The journey to see the monkeys is half the fun, but involves some planning.  Think of it as a day excursion and be sure to allow time.  A snowy day is ideal because the chances of seeing many monkeys in the water are good – afer all, they want to get warm!  On a nice day, they will most likely be out and about, not in the water.

The easiest way for tourists to get to the Jigokudani Monkey Park is taking the Nagaden company bus from the Nagano train station:  Take the East Exit, walk downstairs to the bus terminal.  The bus leaves from quay 3 or 4.  It runs once an hour (10 past the hour), costs 1300 Yen one way and takes 40 minutes. Be sure to get a flyer with the return times from the driver.

If you want to go  by train or car, consult your guide book, there are several options, but all seem to be longer and more of a hassle than taking this bus.  All, however, involve walking the last 1.6 kilometers (about 40 minutes) to Hell’s Valley at 850 meters above sea level.

The Jigokudani Monkey Park is open throughout the year.  From April to October the hours are 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., from November to March 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Tips for the excursion:

Altogether you will be gone a good 5 hours departing from Nagano (40 minute drive, 40-60 minute walk, about 60 minutes with the monkeys, about 40 minutes walk back, 40 minutes drive back to Nagano).

If you need/want to have a snack or something to drink – and haven’t brought anything along – go to the gas station next to the Kanbayashi Onsen Guchi bus stop upon arrival to get yourself something to take up. Chances are the kiosk at the monkey spa is closed.

Be sure to wear good walking boots with a non-skid sole.

At the entrance to the park – you still have those 1.6 km to go – there are some heavy-duty straw rope pieces that can be tied around your shoes to help you not to skid.  These are free of charge and hang on a branch just before the steps start.

The path is not secured by rails and, while not necessarily narrow, it is not wide, either. As it was carved out of the mountain side, it drops off steeply most of the way. On the map it is euphamistically called a “promenade”!

When I visited, the small kiosk at the monkey spa was closed.  The only resting area was a rustic shack selling the entry fee ( 500 Yen per adult) and faded postcards. It also housed the restrooms and – at least the ladies – had a Western-style toilet with heated seat.  A very welcome feature!

If you want to eat or drink something, bring your own. Several onigri rice cakes (the triangular ones wrapped in seaweed) would be just right now:  a light (weight) and nutritious snack, easy to carry and consume. No tea or coffee is sold.  There is only one vending machine, which may or may not be working.

Be kind to your good DSLR camera:  If it is snowing or worse, raining, bring at least a small hand towel from your hotel to wrap your camera and lens in.  Moisture and electronics don’t mix.

There is a great sense of comradery amongst the visitors, sitting on the tree stumps in the hut, trying to warm-up in front of a weak electric heater and communing with the old stuffed Japanese Serow goat on show before heading out again into the cold and wet.  Let’s hope it stays this way for a long time to come and does not get replaced with some glitzy mountain resort!

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