Day 11: December 6
Sixth day of 7-day JR pass
I never ended up writing my travel journey from this day on, so everything is quite hazy.
Today was another big day! We left early in the morning, following instructions I had gotten from the staff the night before, taking the Nagaden train to Yudanaka station. From Yudanaka, I then took another bus to Kanbayashi-onsen, from where it is over half an hour walk into the forests of the Jigokudani Monkey Park. Buses on other lines will stop at Monkey Park bus stop, which is much closer. I had planned to take the Nagaden bus straight from Nagano to Kanbayashi-onsen, but when we looked it up, it was not running so hence had to take the two modes of transport. Please note the Kanbayashi-onsen bus stop is rather confusing. There is a stop A, B and C and depending on whether you arriving at or departing the park, it will be from a different bus stop. I recommend asking the friendly staff at Yudanaka station. Even if communication is difficult, they have plenty of English explanations and maps that make it very clear.
Once we got to the Kanbayashi-onsen bus stop, the walk through the forest (there was some snow) to the Jigokudani Monkey Park was straightforward and not at all tiring. There were very few people around although I’m not sure if that was because it was not yet peak winter season, or if people just don’t visit as much during the winter season – I suspect the former. The park/forest is famous as it is inhabited by wild Japanese Macaques, who enjoy bathing in the hot springs, and are now encouraged to do so for tourism. Nearby towns are also onsen (hot spring) towns. The major attraction is the man-made pool where all the monkeys gather and bathe in, or wander around (they are fed there). While they are nicknamed “snow monkeys”, they will bathe in the hot spring all year round although are encouraged with food to do so in warmer months. Personally, I think it would be most scenic during colder months and especially if there is a lot of snow. Yamanouchi does get a lot of snow as the climate is quite cold – the largest ski resort in Japan is in Yamanouchi.
This will mostly be picture heavy. I took hundreds in the hour I was there, while my fingers were basically freezing off. The monkeys are incredible, with such delicate and expressive features. It was fascinating watching them socialise and relax. Coming here was really a big one to tick off my bucket list. I highly recommend this day trip even though it is quite out of the way.
My mum was freezing and I wouldn’t stop taking photos. Sorry, Mum! I’m pretty sure I was there longer than everyone else. The main attraction really is quite a small area. In the office area, there are a lot of photos of the monkeys that other people have taken. There are some epic ones.
We walked back to the bus stop. We met a girl travelling alone. I want to say she’s from the Netherlands, but I can’t be sure after so long. I was happy to be able to help her with some directions! The buses were infrequent, the area rural and very quiet. We barely saw anyone. I would be very worried to be lost there! We took the bus back to Yudanaka station, and then the train back to Nagano station. Back at Nagano, we headed back to our hotel and found a restaurant close by. We were sitting in our own private and enclosed little dining table area, and it was probably the best meal we had during the trip! It was a great find.