Have you ever had the chance of seeing that famous pictures portraiting some monkeys having a bath at the hot springs? They are surrounded by snow, but it looks they are having a quite relaxing time.
Well, you can really see this scene with your eyes pretty easily, and the place is Nagano prefecture! So, let’s go to the Monkey park of Jikokudani!
What’s special about Jikokudani Monkey Park?
In the midst of the mountains of Nagano prefecture you can find the Jikokudani Monkey Park. This area is also known because of the Yudanaka hot springs, and in this area monkeys have learnt to appreciate the wharmt of hot springs to relax and keep themselves warm during the snowy and harsh winter.
If you are lucky enought you can happen to see them having a bath in the hot springs!
Of course all the area of Yudanaka is a hot spring area, so there are also many structures intended for “human use”.
How to get to the Jikokudani Monkey Park
If you are going from Tōkyō, first head to the Nagano station. With the Nagano Shinkansen it is possible to get here in less than one and a half hour. From here change to the Nagano Railways limited express train and get down at the last stop, Yudanaka station. By using the limited express, the needed time from Tōkyō is just over 2 hours.
Using the Japan Rail Pass you can travel for free on the Nagano Shinkansen, but not on the Nagano Railway section.
From Yudanaka station you have to continue by bus. In front of the station you can take either the Nagaden Bus bound for Kanbayashi Onsen or the one bound for Shigakōgen, and get off at Kanbayashi onsenguchi stop.
The timetable for Nagaden buses is available here: http://tinyurl.com/ml762rv
If you travel by car you have to follow the following route:
Nerima (練馬) IC－（Kan’etsu Highway）－ Fujioka (藤岡) JCT－（Kami-Shin’etsu Route）－ Kōshoku JCT－（Kami-Shin’etsu Route）－Shinshū Nakano IC－（R292）－Kanbayashi Onsen－(30 minutes on foot) – Jikokudani
(from Nerima IC it takes around 3 and a half hours)
If you are coming from a different direction, please look at the Jikokudani Monkey Park official website for details: http://tinyurl.com/mh8anlf
Before arriving at the actual place, you have to walk for about 2 km and the path is a little tortuous. However, despite a little fadigue in walking inside the woods, the atmosphere was really striking. On the way, we passed by a traditional japanese inn (ryōkan) called Kōrakukan. This building, entirely realized in wood has a particular prominence.
As soon as we entered the park, monkeys appeared immediately. They are used to us, so they appear not to be bothered by us. In other words, it is possible to observe the monkeys’ behavior and expressions from quite close. Obviously, it is forbidden to do things like touching them or feeding them.
When, at last, you arrive at the the edge of the park there are water tanks with monkeys enjoying the hot water. We visited the park during the summer, but it is probably most impressive if you visit it during the winter. Outside it is cold, and you can see the monkeys in the hot water with frozen water drops in their head fur.
Next to the water tanks there is an information center, where, in addition to explanations about the monkeys’ behavior, there are photos of all the monkeys living in the park, with their different rankings (like the boss of the group and such).
Jikokudani Monkey Park may not be really easy to reach. We came here by car and the road was not so wide (so, pay attention to oncoming cars). However, being able to see monkeys in their natural enviroment was great. If you happen to be in the area, be sure not to miss this area.