Wabi-Sabi Sole

Finding Beauty with Imperfection

Category: Nagano

Snow Monkeys II

Cindy planned her trip around the opportunity to see the snow monkeys. The snow monkeys live in Jigokudani Monkey Park. I was very excited she wanted to visit the snow monkeys because we loved the experience when we first went. I booked a tour for us with ITT. We discussed other options, but decided this was the easiest way to take a day trip. We set our alarms for 2:30 am and met the bus at 3:30 am. After a quick stop at main base, we were on our way!

Jigokudani Monkey Park is located in Nagano. It takes about 4.5 hours to get there. We were happy to have the time to sleep a little bit longer.

We were very lucky to have a clear morning. At our first rest stop, we could see Mt. Fuji!

A couple hours later, we were off the bus and ready to set out for the park!

We had a short hike through the snow to reach the actual park entrance. The snow covered hill side was beautiful.

Once we had our tickets, we set out to find snow monkeys!

We didn’t see the snow monkeys actually in the onsen today. Dave talked with one of the park rangers. He’s in the monkey business… he told Dave the monkeys don’t actually like to get wet. So, when the temperatures are warmer, they can get enough heat to stay warm from the surrounding rocks. Regardless, we enjoyed the opportunity to observe the monkeys.

One funny thing the monkeys kept doing was putting their face in the onsen to drink. To do this, their monkey butts were in the air. It made us chuckle.

We had a couple close encounters as the monkeys passed by us.

I took a couple of videos of the monkeys doing their monkey business.

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Having the opportunity to experience the snow monkey park again was fantastic. We truly enjoyed watching them. I thought it was extra special to be able to share the experience with Cindy.

As we enjoyed this once in a lifetime opportunity again, I reflected on how fortunate we are to have the opportunity to live in Japan. It continues to be a life changing and enhancing experience.

All too soon, we had to make our way back to the bus. Our next stop was for lunch. We all enjoyed a hot bowl of ramen.

After lunch, we went to the city of Matsumoto. Here we had a chance to visit the Matsumoto castle. It was HUGE! Cindy struck a pose with the Samurai and Princess.

We enjoyed a walk through the castle and endured the many narrow and steep staircases.

The views outside were beautiful. We even saw someone we knew!

Dave took our picture as we peeked out the veranda window.

The castle was beautiful.

We had a little more time to explore the shops in town before getting back on the bus. First stop, was at the Yahashira Shrine so Cindy could get a stamp.

I struck a pose at my favorite sign.

Soon, it was time to board the bus and start the 4 plus hour journey home. It was a long day and it was worth every minute of the long bus ride. We created a lot of unforgettable memories that I know I will cherish.

Nagano Purple 

This morning Manami and I met at the Starbucks in Zushi for our English session. During our conversation, she asked me if I was familiar with Nagano Purple – a type of grape. No, I wasn’t. She explained to me that Nagano Purple is a grape grown in Nagano. Nagano is about a four hour drive from where we live. The 1998 Winter Olympics were held in Nagano. Also, we took a trip last December to Nagano to see the snow monkeys. 


Back to Nagano Purple grapes. The grapes are plump, delicious, and very special when in season. She also explained that the best way to eat the grapes is to peel them. Peel a grape? I commented on that being a very tedious chore and asked why. She said it made them taste better. 

After our session, we went next door to the grocery store. She showed me the Nagano Purple and insisted (in a very kind manner) on purchasing a cluster for Dave and me. You can tell by the packaging, they are very special grapes. 

The grapes were wrapped in a paper/plastic bag and then set in a plastic dish. The pink foam protected them from being bruised. 


This evening, I unwrapped the grapes and tried them. Wow. They were delicious   Ginormous purple grapes without seeds. Juicy and sweet. 


I decided to give peeling them a try to see if it made the grapes taste better. I tasted them and felt they tasted less acidic without the peel. Donning my scientific research lab coat, I conducted a blind taste test on Dave. He also agreed the peeled grape tasted noticeably better. This very scientific experiment proved Manami correct and taught me (yet again) to listen to the advice of my wise Japanese friend. 


I know you’ve heard me say, “Nothing says love like fresh cut fruit.” I probably need to amend my saying to include freshly peeled grapes. A tedious task that takes love and enjoyment to a whole new level. 

Kamikochi 

On Saturday, Dina, her daughters, and I went on an ITT tour to Kamikochi. Kamikochi is a hiking area in the Japanese Alps. It is located in the Nagano prefecture and about a five hour bus ride from where we live. 


Out guide gave us a map of the route we should follow during our hike. The hike was advertised as being a 6-7 mile flat and easy hike. We were also told to be watchful for monkeys, deer, and bears. We only saw monkeys. 

The bus dropped us off around 9:30am. It was a clear and sunny morning. We all decided to leave our sweatshirts on the bus. 


Our first point of interest was Taisho Pond. The views were stunning in the bright sunshine and the water was so clear. 



Our next point of interest was Mt. Yakedake, an active volcano. 


We continued along the nature trail and had our first monkey sighting. We were warned not to look them in the eye! 


We continued along the trail and crossed a couple bridges and went past a shrine. 


It wasn’t too much further when we saw our first bear sighting sign report. We appreciated the sign also being in English. Fortunately, the sighting was almost a month ago. 


More beautiful views. 


And soon we made it to the Kappa Bridge. We stopped briefly for a little souvenir shopping and for a quick lunch. I took this picture when we first arrived. 


By the time we were leaving, the clouds had rolled in and it was starting to sprinkle. We had no rain gear or jackets. Fortunately, we were able to purchase new fleece for everyone! Here is the view from the Kappa Bridge. 


And oh, was it ever windy! Here we all are decked out in our new fleece. 


Being the super troopers that we are, we set out for the remainder of the hike. It was approximately 4 miles. In the light rain at first and then very heavy rain. 


At one point we all started to have Mt. Fuji climbing flashbacks. Even though we didn’t climb Mt. Fuji on the same day, we had very similar experiences. Rain. 

I took a quick recording of the rain sheets coming down. 

We were completely unprepared for foul weather during this hike. Dina mentioned the irony of us not being prepared for rainy season especially after I discussed in yesterday’s blog! Live and learn and pack a rain coat. The turn around point was across the Myojin Bridge. 


We made one more quick stop for energy aka Sake.  


After this last stop, we quickly scampered back to the Kappa Bridge area where we would find the bus. 


We had one more chance to see a monkey. 


And another bear sighting report. When we realized how recent this sighting was and that we should be especially cautious in rain, we really started to scurry! 


But first, one more selfie… 

And me with my new Wabi-Sabi Sole SnapBack and fleece. 


The day started out beautifully and turned into one of those days we will always remember. There was Eme almost falling in a puddle, no one having gear, and Dina getting snarled at by a monkey. Or maybe it was running back to warm up, playing tag, and silly science puns to keep us all laughing. Regardless, we made the entire hike (4 of the 6 people on the tour who did) and laughed more than we complained along the way! 

Snow Monkeys 

Visiting the Snow Monkeys has been on my list of “must do” since we started discussing the possibility of taking orders to Japan. I first learned about Snow Monkeys when I taught AP Environmental Science at Bayside High school in 2004. A picture of a snow monkey was on the cover of our text book and we discussed the monkeys when learning about an animal’s ability to adapt to their environment. Snow Monkeys live in a harsh winter environment and use the onsen (hot spring) as a refuge from the cold.

I signed us up to take the tour offered by ITT on Saturday 12/17. The tour bus picked us up at 3:30am and we returned at 10pm. It was a long day on the bus, but well worth it!

Jigokudani Yaen-Koen or Snow Monkey Park is located near the city of Nagano in the northern part of the Nagano prefecture. Nagano was the sight of the 1998 winter Olympics. It is about a 5 hour drive from Yokosuka.

We had two rest stops on our way to Nagano. The first was slightly before sunrise and gave us a beautiful view of Mt. Fuji.

The Nagano area receives heavy snowfalls and the Jigokudani Yaen-Koen remains snow covered four months of the year. The elevation of the park is 850m (2,788 ft). The path to see the snow monkeys is very narrow and and only accessible by foot. From where the buses drop you off, it is approximately 2km through the forest to see the monkeys. The park includes mountains forests surrounding a valley. The onsen is located in the valley. The steam from the hot springs during the cold winter makes the name Jigokudani, (meaning: “Hell’s Valley”) appropriate because the steam rise up.

The path to the Monkeys was an unexpected delight. It was already snow covered and the forest was serene. About 5 minutes into our walk along the path, it started snowing. Talk picturesque!

At one point a park worker passed us on his snow mobile!

We moved to the side for him to pass and then continued on our way.

A sharp right turn took us up the steps for the Snow Monkey Park. But first, let me take a selfie!

Our tour guide passed out our tickets and we were off to find SNOW MONKEYS!!

And did we ever… I hope I convey how big of a deal this was for me. Like I said, I have thought about this for years. It was better than I expected. The monkeys are so chill, they don’t care about humans and the opportunities to observe and photograph them are endless.the first set of photos were from the creek bed area. The brown furry rocks are monkeys.

The monkeys are wild Japanese macaques. They are free to roam the forest. There is nothing preventing them from coming or going. Often they are seen just sitting, walking about or grooming their friends.

I think if I could have stayed all day, I would have. They were fascinating to watch. This one… just posed and posed. Their faces turn red as they warm up in the onsen. Notice the difference in the earlier pictures.

Here are a few shots from the upper viewing area.

The close-up pictures are amazing. I also tried to see how many I could photograph at once.

Frequently, momma gives rides.

As we left the park, my heart was happy. I felt so fortunate to have experienced such a magical moment. We are sacrificing a lot by being away from our family and friends. Especially during the holidays. Having the opportunity to go on adventures and explore helps ease the separation. And being able to share it with you, helps me feel grounded and connected. Wow. That was heavy. We obviously need more monkey pictures!!

And a few more pictures of the walk back to the bus. It was still snowing!!

Can you believe this was only the first half of our day? We left the Snow Monkey Park at noon. We stopped about thirty minutes away for lunch. Shockingly, I had ramen. Although not the best ever, it was perfect on a snowy snow monkey day!

I am going to save the second half of our day for tomorrow. I have already written half a book with numerous pictures. I will save our afternoon in Matsumoto visiting the castle and exploring the town for tomorrow!

P.S. If you decide to visit in the winter months, we will definitely add a visit to Jigokudani Yaen-Koen to your list. As always, thank you for reading. Hugs and kisses from Japan.

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