There is a weird and wonderful place in the Yamanouchi district of Kanto, where you can observe Japanese Macaques bathing in natural hot springs. As a daytrip from Tokyo, this place has become an increasingly popular tourist attraction for travellers on all budgets.
It seemed to take forever to arrive on foot at the entrance to Jigokudani Snow Monkey Park. From Nagano station, I hopped on a bus to Kanbayashi Onsen, from where I began a 15 minute hike through the snow-covered forest to see the eponymous monkeys. The bus from Nagano took me nearly an hour and cost 1300Yen, but the seats were comfortable and there were some English announcements onscreen. Usually, I do not travel with thick winter wear, but on this occasion I did buy some cheap thick layers of clothing in Tokyo (which I then kept and took with me to Mount Fuji, and then on to Bhutan – so they were well worth the money!).
There’s no question it’s very cold here (I visited in February with fresh snowfall), and the monkeys seemed to be feeling the chills, too! Unlike their tropical cousins over in Singapore and Bali, the monkeys here in Japan seemed to have been cut off from their ancestors – and their sad faces seem to reflect that! As I was making my way up from the bus stop to the entrance of the park I met many monkeys enroute, but thankfully they were not that interested in me and carried on frolicking in the snow.
Very close to the park entrance is a small thermal pool where the monkeys congregate in order to try and keep warm. As with anything ‘monkey’, there are social groups and certain kinds of hierarchies within these groups, and some monkeys get priority over the others. Little monkeys sometimes have to wait for their parents to finish up before they can enter the pool!
There were plenty of tourists here at Jigokudani Snow Monkey Park. Many were from China, and I have noticed a lot of Chinese tourists in the places I have travelled. They really seem to be enjoying their travels now the middle-classes in China have more disposable income! Regardless of nationality, you can imagine Jigokudani is a great place to actually snap the monkeys and upload the photos for all your friends to see. The entrance fee of 500Yen per person to the park is acceptable value, and is around the same amount as you would expect to spend on a temple in Kyoto, such as at Kiyomizu-dera, for example.
For more information and photos on the snow monkeys of Jigokudani, please check out these blogs from Romandhiroko and Lisa Tokyo, with the latter in particular having some incredible pictures of the whole area!