Monday, February 6, 2017

Japan trip Winter 2017 Part 3: Day 3 - Nagano Jigokudani Snow Monkey Park & Omiya

Day 3, January 27 contained one of our biggest plans of the trip and something we were really looking forward to since we were visiting during this time of year specifically - going to Jigokudani in Nagano. Jigokudani Yaen Koen is a park where you can see wild snow monkeys bathing in a natural hot spring! Although it's open all year round, the best time to visit is during the winter when the monkeys are already inclined to hang out in the water of their own volition. I had seen pictures with what seemed like 30+ monkeys in there at one time! Of course, the monkeys are wild (it's not a zoo), so they do as they please and it's not guaranteed that they will be in the water. Also, in cases of extreme weather, the park will not open. We were sure to check the park website for the hours for that day before we left in the morning.

We woke up at around 05:45 so we would be ready to leave at around 06:30 to walk to Shibuya station. The first thing we needed to do was get to Omiya via the JR Shonan Shinjuku line.

Luckily we had just utilized the JR Shonan-Shinjuku line the previous day in the opposite direction to get to Yokohama, so we didn't have much trouble finding the correct track.

Once at Omiya, we navigated to the shinkansen tracks.

Our Kagayaki type shinkansen arrived on time (of course),

and then we settled in for about an hour ride to Nagano.

Once we got off the shinkansen, we dashed to the Dentetsu line where we purchased our 1-day passes. This is a pretty small station where the trains don't seem to run very often. We had been worried that if a lot of other people were on our train from Tokyo, we might have to wait in line to buy our passes and potentially miss the bus, but we were the only ones there lol.

There are signs in English on the information window (see above) that directed us to walk to the opposite side (East exit) of the station to get to the bus stop we wanted.

There was a little bit of confusion about this when we got there. The sign had mentioned Bus Stop 23 or 24. Bus stop 23 had a huge line of people and Bus stop 24 had maybe 6-8 people who had probably just arrived maybe a few minutes before us. However, both seemed to go to our destination and was scheduled to pick us up at the same time (09:05). We ended up waiting in the shorter line which was the right move. I think a lot of people in the other line wanted to go to a ski resort?

Our view while we were waiting. I rarely get to see snow, so suddenly being surrounded is still kind of cool to me lmao.

The No. 23 bus showed up first but our No. 24 bus arrived just shortly after, still timely!
Although our bus stop didn't seem to have been the more popular one, I think the other bus had filled up quickly and some of the stragglers had ended up on ours? All of the seats on our bus were occupied and even required the use of those weird fold down aisle seats for 2 people. In any case, this seemed to definitely be a popular time to catch the bus, so I wouldn't lollygag if you're trying to get on it!
While on the bus, I continued to be fascinated by the snow lol.

The bus ride was supposed to be around 45 minutes but it seemed like it ended up taking closer to 70 minutes. We did leave a bit later because of the loading time at Nagano station, but it also took us a long time to get out of the neighborhood and onto the freeway. Just getting on that bus was our goal, so we didn't mind the longer ride.
We got off the bus at the "Snow Monkey Park" stop with most of the other bus occupants and immediately started walking up the hill.

There were a few helpful signs to help ensure we were walking in the right direction.

This is the "last public restroom" before the park which is about maybe a 7 minute walk from the bus stop.

Continue trudging up the hill lol.

Until you get to the Info & Gift shop! I think it took about 12 minutes or less to get there from the bus stop including the bathroom break. Although uphill, the walk is not very difficult at all and the time passed quickly.

This is where we stopped so my mom and I could rent snow boots. You can also rent or buy other useful items such as crampons and outerwear before the "real hike" to the Monkey Park begins.

In my snow boots, 1.6km to go!

We expected this part to be the most miserable part of visiting the park, but actually it was quite pleasant! Most of it is pretty level from lots of wear (although there are some parts you can slip if you don't watch where you're going) and since I had changed to the rental boots, I had zero issues just stomping around.

I think if anything, maybe the walk is a little boring because it's a bit long and you just want to get to your destination lol. But at the same time, I was still being entertained by the existence of snow. The trees were covered in it and would randomly drop onto us.
I was actually quite warm in the middle of the walk wtf. Didn't even need my coat at one point but put it on near the end because it was easier to wear it than to carry it.

The first monkey we saw!

I believe this is an onsen or a ryokan where you can stay. (Not 100% sure on the details but this is just before the entrance to the park.)
Still walking lol

You know you've made it when you see a building where you pay for admission. It's a 800yen fee but since we purchased the 1-day pass, it includes entrance into the park. The rules say not to touch or feed the monkeys but photos and video are OK!

Once we passed through the entrance gate, we stopped to put our bags into a locker (requiring one 100yen coin) and just took our necessities with us.
Our first goal was to go to the monkey onsen area!

There's a Live Camera set up on the Jigokudani website [here!] which I had been following for a couple months prior to our trip, and I wanted to try to get into frame for it!
Do you see me on the left? It takes a snapshot once about every minute but saves a version at the top of every hour in the side bar. We arrived just a minute or two before 11:00, so I really wanted to be in the 11:00 snapshot so I could reference it later and didn't have to worry about screenshotting it live while there lol.

As it turns out, there weren't very many monkeys in the water while we were there, but that makes sense because it didn't seem to be extremely cold or actively snowing either, which made the visit a lot more bearable for us tbh.

Pictures of the monkeys!

It turns out that I was observing the monkeys right in front of a ABN camera team wtf. They tried to talk to me for an interview but I told them I was American lol. Then they still tried to interview me to have me respond in English because I could understand some of the questions and the cameraman could understand a fair bit of English (and I think they would have had someone translate it later) but I'm terrible at interviews FML.

More monkeys!

Although technically wild, most of them are really quite tame and will come right up next to you if they're looking for something to eat or you're in their path. This little guy sitting on this post was one of my favorites!

Aside from the hot spring area, there's a lower area where the river is flowing. The ramp to get down is a bit steep and I was glad I was wearing the rented snow boots for that part especially.

Although it's not as "unique" as seeing the monkeys in the hot spring, I really enjoyed being in this lower area because there weren't as many people clustered together and we were able to see the monkeys interacting with each other a bit more.

At around noon, we noticed there was a lot of monkey screeching. It turns out it was feeding time! A park employee was distributing/tossing food for the monkeys from a bucket. And what seemed like a hundred monkeys started gathering and coming down from the hill. It's a bit hard to explain but with the steepness of the mountain, it almost looked like it was raining monkeys lol. There were so many of them and they seemed to suddenly be coming out of nowhere!
(This was also around the time when my phone had decided that it was wayyyy too cold and wouldn't stay on long enough for me to take any photos or video.)

We stayed down in the lower area for a while and then before leaving, we headed back up to the hot spring for one last look,

and then started on our way back. I think we stayed for about 1.5 hours with the monkeys. We arrived shortly before 11:00 and then stayed a little bit past when they were being fed around 12:00.

We stopped back at the locker to pick up our items (and actually got our 100yen coin back) and at that same building where you purchase your admission ticket, there's also a small gift shop, rest area and bathroom if you need it.

Bundled up for the walk back down because I was actually cold at that point lol. There was actually a pretty close call for a couple in front of us where they had to run to get out of the way of a huge load of snow falling from a tree above the path. In general, there seemed to be more falling snow on the way back and it made my hair all gross lol.

After about 20 minutes, we made our way back down to the Info shop where we returned our rented snow boots and reclaimed our own.
If you are wearing shoes you care about, I would definitely just renting the boots for 800yen. Even if I had my own flat shoes to wear, I think I felt slightly more assured in the boots + I didn't care as much about trudging through mud or what I was stepping on everywhere because I wouldn't have to wash and pack them later. Although it wasn't reflected in the pictures very well, there were some parts of the trail that did have a bit more mud/sludge and I was happy I didn't have to worry about ruining anything I was wearing.

Looked around this gift shop a bit,

and then started on our way back down.

We stopped at Enza Café though!

The menu offerings are pretty simple. The main dish is either ramen or sushi but there are a number of sides and desserts you can choose as well.

We ordered French fries (which were quick and just right), 2 bowls of ramen and a 4-piece sushi.

Once we had rested a bit, we walked all the way back down to the bus stop.

There are actually two bus stops that leave from the Snow Monkey Park area. One is called Kanbayashi Onsen (A) and is a little closer to the park by a few minutes but is accessed by/to and from Yudanaka station (located about mid way between Nagano station and the park). We used the Snow Monkey Park bus stop (B) which is accessed by/to and from Nagano station directly by express bus. Since we only wanted to visit the Snow Monkey Park and not also check out the other areas in between, the Nagaden Express bus to Nagano station was best and most efficient for us.
We were just in time for the 14:45 bus back to the station, only having to wait about 10 minutes. There were a handful of other people waiting for the same bus, but we knew it likely wouldn't be a problem to board and get a seat.

The bus ride back was much more comfortable and definitely seemed more like 45 minutes than the extended ride on the way over.
Ate my chocolate muffin that my mom bought for me at Enza Café on the way back.

We got off the bus at Nagano station and then decided to just explore the Nagano area a bit. Had we arrived about 1/2 hour earlier, I would have tried to visit Zenkoji, but it closes at 16:00 during the winter months and it would take at least 30 minutes to walk there and the train wouldn't get us there until after 16:00 as well, so I didn't think we were going to be able to make it in time.

Instead, we just leisurely walked around and visited a few stores.
There wasn't much else that we immediately saw that we wanted to visit, so we just walked up one side of the street and back down the other, eventually making our way back to the station.

At Nagano station, we accidentally ended up in Muji on the basement floor of the station.
My mom and I bought a few things while my dad browsed the other floors. Even though our pocket wifi wasn't working well, we met back up after purchasing and then

Grabbed some Nagano/Shinshu-specific omiyage/souvenirs,

before we got on our Kagayaki type shinkansen back down to Omiya!

About an hour later, we got off the shinkansen and then since we were already in Omiya, I definitely wanted to stop at Arche which is just outside the west exit and ofc Liz Lisa :)
I don't really know why...because most of the stuff I had really wanted I already purchased but I guess I always just try to go to whatever stores I can for some reason. It's especially prudent to do so during the sales but most of the sale stuff was heavier winter items which I need to avoid anyway.

For dinner, we decided to just go for what has become an "old favorite" since the last trip - Ootoya.
The nearest location to Omiya station is on the east side of the station, so we just walked back through the station to get there. It was just a few blocks away on the second floor of a building. There weren't immediately 3 seats available but a man moved over so we could all sit down together since there were two empty seats on one side of him and one on another, so we actually didn't end up needing to wait much at all!

After dinner, we went back across to the west side of the station to go to Daiei wtf lol.

And then we just hopped on a Saikyo line train to get back to Shibuya!

I was surprised that we didn't feel more exhausted after visiting Jigokudani, but I think we had anticipated it being a lot worse than it actually was - in terms of weather and level of effort. It really was quite a pleasant walk for most of the way after I changed into the snow boots and since it wasn't actively snowing or incredibly windy, the temperature didn't seem awful. The amount of Uniqlo heat tech I had on probably didn't hurt either. We were definitely over-prepared but I'm glad it wasn't the other way around.
If you are able-bodied, visiting the Snow Monkey Park is definitely something you can and should consider doing, especially during the winter! (Unfortunately, access isn't very friendly if you need more assistance and the grounds can get quite slippery with the snow.) There's tons of information available for how to prepare (we used this website a lot) and catching the bus such a long distance wasn't as daunting as I thought it would be. The 1-day pass made that especially easy as well since the bus fare was included.
I considered this quite a pleasant day trip from Tokyo and we had more than enough time to do what we wanted. Like I mentioned, it would have felt slightly more complete if we had been able to visit Zenkoji once back at Nagano station on this day as well, but I think it was better that we didn't feel rushed at the monkey park since that was the main attraction. Plus, we still had plenty of time to shop around Omiya before heading back, so I enjoyed visiting a Liz Lisa on this day as well lol.

Japan trip Winter 2017
    Part 1: Arrival and Day 1 - Tokyo errands, Ebony/Liz Lisa & Shiodome Caretta Illumination
    Part 2: Day 2 - Yokohama NOAH Inner City Zoo, Knot, Chinatown & Machida 109
    Part 3: Day 3 - Nagano Jigokudani Snow Monkey Park & Omiya
    Part 4: Day 4 - Tokyo shopping, Imperial Palace & dinner with Yuni
    Part 5: Day 5 - Shizuoka Izu Cactus Park (Capybara onsen!) & Mount Omuro
    Part 6: Day 6 - Last minute shopping, Ameyoko & Harajuku
    Part 7: Liz Lisa & Other shopping purchases/coordinates
    Part 8: Travel Notes - Airbnb, Pupuru pocket wifi & weather
    Part 9: What's in my bag - Japan trip edition

Japan trip Spring 2016 posts
Japan trip Autumn 2015 posts
Japan trip Summer 2015 posts
Japan trip Spring 2015 posts
Japan trip Summer 2014 posts


  1. That must have been such a cool experience! Those monkeys are so cute! I also appreciate how you manage to make bundling up for the cold look so effortless and adorable! I always just end up looking like a marshmallow haha

    1. This is something I definitely think you might enjoy, but I'm sure the "hike" is just like a walk in the park for someone like you!
      The weather was definitely more mild than I expected it to be but I think in general it wasn't as cold there as it could have gotten. Maybe an excuse to visit again to see more monkeys in super cold weather?

  2. The monkies are so cute! I didn't know you got interviewed that day. Seems like a really fun activity to do even if the wake up time is way too early :p

    1. If you stay in Nagano and don't have to commute in, it's definitely not as much of a hardship in the morning. Also the park doesn't close until 16:00 so if you want to visit in the afternoon instead, definitely doesn't require waking up early!

  3. You were incredible lucky, Emi! I went there with my boyfriend, I think I told you this on FB, hahaha. We stayed 2 days in Korakukan Onsen, just in front of the monkey park. The onsen was so nice at night when it was snowing and the water was so hot, you barely felt any cold there. It was amazing. And monkeys were bathing with us on the onsen, with the little monkeys falling asleep attached to their mothers... it was so magical :3 I definitely need to blog about it. I have tons of photos to post, too!!

    Like I was saying, you were definitely lucky on the day you visited.
    When we arrived, there was a lot of fallen snow, but luckily the tractors(?) were passing every few hours to leave the path walkable. The day we checked out of Korakukan... well... Those 1.6km felt like 20km, definitely. Snow was up to our waist and even more, in that very same path, because the tractors would not come that day. And we HAD to leave, we were not allowed to wait there on the ryokan, so... That part was not as pleasant as the rest of the trip. Even more, when trying to get off that path, a lot of big chunks of snow were falling on us x__x and that was scary as hell.

    1. Uh, I wrote a lot >< sorry for making this comment into a blog post!! I just wanted to share my experience about it and ended up writing a lot XD
      This was a great post as you always take the time to put a lot of pictures about it, not only about the monkeys but the shinkansen & train stations as well. ♥

    2. Ahh I didn't even realize it got that bad but I guess it makes sense. We were crossing our fingers that the park wouldn't be closed because I knew there might have been some bad weather the day before and it was closed at some points the weeks prior as well.
      It was really interesting to read about your experience so thank you for sharing!