Meet the Monkeys in Yudanaka's snow monkey park.
So it’s time to see the monkeys? Probably the sole reason you travelled all the way to Yudanaka for. Located in the valley of the Yokoyu-River, in the northern part of the Nagano prefecture, the snow monkey park is surrounded by steam and boiling water that bubbles out of small crevices in the frozen ground, leading to it being known as the Jigokudani Monkey Park, Jigokudani meaning “Hell’s Valley”.
The path to the resort is breathtaking. Walking 15- 30 minutes through hostile forests, steep, often muddy and curving cliffs, usually in the cold due to the snowy climate in the area, it doesn’t sound like a very pleasant route. However, the views and tranquillity of the forest are something to be experienced. Small waterfalls and hot springs throughout the 1.6km pathway, the sky high slender trees, the mountains in the distance, are mesmerising.
Once you enter the monkey park you will come across a man-made stone pool, in which the hot springs are a typical gathering spot for the monkeys, especially during the cold periods. There are often a few monkeys gathered together at the same time, so it can be quite entertaining to watch their interactions.
The Japanese macaque monkeys live in large social groups , with a hieracial system in place. They have one boss that is in charge of the troop. This means that the park’s staff have to first feed the boss monkey and get his approval, before the rest of the group follows. If you are lucky to come at the right time you can see this process, as the staff feed the monkeys 3 times a day.
One of the perks of the park is that despite being wild monkeys you are able to approach them at a very close distance. The monkeys have grown accustomed to humans over the years and are quite calm at being approached, completely ignoring their human guests. But of course, remember that you are not allowed to touch or feed the monkeys!
Generally the monkeys show up every day, in any season. However, January and Febuary tend to be the best timing to visit the park due to the heavy snow fall during that time.This is the most likeliest time that the monkeys would come out and bathe in the springs to keep warm.
They tend to stay up in the mountains during Autumn due to the vast amount of wild fruits and nuts that grow there, and also when it gets dark.