Featured | A Day with the Snow Monkeys
For me, it's all in the details & these vignettes are a peek into my life's powerful moments.
Photographing the Japanese Macaque
My fingers ached, every movement felt like what I imagine to be similar to an icicle snapping: bitter and sharp. Each time I readjusted my camera's setting meant that I would clumsily fumble my fingers over the dials. But it was worth it. They frolicked, licked ice from their dexterous fingers, and stood, human-like, reminding me that we, indeed, are more alike than I’d care to admit.
You can't see these guys in a zoo
The Jigokudani Snow Monkey Park is the only place visitors can see then Japanese Macaque, yet their habitat ranges from the northern tip of Honshu, all the way down to Yukushima, which is south of Kyushu. Often, the monkeys from the park are not referred to as the snow monkeys, but the “hot spring monkeys,” because they behave differently than those in isolated environments.
So, Why do they bath?
In the 1960s, the Apple farmers from the Jigokudani area struck a deal with the Korakukan Inn (the one at the base of the park). The farmers planted apple trees around the onsen in order to coax the monkeys to stop stealing the harvest, and make the Jigokudani Valley their permanent home. Often the apples fell into the water, and monkeys would retrieve their food. Eventually, the monkeys stayed, and continued to take dips in the steamy waters. (1)
How to Get There
Unless there is a holiday, tickets for the trains and buses are available to purchase the day of your trip.
Tokyo to Nagano | Train
The fastest way to Nagano Station from Tokyo is via the Shinkansen. It takes 110 minutes from Tokyo's Shinjuku Station to Nagano Station. However these are about $80 per ticket one-way. If this is too expensive, you can also take an Express Bus (about 4 hours travel time) to and from the same stations for about half the price.
Bus from Nagano Station to Jigokudani Monkey Park
I found this to be the easiest and cheapest option if you are traveling from Nagano Station.
Follow the signs to the Dentetsu Line and go to the ticket counter. There is a package that includes entrance to the park, and a round trip bus ride from Nagano Station to the entrance of the Monkey Park. The price is $32, which is about $4 cheaper and more convenient than figuring it out on your own.
Nagano Station to Jigokudani Monkey Park
There is a train and a bus option to reach the park from Nagano Station. Like the train from Tokyo, you can wait to purchase your tickets upon arrival to the station; from the train, leave from Nagano Station to Yudanaka Station using the Dentetsu Line. It should cost about $12 one-way, then from the station it will be about a 10-minute taxi ride to the park.
If you’re not traveling from Tokyo or Nagano, the Park’s website has all travel information up to date.
What to Know before Your visit
Price of Admission
800 yen ($7 USD) for adults, and 400 yen ($3.5 USD) for children
8:30am to 5:00pm (April to October) & 9:00am to 4:00pm (November to March)
Food & Drinks
There is no food or plastic bags allowed inside the park. The monkeys will try to steal from you, and have been known to swipe cameras and phones in addition to food. However, Michael and I stopped at Enze Café, which is right before the start of the 1.6 km walk to the entrance of the park. We grabbed some warm tea after being out in the snowstorm for an hour, and it was just what we needed.
Do not feed or touch the monkeys, don’t bring food or drinks inside, flash photography is not allowed, stay about 1m away from them when possible, and do not stare the monkeys in the eyes. They see this as a sign of aggression and will retaliate.