Travel period 16-21 Jan 2017
Chasing powder in Shiga Kogen, largest ski resort in Japan
Our first and second snowboarding in Japan was in Hakuba. And this time we were thinking go to Shiga Kogen instead. Unlike our first trip that was in December (Christmas period), this time we organized to go after new year. So in mid-January 2017, Stephen and I flew into Tokyo.
Getting to Shiga Kogen
After arrival at Narita Airport, we cleared customs and immigration before boarding the Narita Express to Tokyo (approximately 1 hour), then departed for Nagano by Shinkansen (approximately 1 hr 50 min). From Nagano we continued to Shiga Kogen Hasuike bus stop by Nagaden bus (approximately 1 hour). Fare fee 1,600 yen/person.
We were dropped at the Hasuike bus stop, and then we went to the bus ticket office to find our way to our hotel, The hotel was literally just across the bus stop; less than a minute on foot. We just couldn’t see it because the bus stop was surrounded by four meters of snow alongside the road.
About Shiga Kogen
Located in the highlands of Nagano prefecture in the centre of Honshu, and belonging to the Chubu Region. The prefectural capital is Nagano City. Shiga Highlands (Shiga Kogen) is a very popular ski resort. It is one of the largest ski resorts in Japan and also in the world. It was the site of several events in the 1998 Nagano Olympics.
In 1980, Shiga Highland was listed as a biosphere reserve by the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). Shiga Kogen, is also located within Yamanouchi. Shiga Kogen and other parts of Yamanouchi are part of the Joshinetsu Kogen National Park, which offers hiking and other outdoor activities when there is no snow on the hills.
The Shiga Kogen Ski Area is a group of 19 ski resorts that have joined together to create the largest combined ski area in Japan. One single ticket gives skiers and snowboarders access to dozens of runs, most with a green, red and black route down the mountain, and most (except for Mt Yokoteyama) interconnected by lifts and runs as well as free shuttle buses.
Maruike Ski Area is only a two-minute walk from the hotel. The Hasuike Bus Terminal right by the hotel is a hub terminal that connects 19 ski slopes with buses and about 50 chair lifts and several gondolas.
Maruike Ski Area opened in 1947 as the first Japanese ski area with lifts. It has a variety of terrain, such as difficult steep terrain at a 32-degree pitch, bump runs and vast gently rolling slopes.
Hasuike Ski Area has vast runs surrounded by forests. Sun Valley Ski Area is perfect for intermediate and advanced skiers and snowboarders. The slopes are wide and ideal for downhill skiing.
Maruike is connected with Hasuike and Sun Valley resort areas of Shiga Kogen. There are Skiers-only areas at Mt Okushigakogen on the far left, and Mt Kumanoyu on the far right.
On the first day of snowboarding I was very excited but unfortunately something happened; I fell and thought my ribs were broken as the pain I felt on my left was extraordinary. Fortunately, I only bruised my ribs. So, for the rest of our stay I can only play at the snow park while Stephen rode on the chairlift, went up to the slopes, and I was waiting at the snow park for him to ski downhill with my camera ready to take the video and picture.
We stayed at the three-star Hotel Shirakabaso Shiga Kogen. Ideally located in the ski resort of Shiga Kogen. The staff were absolutely lovely. And our room was absolutely massive by Japanese standards. It was a comfortable room with free Wi-Fi.
The open-air baths with natural hot spring water are surrounded by snow in winter. The private baths have hot water directly extracted from hot springs. We soaked our ski-weary bones and my bruised ribs every evening before tucking into their rather magnificent kaiseki dinner.
The hotel provided both breakfast and dinner. We were served with Japanese style breakfast and kaiseki (traditional multi-course Japanese dinner). The winter hot pot dish is filled with a many of the local mushrooms. Most of the dishes change because ingredients are seasonal.
Rustic cuisine using ingredients in the area of Shinshu is popular among both Japanese and foreign guests. Their main dish is Shinshu beef, one of the best grades of beef in Japan from cows fed on apples. They offer homemade dishes cooked with local fresh vegetables. Hotpot dishes such Tonyu Nabe (soy milk hot pot), Sukiyaki, Shabu-shabu, was served during our stay. Everything was delightful.
We were determined to see snow monkeys. We took a day off the slopes, and went on to Jigokudani (Snow Monkey Park).
The park is inhabited by Japanese Macaques, which are also known as Snow Monkeys. It is located in the monkey’s natural habitat, in the forests of the Jigokudani valley.
The wild snow monkeys at Jigokudani Park are famous for their hilarious winter visits to hot springs. From the hotel it is located 15 minutes by bus (11 km) and 45 minutes on foot (2.4 km).
The trek to get to the hot springs is about half an hour on foot along a slippery, narrow path into the wild forest. The hike to the Jigokudani valley is beautiful, and we enjoyed both the view and the silence of the forest to its fullest.
At the end of the track we finally reached the little valley where the monkeys were playing around and bathing in the hot spring. Naturally, it is prohibited to touch or feed the monkeys.
The park has one man-made pool around which the monkeys gather, located a few minutes’ walk from the park entrance. You will likely already encounter monkeys along the path to the pool.
These guys are so cute, they were actually worth the trek, and you can see all the tourists in the middle of nowhere running around taking pictures. The ratio was probably more than 10 people for every bathing monkey, and there was also a TV-crew present interviewing some random foreigners’ tourists.
Despite the large number of tourists, the monkeys are used to having people hanging around, and most of them play around totally unaffected by all the attention. I still think that we probably could have seen more monkeys entering the hot spring if it wasn’t for the large number of tourists, as obviously not all of the monkeys dared to come close.
In summary Jigokudani is a unique destination and we had an unforgettable experience seeing wild monkeys’ bathing in a natural hot springs.
You May Also Like