Jigokudani Yaen Koen ( The snow monkey park), was established in 1964 as a conservation area which provides a refuge for Japanese macaques in their natural habitat.
Planning a solo trip in Japan, this was No.1 on my bucket list and it didn’t disappoint. Being only three or so hours from Tokyo, It is DEFINITELY worth a visit alongside a stay in either Yudanaka or Shibu Onsen. I decided to spend two days at a Ryokan in Yudanaka ( a Traditional Japanese inn ) and spent half a day visiting the monkeys. These cheeky, playful, little ( and big) monkeys are the cutest!. Although dont get to close, they will soon let you know when you are in their space, keep a respectful distance, and please do not try and pet them! I saw a few people trying this. Seriously….. They are wild.
The monkeys come down from the mountains daily to bathe in the onsen, although they are given food whilst there, to entice them to stay for tourists, they are free to come and go as they please.
Contrary to popular belief the monkeys do visit the onsen year round. Winter is a popluar time to visit, picturesque, with monkeys bathing in the steaming onsen, surrounded by snow. However, I went in may and it was amazing. A beautiful sunny day, not too many people to dodge for photographs (probably around 20-25 of us at most) and most importantly lots of Macaques.
HOW TO GET THERE
From Tokyo - you can take a bus with Alpico, from Shinjuku, which takes around 4 hours for jpy 2900-4800.
For a quicker journey you can take the shinkansen bullet train from JR Ueno or Tokyo stations to Nagano for jpy 8000, you can buy them in the station, or like i did through goVoyagin and pick your tickets up at their office located near Shibuya.
Once in Nagano you simply grab a ticket for the Nagano electric railway / snow monkey express to Yudanaka, jpy 1260 each way.
WHERE TO STAY
I stayed in a beautiful, traditional ryokan onsen inn, in Yudanaka, which was ideally located close to the train station and bus to the snow monkey park, Its also nice walk from here to Shibu onsen.
TO GET THERE
There is a local bus wich leaves from Yudanaka station (you buy the bus ticket here) and stops at various points in Shibu onsen, i would advise checking bus times the day before.
AT JIGOKUDANI MONKEY PARK
Once you arrive at the bus stop, it’s a short walk up hill to the start of the trail, The trail is 1.6 km long and is a very relaxing stroll and perfect for a little shinrin-yoku ( forest bathing). Tickets for the park are bought at the end of the trail, before you enter, jpy 800 adults and jpy 400 children.
-DO NOT take food, selfie sticks or anything these cheeky monkey’s might like the look of, they will steal them. I opened my polaroid film packet and had to swiftly put it away after one started creeping towards me with a determined look!
-Keep your bag closed and on you, monkeys love to grab and run, they are also super quick at un-zipping bags, have any of you experinced this at the rock of Gibraltar or Jigokudani? they are like little ninjas!
-Make sure you have an extra charged camera battery and memory card, you will be suprised at how many photographs you can take of a monkey.
-As i said before, do not get too close, stay a few feet away.
Enjoy, its amazing!
oh and have some local apple ice cream on your way out, Yum!