The secret world of Kasugayama Primeval Forest

I had a great time in Hasedera the day before. The temple grounds were lovely but what struck me most was the abundant hydrangeas blooming all over the garden. I had been to Nara Park several times, but each time I always used to miss visiting the Manyou Botanical Garden, located near Kasuga-Taisha shrine bordering the Kasugayama Primeval forest. The garden contains a Wisteria Garden, Camellia Garden, Iris Garden, Ajisai Garden and a Five Grain Garden. With the Ajisai blooming all over Nara, I decided it was the perfect time to check out this garden.

The garden can be easily accessed by entering Nara Park and walking on your right towards Kasuga Taisha shrine.

The Manyou Botanical Garden (萬葉植物園) opened in 1932 and contains over 300 species of plants and trees mentioned in the Man’yōshū, the oldest existing collection of Japanese poetry, compiled sometime after 759 AD during the Nara period. The foundation for this garden was laid by a botanist by the name of Honda Seiroku. He visualized the creation of this recreational botanical garden by utilizing the land set aside for the Nara Imperial Villa in Nara Park towards the end of the Meiji period. However it wasn’t until 1927, when a proposal was forwarded to create the Manyo Garden. Sasaki Nobutsuna, a scholar of Japanese literature, formed an organization to champion the idea of establishing the Manyo Gardens where the exact varieties mentioned in the poems of the Manyoshu would be grown.

I have compiled a gallery of all the flowers and other interesting experiences of the garden. Some of the flowers were easy to identify, others are still a mystery to me. If you recognize any, please add it in the comments.

Honestly, I would not suggest visiting the gardens in Summer if you are mostly a flower person. If you only want to experience Ajesai, there are loads to take pictures of. If you are tired of all the walking one has to do visiting Kasuga Taisha, this is a nice place to come and rest. There is a small pond full of Koi fishes. The colorful fishes stalked me as I stood near the edge of the pond expecting some food from me. After a couple of hours of lazy wandering, I made my way back out of the garden.

Thank you for reading. Please leave me a comment if you liked the shots.

Kuon-ji Temple

Today we visit the Kuon-ji (久遠寺), which is a major Buddhist temple in Yamanashi Prefecture. Hidden away far into the mountains of Yamanashi, it is locally referred to as the Minobu-san Temple, after the mountain upon which it is built. Reaching it itself is a challenge as we traveled almost two hours from Lake Tanuki, on the local train and then had to take a bus to the base of the mountain, but as if that was not enough, to reach the temple there is the ultimate challenge of climbing 287 Bodaitei steps.

Brief History of Kuon-ji

Minobusan Kuon-ji (久遠寺) is the head temple of the Nichiren shu (Nichiren sect). It is based on the teachings of the 13th century Japanese monk Nichiren and is one of four popular schools of Buddhism in Japan. The temple was founded in around 1281 by Nichiren and his disciples. Nichiren Shu was an offshoot of Mahayana Buddhism which had been practiced in Japan since the 5th century CE.

Born as an outcast, Nichiren entered priesthood at the young age of 12. He had an eventful life during which he was exiled twice mainly for writing inflammatory articles. He was a charismatic leader who attracted many followers during both his missionary trips and his exiles.

During his self-imposed exile at Mount Minobu as well, he led a widespread movement of followers in Kanto and Sado regions through his prolific writings. After his death in 1282, his ashes were laid to rest in a tomb at Kuon-ji on the same mountain where he had spent nine years reciting the Lotus Sutra.

During the Sengoku(1467-1600) and Edo(1603-1868) periods, the popularity of the temple as a place of pilgrimage grew even more. By 1712 with the help of his committed followers, the temple complex boasted of 133 structures within its extensive grounds. Tragedy struck multiple times between 1744 to 1875 reducing many of the temple’s buildings to ashes. Over time with the donations from the local residents, most of these structures were re-built and the present-day temple remains a very large establishment.

Sanmon Gate, Kuon-ji

We spent the early part of the day wandering around Lake Tanuki. After lunch we reached Fujinomiya. From Fujinomiya Station we took the local train to JR Minobu Station. From the station, a public bus brought us directly to the base of the Minobu mountain. The bus ride takes about 12 minutes and it operates from 8:40 am until 16:40 pm all round the year. It was already 4 pm by the time we reached the Sanmon Gate.

Generally most temples in Japan close their gates by 5 pm. So you should keep some time on hand when you visit. The area was already desolate and all the nearby shops had closed by then. A lady, who happened to be passing by, helped us out with the directions.

The first Sanmon Gate was built in 1642. Unfortunately it was burned in 1865. The gate was later rebuilt in 1907. It is one of the three famous gates in Kanto Province.

A stone path from the Sanmon Gate leads up to the base of the Bodaitei steps.

Bodaitei Steps, Kuon-ji

A couple of minutes later, we found ourselves at the base of the Bodaitei steps. These stairs have been constructed in 1632, from the donations of the residents of Sado Island, where Nichiren stayed during his second exile. The height of the stairs is about 104 m from the ground and are popularly known as the “steps of enlightenment”. The 287 stairs lead directly to the Main Hall of Kuon-ji.

The 287-step stone path provides access from the Temple Gate to the Main Hall, where the top, represents Nirvana. The stairs are divided into seven sections, evoking the seven letters “Na-Mu-Myo-Ho-Ren-Ge-Kyo” comprising Odaimoku.

On a lighter note, after completing the 287 steps, I did experience a blinding light for a few seconds, but the enlightenment didn’t last for too long 😉

Alternatively, there are two hiking trails: a west course (3 hours) and an east course (2.5 hours) which climb up their respective flanks of the mountain.

Hondo, Kuon-ji

Kuonji at Minobusan was merely a local temple until Nitcho (1422-1500) became the chief priest of the temple in 1462. Through his untiring efforts, Minobusan Kuonji rapidly grew up to become a large temple. Seeing this, the Five Fuji Temples became nervous.

The Main Hall referred to as Hon-do, was lost in big fire in 1875. The current building was rebuilt and its opening ceremony with new Buddha statue was held in May 1985. The hall contains a black-and-white painting of “BOKURYU” (Black Dragon) on the ceiling by Matazo Kayama, which is considered a masterpiece.

The Main Hall is full of wooden decorations. This hall is the biggest in Nichiren shu. Inside the peaceful hall, surrounded by the the sweet scent of incense, I quickly forgot my cramps from the long climb up the stairs.

Goju-no-to Pagoda, Kuon-ji

Just opposite to the Main hall lies the five story pagoda. Originally the Pagoda was built at Minobusan in 1619 from donations of Lady Jufuku-In, Lord Toshitune Maeda’s mother in Kaga Prefecture. Unfortunately the first Pagoda was burnt in 1829, and it was lost again by a massive fire in 1875.

This Five-Storied Pagoda at Minobusan has been rebuilt under the pious patronage of supporters from all over Japan. The current Pagoda indicates completion of recovering all Buddhist buildings at Monobusan after Meiji period. This Pagoda has been reconstructed as recovering the original Pagoda by combination of traditional and modern techniques. The opening ceremony of the Pagoda was held from May 13th to 17th for 5 days in a row in 2009.

Near its base you can also find the belfry.

Seishinkaku Soshido, Kuon-ji

Right next to the main hall, lies the Seishinkaku Soshido or the Founders’ Hall. The Hall originally belonged to Nezumi- yama Kannoji Temple, which was established by 11th Shogun Tokugawa Ienari in 1836. The Hall was demolished in 1841. It was rebuilt in 1881 and converted into the founders’ hall.

The magnificent shrine within the Hall, which keeps statue of Nichiren-Shonin, was donated by supporters in Tokyo. Buddhist instruments for ceremonies as the gift canopy and banners were donated by supporters in Osaka and Kyoto.

In addition to temples in the area, there are many temple inns where you can stay the night. These temple inns are attached to many of the temples on Mt. Minobu.

Shukubo Kakurinbo Temple Inn, which is attached to Gyogakuin Kakurinbo Temple, is also accommodating to non-Japanese guests. If you do decide to spend a night at one the many temple inns at Mt. Minobu , don’t forget to attend the early morning prayers held at Minobusan Kuon-ji Temple.

It’s also possible to take a 7-minute cable car ride (1,400 yen return) up the Minobusan Ropeway to the summit with mesmerizing views of Mt. Fuji, but it was already closed for the day.

Although there are many other attractions here, we were late and it was time to leave. I had slightly less than two hours to spend there, but it was an invaluable time nevertheless.

Thanks for reading. I look forward to your comments and questions.




1281 CE

Opening Hours

April-September: 5:00 am – 5:00 pm
October-March: 5:30 am – 5:00 pm

Admission Fee


The serene Lake Tanuki

Getting down at Kyukamura-FUJI-Hotel

wooded trail near Lake tanuki

Going to Lake Tanuki

Lake Tanuki and Mt Fuji from Hotel Porch

Walking through the woods


Mani and Viki

Looking back towards the hotel

Mani at Lake Tanuki

Viki at Lake Tanuki

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Shiraito Falls

Train to Fujinomiya

Shiraito Falls with bridge

Closer view of Shiraito Falls

Raibow at the base of Shiraito Falls

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Lake Chūzenji

Lake Chūzenji is a scenic lake in Nikkō National Park in the city of Nikkō, Tochigi Prefecture, Japan. It was created 20,000 years ago when Mount Nantai erupted and blocked the river.

Catching the local Nikko to Nikko Station

Nikko Station

Lake Chizenji Bus Stop

Route to Kaegon Falls

Keagon Falls

Towards Lake Chuzenji

First view of Lake Chuzenji

Walked towards the side of the lake.

The road is lined with many small resorts and inns.

From this angle you can catch the mountains with the lake.

As I went farther, I found more snow covered areas.

Entered a wooded area beside the lake.

Sat there for a while.

caught the beautiful lake

started my walk back to the bus stop

the lake was looking pristine in the late afternoon.

the path towards the bus stop.

before going to the bus stand, caught the river

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Plum blooms of Kairaku-en Garden

Catching the Hitachi at Shinagawa Station

Mito Station

A statue of a farmer on the way to Kairaku-en

Entrance to Kairaku-en

Toko Shrine

Hina Matsuri dolls

Tokiwa Jinja

Entrance to Kairaku-en Plum Garden

Kairaku-en grounds

Mito Hakkei

Kobuntei House

Pink plum bloom near Kobuntei House

Plum garden

White Plum bloom

Going down towards the lower part of the garden

Plum trees

Plum flowers


White Plum

Close up

Going back up to the garden

Viki at Mito Hakkei

Leaving Kairaku-en

At Mito Station to catch the train to Tokyo

Back in Tokyo

Catching the Shinkansen to Kyoto

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Spooked in the Ghost town of Kitaro

Ride to Yonago

Getting down at Yonago

Outside Yonago

Lunch at Yonago

Waiting for train to Sakaiminato

Kitaro Family Train

Kitaro Family Train Seats

Getting down at Sakaiminato

Sakaminato Station

Sakaisuido Strait

Ferries at Sakaisuido Strait

Walking along Mizuki Shigeru Road

Meeting Shigeru Mizuki Cosplayer

Busts of characters from GeGeGe no Kitaro

Meeting Kitaro cosplayer


Mizuki Shigeru Museum

Manga, Illustrated books

Having some fun at Mizuki Shigeru Museum

More fun


Kitaro Art

Leaving museum, more busts on the road

Ghosts of Kitaro

Train to Yonago

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The Dunes of Tottori

JR Train Station

Bus to Tottori Sand Dunes

Parking lot

Tottori Sand Dunes Entrance

Tottori Sand Dunes

Viki at Tottori Sand Dunes

Mani at Tottori Sand Dunes

Climbing the Horseback Dune

Atop the Horseback Dune

View of the Sea

Western coast

Setting up my tripod

Catching the sunset over Tottori Sand Dunes

Mani at sunset


Leaving Tottori Sand Dunes

Waiting for bus

Tottori at night

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Snow Monkeys of Jigokudani

The Japanese Macaque (Nihon-zaru), colloquially known as the “snow monkey,” holds a unique place in nature. In the hot springs region of Yudanaka, Japan, these monkeys have adapted to extreme cold and are highly sought by photographers as they bathe in the natural hot springs.

Today, I travelled almost 1000 km, to and back to experience the ecology, and record the conservation efforts surrounding the snow monkeys of Yudanaka. Half a day is certainly not enough to do a thorough research but I did end up with quite a bit of first-hand information in that limited amount of time.

I have done some really tough day trips from Nara, and this is going to be right there among the top. Yudanaka is really far far away. Apart from changing three trains at Nara, Kyoto, and then Nagano stations, I also had to catch a short bus ride and then walk about 2 km to reach my destination in Jigokudani (地獄谷).

It was going to be challenging so it had to be an early start in the morning from Nara. I woke up at dawn, walked down to Nara Station, and caught the 6:30 a.m. train to Kyoto. Because I was holding a JR Pass, I didn’t have to spend any time at the ticket counters. I reached Kyoto at around 7 a.m. and from there caught the 7:29 a.m. Thunderbird to Kanazawa.

The train was almost empty and I was able to obtain a window seat, facing east. One of the most beautiful aspects of the train line from Kyoto to Kanazawa is that you can enjoy beautiful views of Lake Biwa and the lovely Shiga countryside. In early February, most parts of Shiga still lie in the embrace of fresh layers of snow, making it a serene and enchanting winter wonderland. The landscape, which is lush and green in Summer, transforms into a pristine white canvas, where every tree, house, and field is adorned with a delicate frosting of snowflakes.

One of the most iconic views of Lake Biwa is of the Torii at Shirahige Jinja.

As the train sped along the Shiga countryside and entered the mountains, the white plains gave way to trees blanketed in snow creating a breathtaking tableau of winter’s magic. Each branch, bough, and leaf was gracefully cloaked in a pristine, glistening white coat, transforming the ordinary into the extraordinary.

I reached Naganao at around 11 a.m. After grabbing a bite at the Starbucks counter inside Nagano station, I caught the local train to Yudanaka on the Nagano Dentetsu Line. The Nagano Dentetsu Line, also known as Nagaden (長電), is a charming and scenic railway that traverses the picturesque landscapes of Nagano Prefecture, Japan. This rail route meanders through the heart of the Japanese Alps, offering passengers breathtaking views of snow-capped mountains and quaint villages covered in mounds of snow.

Please note that the Nagano Dentetsu Line is NOT covered by the JR Pass. You can buy the ticket for Yudanaka at the Nagano Station ticket counter.

The train from Nagano to Yudanaka takes about 45 minutes. This line also serves as a link for tourists going to the town of Obuse, the hot springs at Yudanaka, and the ski resorts at Shiga Kōgen. It connects various attractions, including the renowned hot spring town of Yudanaka, and the tranquil Lake Nojiri, making it a delightful way to explore the hidden gems of Nagano while enjoying the soothing rhythm of the train’s passage through this scenic wonderland.

Part of the wider Yamanouchi area, the historic town of Yudanaka is home to numerous hot spring guesthouses and public baths. The water is said to hold powerful healing properties and specific medicinal benefits. As such, the Japanese have been coming to the towns for centuries, including injured samurai during warring periods to recuperate and relax in the ancient waters.

Again from Yudanaka Station, I had to catch a bus. I reached the Jigokudani Monkey Park entrance at 2 p.m. From the entrance gate where the bus dropped me off, there is again a 20-30 minute hike in the snow to the hot springs. The park was developed as a conservation and tourism initiative by the local authorities and community in the Yamanouchi area of Nagano Prefecture, Japan. The park’s establishment was primarily driven by the need to protect and preserve the Japanese macaques, commonly known as snow monkeys, and their natural habitat. The idea was to create a space where visitors could observe and learn about these monkeys while contributing to their conservation efforts.

Snow monkey

The Jigokudani Monkey Park (Jigokudani Yaenkōen) is home to 200+ snow monkeys. The Japanese Macaque, or snow monkey, is a species of Old World monkey native to Japan. There are approximately 180 monkey species distributed worldwide, including gorillas, chimpanzees, orangutans, baboons, and squirrels, among others. The majority of these species reside in regions spanning Africa and Southeast Asia, encompassing both tropical and subtropical zones. In contrast, the Japanese Macaque stands out as the world’s northernmost non-human wild primate.

Among its various populations, the monkeys inhabiting the Yudanaka region have gained international attention for their behavior of bathing in natural hot springs during the winter months. The Yudanaka region is characterized by its cold, snowy winters, and steep terrain. The snow monkeys primarily inhabit coniferous and broadleaf forests at elevations ranging from 500 to 2,500 meters above sea level.

Snow monkeys are omnivorous, consuming a wide range of food, including leaves, fruits, insects, and small vertebrates. During the harsh winters, they rely heavily on bark, buds, and the occasional scavenged human food.

The path can be slippery, so please wear proper footwear, especially if you are coming in winter.

Several steam vents can be found in the area. These vents are natural geological features that release steam or hot gases into the atmosphere. These vents are often found in proximity to hot springs, geysers, or other geothermal areas and are a result of underground volcanic activity and the circulation of groundwater. They are fun to watch as they frolic in the onsen, and chase each other.

These macaques have developed several adaptations to survive in frigid conditions, such as thick fur, a fat layer for insulation, and specialized behaviors like huddling and the use of hot springs for thermoregulation.

Unlike a Zoo experience, you can find the monkeys sitting in groups or enjoying a lazy afternoon freely in the open.

Do not touch or yell on the monkeys especially baby monkeys. Adult monkeys might fear for their safety and attack you.

These monkeys face extreme cold environments, enduring temperatures as low as ten degrees below freezing. This is why they have come to be commonly referred to as “Snow Monkeys.”

Dress warmly because at an altitude of 850 meters, the temperatures during winter can be very cold.

The colors of the coats of these monkeys can vary among shades from light bistre to dark bistre. Average body weights for males are between 12kg-15kg, for females are between 8kg-13kg. 

The numbers of their teeth are the same as human, start with 20 baby teeth and then change to 32 permanent teeth.

Various types of food and feeding methods are employed at the facility, depending on the available resources. The staff provides the monkeys with choices like barley with chaff, soybeans, or apples, which are selected based on factors such as weather and season. For example, barley and soybeans offer higher nutritional value compared to the monkeys’ usual diet of grass, tree leaves, and flowers. During the autumn season, the monkeys have access to natural treats like grapes and chestnuts in the nearby mountains. On such occasions, apples are sometimes included in their diet. However, the monkeys are highly attracted to human food, so the staff diligently manages their nutrition to prevent overconsumption and potential ecological disruptions.

Tourists feeding the monkeys is strictly prohibited. Do not show or give them any food.

Do not stare monkeys’ eyes closely. Staring and opening one’s mouth to them mean hostile.

The snow monkeys of Yudanaka are a captivating example of how wildlife can adapt to extreme environmental conditions. Their unique behavior of bathing in hot springs has made them famous worldwide. However, they also face significant conservation challenges due to human activities and climate change. By studying and understanding their behavior, ecology, and conservation needs, we can work toward ensuring the continued survival and well-being of these remarkable creatures, enriching both our scientific knowledge and our appreciation for the natural world.

Check the webcam. There’s a webcam at the park that gives you a live view of what’s happening at the onsen. If you take a look and you don’t see any monkeys, it probably won’t be worth making the trek.

Thanks for reading!

Open Hours

8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Acessibility Issues

Wheelchairs and carts are not accessible in either approach due to unpaved roads, uneven surfaces and steps.