Jigokudani Snow Monkey Park

IMG_0758One of our Nagano excursions was something on my Japan bucket list – a trip to see the snow monkeys. Despite our son waking up sobbing hysterically in Murder Hostel and keeping it up from 1 to 3 AM, and most definitely feeling under the weather, we trekked another hour away to park, and at least (read = only) one of us was excited about the day ahead.

For the second time that weekend, we parked before being exactly sure of where we were going. We saw a map that said snow monkey park, saw a huge parking lot with an enormous picture of a snow monkey above it, and had the craaaaaaaaaaazy thought that we’d arrived.

We had not. We started off walking toward the direction of the sign we’d seen, only to find the path was closed for the winter. We found a Japanese couple coming down the nearby path from a temple, and we asked if we could still use the path using our limited Japanese and what MBH calls “pointy talky.” The man thought for a second, glanced at us and our toddler (no stroller in sight) and reluctantly nodded his head.

“Hard,” he added, almost as an afterthought.

But he wasn’t kidding. The ‘mountain path,’ closed for the winter due to the typical snow, was 2.5 km cut straight up a mountain. A quarter kilometer in, I wasn’t sure if we’d make it. Our son was sobbing and clearly not feeling better. My Better Half lifted him up onto his shoulders to carry him, but our son only wanted to be carried by me.

“It’s not going to happen, buddy,” I told him, because it definitely wasn’t. More sobbing ensued and continued for the remainder of the 2.25 km, and I kept a wary eye out on the trees, sure some kind of Japanese forest bear/cat/predator was going to hear his cries, decide we were weak and unprotected, use the element of surprise to attack, and equally sure that we’d never be found until spring, given that we were, after all, on the ‘closed path.’

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When we finally broke out of the forest, it was to the spectacular snow monkey park.

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A giant snow monkey walked along the path right ahead of us, just gamboling along on his way to the natural onsens (Japanese hot springs) that dotted the mountainside. Most were bigger than a collie-sized dogs!

Everywhere we looked, snow monkeys abounded, waiting their turn to hop in the onsens one by one, ignoring the tourists gathered as close as possible with cameras, and just generally going about their day while we watched. It was definitely a highlight of Japan so far!

 

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