Jigokudani Monkey Park

This place was one of the highlight of the Japan trip. Don’t know how many of the people out there who knew about this place where one is able to witness bathing monkeys. Seriously Japanese monkeys do bathe!

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The gateway to Jigokudani Monkey Park

This place holds ethereal beauty, but do you know the name Jigokudani literally means hell’s valley in Japanese? Fret not there is nothing hellish about this place, it’s quite the opposite, really. Such name was to depict the steam and boiling water that bubbles out of small crevices in the frozen ground, surrounded by steep cliffs and formidably cold and hostile forests.

Apart from human, only snow monkey is a known primate that is able to live and acclimatized  in cold climate. So yeah, I’ve met our only primate relative under the snow covered mountain alps.

To get to Jigokudani Monkey Park is not a relatively easy feat. From Tokyo, we boarded a bus at Shinjuku Bus Station to Nagano. If you’d remembered, Nagano was the host for 1998 Winter Olympics. This place apart from the home for Japanese snow monkey, is famed for hot springs (onsen), ski resorts, and winter sport activities. It also has the largest ski resort in Japan. We could see throngs of people with their snow board and ski board travelling from Tokyo heading up to Nagano. It was nice, seeing all the gears and enthusiastic ski-ers at the bus station.

So the journey from Tokyo to Nagano took about four hours by bus, costing about JPY4,000 per trip. The price sure is hefty, but bearable, as opposed to using the shinkansen, in which the fare is twice as much.

At the point after arrival I was getting worried about the hike to the monkey park the next morning. Though it was not snowing in Nagano, but according to the live feed from Google, we could see the monkey park in Yamanouchi is covered with thick snow. It was already so cold that night in Nagano, I just couldn’t imagine how it’d be like the next day at Yamanouchi. Thus we planned to head up to Uniqlo to buy extra jackets / thicker muffler to prepare for tomorrow. But then after dinner we were already tired and knowing that shops closed early in Japan during winter time, none of us would want to risk walking out of the hotel to look for Uniqlo. We’d just made do with whatever we had then.

The next morning only 3 of us, being my brother, nephew and I went to Yamanouchi. The rest stayed in late at the hotel. We took a train from Nagano Station to Yudanaka Station in Yamanouchi. The fare is JPY 1,210 per trip. Fellow travelers, worry not. Adequate information on ways to get to the monkey park could be found inside the train station, plus the station guard is able to assist when needed.

After the scenic one hour train ride, we arrived at Yudanaka station. We then hopped a bus (couldn’t remember the fare) that took us to Kanbayashi Onsen, the starting point to the monkey park (Jigokudani Yaen-koen). Oh and the entrance fee to the park can be bought at the Yudanaka train station.

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The nephew admiring the view of Japanese alps

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The train from Nagano to Yudanaka

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I didn’t take much pictures of the scenic route towards Kanbayashi, cause my hands refused to come out of the jacket 😛 soo cold. It was my first time being in a thick snow. The cold was somehow kinda bearable cause there was no wind at that time. The winter jacket that I wore, MNG angorak was suffice in that kinda weather. I also added on head band to cover the  ears and leather gloves for the hand. But the upmost important item would be snow appropriate boots. Mine is not so cause I still could feel the cold ground underneath me but I had to make do with whatever that I had at that time. My nephew was wearing converse (!) so he had a bit of difficulties hiking the icy ground.

But I digress.

Okay, from Kanbayashi Onsen, we hiked the 1.6 km track in the jungle to get to Jigokudani park. The trees were all covered with snow, the view was really breathtaking. Slow walkers and serial picture takers like us took about 45 minutes to reach the park. There were about 3 monkeys frolicking in the hot spring when we arrived there. A few were roaming around looking for food.

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These monkeys, luckily were docile and kinda tame. Just be careful not to feed them or stare them directly at the eyes as these are wild monkeys, they might misinterpret your action as hostile. So avoid eye contact or any contact at all.

Pandang sipi-sipi only.

Met with a Malaysian family from Odaiba, dad is a nuclear engineering student on a government grant, mom is a housewife with 3 kids. Kinda glad to see familiar faces at such a remote place. They also I presumed were surprised to see 3 of us Malaysians there. Initially they thought us to be from a tour group. Then I’d explained that we were travelling on our own, hopping on trains and buses to get there and even across districts and Japan prefectures.  We neither possess JR pass nor internet mobility. And most of our hotels were booked on the day itself/night prior to arrival via booking.com. Impressive they said. Apparently they’ve never met any traveller like us in Japan. Hah. We were bemused as this is they way we’ve been traveling on budget all these times. 

This trip to Yamanouchi surely is a memorable one. Worth the long and tiring journey from Tokyo. See I’m not a fan of monkeys, apes, orang utans, gorillas and the likes, but somehow looking at these furry snow covered monkeys, they were kinda cute and yeah these are fine monkeys. I dont mind visiting again 😛

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