If you’ve always wanted to visit the snow monkeys (also known as Japanese macaques) then you’re in for a treat!
We’ve recently visited Tokyo, Takasaki and Nagano in the beautiful fall season and came up with a concise and fun itinerary that takes you to explore these three cities, including the unique snow monkeys experience ?
Day 1: Konnichiwa Tokyo!
- We took the red-eye flight and arrived at Narita Airport bright and early, all ready to start our Japan adventure!
- There are a few options to get from Narita Airport to the city center, but if you’ve opted for the JR East Pass like we did, don't forget to collect it at the JR East Travel Service Center located at Narita Airport.
- We got the JR East pass for the Nagano, Nigiita area which takes you to cities like Takasaki, Karuizawa, Nagano, and many more, by Shinkansen! You’re also able to travel for free on all JR lines within Tokyo – simply present your JR pass to the ticketing officer at any JR train station ?
- #HHWT Tip: We recommend purchasing the pass in your home country as it’s cheaper at ¥17,000 for adults and ¥8,500 for children. But if you decide to purchase this in Japan, it’s ¥18,000 for adults and ¥9,000 for children.
- You’ll get an e-ticket when you purchase your JR East pass. You’ll need this and your passport to redeem your pass.
- As this is a flexible five-day pass, you can use it on any 5 days within the 14-day period from the date of purchase in Japan. Most importantly, don’t lose your JR pass!
Check-in to Hotel Metropolitan Edmont Tokyo (0.5h)
- The Narita Express takes you from the airport to central stations in Tokyo like Tokyo Station, Shinjuku, Shibuya and even further out to Yokohama.
- Take the Narita Express and alight at Tokyo station, to take the Chuo line to Iidabashi station (6 stops).
- Hotel Metropolitan Edmont Tokyo is a 5-minute walk away from Iidabashi station, nestled in a pretty quiet neighborhood ☺️
- As the check-in time is at 3pm, we left our luggage at the front desk and were brought around to check out some of the rooms in Hotel Metropolitan Edmont Tokyo!
- The hotel has two wings, the main building (which is older) and the east wing (which was just renovated in 2014). The rooms in the east wing are newer and also more spacious, hence they’re slightly pricier than the ones in the main building.
- We were also shown the spacious family room in the east wing, which can sleep up to 5 people!
- Interestingly, you are required to remove your shoes when residing in the family room, adding to that homely feeling when you head back to your room. The bathtub also comes with a jacuzzi function for your enjoyment ?♀️
Shopping + Lunch at Shibuya (3hrs)
- It’s time to head to Shibuya for some retail therapy!
- From huge departmental stores to local brands like Uniqlo, Loft and Tokyu Hands to our favourite drug stores, there’s something for everyone in Shibuya.
- Check out our ultimate guide to shopping in Tokyo for more on what you can shop for in Shibuya!
Credit: @kelilingjepang on Instagram
- Hungry from all that shopping? Head to Gyumon in Shibuya for lunch and dig into super yummy gyudon (Japanese beef bowls)! Steaming chunks of beef are served over white rice and a range of side dishes, including soup and kimchi. We’re already feeling hungry describing it ?
- This popular and cosy restaurant is also well-known for its yakiniku. Don’t forget to make a reservation if you decide to try this for dinner as the store can get really crowded.
- Halal status: Halal ingredients used, alcohol served. We recommend that you dine at your own discretion.
Catch the autumn foliage at Meiji Jingu Gaien (1h)
- Located not far away from the famous Meiji Shrine, the two long streets of gingko trees are absolutely stunning during autumn ?
- Be it strolling down the tree-lined streets while enjoying the cool weather or taking out your camera to capture that picture perfect moment, this autumn foliage spot is definitely worth a visit!
- At the peak of autumn, you can also spot locals hanging out at nearby cafes or even bringing their pets out for a stroll. We were amazed at how their pets were dressed to the nines for a photoshoot!
- Alight at Gaienmae or Aoyama Itchome and it’s just a short 5-minute walk away.
Unwind with some local desserts at the famous Toraya (1h)
- When you’re done snapping those photos, head to Toraya Café Kita-Aoyama (located near Omotesando) for some delicious Muslim-friendly red bean snacks ?
- The renowned wagashi store has over 80 stores in Japan and a rich history dating all the way back to 1600s, where the first store was opened in the then capital of Japan, Kyoto!
- We tried the An Bun, An Paste Fondant and the An Houjicha, and fell in love with the sweet, smooth An paste (red bean paste)!
- The An Paste Fondant is exclusive to the Kita-Aoyama store, and we absolutely love the wonderful mix of red bean and cacao.
- The houjicha was an interesting mix of roasted green tea with red bean, and we recommend going for a warm drink for a richer flavor.
- Halal status: Do note that the café isn’t halal-certified, but we’ve checked with the staff to ensure that the desserts mentioned do not contain alcohol nor animal derivatives.
Finish up with a yummy yakiniku dinner at Gyukaku in Akasaka (2h)
- What’s a visit to Japan without trying authentic yakiniku?
- Popular chain restaurant, Gyukaku (Akasaka outlet), offers halal set menus for Muslim travelers and even provides separate sets of cutlery ?
- This is also probably the only place in Japan where you can try halal beef tongue (gyutan), a delicacy originating from Sendai in Japan.
- You get to choose from two different set menus – Halal Wagyu Course (¥6,000 per person) and the Halal Gyukaku Course (¥4,000 per person).
- Each set comes with assorted cuts of beef, beef tongue, chicken, salad, bibimbap (or white rice) and a dessert. The only difference is that the wagyu set serves wagyu beef along with seafood (scallops, shrimp) ?
- If that’s not enough, you can also choose from their ala carte menu!
- #HHWT Tip: Do note that you’ll have to make reservations at least 3 days in advance! Contact number: 03-5545-5029
- Halal status: Halal-certified, alcohol served in eatery
Day 2 – Disneyland Day!
- Spend your entire day at the happiest place in the world – Disneyland!
- Before you head off, don’t forget to book the FREE shuttle bus at Hotel Metropolitan Edmont Tokyo – available to all hotel guests.
- You can either make the reservation on their website or head to the counter right next to the reception.
- The service is to and from Disneyland, and it takes around 40mins to get to the park. It’s really convenient, especially if you’re travelling with family or young kids!
- Check out our Disneyland guide for insider tips to maximize your day and have an amazing time at the park ?
- Alternatively, if you want to make full use of your JR East pass (3 days or 5 days), schedule Disneyland for your last day back in Tokyo before you fly back home the next day!
Day 3 – Takasaki
- Before you embark on your search for some snow monkeys, you might also want to use your JR East pass and pay a short visit to Takasaki (50mins away by Shinkansen), a relatively forgotten city in Gunma Prefecture.
- It’s also the hometown of the traditional Daruma dolls!
Fuel up at the breakfast buffet in Hotel Metropolitan Edmont Tokyo
- Wake up bright and early to grab breakfast at the hotel before catching your train to Takasaki.
- The dishes served have a label with pictograms (icons) on them stating common food allergens and ingredients that they contain, including pork and alcohol, so you’re able to select your food accordingly.
- We were also pleasantly surprised to see a variety of juices and drinks at the spread. They even have different brands of mineral water, both normal and sparkling!
- Halal status: Do note that the breakfast isn’t halal-certified, so do consume at your own discretion.
Hotel Metropolitan Takasaki
- Similar to the other Hotel Metropolitan in the other cities, Hotel Metropolitan Takasaki is conveniently located just at Takasaki station, which is perfect if you’re planning to do day trips at each city, maximizing your JR pass ?
- The most unique part of the hotel would be their D51 498 Room which is designed to look as if you’re living in a D51 steam locomotive train car!
- Definitely something you’ll want to check out, especially if you’re a train enthusiast. Find out more about this unique room here.
- Just like the other hotels, the one in Takasaki also provides a breakfast buffet with the ingredients and common allergens of each dish clearly stated out on signs with icons on them.
- This charming little city provides a mix of both country and city life and tourists (and locals alike) flock to visit the huge Kannon (Goddess of Mercy) statue, constructed all the way back in 1936!
- To get to the statue, take the Gurin bus from Stand 8 at Takasaki Staion West Exit and alight at Byakui Dai Kannonmae (20mins)
- Walk 10mins up a gentle hill that's lined with shops to reach the Kannon statue.
- The statue is free to visit but if you wish to head up (and walk to the height of its shoulder), there’s a ¥300 fee for adults and ¥100 for children
- From the top of the statue, you’re able to enjoy an amazing view of the city ?
Shorinzan Darumaji Temple
- A visit to the hometown of the Takasaki Daruma dolls won’t be complete without heading to Shorinzan Darumaji Temple, which was where the first daruma dolls were made a few hundred years ago!
- The most popular daruma dolls in Japan are actually made by the locals here in Takasaki and almost two million dolls are made each year ?
- The doll is a symbol of luck for Japanese and they paint the left eye of the doll to make a wish, only completing the painting of the right eye when the wish comes true.
- Locals also bring daruma dolls to the main temple building every year as an offering and there’s even an entire building displaying piles of daruma dolls from all over the country!
- It takes around 20mins by bus from JR Takasaki station (west exit), alight at Shorinzan Iriguchi station
Day 4 – Nagano
Take the Shinkansen to Nagano station
- If you’re headed to Nagano from Takasaki, it’s a 50-minute train ride. And if you’re heading straight from Tokyo, it’ll take around 90 minutes to get to Nagano.
Check in at Hotel Metropolitan Nagano (0.5h)
- The best thing about most of the Hotel Metropolitan hotels is that they’re very conveniently located right at the JR train station ?
- The one at Nagano is only around 5 mins away from Nagano station and you can get there by walking through the mall (after you exit the station). Super convenient!
- We checked in to our Superior Twin Room (yay for early check-in!) which was really spacious for two, as the room can sleep up to 3 people.
- If you have 3 in your party, an extra bed can be added for the third person.
- Other than the spacious room, we were also treated to an awesome view of the train tracks and mountains in the distance ?
- We also had the chance to check out the Japanese Collaboration Suite which is perfect for a family (or group of friends) of 6.
- The room comes with 2 beds, 2 pull-out beds and 2 futons if you’re looking to really immerse in local culture and go the traditional way!
- The bathroom is also significantly larger to accommodate more people.
- Don’t leave without taking the complimentary Handy phone with you – there’s one in every room! If you’re still not familiar with it, it’s a phone that comes with mobile data and you can make calls on it. Perfect for finding your way around and making reservations, when required!
Zenkoji Temple (3h)
- Start your Nagano trip by visiting one of the top sites in the city, Zenkoji Temple!
- The temple is a 10min bus ride or 30mins walk away from JR Nagano station.
- Although it’s stated on many sites as a Buddhist temple, we learnt from one of the staff there that the temple is said to not be affiliated with any religion, and people visit to pray for health, love, work, study and more.
- When you’re done at the temple, head to the streets leading up to the temple to browse for some Japanese trinkets.
- As Nagano is known for its apples (Shinshu apples) and it was the right season when we visited, there were lots of apple snacks available at the many shops outside the temple. Just be sure to double check on the ingredients, as some of the snacks may contain alcohol.
Get your spice on at Yawataya Isogoro (0.5h)
- Located just outside the temple is one of the biggest Shichimi makers in the country. Shichimi is made of red chili pepper and 6 other aromatic spices, which you can use as a dip for your meats or spice up your dishes.
- It’s extremely popular with locals and tourists alike, as the shop was filled with people browsing and you can even custom make your own Shichimi powder!
- Halal status: Do note that this isn’t Halal-certified, but we’ve checked the ingredients and they do not contain animal derivatives nor alcohol.
Dinner at Shinshū Soba No Kusabue (1.5h)
- Nagano is famous for its soba (widely considered as one of the best in Japan!) and after trying the one at Shinshu soba, we can definitely understand why!
- The noodles are freshly made and you can marvel in awe at the chef proficiently kneading and cutting the buckwheat flour into the noodles that’ll fill up your bowls.
- Choose from their local specialty, Tororo Soba where the soba sauce is served with grated yam or treat yourself to the Ebi Tenzaru Soba which is served with 2 shrimps and assorted vegetable tempura
- Remember to ask for their English menu and bear in mind that their portions are HUGE.
- HHWT Tip: You get to save ¥100 if you request for less soba!
- There’s also an English menu available with a detailed explanation of how to eat the soba noodles and finish it off when you’re done ?
- Halal status: Do note that this isn’t Halal-certified, but we’ve checked with the store on the ingredients and there are no animal derivatives nor alcohol being used in the ingredients
Shopping at Donki (1h)
- The city gets pretty quiet in the evening but you can get some shopping done before most of the shops close at 8pm.
- The great thing about staying in Hotel Metropolitan Nagano is that it’s located right next to the mall with a supermarket and shops like Tokyu Hands, Muji and many other local brands.
- And to make things sweeter, all you shopaholics can head on over to Don Quijote (Donki for short) when the mall closes! Donki opens till midnight, so you definitely have plenty of time to shop and browse for souvenirs ?
Day 5 – Nagano
- Eat your fill at the breakfast buffet in Hotel Metropolitan Nagano before you head off to the snow monkey park!
- Similar to Hotel Metropolitan Edmont Tokyo, the hotel in Nagano provides pictogram and icons that state the various allergens and ingredients used in each dish.
- Don’t forget to try the Shinshu apple jam (made from the local apples in Nagano!) with your bread or yoghurt! It was so yummy, we wish we could bring some home ?
- Lace up your walking shoes and we’re off to explore Jigokudani Snow Monkey Park!
- Did you know that this is the only place in the world where you get to see snow monkeys?
- To get to the park, take an Express Bus from JR Nagano Station (Nagaden Bus). The journey takes around 41mins. From the stop, follow the signs that direct you uphill to the park. The trail leading to the park is around 1.6km and will take you around 25mins to reach. Do be very careful if you’re visiting in winter, as the path can be very slippery when they’re iced.
- Check their official website for the bus timings both to and from the Snow Monkey Park
- #HHWT Tip: Remember not to stop at the first monkey you see because you’ll meet a lot more!
- Walk all the way in till you reach a flight of stairs. You’ll have to climb up to get to the entrance of the monkey park, where the hot spring is located. There’s an entrance fee of ¥800 for adults and ¥400 for kids.
- We recommend heading there early in the morning (the park opens at 9am) so you’ll be in time to catch the feeding.
- We were also lucky enough to catch a few monkeys going in for a dip after they’ve had their meals ?
- #HHWT Tip: It’s highly recommended to visit from December onwards when the weather is much colder as the monkeys generally only go into the hot springs then. And if it’s snowing, it makes for a truly beautiful experience and photograph!
- It’s truly fascinating to observe the monkeys, especially the younger ones who are always never too far away from their mothers, and easily hop on their backs when it’s time to move on.
- Social grooming is also something to look out for as the monkeys groom themselves, their young and each other ?
- We spent a good hour just observing their expressions and interactions with each other and we could have spent more time, except it was freezing!
Optional: Fruit Picking at NTA Farm (availability of fruits depending on season)
- One of the fun activities we always check for when planning a visit to Japan is fruit picking! Fun, delicious and perfect for the whole family, what’s not to love?
- The best time for apple picking would be in October, and towards the end of the month when the season is coming to an end, we only had two different varieties to choose from - orin (green) apples and the famous fuji apples.
- During the apple picking session, you’re allowed to eat as many apples as you can and also bring 3 apples back home for a fee of ¥1,500.
- The staff at the orchard will lead you to the apple trees, demonstrate how to spot ripe apples and the correct way to pick them.
- A super convenient apple skin peeler and apple cutter will be provided for you too, so munch away on all the apples!
- We were really lucky that the first apple we picked had a honey core in it – you can spot it from the slightly darker yellow markings on the apple. And it was truly the sweetest apple we have ever tasted in our life ?
- The orchard also has apples for sale (at different prices), so you can always buy more home if 3 isn’t quite enough!
- Do check in with the hotel reception and they’ll be able to help you arrange for your visit to the fruits orchard! If you’re planning a visit to both the monkey park and the fruit orchard, we recommend checking with the hotel for a car hire (with driver) for a few hours so that you’re able to get from Iiyama station conveniently to the monkey park, and then the fruit orchard after. You’ll also be able to bring your luggage along with the car hire and depart straight from Iiyama station.
- Alternatively, you can take the bus from the monkey park to Nagano station and take a train from there to Iiyama station where the fruit orchard is just a 7-minute walk away ?
Head back to Tokyo and to the Airport (4h)
- It’s time for our Japan adventure to come to an end ?
- Walk back to Iiyama station to take the train back to Nagano (around 30mins) and pick up your luggage before catching the Shinkansen to Tokyo station (around 90 mins).
- From there, board the Narita Express (free with the JR East Pass!) and head straight to the airport to catch your flight (around 60mins)! Don’t forget to check the train schedules on Hyperdia so that you can plan your trips accordingly!
Grab a quick bite at Narita Airport just before your flight home!
- Depending on where you’re departing from, there are 3 restaurants serving halal meals - Homemade Udon Noodles KINEYAMUGIMARU (Terminal 1), Tantei and La Toque (Terminal 2).
- The restaurants are all located outside the transit area, so do remember to grab your meal before heading in!
While this isn’t your typical Japan itinerary, it’s perfect if you want to explore another side of Japan while not neglecting Tokyo. Plus, the best time to see snow monkeys is from December to March so if seeing the snow monkeys has always been on your bucket list, it’s time to finally make that trip ?
This article was brought to you by JR-East Hotels.