Monkey Madness in Jigokudani Park – I’m in Love! Yamanochi, Japan

After leaving Shirahama I took four different trains, including one Shinkansen (Bullet Train), to reach Nagano, a small town about 3 hours NW of Tokyo, then took another train to Yudanaka. Here, I booked a three night stay at a Japanese Ryokan, to see the amazing Japanese Macaques (snow monkeys). After a friend told me about these onsen bathing monkeys and I looked them up and saw their cute faces, I knew I had to go! I finally arrived at the hotel about 10:30 PM, 10 hours after leaving Shirahama Station!

I have to say, the bullet trains are cool! At around 200 mph (322 kph), it’s a ride!

I was excited to try a Japanese style hotel with tatami mats and the traditional shikibuton (floor futon) complete with a kakebuton (thick fluffy duvet) and a sobakawa (buckwheat hull pillow)! The ryokan also had a traditional outdoor onsen fed with fresh hot spring water. So hot and relaxing with so many birds singing in the trees!

My room with a view! Although simple, it was comfy, and about 100x bigger than any of the hotel rooms I’ve had in Japan. It was nice to finally have a space I could practice yoga without being pinned between two walls in the entryway to the bathroom!

I chose this place because it did have a private bathroom (although kinda stinky!), and they offered free rides to the monkey park about 15 minutes away. The Jigokudani Monkey park is located in Josinetsu Kogen National Park, and has been home to these unique monkeys since 1964. It was created to provide a refuge for the monkeys in their natural habitat. Apparently, the monkeys observed humans using the hot spring at a nearby guesthouse, and being curious, began doing the same. They usually only bathe in the hot springs when it is cold out, but not so much in the warmer months.

So, eager to see the monkeys, I talked to the front desk guy when I checked in and setup a ride to be at the park when it opened at 8:30 the next morning. Surprisingly, I was the only one going, and I had a quiet hike into the park. It is about a 1.5 km trail from the drop-off area through the forest to the entrance. On the way, I spotted a strange animal looking at me. I stopped for a photo and asked him what he was….of course, he didn’t answer, but about 100 meters up the trail, a sign answered my question. He was a Japanese Serow, the national symbol of Japan, a goat-antelope. Super cool and I was so lucky to spot him, as I never saw another one during my stay!

Then, finally, I reached the entrance to the park!! I was so excited to see the monkeys! I spent all morning with them until a ton of tourists arrived and they took off back into the mountains. So, I’m sorry in advance for the photo overload, but I couldn’t help myself with the unbelievable cuteness!! I really felt a closeness with these guys, as my face looks as red as theirs after the onsen! They are definitely my distant relatives!

These guys are cuddling the pipes bringing the hot water into the human baths from the hot springs. They know how to stay cozy!

The next day, I couldn’t resist going back for more! When I went to meet the shuttle driver, he said there are no monkeys today….what?? I couldn’t believe it and told him I wanted to try anyway. When I walked up to the trailhead I saw this sign….NO!

I was not going to believe it still, so I hiked into the park anyway. The lady at the entrance said they still hadn’t seen any and didn’t know when they would arrive. Sad, I turned away and just stood there at the entrance. Suddenly, she got a call on the radio that they had been spotted heading down!! She told me I could go in! Yippee, another monkey day!!! I don’t want to bore you with more photos, so here’s a little video I put together for you. Enjoy!

Doing the monkey paddle and playing in the hot springs, what a blast!

Although the monkeys were the absolute highlight of this area, the onsen baths were also amazing and the little mountain town was so cute. Everyone walked to the baths in their yukatas (Japanese bath robes), and it was so relaxing. I also want to give a special shout out to my new friends from Shirahama again too! Kiyomi brought a couple pieces of clothing from Tokyo for Rod, and he did not want this awesome green fleece. I had been looking for a coat for a couple of weeks with no luck finding one. I survived the cities, but would have froze up here in the mountains, so I was, and still am so grateful for this gift!

Here are a few pics around town…and yes, I climbed many more stairs and ate lots of amazing sushi to fuel my climbs!

So, until next time my friends!

Love and Hugs, Michelle

2 Replies to “Monkey Madness in Jigokudani Park – I’m in Love! Yamanochi, Japan”

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