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    Snow monkeys in Hell's Valley

The essential day tour, and an ideal rest day off the ski mountain. Approximately 200 macaque monkeys live in and around the hot springs  of Jigokudani -  otherwise known as "Hells Valley" because of the steep cliffs and hot water steaming from the earth's surface. Enter into their winter world, as they play in the snow and then warm up in the onsen - much as the Japanese like to do themselves. Well-accustomed to spectators, the monkeys largely  ignore their human audience and just get on with it.   You have to walk to reach the pools - about 10-15 minutes - and the route tracks through the forest, where you may actually come across the monkeys before the onsens, walking around or just sitting in the trees. 

After visiting the snow monkeys in the morning, you then head to Obuse - a historic town  and home to famous artist Hokusai, famous for his woodblock prints including The Great Wave (you'll have seen it!). There is a museum dedicated to his work. There is a Japanese lunch, before you head to  240 year-old Masuichi Saké Brewery...sampling the product an absolute requirement! 

Finally, the tour ends up at Zenkoji Temple in Nagano City - an official national treasure and home to the first Buddha image brought to Japan in the 7th Century. But you can't see it. The secret Buddha, is a hidden Buddha statue, and the commandments of the temple require the absolute secrecy of the statue, prohibiting it to be shown to anyone, even including the chief priest of the temple. However, a replica of the statue 'Maedachi Honzon' has been created which can be shown publicly once every six years.

After a brief omiyage (look it up) shopping spree, it's time to head back to the resort - where you'll arrive later afternoon. Just in time to do as the monkey did - head to the onsen!