2-Day Tour: Snow Monkeys, Samurai Experience & Zenko-ji 'Shukubo' Stay
All Year Round
2-Day Tour: Snow Monkeys, Samurai Experience & Zenko-ji 'Shukubo' Stay
This memorable two-day tour explores Nagano’s samurai past on day one with a visit to Matsushiro including visits to some of Japan’s best-preserved samurai residences and hands-on experience at an Edo Period military school followed by an overnight stay a traditional ‘shukubo’ (temple lodging), before enjoying a tour of Zenko-ji Temple, guided ‘sake’ tasting and a visit to the Jigokudani Monkey Park on the second. All led by a locally-based guide, this engaging tour is available throughout the year and offers real insight through firsthand experience of Nagano’s spiritual underpinnings, samurai heritage with the fun of the monkeys!
- Discover Nagano’s hidden samurai enclave of Matsushiro – former stronghold of the legendary Sanada clan – and home to some of Japan’s best-preserved Edo Period buildings including the former Sanada and Higuchi Residences and the Bunbu Gakko Military Arts School where you can try your hand at ‘katana’ (sword) practice on Day 1
- Enjoy an overnight stay at a traditional ‘shukubo’ (temple lodging) inside the Zenko-ji Temple complex including dinner and breakfast
- Experience a guided tour of the temple followed by ‘sake’ tasting and lunch in Nagano City followed by an afternoon visit to the Jigokudani Monkey Park on Day 2
- All led by a locally-based, English-speaking guide.
Want to join this tour from Tokyo? It’s easy to do! Scroll to the bottom for our FAQs including train services that you can use to join the tour!
The tour begins a Nagano Station where your guide will greet you before having you board the local bus service to nearby Matsushiro. As the former stronghold of the legendary Sanada clan, Matsushiro was established an important strategic base during the ‘Sengoku Jidai’ / Warring States Period and thriving domain of the samurai class during the latter Edo Period. Largely undiscovered by international visitors, Matsushiro is home to some of the best-preserved samurai residences and other Edo Period buildings in Japan.
Arriving in Matsushiro at 12:45, you will walk the short distance to the Sanada Family Residence. Built by Sanada Yukinori in 1864, this beautiful and elaborate building consists of fifty-three rooms and extensive surrounding gardens. The estate originally served as residence to Sanada’s mother-in-law before he resided there upon his retirement.
Your guide will accompany you around the residence, introducing the history of the Sanada clan before moving onto the nearby Higuchi Family Residence. One of Matsushiro’s best-preserved samurai residence, the former Higuchi Family Residence offers yet more insight into the life and daily routine of the samurai class.
From there it’s onto the Bunbu Gakko Literary & Military Arts School, where sons of high-ranking samurai families studied during the Edo Period. Arriving around 14:00, your guide will introduce you to the history of the school before you can get hands-on, with ‘katana’ (sword) practice led by local instructor who will lead you through a series of maneuvers including attack and defence. Suitable for both children and adults, you’ll then have the chance to put on imitation samurai armour – a fun and engaging way to learn all about Nagano’s samurai past. You’ll then be accompanied back to Nagano Station by your guide and once there, walk onto Zenko-ji Temple – approximately 20 minutes on-foot – for check-in at your ‘shukubo’ (temple lodging) – ‘Yakuo-in’ (see below for details) – around 17:45. Your guide will say their goodbyes leaving you to enjoy your evening and dinner service by yourself.
The second day begins with breakfast at your accommodation between 07:30 to 09:00 before it’s time to meetup with your guide at 09:55 and begin your exploration of Zenko-ji Temple. As a registered National Treasure, the temple is the most important cultural site in Nagano and one of the oldest and most important Buddhist temples in the entire country! A place of true historic importance, full of legends and myths, you will be guided around the temple before (time permitting) your guide will give you the opportunity to explore the surrounding precinct by yourself.
Home to a huge number of breweries, Nagano is synonymous with sake. Your guide will treat you to tasting before, introducing you to the complex world of sake, before sitting down to an early lunch. From delicious and warming beef, chicken, or vegetarian hot pot in the winter months, to mixed sushi plates and Nagano-style chicken or seasonal grilled vegetables through spring to autumn, meals are designed to match the season and highlight the best of Nagano’s renowned food culture.
Well-fed it’s time to head-out of Nagano, as you are transported to the Jigokudani Monkey Park. Your guide will take you along the forest trail which leads to the park, home to the only troop of monkeys in the entire world known to bathe in hot springs, there are no barriers separating you from the wild monkeys, making this a unique and memorable experience.
Your guide will introduce these truly curious creatures and provide you time to enjoy the unique experience of observing them in close proximity. Make sure to bring your camera as you’re going to need it! Your guide will then accompany back along the trail and soon have you heading back toward Nagano, the perfect time to sit back, relax, and look through all those monkey photos before the tour returns to Nagano Station and concludes at 17:35.
What is a ‘shukubo’?
A ‘shukubo’ is basically a ‘ryokan’, a traditional guesthouse providing lodging to visitors to nearby or within temple and shrine complexes. In the past, they provided accommodation to people on pilgrimages, a function they still serve today. However, you don’t need to a devotee of any particular faith or on pilgrimage yourself to enjoy staying at one. Offering traditional comforts, tranquility and vegetarian menu, Yakuo-in is a conveniently located shukubo in the heart of the temple complex. Yakuo-in has a small number of rooms featuring on-floor ‘futon’ bedding, ‘tatami’ matting and low furniture. Rooms are simple but comfortable and serene with shared bathing facilities – however you can arrange a time to use the shower/bath by yourself.
Dinner service is served between 18:00 to 20:00, in-keeping with the practice of most shukubo and the entrance will be locked at 21:00. Yakuo-in serves a traditional vegetarian dinner and breakfast menu with alcohol available (at an additional cost). Following your dinner you can explore the temple complex at night – offering beautiful photography opportunities – while also attending the daily ‘O-Asaji’ morning service at the temple’s main hall, should you wish to. Breakfast is served from 07:30 to 09:00.
|Day1 / 11:45||Meetup with your guide at Nagano Station and take 12:15 local bus to Matsushiro.|
|12:45||Arrive in Matsushiro and enjoy approximately 4 hours exploring the historic samurai enclave including visits to the former Sanada Residence, the former Higuchi Residence and Bunbu Gakko Military Arts School inc. samurai experience. Following your time in Matsushiro, your guide will accompany you back to Nagano Station on the 16:30 bus before walking to the temple and your accommodation.|
|17:45||Check-in at your accommodation where your guide will say their goodbyes, leaving you to enjoy your evening including dinner service to yourself.|
|Day2 / 09:55||Following breakfast at your accommodation, meetup with your guide and enjoy a tour of the temple before a short period of free-time to explore for yourself. You will then meetup with the guide again to head to a nearby brewery for a guided 'sake' tasting|
|11:45||Enjoy an early lunch at Monzen Terrace Enya.|
|13:00||Depart Nagano and head toward the Snow Monkey Park to arrive nearby the Snow Monkey Park area. around 14:00. Prepare and walk along the forest trail (25-30 minutes) into the park.|
|14:30||Arrive at the park and enjoy watching the wild macaques bathing in the onsen and going about their lives.|
|15:30||Depart the park and walk back out along the forest trail.|
|16:20||Leave the Snow Monkey Park area and begin your return journey to Nagano.|
|17:35||Tour concludes at Nagano Station.|
This tour operates from the following meetup point in Nagano City:
1 / NAGANO STATION @ 11:45
The meetup point is inside the station, in front of the Information Board directly across from the Shinkansen ticket gates. Be sure to look for the guide wearing a SNOW MONKEY RESORTS tour tag and ensure you are there prior to the meetup time as the tour will need to depart by 11:50
- Accommodation at Yakuo-in inc. a ‘Standard Japanese-style Room’ with on-floor ‘futon’ bedding, shared bathroom along with dinner & breakfast.
- Paid entry to the former Sanada Residence, former Higuchi Residence and Bunbu Gakko Literary & Military Arts School inc. samurai experience in Matsushiro on Day 1
- Guided tour of Zenko-ji Temple, ‘sake’ tasting, lunch at Monzen Terrace Enya and paid entry to the Jigokudani Monkey Park on Day 2
- Transport costs to all listed destinations / activities and English-speaking guide on both days
- Transport fees inc. Shinkansen / ‘Bullet Train’ to / from Nagano Station
- Lunch on Day 1
- Entry to other paid attractions at Zenko-ji
- Additional food, snacks & drinks
- This is a group walking tour and there may be other guests joining the tour. It involves a reasonable amount of walking and is suitable for anyone of reasonable fitness. Should you be booking in the summer months of July to September, please be aware that the weather is likely to be hot – between 30°C/86°F to 40°C/104°F – with high humidity. Given the nature of the tour, much of your time will be spent walking so please come prepared for those conditions. Your guide will of course respond to the conditions and endeavour to keep things as cool as possible by extending your time indoors and in the shade. For guests booking in the winter months of December to March, the weather is likely to be cold – between 0°C/32°F to 10°C/50°F and as low as -10°C/14°F at night – with likelihood of snow.
- This tour is not wheelchair accessible and may not be suitable for mobility-impaired travelers. Should you have any concerns about your ability to join the tour, please contact us to discuss prior to booking.
- This tour uses different forms of transport. Tours can be conducted by microbus, larger coach or train depending on the season and size of the group.
- The samurai experience is appropriate for both adults and children aged 6 and up. For the safety of guests, you will not handle real swords but instead be allocated bamboo imitations.
- This tour includes accommodation at Yakuo-in. Yakuo-in is a traditional ‘shukubo’ (temple lodging) within the Zenko-ji temple complex. The tour price includes a ‘Standard Japanese-style Room’ featuring on-floor ‘futon’ bedding, ‘tatami’ matting and low furniture. Toilet and bathing facilities are shared however Yakuo-in allows guests to book a time to use the bath/shower privately. Earliest check-in is at 15:00 and check-out is by 10:00. Dinner is served between 18:00 to 20:00 while breakfast is served between 07:30 to 09:00. In-keeping with the practice of most shukubo and the entrance will be locked at 21:00
- The tour includes dinner and breakfast at Yakuo-in. It serves a traditional vegetarian menu for both meals in a shared dining space. Alcohol is available but not included in the tour price. Should you wish to drink alcohol, please pay the accommodation directly.
- From mid-December until early-April the trail and park are likely to be affected by snow and ice. Please ensure that you are wearing suitable shoes/boots and warm clothing. If required, rental boots are available close to the monkey park and crampons (metal spikes that attach underneath your shoes/boots) can also be purchased. From mid-December until early-March please wear suitable clothing for temperatures potentially below 0°C (and as low as -10°C).
- During the winter it is common to see the monkeys enjoying the hot spring however from spring up to autumn there will be times where the monkeys play or eat in the water, however please note that the monkeys are wild animals and there is no guarantee that there will be monkeys in the bath.
- There are a few days in the year that the monkeys might not come down to the park.
- This tour includes lunch at Monzen Terrace Enya on Day 2. On rare occasions it may not be possible to use this restaurant in which case we would switch to another, comparable location. Please note that the restaurant may change their menu from time-to-time and the tour lunch may different to images shown on this page.
- This tour includes ‘sake’ tasting in Nagano City. The venue can change depending on the time of year. You must be a minimum of 20 years of age to consume alcohol on the tour.
- I’d like to join this tour from Tokyo. Which Shinkansen / Bullet Train service should I use to arrive in Nagano on time? What time do services depart Nagano after the tour concludes on Day 2?
The start time of this tour are arranged according to the Shinkansen timetable. You can book the following services on the Hokuriku Shinkansen line when joining this tour at Nagano Station:
Departing Tokyo Station – Arriving Nagano Station
Tokyo: 09:32 Nagano: 11:04 Hakutaka
Tokyo: 09:44 Nagano: 11:34 Asama
Tokyo: 10:24 Nagano: 11:43 Kagayaki (reserved seats only)
Departing Nagano Station – Arriving Tokyo Station
Nagano: 17:56 – Tokyo: 19:20 – Kagayaki – reserved seats only
Nagano: 18:23 – Tokyo: 20:00 – Hakutaka*
- I use a wheelchair / am mobility-impaired. Can I join this tour?
This tour is not wheelchair accessible and may not be suitable for mobility-impaired travelers. It requires a reasonable amount of walking and as a traditional ‘shukubo’, the accommodation is not wheelchair accessible. We apoloogise for that. Should you have any concerns about your ability to join the tour, please contact us at to discuss.
- I am vegetarian / vegan and / or have specific dietary needs / allergies. Can these be catered for?
Yes. The dinner and breakfast menus served at your accommodation are vegetarian and the lunch restaurant on the second day can provide both vegetarian and vegan meals. Should you have any specific dietary needs including allergies, please let us know in advance and we will contact the tour venues and accommodation to discuss.
- I have never stayed at a ‘shukubo’ before. What should I expect / will I enjoy it?
We are confident that you will really enjoy your experience staying at Yakuo-in. In most regards, it is much like staying in any other ‘ryokan’ (traditional guesthouse) in Japan. The tour price includes a ‘Standard Japanese-style Room’ featuring on-floor ‘futon’ bedding, ‘tatami’ matting and low furniture. Rooms are typically uncluttered to imbue your stay with a serene and mediative atmosphere. Toilet and bathing facilities are shared however Yakuo-in allows guests to book a time to use the bath/shower privately. Earliest check-in is at 15:00 and check-out is by 10:00. Dinner is served between 18:00 and 20:00 – again, in-keeping with the practice at most ‘shukubo’ – after which you are free to wander the temple at night – which often affords the chance to capture some beautiful photos – or head to a nearby bar, etc. The entrance is locked each night at 21:00 so just make sure to be back before then. Breakfast is served between 07:30 and 09:00.
- I am not Buddhist / not religious. Is this tour suitable for me / am I allowed to stay at the ‘shukubo’?
Yes. There is no expectation or requirement to be Buddhist to stay at the ‘shukubo’. Everyone is welcome. In terms of the tour content, it is designed to be engaging for guests of all faiths and backgrounds and reveal the story of Zenko-ji in an entertaining and relatable way. It is not a ‘religious’ tour as such and is not intended to convert anyone to Buddhism. We believe that by joining the walking tour prior to your ‘shukubo’ stay, it will enhance your understanding and experience of being there. And just remember, we take you to a ‘sake’ brewery and there’s booze at the ‘shukubo’ too, so rest assured the tour strikes the right balance.
- Is this tour suitable for children?
Yes. This tour is designed to be family-friendly and all content is suitable for children. Your guide will present the story of the temple in a manner that is fun and engaging for younger guests. Yoshinoya has non-alcoholic options which anyone can sample and enjoy.
- Can I extend my stay at Yakuo-in for more than 1 night?
Yes. Should you wish to do so, please contact as at prior to booking to discuss.
- Will the guide meet me at my accommodation on the morning of the second day?
To fit with the tour itinerary for the second day, we ask that guests bring themselves a short distance to a meetup point in the nearby Patio Daimon precinct. It is only a couple of minutes walk from the guesthouse and will be pointed-out by the guide on the first day. In doing so, we can store your luggage while you are exploring the temple and the tour can move most smoothly around the complex.
- What is the ‘O-Asaji’? Is it included in the tour / am I able to attend?
The ‘O-Asaji’ is a morning service held at Zenko-ji every day of the year. It is one of the few temples in Japan to conduct such a ceremony throughout the year with anyone welcome to attend, regardless of their faith and background. Ceremonies conducted by the heads of both the Daihongan and Daikanjin – the two temples responsible for maintaining Zenko-ji – each take 30 minutes to complete, meaning the overall ceremony lasts approximately 1 hour including the ‘O-Juzu Choudai’ or ‘Rosary Blessing’ offer anyone in attendance who wishes to partake. As the head of each sect moves to and from the temple, attendants line up and kneel before them, awaiting their blessing with the soft touch of a rosary upon their heads. This simple act is said to ensure a peaceful death and entry into the Buddhist paradise; a blessing which visitors can obtain four times during any one ceremony as the heads of both sects move to and from the main hall. The ‘O-Asaji’ takes place around sunrise, with times varying from 05:30 to 07:30 depending on the month of the year. As it takes place in the morning, it is not included a part of the guided tour of the temple however guests are free to attend by themselves on the morning of the second day before they enjoy breakfast and join the tour at 09:55.
(Travel Agency License No: Nagano 2-562)
Snow Monkey Resorts Tours
Nagano City Kurita 1015-7, NK Copo 202, Nagano, 380-0921 Japan
Member of All Nippon Travel Agents Association
Travel Service Supervisor: Tomoko Kasahara
All Year Round