Well, as usual, it’s been almost a month since my last blog post… Life has been crazy with school and work and moving and everything in between, but it’s Sunday and I have some downtime, so I’m so excited to finally share some of my favorite photos from Japan!
Did I even mention I was going to Japan?? Probably not… Well, Adam and I went to Japan over my spring break a few weeks ago. It was sort of a last minute decision because we didn’t think Adam’s work schedule would allow it, but we managed to pull it off! We didn’t really plan anything, didn’t book all of our hotels beforehand, and did almost zero research before arriving, but fortunately, it worked out just fine. (Though my advice to you would be to not do that of course. Planning and preparing for an international trip is always the smartest way to go!)
So, anyway, the only thing we did plan beforehand was the snow monkey tour in Nagano. The snow monkeys are something I’ve wanted to see since I saw them on National Geographic years ago, so I knew I couldn’t visit Japan without making that happen.
Here’s some Wiki info about the park and the monkeys: “Jigokudani Monkey Park (地獄谷野猿公苑 Jigokudani Yaen Kōen) is in Yamanouchi, Shimotakai District, Nagano Prefecture, Japan. It is part of the Joshinetsu Kogen National Park (locally known as Shigakogen) and is located in the valley of the Yokoyu-River, in the northern part of the prefecture. The name Jigokudani, meaning “Hell’s Valley”, is due to 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.
The heavy snowfalls (snow covers the ground for 4 months a year), an elevation of 850 metres, and being only accessible via a narrow two-kilometre footpath through the forest, keep it uncrowded despite being relatively well-known.
It is famous for its large population of wild Japanese macaques (Macaca fuscata), more commonly referred to as snow monkeys, that go to the valley during the winter, foraging elsewhere in the national park during the warmer months. The monkeys descend from the steep cliffs and forest to sit in the warm waters of the onsen (hot springs), and return to the security of the forests in the evenings.”
While you don’t have to go with a tour group to see the monkeys, I decided it would be way easier to have a professional guide us, so we booked a tour with Snow Monkey Resorts and it couldn’t have worked out better! We had two private tour guides who took such great care of us. They were so friendly and made everything completely hassle-free.
The first part of the tour was exploring the town of Nagano which is actually where our female tour guide grew up, so it was great being able to walk around with a local as she told us different stories about her life there. (I’ll post photos of the town and the amazing temple there in a later post!)
We took a train later on to the mountain town where the snow monkeys live, and Adam and I had our own private train car on the way which we weren’t expecting. How fancy! (The cost of that train ticket was included in the tour package.) When we got there, we had lunch (also included in the package!) at the Enza Café. Delicious ramen, salad, and sushi!
After that, we made our way up to see the monkeys. The walk was super easy, but it was definitely cold! Our guide had a spare pair of gloves with him which he offered to let me use, and they totally saved my fingers! Taking photos for an hour in the freezing cold isn’t so fun without gloves, so I’m grateful he had extras.
We had two monkeys welcome us on the bridge that leads to the hot spring area. It was a little startling at first since I had never been that close to wild monkeys before, but they didn’t seem to mind us at all. I still played it cool, though. I felt them out a bit before crouching down to snap the first couple of photos below.
The place wasn’t too packed, so taking photos and walking around with the monkeys was easy. I wasn’t really expecting the area to be so big, and I definitely wasn’t expecting to see that many monkeys there! It was such a cool experience.
At one point, the people who supervise the area started feeding the monkeys. I guess they do that a couple of times per day. All at once, monkeys started coming down from the mountains and running full speed over the bridge we were standing on to get to the food. It was chaos! Monkeys everywhere!
There were parts of the park where you’d see monkeys huddled up against a wall, or cuddling together with their faces pressed to the ground. We were told this was because the ground was warm underneath, and there were small streams of warm water running through certain parts, so monkeys would be taking advantage of their own personal mini spas here and there.
I often wondered what they were thinking about. They’re so human-like, it was fascinating to watch them interact. I could have stayed there all day, but we decided to leave when we couldn’t feel our faces anymore. Brrrr… There are restrooms at the park and a small building where you can warm up next to a heater located in the center of the room. There’s also a gift shop near the exit where you can buy snow monkey stuffed animals, gloves, hats, etc. Haha, our tour guide couldn’t resist… :)
I’m so glad we did this! Adam and I agreed it was the highlight for both of us and made the whole trip worthwhile. If you’re planning a trip to Japan, definitely fit this in, and if you’re looking for a great tour company, I highly recommend Snow Monkey Resorts!