaring young ones into place to the playful baby monkeys and relaxed expressions of older monkeys enjoying a good soak; the monkey park is truly a really wonderful place to visit.
Afterwards I headed back down to Shibu onsen and had a nice soak in an outdoor and indoor hot spring. It was very relaxing and pretty as light snow fell on me as I was sitting out. It made me understand the snow monkey's desires to bath in hotsprings on cold days as well.
On my last night, at the hostel I stayed at we had a okonomiyaki (Japanese pancakes) dinner party. I got to eat warm and delicious food alongside many other travelers visiting from all over japan and various parts of the world as well.
On my last day in Nagano I decided to visit Masumoto castle (about an hour away by train). On this day the sun was peaking out. Around early noon the skies had cleared and melted away most of the snow. Allowing for very clear and picturesque views of Matsumoto castle.
I am extremely glad I decided to take this 3 day trip to Nagano. The idea of traveling outside of Tokyo in a foreign country by myself was intimidating at first. But everywhere I went I met extremely helpful and kind people. Looking back on this trip I am so glad I went with it anyway and in return I got to see so many beautiful and wonderful places and met so many nice people along the way.
In addition to the places I visited there are many more places to visit in Nagano as well that I wish I had had the time for. Such as Togakushi, a place famous for its soba, cedar forests, natural scenary and the fact that it is home to the Togakure school of ninpo (in other words home to the Togakure school of ninja arts).
I have one more month left in Japan before the end of my study abroad experience. Time really did fly by quickly during the last couple of months. Even though school gets in the way of sightseeing and visiting places outside of Tokyo, I plan to attempt as many activities in Tokyo and day trips outside as well before the end of this semester. Until next time I hope you all have a safe and happy new year!