If you’re looking for a great mountain getaway in Japan with mountains, snow, monkeys and hot springs, you should try heading to Uotoshi ryokan in Nagano. I stayed there during December and it was a great winter experience!
Getting to the Ryokan from the train station only took about 10 minutes, even in the snow. It looked lovely in the deep snow and though the weather was cold the welcome inside was certainly warm! The owner was waiting for us and helped us get settled in, giving us a map of local restaurants he recommended, offering to drive us up to Jigokudani park to see the monkeys the next day and to give us a lesson in traditional Japanese archery or Kyudo as there is an archery range attached to the ryokan.
After dumping our cases we headed straight for the nearest of the restaurants which was a lovely little local Japanese restaurant with great noodles and some lovely ladies running it who insisted on giving us handfuls of sweets on our way out! Getting back to Uotoshi we treated ourselves to a dip in the Ryokan’s onsen before bed.
In the morning the owner drove us right up to the entrance of the snow monkey park and showed us the bus stop we’d need to catch the bus from on the way back while pointing out the local landmarks and parts of the old town worth walking around. Jigokudani monkey park is a beautiful place to visit in the winter. You walk through a snow covered forest that feels a million miles away from the rest of the world, it’s so peaceful. Eventually, you come to the park itself and you start to see the monkeys almost straight away. The monkeys are all wild and just head down for the hot springs and the food the people at the park put out for them. According to our host, the monkeys started using the springs after one of the monkeys fell in and found that she liked it and pretty soon others started using them too! Seeing them in the water is amazing! Especially the younger monkeys, they’re so cute with just their heads peeking up out of the water! That evening we tried another of the Ryokan’s recommended restaurants, a great Chanko Nabe (sumo hotpot) place. It was a fantastic meal and perfect to warm us up from all the snow outside, along with another dip in the private hot springs before bed!
The next day we spoke to the owner and bought passes which allowed us to use three of the onsen in the area. Up in the mountains with all the snow it was incredibly relaxing, especially the outdoor springs, with the snow all around as you bathe. Walking around the snow covered town was also beautiful and we were surprised to see monkeys in the streets and in people’s gardens!
On our last day, the owner of the Ryokan gave us a lesson in Kyudo -Japanese traditional archery. First he gave us a demonstration and then it was our turn! Great fun and a great cultural experience! Uotoshi Ryokan was an amazing, traditionally Japanese, place to stay with a really friendly owner who does everything he can to make your stay perfect.
Access: The nearest station is Yudanaka, take the Nagano electric railway from Nagano Station.
Address: 2563 Sano, Shimotakai-gun, Yamanouchi-machi 381-0402, Nagano Prefecture
Uotoshi Ryokan Inn Nagano official Website