The experience of my previous trips to Japan lead me to alternate quiet vacations with learning tours. With that in mind, my fifth trip to Japan saw me first visit Yudanaka in Nagano Prefecture.
Yudanaka is a very quiet, small town with onsen and is perfect for resting and relaxation. But the reason why I chose Yudanaka from hundreds of other onsen towns was its close proximity to the Jigokudani Yaen Koen or Snow Monkey Park.
This natural park with an onsen is used by monkeys, or more precisely, Japanese macaques, and is a very popular tourist spot. The monkeys use the onsen mainly during the colder times of the year, but I was fortunate to see some monkeys using it in mid-April. During my 4-day stay in Yudanaka, I visited the monkeys twice and spent a lot of time there. It was fantastic to see them up so close and take as many photos as I wanted!
Aside from the monkeys, ryokan and onsen, another pleasure was the blooming sakura. In that northern town the cherry blossoms bloomed later and I was happy to catch it. A nice side trip from Yudanaka was Obuse where I visited the Obuse Floral Garden. Needless to say that the mountain air here was very clean and healing. I really loved that place and didn’t want to leave.
I then stayed with some friends and one evening in Matsumoto was charmed by the night illumination of Matsumoto Castle. Together with friends we visited Suwa Taisha, a shrine consisting of four shrines located in different places. We visited all four and I was much impressed by its grand shimenawa sacred rope, ancient trees and overall atmosphere.
The next day we went to the old post towns of Kiso valley - Narai, Tsugamo and Magome. Those well-preserved towns with small wooden houses took us to times of old. Unlike the old days, however, we travelled by car, and our feet got a rest - good for us!
Returning to busy Tokyo from quiet Nagano was a shock. However, I visited a few places with lots of flowers. Azalea festival at Nezu Jinja was gorgeous! At Kameido Jinja I managed a photo of a bridge and fuji reflecting in the water, much like an old ukiyo-e print. With my friend we enjoyed a free tour of the SUNTORY brewery factory. I visited old favourites like Yokohama and Tokyo Dome City. The highlight of the Tokyo portion of my trip was Hitsujiyama Park with its huge flower beds of pink shibazakura, one of the most amazing views in Japan.
My last day was spent in Narita Town and the Naritazan temple complex. That visit was an unexpectedly good surprise. At the time, I thought that that trip would be my last one to Japan but thankfully it was not. My following trip was to Miyagi Prefecture followed by most recent one-week summer trip.
Hopefully there will be many more!