Nearly two years ago, I ventured north into the mountainous region of Nagano with two missions to accomplish. The first was to see the famous hotspring-loving monkeys in Jigokudani. Though a lot of monkeys in Asia are known to be feisty, the Japanese macaque (also known as snow monkeys) are said to be pretty relaxed. It’s probably due to the fact that they have their own 24-hour hotspring to themselves. The second objective was to go to a rare event in Matsumoto called Glaass Lounge. This party is a gathering of house and techno enthusiasts that goes all night, and on this particular weekend Carpainter and Seimei of Trekkie Trax were to appear. The stars had aligned for the ultimate weekend and I couldn’t be more excited!
Jigokudani Monkey Park
As soon as I arrived to Nagano Station, I went to the ticket office and purchased a day pass for Jigokudani Park. The park is about an hour bus ride from the station, but you have the chance to see rare scenes of the countryside so it’s not a bad trip. From the bus stop, the walk to the monkey park is about 30 mins through a lush pine forest. When you get to the top of a hill in the mountains, you will see dozens of monkeys running through a roped-off area full of hotsprings:
Though you sadly cannot enter the hotsprings with the monkeys, you can get pretty close to them. Often they will go under the ropes and leisurely mingle with people. It is advised not to look them directly in the eyes because that is a sign of aggression. Also there are notices posted not to feed them and to be careful with your bags (a.k.a. common sense). I would allow yourself at least 1.5 hours to fully enjoy the park. The monkeys are quite fun to observe and the mountain air feels lovely.
Besides the monkeys, the scenery surrounding the park made it worth the trip. The mountain backdrop on the lake looked like something straight out of a postcard. Plus hiking through the forest was an awesome workout and I saw many beautiful rivers along the way. You can see the Japanese Alps from here too:
Admission Fee: 800 yen to enter the park // 3200 yen for admission to the park and roundtrip bus fare (I recommend this option unless you rent a car)
Although I had fun here, the day I went the monkeys weren’t particularly interesting in bathing even though it was cold out and there was snow on the ground. Hakodate in Hokkaido has a better monkey onsen that you can see. The monkeys there seem to love hotsprings more than the monkeys I saw here, but both are worth checking out.
Due to having to catch a train into the city that night, I didn’t have a lot of time to look for places to eat but fortunately Nagano Station had me covered. I managed to find some amazing kitsune udon (noodles topped with a thin layer of fried tofu), and oyaki (stuffed dumplings). I was happy to see they had a number of vegetarian options and were very cheap to order individually. Oyaki are a Nagano specialty so definitely try them if you get the chance! You can find them literally all over the place in a variety of flavors.
I arrived at Studio SONIC around 11pm when Glaass Lounge had just kicked off. The club had a simple setup with a DJ booth in the front and a bar to the side, but since it was compact it was easy to socialize with people. I found my friends immediately and told them the story of the bathing monkeys. It felt great to experience the music scene of Matsumoto out here in the mountains. A number of these DJs come to Tokyo events every once in a while too.
Monolith Slip, a duo of two music producers from this area were one of my favorite acts. They create a lot of rave music and were featured on an earlier Haka Gang x Trekkie Trax compilation:
Besides them, I of course enjoyed seeing Carpainter as the featured guest. As always, his techno/house mixes are amazing:
This party went on until 5am and was an experience I’ll never forget. I haven’t been back to Nagano in over 2 years, but if there are more music events like these in the fture then I’ll definitely be tempted!
Address: 2 Chome-5-6 Fukashi, Matsumoto, Nagano 390-0815
From Tokyo Station, take the Hokuriku-Shinkansen to Nagano Station. This will take 2 hours and costs 8400 yen one way. From Nagano Station you can take a bus to the monkey forest and the Shinano Limited Express to reach Matsumoto City. All tickets can be purchased on they day you arrive, but if you are coming during a holiday I would book them in advance. I would recommend 2 days and 1 night here to see everything.
Since I didn’t have a lot of money at time, I stayed at a net cafe called Carefree Cafe for a few hours after the party. However, there are a lot of great hotspring resorts and ryokan you can stay in that are better! Booking usually has some great deals depending on what you are looking for.