The town of Yamanouchi in the north of Nagano Prefecture is best known for its monkey park, where visitors have the chance to see nihonzaru (Japanese macaques) bathing in the area’s hot springs. Japan’s largest ski area Shiga Kogen is another of the town’s major attractions. The resort hosted the Winter Olympics back in 1998.
Yamanouchi was once part of the ancient Shinano Province, through which samurai and merchants travelling the Nakasendō route between Kyoto and Tokyo would pass. Following the Meiji Restoration of 1868, Shinano Province was separated into the Nagano and Chikuma prefectures.
Yamanouchi was declared an official town in 1955 and was formed of the town of Hirao and villages Honami and Yomase.
If you’re travelling on our 13-day budget Japan tour, your day in Yamanouchi will be jam packed with adventurous outdoor activities. First, you’ll take in the epic mountain scenery while stand-up paddle-boarding across a volcanic lake before embarking on an intrepid hike into the nearby hills for more incredible views.
Other activities available include a visit to the Jigokudani Monkey Park, where you can see cute – and occasionally feisty – Japanese macaques relaxing in the thermal waters of a hot spring.
If you’re interested in exploring the region further, head to Nagano city, which is about an hour away by train. The city is home to a number of impressive religious sites, including the Togakushi Shrine and the Zenkoji Temple. If you’re travelling with kids, the Chausuyama Dinosaur Park is a must-visit – entry is free and its life-size model dinosaurs (some with integrated slides) are impressive.
Nagano prefecture is known for its excellent soba noodles, as its hilly terrain provides the ideal conditions for growing buckwheat. There are casual restaurants all over the region offering handmade noodles at a reasonable price – look out for signs reading そば and you’ll know you’re in the right place.
Oyaki are another regional specialty – buckwheat dumplings stuffed with vegetables and bean paste that make a hearty snack.
Nagano is also famous for its delicious honey – bring a jar home as an omiyage (souvenir) or sample some of the myriad products that have it as a star ingredient.
If winter sports are your thing, the ski season at Shiga Kogen runs from mid-November to early May. Temperatures reach around 30ºC in the summer months and the autumn and spring months tend to be pleasantly warm.