After two full days taking in the chaos of Tokyo, I wanted the mountains and the tranquility that typically surrounds such an area. While checking into Ryokan Biyu, I knew I’d made the right decision. I was initially drawn to Yamanouchi because I was guilty of wanting to see snow monkeys, but there’s so much more than just that! In my three days in Yamanouchi, there are the 5 things you must do in Yamanouchi:
1. Japan’s Highest Ski Mountain.
An area famed for the 1998 Winter Olympics, the Nagano Prefecture is bound to have some pretty remarkable ski mountains. Mt. Yokote, standing at 2307 meters, is home to the highest and coldest ski lift in all of Japan.
While I don’t ski or snowboard, I was lucky enough to hitch a ride on a snowmobile all the way to Mt. Yokote’s Summit, and the views were absolutely remarkable! As a person who doesn’t love winter sports, I could only imagine what the thrill of flying down from atop Mt. Yokote would be for those that do ski and snowboard! If you’re like me and not a snow-sport person, you can rent snow mobiles too.
2. Snow Monkey Park.
I love monkeys. I acquired a slight soft spot for them while in Africa, so I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to see the famed snow monkeys soaking in natural hot springs! Despite the fact that it wasn’t snowing, there were still hundreds of snow monkeys in the area.
It’s about a 1.5km walk from the car park to the entrance of Snow Monkey Park, but the walk is most definitely worth it. On our rainy day, we met two very special people on the path: a 99 year old man and his 86 year old wife.
Originally from Italy, they emigrated to Australia sixty years ago after WWII and have traveled the world twice over. After chatting with them for quite a long time, I learned that they worked hard for every cent that they ever earned. The woman, Carol, was an inspiration to speak with: “People should be happy. The world is a better place today. They should be happy. They shouldn’t complain; they have nothing to complain about. I never complained, and my life was not easy. But, if I wanted something, I made it happen. I wanted to have a better life and I wanted to travel, and I worked for it. I taught my children never to complain and always to be happy for the life they’ve been given.”
As soon as you walk through the entrance of Snow Monkey Park, you will find tons of monkeys! Don’t spend too much time in the first section though; when you continue onwards, you will find the hot springs with monkeys soaking! I kid you not. This is the main attraction of Snow Monkey Park, but I was worried they wouldn’t be soaking since winter was technically over. On our chilly day, the monkeys were most definitely bathing themselves in the toasty water! It was quite a sight to see.
3. Ryokan Biyu.
If you’re traveling to Yamanouchi, or Japan in general, there’s no better place to stay than Ryokan Biyu. Specializing in traditional rooms and traditional meals, this beautiful Ryokan (Japanese Hotel) shouldn’t be missed. Centrally located, elegantly designed, and overly comfortable, I would stay nowhere else when visiting Yamanouchi.
I always try to support a business with genuine owners, and I don’t think I could say enough wonderful things about Massao and Yuki; they were so kind, so hospitable, and there for you whenever you should need them. You can read more about my amazing experience at Ryokan Biyu here.
Hot Spring Baths, Onsens, are a very typical Japanese way of bathing. Divided into closed-off men and women sections, it is required that you strip in the outer corridor before heading into the hot spring bathing area.
Yes, it’s an entirely naked zone. I thought this would be awkward, however, it felt totally natural. Grab a stool, shampoo, conditioner, body wash, rinse off, soak in the hot spring.
There’s no need to bathe in that particular order, but it is necessary to rinse off your body and to rinse off all soap before hopping in. The Shibu onsens are arguably the most famous of all Japan’s onsens. The area is beautiful and consists of many onsens. It is not atypical to see many people in yukatas walking down the street in clogs hopping from one onsen to the next. Ryokan Biyu’s onsens were my favorite though; with two public onsens on the bottom level, and two private onsens on the roof (reservation only), you can’t go wrong.
What’s most impressive though is that Ryokan Biyu was just named one of 73 true onsens in all of Japan, when there are said to be over 20,000!
It’s a funny thing — we typically think of the Japanese as being prim and proper, and yet nudity is no issue and they wash themselves in public; on the other hand, people think of Americans as quite liberal, and yet nudity is a huge taboo and you wouldn’t find people bathing in public. Quite an interesting juxtaposition.
5. Coffee and Pizza.
Let’s be real, when you’re on the road for a while, sometimes you crave your comfort foods from back at home. I’ve never been much of a coffee drinker, however, you can get a delicious Vanilla Latte or Chai Tea Latte at the highest café in Japan, Crumpet Café, atop Mt. Yokote. Chilly from the trip up the mountain, this was just what I needed!
On the food front, I’m known to cave when it comes to pizza. There’s something just so delicious about it. When told that we were having pizza for lunch at Hotel Khuls, the inner-American in me squealed a bit as it was a nice change from Japanese food. Yamamoto-san, the owner of the hotel, was quite funny and a lovely lunch companion. Definitely a perfect lunch stop, but I devoured the pizza well before I thought to take a photo…
Yamanouchi is one of my favorite places in all of Japan! I cannot stress enough making the trip from Tokyo to spend some time in this area.
There are at least 5 things you must do in Yamanouchi…Pin It Please!
**Special thanks to Japan Experience for sponsoring my journey. As always, all opinions are my own.