Things to Do in Nagano Prefecture
If you’ve been captivated by photos of furry macaques sitting in steaming hot water, surrounded by snow, head to the Jigokudani Monkey Park (Jigokudani Yaen Koen). Located in the Joshinetsu-Kogen National Park, in Nagano Prefecture, this is believed to be the only place in the world where monkeys bathe in hot springs
In the year 642, Zenko-ji Temple was founded when one of the earliest Buddhist statues in Japan, brought over from the Korean Peninsula, was enshrined at the site. Today, the temple is one of the most important Buddhist sites in the country, as well as Japan’s third largest wooden structure, with the entire town of Nagano built up around it.
The structure as it stands today dates back to 1707 and contains a large hall displaying a variety of Buddhist statuary, a main alter and an underground passage beneath the alter where visitors can pass in complete darkness, feeling for a single key on the wall -- the key to paradise -- that’s believed to grand salvation to any who touch it.
Behind the main temple, a newer pagoda houses the Zenko-ji History Museum with its collection of statues of the Buddha and his disciples.
The Izu Shaboten Zoo is a “free-range” zoo, where animals such as pelicans, squirrel monkeys, and kangaroos roam freely around the park. A highlight is the capybara onsen (hot-spring bath)—definitely an unusual sight. The zoo has five pyramid-style greenhouses where tropical plants are cultivated, especially cacti and succulents.
Yudanaka Onsen, a popular hot springs resort, features a history dating back hundreds of years. One of the largest of several onsen (hot springs) in the region, Yudanaka still maintains its historic charm with gently sloped streets lined with structures housing hot springs and foot baths, both especially pleasant during the cold, snowy months of December through March. The town of Yudanaka also has a variety of family-owned Japanese inns, known as ryokans, for visitors who want to stay overnight to explore the region.
Humans aren't the only ones who take advantage of Yudanaka's natural hot springs—the area is famously known for the troop of Japanese macaques, or snow monkeys, that reside in Yokoyu Valley and bathe in the hot spring pools inside Jigokudani Monkey Park.
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