Posted in Culture, Photography, Travel

There’s no business like monkey business! – A trip to Jigokudani Monkey Park

Japanese monkeys must have one of the longest life spans in the world. After all, in addition to eating, sleeping and going around their usual monkey business, they dip in onsens! No wonder their faces are always so ruddy and red.

A typical nihonzaru, or Japanese macaque/snow monkey.
A typical nihonzaru, or Japanese macaque/snow monkey.

With the Hokuriku Shinkansen starting operations on 14 March, Nagano will become a lot nearer to the Japan Sea and its bordering prefectures such as Kanazawa, Fukui and Toyama. But in this post, we’re going to focus on a site that you must visit at least once in a lifetime. It’s a 44 minute ride from Nagano Station by – what else – the Snow Monkey Line on the Nagano Railway!

The Snow Monkey Liner
The Snow Monkey Liner. Even the train’s sign is indicative of what’s in store for us!

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On the way, you’ll pass by Mount Asama, one of the most active volcanoes in Japan.

Mount Asama, 2,568m and still active!
Mount Asama, 2,568 m and still active!

Yudanaka is the last stop of the line and where you get off to see the snow monkeys. From the station it’s a 10 minute bus ride to the Jigokudani Monkey Park.

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The snow monkey hideaway is a 20-30 minute walk from the entrance, depending on the length of your legs! Snow shoes are a must, but don’t worry if you don’t own any, you can borrow a pair for 500 yen from the tourist information-cum-convenience store at the foot of the entrance.

Entrance to the snow monkey land.
Entrance to snow monkey land.

The walk is mostly flat, other than the initial stairway, no worries!

Part of the snow monkey trek.
Part of the snow monkey trek.

And when you finally reach the promised Land of the Snow Monkeys, you’re just a 500 yen park entry ticket away from…

The promised land of the monkeys!! Wait, where are they?
The promised land of the monkeys!! Wait, where are they?

…the monkeys and a whole hoard of photographers with expensive lenses!

Monkey see, monkey pose
Monkey see, monkey pose

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But apparently these monkeys don’t always fancy a dip in the onsen. After all, you can have too much of a good thing. On sunny days, they shun the hot spring to frolic in the sun. On this particular day, the snow monkeys were teasing the paparazzi by just sipping (and peeing into) the onsen pool.

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Just a sip, not a dip for today.
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Here monkey, monkey!!
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A little more to the left, down, right…ah that’s the spot!!
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You scratch my back, I’ll scratch her’s, she’ll scratch his and he’ll get right back to you, deal?
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Watcha lookin’ at?

The snow monkey park is open all year round, and though everyone flocks to see the monkeys in the snow, it’ll be interesting to know what the monkeys do during the summer!

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Author:

Shiro is an aspiring onsen monkey, originally from Singapore, now living in Japan. "Bliss is a cold beer after a hot onsen."

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