Saturday, January 13, 2018

How to visit the Snow Monkey Park in Nagano? Everything you need to know!

       When I say “Nagano”, most people think of the snow monkeys first, and this is what Nagano is most famous for. The snow monkey park is originally called the Jigokudani Yaen-Koen (directly translated to the "Hell Valley Park”) and it is made famous by the international press in 1998 when Nagano held the Winter Olympic Games.
       It is the bizarre phenomena which wild monkeys bathe in natural hot springs that attracts people from all over the world to this part of Japan. This is the only place on earth where you can take a right up-close look at the monkeys soaking in hot spring, acting like human… and mark my words, this memory will last a lifetime.


       The snow monkey park is actually located in Yamanouchi Town, the same area where Shibu Onsen and Ryuoo Ski Park, hence you can easily combine the visit into your 2 days itinerary.

How to get there

There are 6 ways to get to the Snow Monkey Park, listed as below:
  1. From Nagano Station, take a limited express train on the Nagano Dentetsu Line (1260 Yen) to Yudanaka station. From there, take a Nagaden local bus (the Kanbayashi Line) stopping at Kanbayashi Onsen (310 Yen).  
  2. From Nagano Station, take a limited express train on the Nagano Dentetsu Line (1260 Yen) to Yudanaka station. From there, take a shuttle bus towards Shiga Kogen, stopping at the Snow Monkey Bus Stop (310 Yen). 
  3. From Nagano Station, take the Shiga Kogen Express Line Bus and stop at the Snow Monkey Bus Stop. This 41 minutes journey costs 1400 Yen
  4. From Liyama Station, take the Shiga Kogen Express Line Bus and stop at the Snow Monkey Bus Stop. The 34 minutes journey costs 1000 Yen.  
  5. (If you stay in a Ryokan/Hostel in Yudanaka/Shibu Onsen) Your accommodation might provide free transportation to the Snow Monkey Park so definitely ask the receptionist. 
  6. Those who rent a car can drive there but it is not encouraged because the route from Shibu Onsen is closed during winter and there are very limited parking spaces available (fee required). 
From the Snow Monkey Bus Stop, you’ll need to walk pass Hotel Hatarutei (on your right) to reach Kanbayashi Onsen Bus Stop. From Kanbayashi Onsen Bus Stop, there is a short walk to the trail entrance of Snow Monkey Park, passing by "Hotel Senjukaku”(on your right), "Enza Cafe and Ramen”(on your right) and the "Snow Monkey Resorts Info and Gift Shop”(on your left). 

Then from there onwards, it will be 25-30 minutes walk along the Yumichi forest

Important notes : 
- Option 1 (Kanbayashi Line) and 4 ( Accommodation Shuttle Bus) is available all year round.
- Option 2 (Shiga Kogen Line) and 3 (Shiga Kogen Express Line) is available only during colder months (2nd December 2018 to 2nd April 2018, dates vary from year to year ).
- The schedule of the first and last bus of the day might change, so please double check it at the bus ticket counter, especially when you are visiting on a Friday or Saturday.
- Option 6 is not recommended.

Things to note before the hike

  • Baggage storage is available at the Info and Gift Shop and Hotel Senjukaku at 500 Yen per piece (they don’t take the size into account.)
  • In winter, the temperature drops below 0 degrees and some path might be covered in thick snow. Although snow is cleared frequently and anti-slip solvents are applied, it still could be slippery, so be sure to wear good boots. For those who don’t own winter wear, you can rent them from the Snow Monkey Resorts Info and Gift Shop located at the trailhead. 
  • There are no toilets between Kanbayashi Onsen Parking Lot and the Snow Monkey Park, so please use the public toilet at the parking lot before the hike. 
  • Depending on the weather, the opening hours of the park is subjected to change without prior notice. it might be closed entirely due to heavy snowfall

       We started the hike exactly at 9 am. The scenery along the route was superb. The hike was pretty easy although on unpaved roads. There is only one road until we reached the Jigokudani Spring. Then, we took a right up the steps until we see the ticket counter at the end of the path.
       Entrance fee (tax included) is 800 Yen for adults and 400 Yen for children from 6-17. Children younger than 6 visit for free.
       The park is much smaller than I imagined, but lucky us, there was a decent amount of Monkeys running around. Some monkeys were enjoying the hot spring and it was very entertaining to observe the behaviors of each individual monkey within their community called “troops”. We found some monkeys grooming each other,

What are snow monkeys

“Snow Monkeys” are Japanese macaque, a type of northern primate. It is later known by tourists as “Snow Monkeys” due to their sightings in winter and the environment being so snowy. Just like Huskies, the Snow Monkeys are often seen portraying a variety of facial expressions, this is one of the many reasons why they are so lovable!  

When can we see snow monkey bathing in the Onsen? 
  • Only during colder months, the monkeys soak in Onsen to escape the harsh cold. The monkeys do not visit the Onsen during summer and autumn when food is plentiful in the mountains. 
  • Your best bet is during snowing winter days. Because during sunny winter days, the monkeys might want to sunbathe instead!
  • The monkeys will come down from the mountain in the morning and return in the evening
  • There are fixed feeding times during park hours and during that particular period, monkeys will come out from the hot spring to eat.   
  • Baby monkeys can be seen between May and July when the parents bring their newborns for their first onsen experience! 


Cute history behind this behavior
It is said that long ago, there was a young macaque that jumped into the hot spring to pick up an apple fallen into the pool. It liked it so much that it started getting into the hot spring regularly and the other monkeys followed.

Things to Note While in the Snow Monkey Park

  • Keep an appropriate distance from the monkey so that you don’t startle them resulting in animal attacks. 
  • Do not show food
  • Do not bring any pets into the park
  • While filming/ photographing the monkeys, do not use special equipment such as selfie stick and drone. Also, tourists are not allowed to place cameras in the water. 
  • Do not bring your phone/camera too close to the monkeys, they might snatch it away. 
  • If you are lucky, you might see many other wild animals such as squirrels and Japanese serows. 
source
       Before leaving the Snow Monkey Park, don’t forget to stop by the info and gift shop back at the trailhead to pick up some original snow monkey souvenirs!

Popular Question on the FB Page: 

1. Can you touch the monkeys? 
- No, we can't! No touching, feeding, hugging, chasing etc etc.

2.1. Is there a Day-Pass to the Monkey Park?
YES! There is a Snow Monkey 1-Day Pass being sold at 3200 Yen. It is valid on Nagano Dentetsu Line (unlimited use), Nagaden Express Bus, Nagaden local bus and Free admission to the Snow Monkey Park!
2.2. Is the Pass worth it? 
Yes, but only for day trips. You wouldn’t benefit at all if you are spending a night in the area. Let me do the math for you: (refer to transportation options)
Option 1,2: YES.
1260 (Express Train Ticket) +310 (local bus ticket) +800 (Snow Monkey Park entrance fee)+310 (local bus ticket)+1260 (Express Train Ticket) = 3940 (You save 740 Yen.)
Option 3: YES. 
1400 (Express Bus) +800 (admission fee) +1400 (Express Bus)= 3600 (You save 400 Yen)
Option 4: NO. 
1000 (Express Bus) + 800 (admission fee) + 1000 (Express Bus) = 2800 (You are better off without the pass)
Option 5: NO. 
Since you are staying overnight in a Ryokan, you will arrive one day earlier, so you have to pay for your Express train ticket (1260 Yen). 800 (admission fee)+ 1400 (Express Bus) = 2200 (You are better off without the Pass)
Option 6: NO. 
2.3.Where to buy it?
It is available at the Nagano Dentetsu Station, Gondon station, Suzaka station, Obuse Station and Yudanaka Station.
2.4. What else to note? 
- The Pass is only available in colder months
- It is valid only on the date of issue so you can’t purchase it beforehand!
- Depending on the absence of monkeys in the Park, ticket sales could be temporarily suspended.
- Tickets are not refundable in case there are no Snow Monkeys in the park.  

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Thank You for Reading! 
This post is made possible by the Yamanouchi Town Tourism Association
As always, it is based solely on my honest opinion or personal experience. 
 Feel free to share your thoughts with me by commenting below!

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