Northern Alps, Japan

Even a mere glimpse of mountains makes my soul want to dance (see photo evidence). This is probably because Toronto lies in a particularly flat area of Canada, so I often play a game with myself and pretend that especially pointy clouds are mountain outlines in the distance. To my delight, Japan had no shortage of mountains—gently rolling hills, snow-capped peaks, and green summits dotted with pines. And as we headed north into the highlands, the views became all the more awe-inspiring.

Our home base was in Yudanaka, a sleepy onsen town where a friendly old couple run a ryokan that is over a hundred years old (probably not too much older than they are). Though it was a little eerie at times, it had many perks like 24hr wooden private onsen baths, dinners with locally-sourced ingredients and traditional decor and yukata. So after perfectly restful nights on the Japanese futons and tatami floors, we’d set off in search of mountain wonders. First, the stoic snow monkeys of Jigokudani Park who tolerate excited humans with grace. And later, the Kurobe Alpine Trail that is traversed by bus, train, funicular and ropeway and takes you up to 3000m, via one surprisingly breathtaking dam and one particularly famous snow corridor.

Kurobe Tip: #1 If there are only one or two of you travelling, use the ‘individual line-ups’ at stations, you will be ushered past the slow and loud groups of  school children and organized tours. Time your trip to avoid peak hours, but be prepared for crowds anyway. #2 Bring sunglasses! The reflection off the snow is seriously blinding (Ken’s super squint below).

Next time… a Nagano oasis and more

Heading toward Mt. Tateyama

Near Jigokudani Park

Making tea at Yudanaka Seifuso, our ryokan

Dinner at Yudanaka Seifuso

Our room at Yudanaka Seifuso

Our room at Yudanaka Seifuso

Private onsen

Heading to Jigokudani Park

Jigokudani resident snow monkeys

A dip in the natural onsen

Jigokudani residents (and me)

Jigokudani residents

A patient mother

Town near Jigokudani park

Funicular along the Kurobe Alpine Trail

Kurobe Dam

Kurobe Dam

Kurobe Dam

Kurobe Dam

Ropeway to Mt. Tateyama

Snow covered Tateyama in May

Arriving at Murodo station

Murodo’s 18 meter snow corridor

Murodo snow corridor

Ken conquering the mountain (and squinting from the blinding light)

BONUS: Watch our insta-video of the snow tunnel.

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UnaNorthern Alps, Japan


  1. Carol

    Beautiful (except for that monkey). I am fascinated by those beds. How do you use them – do you slide into that cut out?

  2. Una

    Thanks Carol!! It was a breathtaking part of Japan.
    As for the futons… the cut out in the duvet cover is just decorative, what you’re seeing there is the duvet inside. And underneath is a thin futon you sleep on. Traditionally the Japanese roll up the futons and bedding each day and put them away, and use the space for a low dining table. It’s a genius way to make use of a small space.

    1. Carol

      It makes so much sense to sleep that way and not have a big stupid mattress and bed taking up all the space. There is a store in TO that sells them – all I have to do is convince my husband (never going to happen).

  3. Una

    Haha. Maybe a trip to Japan would convince him! Plus it’s supposed to be amazing for your back.

What do you think?