Whilst staying in the ski resort, Hakuba, we took a day trip, organised through Hakuba Valley Day Tours, to see the Japanese Macaques or Snow Monkeys. We were picked up by 21 seater coach at 8am.
Our guide, Sumi, was very chatty and funny: she spent half her year as a hairdresser in Sydney and remainder as a tour guide in Japan. She told us all about the monkeys and etiquette to be followed which amounted to, if they open their mouth they’re unhappy so back off. Selfie sticks were thankfully banned and in an attempt to tell us to be careful with cameras and phones, she showed us a great photo of a snow monkey who’d appropriated a mobile.
The journey to the park was 2 hours and just before arriving, we stopped for a comfort break at a large food shop which specialised in local apples and apple products and we tried slices of giant red Fuji apples.
Having arrived at 10.30am, we set off on the 1.6km hike, up steps and a fairly steep section until the narrow muddy path thankfully flattened out. Fortunately it wasn’t too icy as it would have been treacherous. Sumi was a star as she set us oldies off, then ran past us to be at the entrance to hand out tickets.
It had started to rain by the time we arrived at the river bank where we watched the monkeys before heading to the open-air, man-made monkey-onsen (like a Jacuzzi) where they were happily soaking up the warm water. The monkeys live in large social groups, and it was very amusing to watch them interact with each other. They are now very used to humans and you can get pretty close to them although you’re not allowed to touch.
They are so photogenic with their mane of fluffy hair that dries out as they shake it. There were lots of people with very serious, large cameras all hoping for that special shot. We had an hour watching the monkeys before heading back, via the gift shop and information centre, for the bus, where as usual 4 people were missing at the agreed meeting time. They turned up 15 minutes late.
Our trip included lunch in the village of Obuse, the smallest in the prefecture of Nagano. our traditional meal started with nibbles and Sake, followed by soup with clam and vegetable flowers, raw snapper and tuna, a main of chicken or fish served with the ubiquitous miso soup, and strawberries in jelly with meringue which was meant to resemble Mount Fuji.
Back on the bus it was 30 minutes to Nagano where we stopped to visit the Zenkoji Temple. Sumi handed round a note with things we should look for at the temple. But by now, it was snowing heavily and so after a brief look around, we headed for the nearest coffee shop and hot chocolates all round. However, on a sunny day, it would have been easy to while away an hour or so around the temple and stunning grounds.
Before we got back on the bus we were invited to taste sake in a nearby shop. We tasted 8 and loved the plum sake so much, bought a bottle which we drank on our last night together.
This was a good reasonably priced day trip (¥10,000 each) but we all agreed our guide had made the day for us.