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March 19, 2006

Sleepy Yudanaka (湯田中)

I went to Yudanaka on Thursday afternoon - it was a quick trip, only twenty four hours. Because it takes three hours to get back and forth, it may sound short...but I like the train, so I did not mind at all.

Yudanaka is an onsen resort in the mountains near Nagano - it is the gateway to the Shiga Kogen ski area (home of the 1998 winter olympics!) and there is also a monkey hot springs (Jigokudani Yaenkoen - 地獄谷野猿公苑), which is why I went. To get there, you can take the Nagano Shinkansen to Nagano and transfer to the Nagaden Line for Yudanaka.

I stayed at Shimaya Ryokan, which I found through an Internet search. It is a nice place and you cannot beat the price (Y5,500/person). The owner speaks some English and was super helpful...he even gave me a ride to the monkey park on Friday morning (more on that later).

Here is a picture of the Ryokan sign (I took it from the window of my room) and the room itself (for the gossiping women in my office - notice there is only one futon).

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I was the ONLY GUEST that night, so I got a lot of attention from the owner. I tried to slip out and grab a bite to eat, but he pulled out all these brochures of where to eat. After letting me look at them for awhile, he told me to go around the corner to Yamaguchiya. In fact, he seemed to be insisting that I go there. So, I did.

It was a very old place - if you are looking for the traditional Japan, this is where you want to be. There were four old guys in the corner getting absolutely hammered, an old woman who apparently did all the cooking and serving, and me (reading a book).

I had breakfast the next morning at the inn...it was kind of creepy walking to the bath and the dining room and not seeing anyone...and headed off to the monkey park. Overnight it had started raining/snowing, so I was wondering whether to wait it out or not, but the inn's owner insisted I should go up then because it would be beautiful and the monkeys would be in the hot spring.

So, off we went. He could only give me a ride to the monkey onsen and not back as he would be driving to Tokyo later for his daugheer's college graduation, but he showed me where to catch the bus back to Yudanaka Station, so that was OK.

What he did not tell me at first was that there was a 1.6km walk up the mountain to get to the actual place. This is what I saw when he dropped me off. That was a bit disturbing because the snow was coming down harder now and it was much windier than it had been in town.

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In fact, I had serious doubts about wanting to see the monkeys once I started walking. Of course, by that time it was too late to turn around. And, of course it was worth it. This is a sign directing me to the park...I am not sure what the buildings are in the picture on the right and I did not see anyone up and about when I walked past.

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And here are some pictures of the monkeys! Unfortunately, the weather was not cooperating and I was so cold that I could not get very many steady pictures. It did not help that the monkeys seemed to sense when I would take a picture and move as soon as I shot the picture. I think I took 30 pictures...these two are the best. (there is a live webcam here that can give you an idea of what is like now...much nicer!)

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And then it was back down the mountain...I think there must be an easier way because there were three-four people at the park when i was there, but no one had been using the trail I was on and I saw some of the same people at the train station an hour later even though they had never passed me. I might have to have another chat with the owner of the inn!

I got to the bus stop just in time to see the bus heading off towards the station...not good as it only runs once an hour. I figured I could get a coffee somewhere and wait, but as I looked around there did not seem to be anything open. I walked farther down the hill as the snow turned into sleet and saw a museum/restaurant, which would do the trick for me. But somehow...at 10am in the middle of nowhere...the restaurant was "reserved" and no seats were available.

Eventually, I asked the museum staff to call me a taxi and I went back to Yudanaka to catch my train. I had the best cup of coffee ever in this coffee shop, while I waited an hour for the next train.

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That was Yudanaka. I was completely soaked so I did not stop anywhere on the way back to Tokyo. Good trip.

Posted by Kirk on March 19, 2006 10:17 AM


i love the monkey shot!
I CANNOT believe i ask you to go to Hokkaido and you blow me off (claiming you'd rather take some kind of test), and then you do nothing but visit snow country for the next several weeks...hmmmmm....
come to think of it, maybe it's me...?
Anyway, I'm in Canada now - lovely, a high of zero today. I saw Dragos on Bloor St. and he said to say hi...

Posted by: laura at March 20, 2006 02:08 PM

Thank you for visiting us.
I hoped to explain how to get to Jigokudaniand how far it is, but I couldn't make myself understood.
In winter, there is only one route to Jigokudani, which you took.
I didn't know that you had a hard time when you came back to Yudanaka Station. I wish I had been with you.
  Though you went through difficulties, please tell your friends how lovely the monkeys in Jigokudani are.
We hope we get to see you and your friends.

Owner of shimaya

Yudanaka Yamanouchi-Town Shimotakaigun
Nagano Pref .JAPAN
℡ 0269 33 2151
fax 0269 33 2152
Email simaya@mvh.biglobe.ne.jp

Posted by: SHIMAYA  Ichirou Yumoto at May 1, 2006 05:54 PM

I went back and read my post again...I did not make it clear that I really enjoyed staying at shimaya! thank you for all your help and I recommend to anyone reading this that you stay at Shimaya when you visit Yudanaka! But you should be better prepared than I was if you are going to the monkey park in a snowstorm!

Posted by: kirk at May 1, 2006 10:16 PM