Nagano's Jigokudani Park is home to the famous Japanese Macaque, the northernmost species of monkey in the world. The park is open year-round, but the best time to go is during the winter, when the monkeys soak up the warmth of the natural hot spring baths.
Every day, dozens of monkeys gather around the baths to soak, relax, and play. Unlike their wild brothers and sisters, the park monkeys are not shy or aggressive at all, and will pose for photos or generally just mingle with the hundreds of humans who visit each day.
The 1.6km hike into the park takes around 20 to 25 minutes in the winter, due to the heavy snow. Once inside, monkeys will greet you at every turn as they forage for food in the snow or just walk around the park. The main attraction is the hot spring, where dozens of tourists from all over the world gather around the water's edge to get a shot of the monkeys. The alpha monkey gets special treatment in the bath, by being groomed and cared for by his underlings. Babies frolic and leap and play in and around the water while the adults sleep and relax and enjoy the soak. Outside the springs, monkeys huddle together in little balls of fur for warmth. The snow, the mountain terrain, the steamy waters, and of course the monkeys all make for a truly magical experience.
Find out more about Jigokudani Monkey Park.
After teaching English in Toyama from 2004 - 2005 & visiting off & on again for the next 8 years, I decided to move here permanently in 2014. I love exploring the cities, festivals, countryside, & culture of this beautiful country.