This is by far my favorite blog that I’ve had the chance to write. I haven’t even begun and simply thinking about the pictures that are below is exciting enough for me. Well anyway let’s get things rolling.
This weekend I made a trip to Nagano. I was inspired by another blogger’s pictures (who I’ll mention later) which I not only admired, but was sincerely jealous of their experience. Then I realized, I can go to Nagano, too!! After all, I am living in Japan, what’s a few hours by bus, which led me to exploring the city of Nagano. For those of you not so familiar with Nagano, you may recognize the name from the 1998 Winter Olympics. The city is filled with mountains and the scenery is absolutely gorgeous during the winter (and the other seasons I’m told). As for the cold weather, it’s not something that bothered me much considering I come from a northern state. Despite the cold weather, people seemed to be lively and cheerful everywhere they went. I was actually impressed mostly by how nice people were to me (with a few exceptions).
FAST FORWARD. Jigokudani Yaen Koen, which translates to Jigokudani Wild Monkey Park, is set in an easily accessible location on account of the transportation systems set up and a convenient trail. It is a bit of a hike, about an hour and fifteen minutes from the station or thirty minutes from the closest entrance on foot, which can be easily accessed by taxi or bus. There were even volunteers that greeted foreigners when they exited the train gate. I was immediately given a map and spoken to in English, something I didn’t expect in such a countryside area. I talked with them again the next day before leaving for home and watched as they helped several people. They were even nice enough to point out some famous sights and called and arranged a taxi for a group of people.
If you plan to come from Yudanaka then you will have no problems. If you try to come from Nagano then make sure you have some time set aside as it can be tough synchronizing with the train schedules. The hike was a narrow trail covered in snow with a devastating drop down to the river. The area is nicknamed “Hells Valley” due to the steep drop down to the valley which is surrounded by mountains on each side.
On to the “Monkey Park” as it was called by many people. As you can see from the title, there is a place in Japan unlike anywhere else in the world. This place consists of monkeys that are actually interested in soaking in the hot springs. They don’t need to for health reasons, and they don’t gain any special benefits from drinking the water. Rather, they enjoy the warmth and relaxing attributes from the hot spring water, as if they were human.
Hiking up from the sign above takes another 25 minutes. If you did happen to slip, the only thing that would break your fall was one of the many trees growing in the area.
The scenery was amazing, and there was even a lodge placed along the way. It may be possible to reserve a spot there, but the prices are about what you may expect for the location and the surrounding views.
Prior to entering there were two signs, one in Japanese the other in English simply saying, “Don’t touch the monkeys, don’t feed the monkeys, don’t challenge (stare at) the monkeys, and no pets”. I’m sure you can imagine why you shouldn’t feed or touch the monkeys. Some places in the world, monkeys can become quite menacing, because they steal food from villages close to the woods. If people were to feed the monkeys, they would begin to look for food in your pockets or bags and it could become hazardous to both parties. In addition, touching a wild animal can be a rewarding experience, but it can also result in some missing fingers.
Upon entering the park I was not sure what to expect. I assumed the trail would continue for another five minutes or so, and then you would come upon the 温泉(hot spring). Contrary to my thoughts, nearly seconds after I went into the park I was greeted, rather ignored, by this little guy. The monkeys are indifferent to humans. You wont see them jumping on humans, trying to play, or even really acknowledging our presence. Instead, they go about their business, occasionally looking up to be aware of their surroundings. I caught this guy checking out another monkey as it was howling. Their expressions are great, feel free to insert your own captions when you see them.
“Mom’s home! Hide the cake!”
The onsen itself was amazing. It was not very large and people were huddled around it to get the best shot possible, but the monkeys were extremely active. They were constantly walking by you as if you weren’t even there. The little guy above even stepped on my foot as he was walking by once. There is a ledge where you can stand at and be literally inches away from the pool and the monkeys inside.
I don’t think I want to know what’s in that water…
I just loved their beards. And if they stayed in long enough, their hair would begin to freeze in some areas.
“Mom! He’s hurting me again!!” “I barely touched him!” Mom never seems to care too much.
The area is exclusively one bath for the monkeys, but the surroundings are covered in snow and contains a river that flows with hot spring water. There are about 160 monkeys in the tribe so as you can imagine, they are scattered everywhere. There are even some monkeys that are not ‘allowed’ in the bath due to their bloodline or other aspects that may affect their position within the clan.
“I wanna play!” Despite being a baby, even the young one’s have the face of a grandpa.
Cleaning during a bath.
Many people at the park made comments about how cold the monkeys looked as they got out of the onsen. The monkeys, unlike humans, don’t sweat which makes it easier to contain their body heat. Unfortunately, they have to put up with having their picture taken right after taking a bath. How would you like that? Not their most glorified moment.
“When did they put this new jet in!? WOW, it feels nice!”
Are those bubbles?
A picture is worth a thousand words.
Nothing like tough love.
Icicles on their head.
This one was everyone’s favorite. He was so small and was always running around. He would even jump into the bath from time to time. He seemed to instigate a lot of trouble with the others too.
Someone looks angry.
It was great when you could catch the children hanging onto their mom. They caught a ride whenever they wanted and the mom’s just ignored it and continued about their business.
“You’ve got something…wait…wait….just a little bit…nope, nothing” He was pulling out hairs for some reason, not so effective in cleaning, but more effective in the annoyance department.
“How about I try to bite it…wait…YES…just kidding, still nothing”
This is great for showing just how much the monkeys cared for humans. I was maybe one or two feet away from this monkey and it was so comfortable that they closed their eyes and relaxed. Everyday people come to the park to take pictures which causes the monkeys to be quite familiar with what we may do.
You can see so many human features in them, too.
“Did you just touch my bath?!”
“Can they see us?”
“Pretty nice weather we’re having” “Mmm hmm”
“Teacher, can I go to the bathroom?”
“Oh, never mind. Too late.”
“Now it’s my tub.”
This railing was on a bridge that went over the hot spring river. He didn’t seem too nervous about playing on it. Neither did the younger one that jumped from one side to the next in front of me.
The water color was beautiful, but I assured him the drop would not be fun. He ignored me.
Monkey Bath Video
It was a fun trip and I plan on going again sometime. Hopefully you enjoyed the pictures, because I had a blast taking them. While exiting the park you could see this sign subtly explaining the common gestures of the monkeys. Very subtle.
On the way back I was able to enjoy some cultural aspects of Japan. The people in Yudanaka were extremely friendly. As I headed back down the trail, I passed people of all ages. I had a little fun playing the foreigner card since people immediately notice I am not from Japan. As a result, I would wait to be greeted by the people passing me. Some people didn’t think twice and just said “Konnichiwa”, but others were not sure of what to say and simply said “Hello” or ignored me. I even heard a woman say, ” Hi, how are you”, but she was quite shy when she said it and continued on without listening for a response. In other words, it was quite welcoming and I don’t always have those experiences to talk about. It is similar to hiking in America, people say “hello” and let you do your own thing. The only difference was, even in the town I was greeted by random people passing by. A group of three junior high or high school students even greeted me from across the street. I think it plays in to the fact that I was in a countryside area, and many people have had positive experiences when traveling in the country.
A special thanks to http://chochajin.livejournal.com/206081.html for inspiring my trip. You may find her new blog at:
Another thanks goes to this blogger because I was able to find a lot of my information from his website:
Anyone looking to make a trip to the Jigokudani Park please feel free to ask. I would love to help, but there is lots of information available in English if you’re planning a trip. Including hotels in the area.