In this post I will share another part of our Japan adventure. I will explain you how to make an enjoyable visit to the snow monkey park and I will tell you about Kanazawa, a less know beautiful city in Japan.
When we went to Japan, Liam and Santiago were 17 months old and in most of the cases Japan was a super great destination.
Just to recap our trip was 17 days long and this was our itinerary:
SNOW MONKEY PARK
Arriving at the Snow Monkey Park isn’t the most straight forward thing, but they have a great website where all the options are listed, and it is important you check it especially during winter when some accesses could be blocked.
Here is what we did: we took a shinkansen train around 8:30 from Tokyo station (great that we were only 5 minutes walking from it) that arrived in Nagano around 10:00. Just as you leave the station on the left handside outside there is the bus stop where we took the express bus to SNOW MONKEY PARK arriving around 11.
If I remember correctly the bus stops in 2 places our BUS STOP was KANBAYASHI ONSEN, check where your hotel is!
We stayed at Fudouson-no-yu Kotobuki ryokan for £95. I choose it because it was only 8 minutes walking from the bus stop, and one of the closest ryokan to the start of the walk to the park. At the beginning I didn’t have high expectations but in the end we were really happy with our choice.
When you arrive it isn’t easy to identify because there are no signs and it seems you enter a private house, it is a bit old fashioned, but as usual sparkling clean. We had a big room with 3 futons and there were several bathrooms to share. They also had a little indoor and outdoor onsen.
Whilst we were there, there were only a few other men, and I was the only woman guest so they offered us the possibility to use the Women’s onsen as a Family onsen. The people were lovely and even if I wouldn’t say that it is a place for princesses I would definitely stay there again.
After leaving the luggage at the ryokan by 11:30 we had the boys in our ergo babys ready to go! I was a bit nervous about this part because from the entrance of the park to the natural hot spring where the monkeys take a bath there is a 40 min walk. Now you will think I’m just lazy but I’m not, I actually love to walk and I can walk easily all day, but it had been a while that I was not using the ergo baby…mainly because the boys at that point were almost 13kg!
Luckily everything went well, I discovered that putting the ergo baby with Liam on my back was much better than carrying infront.
The weather was really pleasant, cool but not too much, so the walk there and back was lovely. If you only have 1 child and a light pram, you can also consider to venture with it, we have seen a couple there. The journey is mostly flat, but there are stairs and some trickier bits.
HOT TIP: around the area where the monkeys bath there are cameras, if you are planning to stay in the area for a couple of days and you really want to be sure to see the monkeys, then make sure you ask the guy at the little shop before to enter the park to check the camera so you know the situation. ( the shop is also really helpful in case you are there in winter and you don’t have the right shoes to walk or a heavy coat because you can rent them there) We have been told that most of the monkeys are there in the morning and early afternoon, but after that sometimes the place gets really quiet because they go around in the park…having the craic somewhere else as my husband would say!
HOT TIP 2: keep in mind that you will get the most enchanting feeling in winter when there is snow, so if this place is high on your list of places to visit then consider to time your visit in the right season
When we arrived we found a lot of monkeys bathing in the hot spring, there weren’t many people and we really enjoyed spending 30/45 minutes there, it is a bit surreal watching these monkeys having a bath in the hot spring and we really enjoyed it. I loved coming here and even if many people will think that it is just a touristic attraction I have had a completely different feeling also because it want busy at all!
After walking back and before finally checking in at the ryokan (check in time is always 2pm), we stopped at the Enza cafe, the last place were you can get some food before to enter the park (be careful to remember not to bring food with you in the park if you don’t want to have unwanted attention from the monkeys).
Tired from the long walk we took the opportunity to use the onsen slot we were offered as a family. After trying the onsen in Tokyo at the Oedo Onsen Monogatari this was completely different experience. The ryokan has one internal bath and one external, they are small but perfect for us. The boys were of course only walking around as the water was too hot for them, but they still enjoyed to play with the shower head and the water splashing around.
Completely regenerated we then went for a long walk towards Yudanaka, but it was getting dark and no-one was around so we didn’t really see any of the famous public baths…maybe next time. On the way back we stopped at the Farm House to order some takeaway that Mark collected after we had the boys in bed (be aware no many other option available)
This was a really short stop because the following morning after the usual quick breakfast in the room we took again the bus at 10:46 which in 1 hour brought us to Nagano, where we caught the train to Kanazawa (but not before to buy some bento boxes to eat on the train)
HOT TIP: in Japan is considered rude to eat while you are walking on the street or on the tube, but it is perfectly acceptable on the train.
HOT TIP: food in Japan is delicious almost everywhere, but the train stations sometimes offer proper gourmet experience, don’t think of packed sandwiches and crisps, in most of the station you can try freshly made delicacies that they will pack nicely for you.
The train from Nagano to Kanazawa takes around 90 min. As usual we had food, books and Teletubbies to entertain the boys, and as usual we didn’t have big issues finding a free seat also for them. When we arrived in Kanazawa I already knew we could catch the loop bus to arrive to our hotel. The loop bus is wheelchair accessible so really easy also with the pram. The area were the buses were arriving was a bit confusing to me at the beginning, so if you are not sure if you’re queuing in the right lane for the bus then you want to try to ask someone.
You board the bus from the middle door and you exit from the front door where you pay Y200 (11/2017) when disembarking.
The hotel I booked for 2 nights was the Kaname inn Tatemachi, I had some concerns at the beginning because it was really new and I couldn’t find much info, but it was perfect for 2 nights. The entrance is a bit hidden, with an external seating area at the front. The reception is beside the nice bar where you can have breakfast, our room was on the 7th floor. This is a sort of budget hotel, the room was quite small but as usual everything was super functional and super clean.
Just outside our room in front of the elevator there was a little terrace, really pleasant to have a glass after the boys were in bed.
As usual we left the luggage quickly and we were on the road to go and see the castle and the Kenroku-en garden (check opening times). There is the possibility to have a free guide but in this case we decided to explore by ourselves. It’s really worth the effort to visit even if with kids it is a bit more superficial. On the way to the hotel we stopped to see the free exibition at the 21st museum, if the boys had been sleeping we would definitely have entered the museum, seems there are many interesting exhibitions to see.
HOT TIP: one of the most famous and free installation is ”the swimming pool” check it out because its quite fun!
For dinner we tested the chain ”Ippudo” that confirmed to be really family friendly and offering delicious food at a reasonable price.
The second day in Kanazawa (our 10th day in Japan) we had full day organised with 2 different free guides. In the (I booked through http://kggn.sakura.ne.jp/profile_e.html) At 9:30 Yuki met us at the hotel and from there we walked the beautiful samurai area where we visited several stunning houses and musuem and then we ended up in the Omicho market where we had some lunch in the basement area where there were tables available. Yuki had somenthing to eat with us and then showed us the playarea on the first floor. I still find amazing that in the market you can find a big, clean, lovely playarea. It is free you just need to sign up. It was good to let Liam and Santiago run around for half an hour, that tired them enough to have a nap in the pram later.
While at the playarea the second guide arrived and together we took the bus to the geisha area, she was informative and even if there were many people around the area we still visited many places and enjoyed going around. After our little tour ended we went a little bit around shopping and trying to find nappies…as I mention in my first post it isn’t really easy in the central areas, We ended up walking back almost up to the Omicho market where we found a sort of big BOOTS shop which had nappies. That evening we decided to not push for a late night as we had a long transfer the day after, so instead we put the boys in bed and had room service (just outside on the terrace)
In the morning we quickly packed (at this stage we were mastering the cot packing in 5 minutes!) I went to the lobby and arranged to send our big luggages to Hiroshima (not cheap, it was around £26 for the 2 big suitcase) and we kept with us only a bag and the travel cot because we were staying one night at Miyajima Island.
We really enjoyed the Snow Monkey Park and Kanazawa. Kanazawa was a really nice surprise, still not super touristic like Kyoto but with a lot of things to see, I would happily have spent an extra day there to enjoy even more the authenticity of Japanese life. Tokyo is amazing but it is big and difficult to really get the feeling of daily life, Kyoto is extremely touristic, however Kanazawa seemed to manage the perfect balance to feel more immersed in the Japanese life.
If you head to Japan don’t miss Kanazawa, you will not regret it!!!