For someone who is born and raised in a country made up of 7,107 island, where a year is divided into six months of sunshine and six months of rain (with heavy typhoons from Aug-Sep), it might be embarrassing to admit but I always wanted to experience the feeling of walking on a snow-covered land, apart from the fact that I think I look better with layers of clothing.
Working in Yokohama and mostly spending weekends in Tokyo, winter on both major cities is only a matter of single digit weather with very seldom snow shower. I wanted to experience waking up and gazing out of the window where all I can see is the color of white. Since, time is of the essence and work is hindering me to board a plane and join loads of Japanese as they enjoy the annual Sapporo Winter Festival, I decided to fulfill my silly dream of winter wonderland by visiting the beautiful town of Yamanouchi, Nagano.
From the moment I walk in at the hotel, I was greeted by the owner, Mr. Yumoto and immediately asked what I wanted to do. I am pretty sure he already knew that like many other tourists my main agenda is to see the snow monkeys of Jigokudani Park. So, he immediately grabbed his car key and volunteered to drive me to the area. Everything that I need to know to navigate the town later on my own was explained to me by Yumoto-san in a matter of 10 minutes drive despite the fact that the road is slippery (slippery because I fell walking towards the hotel). Yumoto-san and his lovely wife are some of the nicest people I have met in Japan so far. You can feel that they not only love their business but it takes great pleasure for them to introduce to tourist the beauty of Yamanouchi Town.
The hotel is located at Yudanaka Onsen along the streets of Hewa Dori, where the Goddess of Mercy for World Peace (Hyaku Shaku Cannon) is standing and overlooking the whole town, as if protecting and blessing it at the same time. Said to be the tallest of its kind in the world, the area of Hyaku Shaku Cannon is seldom mentioned as point of interest, but I recommend to anyone to consider visiting this area. I went there early morning, where there is no one except me. Seeing the distant snow covered mountains and rooftop of residential houses on such high vantage point is so relaxing despite the lack of caffeine in my system.
I passed by another temple with a free foot bath somewhere along the area of Yudanaka Onsen. I consider my feet is the most tormented part of my body and the feeling of dipping it into a hot water was so relaxing, I just want to sit there forever.
Another popular hot spring town is Shibu Onsen, located besides the half frozen Yokoyugawa River. With the narrow streets preserving an atmosphere of old style ryokans dating back 400 years ago, the streets of Shibu Onsen is populated by families, friends and lovers wearing yukata robes and geta sandals, as they hop from one public bath to another.
The rule here is pretty simple; if you are staying in a ryokan at Shibu Onsen you will be given a key by your inn that open doors to all nine onsen in the area. It is believed that great luck comes to those who completed bathing at all nine onsen. I saw several Japanese, collecting stamps on a piece of cloth as a souvenir that they completed the onsen loop.
My weekender at Yamanouchi Town is one of the best experience I had in Japan.