I had always been interested in getting a glimpse of the Japanese macaque, more popularly known as snow monkeys. I remember seeing them on nature programs surrounded by snow and bathing in steaming hot springs. It was a scene that looked otherworldly and a place I didn’t think I would be able to see with my own eyes.
After coming to Japan, I had a conversation with one of my clients who told me about their experience visiting the snow monkeys on a recent trip. Suddenly, my dream of taking the journey myself became more realistic. I started planning a trip to Nagano where I could take a bus to Jigokudani snow monkey park.
To my surprise, there were many other exciting things to do in the area. Nagano was the venue for the 1998 winter Olympics, so there are many winter activities to try. The downtown area also houses Zenkoji temple, a beautiful large temple founded in the 7th century. I was able to visit on the evening of my arrival.
On my first full day in Nagano, I caught a morning bus that took me to the base of the hike to Jigokudani Monkey Park. The hike is about a half hour and can get quite slippery in the winter. During the hike, you can see some steaming hot springs and even a small geyser spewing water into the air.
Once I arrived at the park entrance and paid my fee, I was surprised to find so many wild snow monkeys running around. Some were larger, some had babies hanging onto their neck, and some battling one another for attention. In the back of the park, about a dozen monkeys were bathing in the hot spring waters. It was an amazing experience that I was finally able to see for myself.
After spending a few hours in Jigokudani, I walked to Shibu Onsen, a historic and picturesque hot spring town. Some of the snow monkeys also made their way down into the village and were perched in trees. The town has 9 hot spring baths available to overnight guests and 1 public bath. It was a relaxing way to end the day before heading back to my hotel.
While the trip to Jigokudani snow monkey park is great anytime, winter is especially beautiful. I look forward to my next journey in Japan.
About the author:
Hi, I’m George. I’m from Philadelphia in the United States. I came to Japan in 2014 as a Japanese language school student and then started teaching with Gaba in 2015. I love traveling around Japan and discovering new cuisines. My favorite place in Japan is Kamakura. Thank you for reading my instructor journey!