Visiting Nagano In April
April is the start of springtime in Japan. Temperatures start to rise, and the cherry blossom trees start to bud. In Nagano, it stays cooler throughout the year given its proximity to the surrounding mountains, so April brings a little bit of relief from the cold and the snow of the winter months.
Nagano and Nagano City is a vastly underrated areas of Japan. Even though it experiences cold winters, plenty of winter activities make it an excellent destination at any time of year.
You’ll see some reprieve from the cold when visiting Nagano in April, which makes it much easier to traverse some of the must-see destinations in the prefecture.
Jigokudani Monkey Park
The famous Jigokudani Monkey Park started as a safe haven for snow monkeys and was eventually turned into a park. The park can be found nestled in Nagano’s Japanese Alps, an area that sees a lot of snow and cold due to the high altitude. The monkey park is only part of the Joshinetsukogen National Park in Nagano, Japan.
Before the park became a sanctuary for the macaques, the snow monkeys were free to wander around the Japanese Alps.
They would often soak in the hot spring baths used by the public. In order to appease the monkeys, keep them safe, and give them their own section of the natural hot springs to soak in at their leisure.
The Japanese Macaques
Japanese snow monkeys, also known as Japanese macaques, are one of the big draws to the snow monkey park; hence, the name. These beautiful animals can be seen spending some quality time in natural hot spring baths to escape the cold of Nagano, regardless of the time of year.
This particular species of monkey is native to Japan and has survived in the country for a long time. They have long, thick fur that helps protect them from the chill of the colder regions of the country, such as the alps in Nagano, though they love their hot spring baths for some relief from the frigid air.
Outside of the Jigokudani Snow Monkey Park, you can also find Japanese macaques on various Japanese islands, including Kyushu, Yakushima Island, and Honshu. However, they are still considered wild animals in those regions.
Visiting Jigokudani Snow Monkey Park
To get to Joshinetsukogen National Park to see the monkey park, you can make your way to Nanago on the bullet train.
You can catch this high-speed train, also known as the shinkansen, in Tokyo. Once you board the train in Tokyo, you’ll ride until you get to Nagano station.
Next, you’ll ride the Nagano Electric Railway Line to Yudanaka station. Lastly, a short bus ride takes you to Kanbayashi Onsen, and from there, you can follow a trail to the park.
The bullet train ride is only about an hour and a half, meaning you can make a day trip out of visiting the park or museum.
There are also some traditional Japanese inns nearby should you want to extend your stay in the picturesque mountains.
For instance, Shibu Onsen, a charming Japanese town, is only a stone’s throw away from the park. You can also stay in Yudanaka and take the bus when you’re ready to visit the park.
Jigokudani Snow Monkey Park In April
It’s not as likely to see the snow monkeys basking in the hot springs in April, but depending on the weather when you visit, it’s possible you’ll see them roaming about and taking an occasional dip.
January and February are typically the best time when the snow monkeys are the most active in the springs.
In spring and summer, the water will usually be cooled down in an effort to bring the snow monkeys around, but it doesn’t always work. However, this doesn’t mean the park isn’t worth visiting when there in April.
You get a whole new perspective of the national park as the snow starts to melt and the cherry blossom trees start to bloom once the cold winter begins to thaw.
You also may get lucky enough to watch the monkeys climb trees and play around with each other.
Staying In Nagano
To get the best experience in Nagano, staying in one of the many onsen towns close to the park is your best bet. These towns are not only beautiful but offer some interesting sites to see within them.
You’ll get the chance to meet a lot of kind locals who can tell you about the best spots to enjoy in the onsen towns and logging at a traditional Japanese inn.
Shibu Onsen is an onsen town very close to the monkey park, and is one of the most renowned onsen towns in all of Japan.
Staying in Shibu feels like being transported back to old-time Japan. You can book a room in a traditional Japanese ryokan inn and soak in a hot spring baths to warm up after a day of sightseeing.
While there isn’t a lot to these small towns, they are peaceful, tranquil spaces to stay in to see another side of Japan outside of the busy metropolises of the country. If you do stay at a ryokan, see if you can get a kaiseki meal.
You often have to book one of these meals, as they take a lot of preparation. Kaiseki is a meal that consists of several small dishes, all of which typically highlight local fares from the area you’re staying in.
If you’re looking to stay close to the park, Korakukan Onsen is your best bet. It’s a somewhat pricey place to stay, but the views and the proximity to the national park are worth it.
At this onsen, you get to stay in traditionally inspired rooms, eat delicious and locally sourced food, and of course, enjoy the hot baths.
Kanbayashi Onsen is a little more luxurious in its accommodations, but you won’t miss out on the hot spring bath experience.
You can enjoy an indoor bath, as well as some Japanese delicacies for breakfast and dinner. In spring, you’ll have breathtaking views of trees beginning to flower as well as the accompanying garden starting to flourish.
Other Attraction In Nagano
While the Jigokudani Snow Monkey Park brings visitors to Nagano every year, there are other destinations to add to your itinerary when visiting Japan in April.
Takayama Onsen Village
Takayama Onsen Village is a collection of seven small onsen towns. Here, you’ll not only get a bounty of choice with where to enjoy a natural hot spring bath, but you get some of the most unforgettable views of nature when doing so.
You’ll have much more access to the surrounding landscapes when you visit in April, as many trails and pathways are closed in the winter due to ice and snow.
If you love nature and learning about Japanese culture, Togakushi is a must-see. Togakushi is a forested area in Nagano with a few Shinto shrines nestled in its trees.
You’ll want to bring some comfortable shoes with you so you can follow the path to the five major Shinto shrines.
Nearby, you can also visit the famous Togakure Ninja School and the Togakushi Ski Resort, where you can get your fill of delicious soba noodles after a long day of walking.
The Roof Of Japan
The Roof of Japan is also known as the Snow Walls of the Tateyama-Kurobe Alpine Route. If you’re visiting Nagano in April, there’s less of a chance you’ll have to experience this marvel with a big crowd around you. The wall can be found at Mount Tate, a peak of the North Japan Alps.
The tall snow walls are separated in the middle with a path that visitors are able to walk through. In the winter, it’s closed for safety, and it opens back up in April.
Take A Spring Tour Through Nagano
With so many options for things to see and do, there are plenty of spring tours available through a variety of hotels and travel companies in Japan.
These tours will take you to some of the major landmarks discussed above, as well as other must-see places such as Takato Castle Park and Matsumoto Castle.
Spending April in Nagano means you’ll be there for the prefecture’s peak cherry blossom season. No matter where you are in Nagano, you’ll have the chance to see these stunning sakura trees in full bloom.
There are a few places that will let you book tours to get the best vantage points as well as tons of gardens and other nature to see.
Pro Travel Tips For Visiting Nagano And The Snow Monkey Park In April
If your planning on visiting the park in the winter season, then public transportation is your best bet. You can arrange a private tour of the area and even a city of Nagano tour. If your visit is towards the end of April, then you’ll have a better chance of seeing cherry blossoms.
From Nagano station, there is an express bus that will take you directly to the park. No need to go to the ticket office as the tickets are purchased directly from the driver at the bus stop area.
Prices one way from the station to the park are 1500 Yen per adult and 700 Yen for children.
At the entrance to the park trail is a small gift shop. The gift shop contains many items themed on macaca fuscata or the Japanese Macaque.
It’s a short walk to the bathing area from the trail entrance. Seeing the female snow monkeys taking care of their young has a stress-reducing effect on all those who quietly watch the scene unfolding before you. The monkeys live in a very unique habit of hot springs.
If the daily temperatures are close to freezing, be sure to dress in layers to avoid cold-climate stress on yourself.
After all, the park is in the mountains of Nagano prefecture, and one of the best things to do is monitor your body’s stress levels and how it reacts to the cold environment.
Park management is on-site at the outdoor hot spring area in case of an emergency.
To check on conditions at the park, it offers a live camera online, and you can take a peek at the park before deciding to make the journey. It’s a great idea to use google maps to get a feel for the area.
If your traveling from Tokyo station to Nagano station, the cost is about 8000 Yen via bullet train (Shinkansen) and is considered the best option between the two cities.
As with many train station locations in major Japanese cities can become hectic during rush hours so take this into account before planning a trip.
If your planning a trip to the park in warmer months to avoid the cold, you will still be amazed by the macaques and their complex society of rank and the lives of these troop of snow monkeys you’ll never forget.