Jigokudani Monkey Park

Jigokudani Monkey Park

In the nineteen countries I’ve been to this was one of my best travel experiences.

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My main reason for going to Nagano for the weekend was to visit the wild monkey park in Yamanouchi. Japanese macaques, more commonly called snow monkeys, are drawn to this mountain area during the winter months due to the natural hot water pools which reach 122°F. There are no fences (other than to keep rocks from falling) and no cages. The monkeys are free to come and go as they please.

On Saturday I grabbed the first bus out of Nagano toward Yamanouchi. The trip lasted about an hour and cost ¥1300. My other option was to take a 7:00 am train and then a taxi, but I wasn’t going to wake up that early.

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I was dropped off on the side of the road at 9:00 am and after asking for directions at a gas station, I started seeing the signs.

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The trail to the park gates is about a mile long and takes about 20 minutes. The path is extremely slick but is pretty flat. Excited, I went faster than I should have but luckily didn’t fall.

I should have brought hiking boots, but all I had were regular lace up boots without much tread.

I should have brought hiking boots, but all I had were regular lace up boots without much tread.

The trail was full of poorly translated warning signs.

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I finally got to the gate and after paying the extremely cheap ¥500 admission fee, I headed toward the hot water pool. Before I could get there, there was a monkey right along the path.

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From a distance…

...and up close.

…and up close.

I followed the path and made my way to the main viewing area. 

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Using my 135mm F/2 lens, I was able to capture some great expressions on the monkey’s faces.

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The monkeys don’t pay much attention to the people visiting, but a lot of the people I saw weren’t so courteous. Some, mostly photographers, were downright intrusive. They would get their wide-angle lens less than 8 inches from the face of these monkeys. It’s hard to believe the kind of patience these monkeys have. It kind of took away from the magic that was there.

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I tried my best to use a long lens and keep my distance. Despite being somewhat tame, they are obviously still wild animals.

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Lots of people got pictures with the monkeys though, including me. Some people sat right next to them, but I wasn’t that brave and got a picture from a distance. I love this woman taking a selfie:

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That being said, the monkeys will get extremely close to you. I even had one run between my legs when I wasn’t paying attention!

That's my foot!

That’s my foot!

This picture sums up the experience pretty well.

This picture sums up the experience pretty well.

I also found some more monkeys lying in the sun by the stream grooming each other.

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What was the name of that country song? I want to check you for ticks?

What was the name of that country song? I want to check you for ticks?

Even though it was near 30 degrees out and I hadn’t eaten anything all day, I stayed at the monkey park until 3:00 pm. All in all this weekend trip cost me about $400 dollars, but the snow monkey park was worth that alone. If you’re ever near Nagano in winter or summer, check out Jigokudani Monkey Park. It’s an incredible experience.

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