8. Nagano: 1-Day Snow Monkey and O-Fune Festival Tour
Your tour will begin at JR Nagano Station at 8:45AM, where your guide will greet you before you make your way out of Nagano and towards the Jigokudani Monkey Park. Arriving nearby the park, your guide will take you along a forest trail which leads you to the Jigokudani Valley, which translates rather dramatically to "Hell's Valley". Home to the only troop of monkeys in the entire world known to bathe in hot springs, there will be no barriers separating you from the wild monkeys, making this a unique and memorable experience.
From there, it will be time to head to lunch at a nearby restaurant. As one of Japan’s largest food-producing regions, Nagano’s food culture is renowned, and your guide will always be happy to talk all things food as you sit down to an enjoyable autumn lunch.
Well-filled by lunch, you will then board your tour bus and make your way toward Azumino. It is said that Azumino takes it names from the "Azumi" people, a clan of skilled navigators who traveled from the distant south to settle away from the coast. The voyage is said to have taken place during the 7th century, and to this day is celebrated annually in the much-loved "Azumino O-Fune Matsuri".
Taking place over 2 days, the highlight of the festival occurs on the second day, when local residents pull large and colorfully-decorated floats resembling the fabled ships that once sailed from the south, toward a boisterous and well-intended battle in front of the Hotaka Shrine.
Arriving at around 2:15PM, your guide will take you around the beautiful shrine before having you in your reserved seat to witness the battle of the boats between 3:00PM and 4:00PM. With one ship considered male and the other female, the collision of the two is symbolic of a wish for fertility and the successful continuation of the Azumino community. Local, loud, and a whole lot of fun, this festival is a great way to experience Japanese culture at its most enjoyable.
Once the festivities have drawn to a close, your guide will have you back onboard the tour bus and headed back to JR Nagano Station, where the tour is scheduled to conclude by approximately 5:30PM.