Winter Wonderland of Yamanouchi Town, Nagano

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.

Reachable by JR Nagano Shinkansen (Asama) within 1 hour and 25 minutes from Tokyo plus another 40 minutes via the express ride of Nagano Electric Railway (Nagaden), from Nagano Station, the town of Yamanouchi fulfills my hunger for winter plus more.
For starters, what I love about Yamanouchi is the fact that once you step outside the train station, you know that you will be in for a true vacation. There are no Yodobashi Camera or La Foret to divert your attention from sightseeing to shopping. As far as I can recall there is only one Lawson convenient store in the whole town.
Hotels here are not your typical business type; instead you will be resting in a ryokan. If you are traveling alone, you will have a difficult time finding one since most establishments are offering a place for minimum of two person or you stay alone but pay for two.  I was very lucky indeed that the popular Shimaya Ryokan (Hostel World & Rakuten Awardee, no. 1 hotel at trip advisor) is offering a reasonably price, dorm room type accommodation for single traveler like me. I was getting ready to sleep on a bunk bed but to my surprise the so-called “dorm room type” is really spacious, clean and I was the sole occupant.

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.


24 thoughts on “Winter Wonderland of Yamanouchi Town, Nagano

  1. I love your pictures! And I want to visit Japan someday, too (even if I experience a harsher winter in Canada) 🙂

    1. thanks camille!
      you should visit Japan.the country and the culture is fascinating. i don’t remember a weekend where I stayed at home, always new things to explore.

  2. Sleigh bells ring, are you listening,
    In the lane, snow is glistening
    A beautiful sight,
    We’re happy tonight.
    Walking in a winter wonderland.

    Gone away is the bluebird,
    Here to stay is a new bird
    He sings a love song,
    As we go along,
    Walking in a winter wonderland.
    Just a quote from a song 🙂

  3. Your photography is stunning!
    This post reminds me of my trip to Nagano,
    just before the Winter Olympics there.
    Thanks too for liking my blog…

    May I share my poem about Nagano, to complement your post:

    (Nagano, Japan, February 1995)

    ((The snowy chill of Nagano seeps thru my bone
    Nostalgia leaks out of me and I think of home
    I reflect, as I watch an awe-inspiring dawn.))

    i drift about floating in dream
    and I sense a soft, silky dawn –
    a liberating, seamless sensation!

    the swift sun-horse bloating in beam
    evening-star lamp fades in a yawn –
    i wake, marvel at flawless Creation!

    – (c) 1995 Chito L. Aguilar

      1. You’re always welcome 😉

        Masaya ako kapag nakikita ko at nababasa
        ang mga magagandang litrato at kuwento ng
        ating mga kababayan sa blogs.

        Keep it up. You have a nice blog! I’m following it.
        Enjoy your stay in Japan.

    1. yes it is.. i believe all year round!
      spring is coming, so everyone is gearing up for the cherry blossom season 🙂

  4. Hi, did I tell you that I love Japan, the language, culture, people, nature, etc.? I really enjoy the tour here & captured by your great photos; remind me of an old movie “Oshin” which I used to watch regularly when I was a little child. Wonderful!

    I’m glad that we have a Japanese channel here so I can watch more. Last night, it was about a place called Takachi in the southern part of Japan. Is it close to Yamanouchi?

    By the way, thanks for visiting my blog & commenting 😀

    1. i agree with you. i was fascinated with their culture as well, reason why i accepted the job here despite the fact everyone telling me “nuclear radiation”..

      not so sure about Takachi, but Nagano is located somewhere north of Tokyo where abundance of snow is experience during winter time.

      teri makasih cantik mbak 🙂

    1. after a long day of walking around and feeling cold, the heater at the ryokan is such a reward.
      thanks so much! 🙂

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