Jigokudani Monkey Park in Nagano: See Snow Monkeys Enjoying Hot Springs!
It is an 8 km drive from Shinshu Nakano Interchange on the Joshin-Etsu Express Way and another 30 minutes walk Kanbayashi Onsen hot spring where the parking area is. When you come out of the dark mountain path, you will come to a place where you can observe a group of monkeys, perhaps more than 50 bodies, doing whatever they like as they are. This time we are introducing “Jigokudani Yaen Koen (Wild Snow Monkey Park)”, which is the best facility in the world that allows visitors close observation of wild Japanese monkeys.
Adventure Starts on the Way There!
In order to catch such the rare sight, you will have to walk the narrow mountain path leading to the park for at least 30 minutes.
I visited the park in the middle of March, and there was plenty of snow left on the roads. As this author was not accustomed to walking on a snowy road, my walking was uncertain. The lady of the store at the entrance of the path worried about me and recommended wearing snow boots. But as I kept walking, while sensing the effect of the snow, I eventually learned to walk naturally. If you are unsure of walking on a snowy road, it’s a good idea to prepare snow boots before coming.
Tourists walk in a line in order to see Japanese monkeys in the mountain where roads are hardly maintained. The “snow monkeys” soaking in onsen hot springs are so famous overseas that this place may typically gather many foreign tourists.
Arrival: There Were More Japanese Monkeys Than I’d Ever Seen!
When you come out of the narrow path, the beautiful mountain scenery opens up in front of you.
Finally we arrive at the Jigokudani Yaen Koen. The admission fees are 500 yen for adults, and 250 yen for children (as of October 2016).
Until we go through the entrance, there is not the slightest sign of monkeys or cries heard. But immediately after we enter the park, a monkey carrying a baby monkey on its abdomen passes our side. I let out a cry of surprise without knowing. When I looked around carefully, there are so many monkeys; more than I have ever seen before!
While I was stunned and kept watching the sight, I saw three small monkeys slip through visitors’ legs at tremendous speed. Child monkeys appeared to be truly enjoying themselves, running and playing, and I noticed that the monkeys are very emotionally expressive.
Monkeys Relaxing in the Onsen
In the cold season when snow still remains, you can catch the famous sight of monkeys enjoying onsen hot springs. Their facial expressions look so relaxed that it reminds us of scenes in bathhouses for humans.
This place is surrounded by steep cliffs with puffs of steam rising from hot spring fountains, and people started calling it “Jigokudani (hell valley)” sometime in the past. In the winter the lowest temperature goes below -10℃ and it snows more than 1m. The harshness of this environment resembles to that of Shimokita Peninsula, the north most peninsula of Honshu Island, which is known as northern limit of habitable zone for primates other than humans.
Japanese monkeys live in the deep mountains under harsh climate conditions, and these animals used to be rarely seen by ordinary people. But this “Jigokudani Yaen Koen” was built so that anyone can easily observe Japanese monkeys.
The park is a facility strictly for observation, thus actions to feed the monkeys, aggressively touch them, or talk to them too closely are prohibited. Many people bring selfie sticks to tourist destinations, but its use is banned here. By people following these rules of conduct, the monkeys show their natural appearance in the wild without reacting to the human existence even though they recognize it.
The presence of the monkeys we get here is no comparison to what we feel at a monkey colony in a zoo. I was so mesmerized at the sight of monkeys that the time slipped away so fast. I cannot help but feel an intimate affinity to the monkeys who are primates like us.
By witnessing a community full of vitality that continues to live independently of a civilized society, I felt inexplicably content. When you have a chance to visit Nagano Prefecture, how about going to see the wild Japanese Monkeys? Information: Map
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