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The world-famous, hot spring-loving snow monkeys in Yamanouchi, Nagano Prefecture must be Japan's most photographed wild animals. "The only place in the world where monkeys bathe in hot springs."They live in the mountains in a valley named Jigokudani (Hell Valley). A snow monkey park (Jigokudani Yaen Koen) was established for them in 1964 where the park operator feeds the monkeys and maintains a hot spring (onsen) bath for them. Although winter (with snow) is the most popular time to see the monkeys, the park is open year round (9 am–4 pm).
This is the entrance to the trail to the snow monkey park in Yamanouchi town, Nagano Prefecture. It's about 1.6 km or a 30-min. walk (longer if you stop and take pictures).
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The trail is nice and flat, but can be snowy/icy and slippery. It's a nice and easy walk along the forest. In winter, you definitely need to be dressed warmly. The temperature was freezing when we visited in mid-Jan. 2016.The nearest train station is Yudanaka Station, little over an hour by Nagano Electric Railway train from Nagano Station. From Yudanaka Station, it's about 15 min. by car/taxi to the park entrance. A day trip from Tokyo is possible, but I highly recommend staying overnight at a nearby onsen (hot spring).
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A thick jacket, ski cap covering your ears, gloves, thick socks, and hiking shoes are a must (no high heels, sneakers, dress shoes, etc.). Hand warmers (kairo) are good too. The entrance has a souvenir shop where you can rent winter clothing.
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Japanese snow monkeys (macaque) live in the Shiga Kogen Highland area in the Nagano mountains. They have developed a custom of dipping in a hot spring built especially for them.
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The trail also has these informative signs explaining about the monkeys. Also helpful to know how far you have walked and how much more to go.
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I'm told that this old truck has been abandoned here for many years. It has become a landmark at the end of the trail.
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After walking 30 min. or so, signs of civilization. "Don't feed the monkeys and don't eat in front of the monkeys."
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The Jigokudani Yaen Koen snow monkey park, where the snow monkeys live, is part of the Joshin-etsu Kogen National Park in Shiga Kogen Highland.
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Go up these steps to the park admission gate.
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Jigokudani Onsen spa is near the snow monkey park. This ryokan named Korakukan has baths for humans and monkeys.
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Jigokudani (Hell Valley) is a common name in Japan for valleys that have volcanic steam vents and other hot stuff. (Japan's image of hell is "hot.") However, this was the only steaming vent I saw in the valley.
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Park rules
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No drones
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Near the monkey's onsen bath is this hut where you can take a break or warm up before heading back. It's literally a lifesaver. Wish they at least had a foot bath too.
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The hut has these informative sheets about the snow monkeys.
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Why snow monkeys bathe in the hot spring.
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No selfie sticks.
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Walk all the way toward the back of the valley, pay the ¥500 park admission, and you'll see this. Tourists crowd around the onsen bath made especially for the snow monkeys.In a beautiful location next to the river. Just the day before, there was little snow here.
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This is the only onsen bath where the monkeys bathe. All the photos of bathing snow monkeys you have seen were taken here. But not all monkeys bathe here. Only some of them bathe.The place is most crowded with tourists in the morning and lunch time. Most are foreign tourists, some Chinese too. Few Japanese tourists. The snow monkeys are more famous outside Japan than in Japan.
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Humans don't bathe in here. The monkeys poop in the water so you may see poop floating around. No smell though.
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Baby monkey. From generation to generation, these monkeys develop and pass down their habit of bathing in this hot spring.
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Snow monkeys taking a bath and showing relaxed faces.
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It's not unusual to see wild monkeys in Japan. So to the Japanese, these monkeys are not exotic nor unusual, even if they are bathing in an onsen.
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Although monkeys appear in Japanese legends/folktales and may even serve as a divine messenger for certain Shinto gods, monkeys are generally viewed with disdain in Japan.
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They steal food from souvenir shops, they can attack you for your bag of food, and they may hangout along the road for handouts from drivers.
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My favorite shot. I'm not sure if he's exhibiting a derogatory gesture to us humans. The calluses on the buttocks serve as a cushion for sitting. It seems that they don't have the cushy/fatty buttocks that we do, so they need to grow calluses instead.
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These monkeys are obviously accustomed to humans and they seem quite tame and well-behaved. As long as you keep your distance and don't disturb them or eat something in front of them.
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The monkeys always go comb through each other's fur for lice.
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Baby monkeys have no fear of humans.
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Next to the monkey spa is a live cam which you can see online here. You can see the monkeys bathing during the day and see how much snow there is.If you visit the snow monkeys, you can tell your friends to watch you on the live cam (updated every minute).
http://www.jigokudani-yaenkoen.co.jp/livecam/monkey/index.htm
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Park staff throwing grain on the ground to feed the monkeys along the river.
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Lunch time for the monkeys.
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Immediately down river from the monkey spa, more monkeys roam and hangout.
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Monkey totally ignored this bag.
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I must say that having snow is the key here. Without it, it wouldn't be worth the trouble of coming here.More info about the snow monkey park: http://en.jigokudani-yaenkoen.co.jp/about
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Monkey souvenirs at the gift shop at the trail's entrance.
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Manhole in Shibu Onsen showing a snow monkey in a bath. Shibu Onsen is near the entrance to the trail to the monkey park.
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The following photos were taken by photographers from New Brunswick, Canada during a photo trip to Japan in March 2005. Led and guided by pro photographer Mark Hemmings, they were Kevin Halcrow, Jeff and Kim Matheson, and Ashley Hicks.
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Snow monkeys
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