The Snow Monkeys of Nagano.
Jigokudani Yaen-Koen lies deep within the Northern area of Nagano Prefecture; surrounded by the Japanese Alps, the park is home to around 200 snow monkeys ( Japanese Macaques) and has been open to the public since 1964.
The thing which separates Jigokudani from other Japan based monkey parks is the fact that the monkeys who reside there spend most of their winter days either bathing, and grooming each other in a hot spring or chasing each other around their snow covered residence while armed with a small arsenal of snowballs.
The forest covered valley that surrounds the park originally started out as a hot spring resort for humans , but the furry primates residing in the forests above the resort soon began to wander down to join their human counterparts for regular hot spring dips, and so the decision was taken to build a seperate hot spring for monkeys only.
Nowadays the parks acts as a magnet for tourists, photographers and researchers wanting to observe the monkeys behavioral patterns and the strict and highly-structured society to which they belong.
The monkeys themselves, although not necessarily friendly by nature are very welcoming to the hordes of people that pass through the park every year and are, for the most part, happy to strike a pose or two for pictures.
Jigokudani is extremely easy to access from Nagano City; just take a local or express train on the Dentecu Line from Nagano Station to Yudanaka. On arrival at Yudanaka station, turn right and head for the very obvious bus stop situated just outside Yudanka Station's one and only exit.
Once at the bus stop, grab a bunch of leaflets and maps from the information stand which is adjacent to the bus stop; hop on a bus and head for Jigokudane Yaen-Koen.
Given the parks mountainous location, the bus can only take you to within about thirty or forty minutes of the parks entrance.There is small menu of steep, but well-trodden paths that you can choose from to reach the parks entrance; each path should take you about thirty or forty minutes to complete.
Between the months of December and February the before-mentioned paths will be covered in snow and will thus be somewhat slippery, so be sure to wear a sturdy pair of shoes and some warm socks if your planning a wintertime visit to the park.
While Jigokudani is undoubtedly Yudanaka's main and best-known attraction, Yudanaka itself is also a well-known hot spring destination and there are number of natural hot springs located around the town