The Snow Monkeys That Almost Weren’t

Well our first night on our tatami mats was quite lovely if we say so ourselves. We both slept until roughly 5:30 am. We don’t know whether to attribute that to the fact that we’ve walked more than 10 miles every day since we’ve arrived, jet lag, or the mats, but we are giving it to the mats. Doug even suggested that we replace our bed at home with them. Lynn told him to wait a few more nights.

Our morning started by experiencing a traditional ryokan bath. In ryokans you typically share your bath facilities with other patrons. Each gender specific bathroom has a few shower heads and a hot spring fed bath for soaking. Plastic stools and bowls are provided for the process as well as shampoo and soap. For the most part all went smoothly except Lynn thinks that she put soap in her hair instead of shampoo (Japanese character knowledge would be really handy at this point in time).

We then took off for the Zenkoji Temple, a 1400 year old Buddhist temple, right up the street from our ryokan. Thankfully the Nagano tourist department provides a great guide for paying your respects at such a temple so Doug followed its lead. First, Doug stopped by the basin to clean his hands and purify himself. Next, he purified himself with the smoke from the large incense burner. To do this properly it is suggested that you bathe the part of your body that ails you in the smoke. Lastly, he gave a money offering to Obinzuru-sama and rubbed his ankle as a prayer for it to be cured. Doug thinks that he has a “shitty ankle.”






After spending some time on the temple grounds we continued on to breakfast. We decided to try one of the local dishes, oyaki, a dumpling made of flour and filled with deliciousness. We split 3 – kinoko-mix (mushrooms), tsubuan (red bean), and kabocha (pumpkin). All three were amazing. Would eat again.


With our tummies full we caught a bus to Yudanaka with the full intention of seeing some macaque monkeys. This and only this is the reason why we came to Nagano in the first place. Doug wanted to see some snow monkeys bathing in hot springs. After getting off the bus we took a 30 minute hike through the woods and steady rain to the Snow Monkey Park only to be told that the monkeys have not yet come down from the mountain. But the park lady was optimistic as were the other 30 people waiting to be let in to see some monkeys. So we waited… and waited… and waited. After waiting 1.5 hours our stomachs started being angry to we decided to find some lunch then return with the hope that the monkeys would be waiting for us. We walked back down the hiking path to eat some filling spicy chicken ramen then headed back up through the woods and lo and behold there were the monkeys! Monkeys everywhere! They were chasing each other around the springs, climbing trees, and grooming one another. It was very cool to be up close with these monkeys even if they weren’t exactly bathing.




After playing with the monkeys we decided to try our hand at a traditional onsen bath in Yudanaka. Unfortunately, this town is more deserted than Nagano. We tried about 5 of them before we found one that was open. By this point we were soaked through and cold from walking in the rain and more than ready for a hot bath. Soaking in the hot spring water while the cold rain fell on you was relaxing and refreshing after all the walking we had done.


We ended the day by catching a train back to Nagano, feasting on local produce including apples and large grapes that we’ve decided taste like wine.

Daily Mileage: 15.5

Fun Facts:

  • There was a sign at the Snow Monkey Park that informed us that in Japanese culture trash is generally taken back home to where you are staying. This is why there are no trash cans!
  • Doug really really really likes snow monkeys.
  • A lot of the onsens are at ryokans and for guests only which makes finding one difficult.


One thought on “The Snow Monkeys That Almost Weren’t

  1. Well…I think I have a new take on “shitty ankle”. Doug I assumed that you channeled your smoke blessing through to me. Cool cool cool…not sure how you pick a few things to highlight because it all sounds so wonderful and adventurous. Enjoying your daily reports.

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