Snow Monkey Tour
A fantastic way to spend a rest day off the ski slopes of Hakuba and experience more of what the Nagano region has to offer is to take the Snow Monkey Tour.
It takes about a 2 hour bus ride to get to the monkey park. Along the way, your guides will engage you with interesting facts about the Nagano area and also have a few funny stories to tell.
The highlight of the tour is seeing the Japanese Macaque monkeys that inhabit the Jigokudani –“Hell’s Valley” Monkey Park and enjoy the hot spring that has been created especially for them. The scenic walk through the forest to this area takes about 20 minutes. Make sure you rug up and wear your ski jacket and warm boots as hell is a very cold place in this instance! You’ll understand why the monkeys are so keen to soak in the hot onsen.
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Take your camera as you’ll be amazed at how closely you can observe the monkeys. They really are remarkable to watch – and photogenic! It’s easy to get caught up watching them and it can be hard to remember to get back to the bus in time for the drive to the 250 year old Musuichi Sake Brewery where you’ll be having lunch.
The brewery is located in the town of Obuse which has a rich cultural and artistic history. This brewery one of the few that still uses traditional Oke barrels to ferment the Sake. You’ll want to buy a bottle of Sake just for the way they’re beautifully decanted. After you’ve enjoyed a delicious lunch with rice cooked in an old-fashioned wood-burning oven and a taste of the Sake, you can visit the museum of the art works of the famous Japanese artist Hokusai or look around the quaint shops in the town.
The final stop of the day takes you to the Zenkoji Buddhist Temple in Nagano City. The temple was built in the 7th century and is said to house the first Buddha statue brought to Japan. The “Hibitsu” which is the secret Buddha is so precious that it’s hidden from the public but a replica is shown every 6 years. The next viewing will be in 2015 and will attract millions of pilgrims. In the meantime, for a small donation, you can try your luck at finding the “key to paradise” which is attached to the wall of a completely dark corridor under the temple’s prayer chamber.
The temple also contains a statue of Binzuru, a physician who was said to be Buddha’s follower. Rubbing the statue is said to cure you of your aches and pains – the spot you rub should correspond to the area that needs healing. A perfect way to finish off the day and ensure that you’re primed for your next big day on the mountain! You’ll be back in Hakuba in time for dinner and an early night if you want to make first tracks the next day.