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Baby Traveler | Nagano and Day Trips (Jigokudani Monkey Park & Togakushi)


✦ Recommended Hotel: Hotel Metropolitan Nagano
✦ Locations mentioned: Zenkoji, Jigokudani Monkey Park, Togakushi
When I was first planning this trip, I planned in Nagano because it was in between Kanazawa and Tokyo on the Hokuriku Shinkansen line. I did not know that Jigokudani Monkey Park was possible, I also did not know Togakushi Shrine was reachable via public transport. I had seen so many photos and videos of these two places, and I was pleasantly surprised to know that I can go to these places.

The most beautiful places are often difficult to get to. The walk to Togakushi Shrine was on a quiet snowy day, and for most of the walk, it was just me and my son. I’ve always loved traveling, and that didn’t change after becoming a mother. One of the most overwhelming feeling after becoming a parent is feeling stuck and robbed of your freedom, but it doesn’t have to be like that. I hope that my blog posts will bring encouragement to other parents who also want to travel. This is my second solo trip with my son, the first time was when he was 8 months old and we went to Kawaguchiko to see Mount Fuji. I also want to clarify that he does have a very loving dad, and that it was our joint decision for these mom & son solo trips. These trips have not only given me a lot of strength and confidence, but also created an amazing opportunity for bonding for my son and I.


One last thing before we dive into the travels, people say that it is a waste of time and money to bring their baby on trips since they won’t remember. I disagree 100%. I’ve watched my son grow so much, all of his senses experiencing entire different new environments. He loves watching people, traffic, lights that look different, he loves to try different tasting foods, and hearing the different types of sounds. With each trip, both his curiosity and patience grow. He learns about the world, while I learn about him – what he likes and what his boundaries are. I can think of no other better way than that of teaching through traveling. 


Getting to Nagano
The Hokuriku Shinkansen connects Tokyo and Nagano in under 2 hours, you can read more about booking Shinkansen tickets here.

Hotel Metropolitan Nagano
I highly recommend this hotel since it is attached to Nagano Station. You don't even need to leave the station to get to the hotel. The 2/F shops are connected with the 2/F dining hall of the hotel. Because all of the day trips start from Nagano Station, the location of the hotel ensures that I can walk right up to the bus stops for an early start to the day. The room sizes were also decent and the room rates were not expensive (like in Tokyo). 

Nagano station also has a Starbucks, supermarket, food court, and plenty of shops for clothing. I found most of my meals within the station like yakitori skewers, sushi, or bento boxes. 



Zenkoji & Nagano Design Week Light Up
If you are in Nagano, you can’t miss Zenkoji. A long road leads straight from Nagano Station to Zenkoji. And during Nagano design week, there’s a beautiful light up at night. On the first day there it was rainy which makes it even more beautiful.

Nagano Design week is different each year, so do google it before going. 2020’s dates were from Feb 22 – March 1st, with the light up from 5pm – 8pm.


There are several ways to get to Zenkoji: Subway, Bus, Taxi, Walk

✦ Subway (Nagaden, or Nagano Dentetsu): There are NO escalators or elevators at the Zenkoji station. I made the mistake of using the subway with a stroller because I thought if Nagano main station had elevators, the Zenkoji station would, but it doesn’t. It’s a really long flight of stairs, so I’d only advise this if you are using a carrier. It’s also another 10-15min walk to the temple after you get off at the station.

✦ Bus: Most busses that depart from Nagano station will go towards Zenkoji and make a stop there, same with busses coming back towards Nagano station direction. It’s ¥150 each way. 

✦ Taxi: ¥1,200~ give or take is the rough cost from Nagano station to Zenkoji. There’s also a taxi rank at Zenkoji temple

✦ Walking takes around 20min, I did do this with a carrier on a cold rainy night. It was a bit of a long walk, but doable.

Stroller friendly: Mostly, there are some steps

(Below: The streets near and leading up to Zenkoji, lots of food and souvenir shops)

 

(Below: Nagaden Subway System actually still uses paper tickets)


Jigokudani Monkey Park

If you don’t already know about this Monkey Park, it’s famed for the monkeys who sit inside a designated hot spring. Many professional photographers flock there during winter with their arm-lengthed lenses to capture these funny little animals. It is deep in the woods on a mountain, so I’d say you need to be pretty fit, especially if bringing a kid who cannot walk on their own yet.


There are several ways to get to the Monkey Park, but by far the most straight forward is the express bus operated by Nagaden (Short for Nagano Dentetsu, or Nagano Underground/Subway). Here are the steps to follow:

Step 1: Purchase your “Snow Monkey Pass”

You can purchase this on the day of your trip in person. The location of the kiosk is in the B1 level of Nagano Station at the Nagano Dentetsu counter. They accept cash only, and the pass is ¥3,600 for adults. This will cover your express bus round trip, the entrance to the Snow Monkey Park, and also you can use this for 2 days and take all busses operated by Nagaden.


 

Step 2: Go to bus stop #23

There are maps in English at the ticket kiosk, but it is really straight forward. Head towards the East exit (away from Zenkoji direction) and go to the ground level.

 


The first bus on weekdays depart at 8:50am, and 8:15am for Saturdays during peak season from Dec 21 – Mar 21, 2020. I’ve included the schedule below.


It takes around 50min on the express bus to get to the bottom of the Monkey Park stop.

Step 3: Walk to the actual Monkey Park

This is a pretty taxing walk, especially with a baby. It involves slopes and steps through unpaved muddy grounds. I’d separate this into 3 sections:

Part 1 is paved (10min): from the bus stop to the lower entrance of the Monkey Park is mostly paved, and you will see cars along the way. It’s a steep hill, and you will pass by the last bathroom before entering the woods. At the bottom entrance, you can rent boots just in case, and I’d highly recommend it if you are wearing anything other than boots.


Part 2: small slope + mostly flat walk in the woods for 1.5km (30min)



Part 3: Stair case and small slope to the paid entrance of the monkey park (5min)

 

(Below: coin lockers with a deposit of 100yen available after you enter the park. I stored my bags in there so the Monkeys don't have a chance to steal them)


When you first get into the monkey park, there is a split in the road, one down towards the stream, and one straight ahead. They both lead to the hot spring area, so don’t get caught up in the stream like me, just keep going ahead. Both roads work fine. Even though I took the earliest bus, there were others there already, most likely they drove or had an earlier organized tour.

This whole trip cost us ¥3,600, but organized tours cost around ¥15,500 per adult, which is ridiculous. Plus you are subject to the tour’s time, AND you still have to walk up the mountain anyway. Save yourself some money and just take the express bus.

 

 

Time required for trip: 3.5hrs (with 30min to see Monkeys)
I took the earliest bus at 8:50am to the Monkey Park, and took the 11:23am back to Nagano at 12:18pm.

My actual time in the Monkey Park (after walking for 50min to get there) was around 30min

Stroller friendly: No, there are many steps along the way, and the road is not paved, it’s muddy or snow covered during winter

Baby Changing station: No





Togakushi Shrine

Togakushi Shrine is a series of Shrines that sit on a mountain. There’s one at the lower base called Hokosha, the middle shrine called Chusha, and the upper Shrine called Okusha. The most beautiful scenery can be found on the path to the actual upper Shrine of Okusha, through primeval forest, and the serenity it brings is like no other place.

In short, it takes 1hr bus from Nagano to the middle shrine “Chusha”, from there it is a 40min walk to the entrance of upper Shrine “Okusha”, then another 20min walk to get to the tree-lined pathway. Here are the detailed steps:


Step 1: Buy your tickets from Alpico office (you can purchase in advance)

The Alpico office is at Nagano station, it is marked on google maps so it is pretty easy to find. With your back to Nagano Station, it is across the road towards the left. You will see bus stop #7 there, that is also where you will be boarding the bus from. There are vending machines inside the office which sell those tickets, but the staff speak some English and do have maps in English, so you can ask them for assistance to buy a ticket for you.

(Photo below: this is what you see with Nagano Station's West Exit to your back, there is a skybridge on the left, you want to cross the road and go towards the left)


(Photo below: after the skybridge, you will see bus stop #7, the Alpico bus ticketing office is the one to the right where a bunch of people are standing in front)


The ticket vending machine itself can also display English. Basically, you need a ticket from Nagano Station to Chusha, and one from Chusha to Nagao Station. I got mine the night before, and it costs ¥2,300 round trip. (*** Note, the first stop is Nagano Bus Terminal, DO NOT buy that one. You want to depart and arrive at Nagano Station)

You might see Okusha (upper shrine) as an option on the schedule, however I don’t believe it operates in winter. Please double check with the staff. My bus definitely didn’t stop at Okusha.

(Below: the bus ticket vending machine, touch screen with English option)


(Below: actual tickets, left side is the one from Nagano Station 長野駅 to Togakushi Chusha 戸隠中社, right side ticket is the return)


(Below: the time table that the Alpico ticket office guy gave me, very handy)


Step 2: Decide on your schedule & Take the bus at bus stop #7

The bus tickets don’t mandate what time you take the bus. So now you want to take a look at the bus schedule and decide which bus to take. I took the earliest from Nagano Station bus stop #7, which departs at 7am in the morning, and got to Chusha at around 8:05am.

(Below: bus stop #7, bus No.70 goes to Togakushi. It is not a high speed bus or long distance bus with luggage storage. Instead it is like a regular city bus, so look out for that)


Timetable link:

✦ From Nagano, busses run hourly between 7am – 7pm

✦ From Togakushi, busses run on a varied schedule depending on day of week and time of year. Generally it is between 6:30am – 6:30pm, but NOT hourly. It skips some hours even ok weekdays, so make sure you time your pace right or you will be waiting in the cold.

Since the 10:30am return bus didn’t run on the day I was there, I had to take the 11:30am bus from Chusha back to Nagano. We took our time at the temple and with the walk, but still ended up waiting at the bus stop for about 40min. There was a vending machine at the bus stop serving hot drinks so that helped warm our cold hands up. (The bus prior to that was 10:10am and that was too big of a rush with the walk it takes in deep snow) We arrived back at Nagano station at 12:38pm.


Step 3: The Walk (60min)

!! Deep Snow, Wear Snow Boots in Winter!!

When you get off at Chusha Station, you will see Chusha right in front of you. Go ahead and go in to look around and take photos, there’s also a public toilet on the right hand side. You’d want to use that since it’s the only toilet for the next hour.

(Below: you see the bus stop for going back to Nagano in front of Chusha, in winter the temple is closed, so you can't walk up to the actual temple)

 

 

Part 1 (40min walk on main road) The road to Okusha is not within Chusha. You want to follow the main road that the bus you just got off from was running on, which is to the left of Chusha. It may be snow covered, but it is cleared by Snow Plowers regularly. For this part you can also use Google Maps which will lead you to the entrance.

 

Part 2 (20min walk within Okusha) This part is tough in winter, the snow is not cleared so you should expect to be walking in deep snow for 20min. The snow on the day I went came up about halfway up my knee-height snow boot, let’s just say it’s not pleasant or easy to walk in snow that deep with a 12kg baby strapped onto you, plus a diaper bag, and a tripod in your adult bag.

(Below: you see a wooden post for the sign of the entrance to Okusha, turn left and you will see the Tori Gate, it leads to a very long straight walk in deep snow to where the red gate and tall trees are)

 

Everyone I saw along the way disappeared after part 1, since most people were going up the ski slopes. Everyone who went to Okusha drove there and had their car parked at the entrance (I mean which crazy person would take a bus and walk in the snow for 40min right?) Inside Okusha I saw a total of 4 people. That made it amazing for photos, and we spent around 20min with the place all to ourselves.


 


*What the baby wore*
I made sure that my son was dressed really well for the weather which was about -6C, so he did not mind being in the snow at all. He had a first layer of a footed onesie, sweater, sweat pants, thick down onesie outfit (lined and padded on the inside), and snow boots (also lined with fur on the inside), waterproof snow mittens, and I also brought one of those hat/scarf things that go over his whole head and also covers his face. He was so comfy, he took a nap on the way there for 30min in the carrier.

 

One thing I wasn’t expecting that even though I brought boiling water in a thermal bottle, after walking in -6C for 2hours or so, the water had turned cold. Luckily my son was so hungry and thirsty, he did not care about his cold milk. He drank it within 10minutes on the bus.

✦ My phone camera: Huawei P30 Pro (with Leica Lens)
✦ Photos edited with Lightroom Mobile App 
✦ Tripod + Bluetooth clicker: Fotopro FY800 (Linked here

The tripod is amazing, it folds up to less than the size of a coke bottle (20cm or 8inches) and weighs only 700 grams (1.5lbs)

✦ Baby carrier: Ergo Baby


Time required for trip: 5.5hrs (due to scarcity of busses)

Stroller Friendly: From the Chusha Bus Stop to Okusha yes. But inside Okusha no, deep snow in winter, and the road is not paved so it would be difficult in summer as well since it’s all dirt road.

Baby Changing Station: No at both Chusha and Okusha


Back at Nagano Station, the supermarket is once again selling these pink and pure white colored strawberries. We were so glad to be back in the city and in warmth. But the trip is one to be remembered for a life time. 





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