Adventures in snowy Nagano

Posted by in Mike's blog

Nagano is like our home away from home in Japan.  One of my former students has generously made her vacation home available for our family to visit as often as we can.  So far we’ve been there 4 times – once in each season.

The 1998 winter olympics put Nagano on the map, and now we know why.  It’s snowy in a way that Vancouver and Sochi are not.  Taking photos of the scenery was one of my goals for our trip, but we visited some cool places too.


We were told that there would be snow in the driveway.  The snow banks were taller than our car.  Thankfully a plow came before we arrived!

The drive from Fukui to Kurohime was clear and the roads were dry, though the snow everywhere else hadn’t melted yet.  On our third day more snow started falling from the sky, and it didn’t stop.  The scenery became amazing, and the driving conditions quickly deteriorated.

Jigokudani Yaen Koen/Monkey Park

Also known as the monkey onsen.  Cold Japanese macaques who live on this mountain like to congregate in natural hot springs to keep warm.  We went here once before in the spring, but there weren’t nearly as many monkeys.  Unfortunately in the wintertime 2km the hike between the parking lot and the monkey park is mostly SOLID ICE with the occasional mud path in between.  We loved the mud because we had some traction.  No one else brought kids…probably because the hike was extremely dangerous.  I wore the Turtle in a carrier, and the Bunny walked alongside Mary.  Somehow we avoided falling down the mountain to our doom (and any injury at all).

It was fun to see the monkeys.  The hike was not worth the pain with the kids.  I’m not sure if the path is always so dangerous in the winter or if we just went on a bad day.

Train ride through the snowy mountains

After an onsen visit of our own, we took the kids for a fun train ride.  We were hoping they would sleep.  They did not.  We did a round trip on the Iiyama line from Iiyama station to Shinanoshiratori station.  Getting on and off at the same station costs almost nothing (for us, an afternoon of fun for ¥280).  I was inspired by Eizo Matsumura’s pictures on this page.  He got off the train and explored, but I couldn’t.  That’s OK.  The Bunny ran around and we looked out the windows together.  Here’s some of what we saw: