Planning and preparing itineraries are my strengths, I love to do it and it makes our trips not only interesting but also easier. When we booked tickets to Japan for the middle of summer, my Japanese friends reacted the same to that information – Ooooh summer? Summer in Japan is hot, very hot! Which made me happy, I wanted hot, I like hot. And because it was supposed to be after the rainy season, I couldn’t wait for that great weather.
– Maybe we should take the advantage of that and do some hikes there? So I added a few to the itinerary.
It was 35°C at 10 am. Not a cloud in the sky. Try hiking in those conditions. I only then understood what my Japanese friends meant. It was HOT, hiking was off the table and we needed plan B.
– We could go to see snow monkeys. Sans the snow, but should be fun anyway.
The Snow Monkey Park, Jigokudani Yaen-koen, is located in a mountainous area of the northern part of Nagano Prefecture. For one-third of the year, the area is covered by snow. The steep cliffs, remote location, and hot springs were chosen by Japanese macaques as their home. Currently, about 200 monkeys inhabit the park. [check the live camera]
In order to get to the park, you need to make your way to Nagano Station (if you’re traveling around Japan on JR Pass, you can use it up to this point). From there you have to catch a Dentetsu Line train to Yudanaka and a local bus to Kanbayashi Spa or express bus direct to Kanbayashi Spa. Both options are not covered by JR Pass, so you need to purchase a 1-day Snow Monkey Pass at the Nagano Station. The pass costs JPY2900 for an adult, JPY1450 for a 6-12 years old child and includes unlimited use of the express bus, Dentetsu Line train, local bus & admission to the monkey park. It’s in a form of a small booklet with all the most important info (timetables, map, park guidelines etc).
No matter which transport you choose, there is only one way to get to the monkeys from Kanbayashi Spa – walking. It is about 2 kilometers through a forest and takes approximately 30 minutes.
Show your pass/ buy a ticket at the entrance and you have unlimited time to walk around, take photos and watch monkeys play.
On hot summer days, there is nowhere to hide from the sun. Don’t forget to use sunscreen, bring a hat and drink lots of water.
It’s a fun thing to do no matter what time of the year you visit, but it won’t take more than half a day (unless you’re a very late riser). On our way back we chose to travel by the direct express bus to Nagano Station and spend the rest of our day in Nagano. From the small map included in our pass, we had a little bit of trouble to determine which bus stop is the right one for the express bus – if you find yourself in this situation, just remember this photo:
Also, I wouldn’t worry too much even if you’re not on the right stop. Bus drivers are very helpful, they stop anyway and check where you want to go.
edit – this photo cracked me up on the way to the monkeys: