Yamanouchi proved itself to be one of our favorite places in Japan. We didn’t expect much from it so we were only booked for 3 days. But we easily discovered that we should have spent most of our trip here, instead of just a quick stop. It’s a place that we would love to visit again and spend more time to explore. We got to experience nature in Japan, unlike any other place before. Especially how modern its cities are, visiting Yamanouchi gave us a different side of the country.
How to Get There
Nagano is easily connected through its main transportation hub, Nagano Station. There you can arrive by JR train or by bus. From Nagano Station, take the Nagano Dentetsu Line (around JPY 1,160.00 per person) to Yudanaka Station.
It’s quite difficult to look online for an accurate schedule of the bus lines around Yamanouchi. So upon arriving at Yudanaka Station, it’s better to ask station personnel on how to get to where you’re going. Since we were staying at Shibu Onsen, we took a local bus (JPY 190.00) that goes to Okushiga Kogen because Shibu Onsen is on its route.
Typical routes from major cities:
Tokyo -> Nagano Station -> Yudanaka (Yamanouchi)
Osaka/Kyoto -> Nagoya -> Nagano Station -> Yudanaka (Yamanouchi)
Places to Visit
This town charms tourists with ryokans and onsens that line up its streets. Some of them even date back over 400 years! There are 9 official baths that are only available to locals and guests that are staying at selected ryokans. Only 1 of those 9 is open to the public, which is onsen number 9, also known as Oyu.
It is believed that by visiting all 9 baths, you will be granted divine favors.
Jigokudani Monkey Park
The story goes that there used to be a time when monkeys would go around Shibu Onsen and take a dip at the baths. So in order for them to stop doing that, a monkey park had to be built to suit their need of a hot bath, especially during the winter season. Now, I’m not sure where I heard that story, but you cannot deny that it makes sense!
The monkey park offers a close-up look at Japanese Macaques which are just freely roaming around. There are no fences so the monkeys can freely explore the wild, but they regularly stay at the park for the food and bath.
Getting to the park is easy if you’re open to walking long distance. There are 2 major routes, one is a long walk from Shibu Onsen and the other includes a bus ride and long (but relatively shorter) walk.
The long route starts at Onsenji Temple at the end of Shibu Onsen, and if you open Google Maps, you can just follow the path to the park. This takes at least an hour depending on your pace. But it can take you to pretty views of the forest and the mountain!
The typical route is a bus ride (either from Yudanaka or Shibu Onsen, depending on where you are coming from) to Kanbayashi Onsen, then a 30-minute walk to the park. If the weather is wet, the path gets muddy so be ready for that. If you visit mid-April, expect full-bloom/blooming cherry blossom trees around Kanbayashi Onsen!
Jigokudani Monkey Park Admission Fee: JPY 800.00 per person
There are a total of 19 ski resorts in Shiga Kogen and a single ticket provides access to all lifts/ropeways in the area.
We only visited for a day and spent a whole afternoon at Okushiga Kogen Resort. Since we were newbies, we didn’t buy lift passes and only skied at the beginners’ slope.
Events during the Nagano 1998 Winter Olympics were held here and you can even visit a small museum that showcases Nagano and the Olympics at Hasuike.
Getting to Shiga Kogen from Yudanaka is just a bus ride away. But you have to go down at Hasuike and wait for the next bus to take you to either the northern or southern areas.
When to Visit
The perfect time to visit is around March to April to experience both the bloom of cherry blossoms and less crowd at the ski resorts. We went there mid-April and it was just about to be full bloom at Kanbayashi Onsen. Plus, we were literally the only people at the beginners’ slope at Okushiga Kogen. But if you want to see the snow at the monkey park, it’s best to visit from January to February.