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A Day At Jigokudani Snow Monkey Park
Somehow, the snow monkeys of Japan have claimed global stardom. True, there have been some fascinating National Geographic and BBC features documenting the life and times of these beautiful golden creatures. You can find snow monkeys, if you’re very lucky, in the remoter regions of Japan. We’ve been fortunate enough to spot them from the roadside a few times as they nimbly climbed through bamboo forests or along telephone wires. The typical tourist to Japan, however, just doesn’t have the time to count on these random encounters. Therefore, planning a trip to the Snow Monkey park is a must.
Weekend Getaway to Snow Monkeys
When we lived in northern Japan, in the Aomori district, we would take road trips all around the region. One of our favorite routes took us up along Mutsu Bay and around the Shimokita peninsula. We’d search for glass floats on the beaches, enjoy fresh scallops in Mutsu city, and seek out the elusive wild ponies near Shiriyazaki lighthouse. One of our regular camping spots, however, was by the small fishing village of Wakanosawa, This is a tiny, very traditional town with a little fishing boat harbor, a smaller noodle restaurant, and a few seaside shrines and temples. But more importantly, there were snow monkeys.
These fascinating creatures could be seen climbing on the temple roof, sneaking into rice fields, or bothering the fishermen’s nets. The only problem was, this area was unreachable in the middle of winter so we never saw these “snow” monkeys in the snow. We had heard of a place near Nagano where the monkeys frolicked in the white stuff and lounged around in hot springs in their own wildlife preserve. Here the monkeys were protected and have grown quite used to being around humans. So we began planning our primate adventure.
Sleeping With The Snow Monkeys
On this trip, we were traveling from northern Japan and it made perfect sense to take a weekend break. We stayed at the traditional ryokan right there in the park, changing into yuukata and wooden sandals and enjoying the relaxing hot springs. We spent a very comfortable night on futon rolled out in a second story bedroom where the snow monkeys huddled together to spend the night outside on our windowsill. The ryokan has both indoor and outdoor onsen and we were amazed when some cheeky little monkeys climbed right on in with us as we soaked in the hot water, snow falling gently around us. This was a magical trip.
Travelers coming from Tokyo will need to plan at least one night for a snow monkey excursion. There are plenty of hotels in Nagano in a wide range of comfort and price. It’s a good idea to stay closer to the park, so consider staying in Yudanaka. Here you’ll be nearer the mountains and will find several traditional hotels, like Ryokan Hakura, with natural spring baths to chose from. For the skiers and boarders, why not mix the snow monkeys with a ski trip and stay right in front of the ski resort.
How To Get To The Snow Monkey Park
You can get to the Snow Monkey park from either Nagano or Yudanaka station via bus. From Nagano station, take the Shiga Kogen Express bus and get off at the Snow Monkey park bus stop. Or from Yudanaka station, take the regular Shiga Kogen bus and get off at thte Kanbayashi Onsen bus stop. From the bus stop, it is a 5 minute walk up to the trail head, and then another 30 minute walk along the well maintained path to the park entrance. Both buses are well marked at the stations, but don’t be afraid to ask a passerby, everyone will know that if you aren’t carrying skis then you must be going to the snow monkey park and they will be very helpful.
Finding the snow monkeys in Japan can be difficult as they are shy little animals. However, to even the odds, take a trip to the Snow Monkey Park Jigokudani where protection and habituation have created a haven where the Japanese macaque and people mingle freely.
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