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Published on 02.08.2016
Japanese people are well known for their love for hot springs, but did you know that Japanese monkeys also love bathing in hot springs? Rain or shine, or even snow, you can always find monkies bathing at Snow Monkey Park in Nagano prefecture, the only place on the planet where wild monkeys bathe in hot springs all year-around.
To locals, Snow Monkey Park is called Jigokudani, meaning Hell Valley, named after its very steep cliffs and boiling steam coming off the springs due to volcanic eruption. Established in 1964, the park is aimed at displaying the natural co-habitation of people and Japanese macaques, so there are no cages, walls or barriers between visitors and the monkeys. One thing Japanese people and monkeys have in common, is the fact that they are very punctual. Every morning at around 9am, throngs of wild monkeys descend from forests to the park to enjoy bathing in naturally sourced hot water, and then return to their home at around 4pm. To capture the view of such uniquely encultured bathing monkeys, more than a hundred thousand tourists visit the park annually, including researchers and photographers for their ecological observation.
Visiting the park, however, requires a dose of exercise, so here’s few tips. First off, fill your stomach. It takes about 30 minutes of trailing into the mountain and no food is available at the park. So, take a quick bite at the café located at the trail entrance, or bring some snacks. Next, use restrooms before the journey for there are none available within the park. Lastly, keep in mind that the trails are unpaved and may be covered by heavy snow during the cold winter, so please wear appropriate snowshoes and gears, or rent them at the gift shop located at the trail entrance.
Should you wish to visit other tourist spots in the area besides the park, try joining the 1-day, or half-day English guided tours which generally run every day, with most starting at Nagano Station. The 1-day guided tour, for instance, takes you to famous tourist spots in Nagano City including Zenkoji temple, Nakamise shopping street, or local sake brewery, and even to the Snow Monkey Park. A bicycle guided half-day tour is also available to explore the rural town at the base of the park. Enjoy a relaxed bike ride through Nagano’s farmlands of rice paddies, blueberry fields and apple orchards while learning about local culture and history.
Snow Monkey Park:
Address: 6845 Yamanouchi-machi Shimotakai-gun Nagano Japan 381-0401
Transportation: Snow Monkey Park is about a 30 minutes’ hike from Snow Monkey Park bus stop, or the Kanbayashi Onsen bus stop. Take the express “Nagaden bus” from Nagano Station, which will take you directly to the Snow Monkey Park bus stop in around 40 minutes. Or, take the express Nagaden train to Yudanaka station. Then, switch to a local bus directly to Kanbayashi Onsen.
Tel: 0269-33-4379/Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Opening hours: 8:30 to 17:00 (summer season, April-October)/9:00-16:00 (winter season, November-March). No fixed holidays, generally open 7 days a week.