The other opportunity was in Nagano, where I got to see the famous Snow Monkeys.
You may have seen pictures of the Jigokudani Snow Monkey Park online, but if you are in Japan and get the chance to visit, I highly, highly recommend it.
You don't necessarily have to see them in the winter time (they have a summer season where you can see the monkeys bathing in the hot springs too!) but I feel like for the quintessential experience, it's neat to go when there's still snow on the ground.
Got my ticket - ready to go exploring!
This was a picture I just took with my phone - no fancy cameras or anything like that, and to me the scene still looks like something you would see in a National Geographic Magazine! They do warn you that when you are taking pictures and just generally looking around the park, that you aren't supposed to make eye contact with the monkeys. This is because it can be seen as a sign of aggression - and we have to remember that the monkeys here are still wild animals, no matter how cute and peaceful they look!
You can still get quite close to them, though!
Out of all the experiences I have had in Japan, this has to count as one of my most memorable.
If you're looking at visiting the Jigokudani Monkey Park, they have a comprehensive overview on their website on how to get there which you can find here. It includes driving directions as well as train and bus directions - and not just from Tokyo, but how to get there from a number of places across Japan.
Admission is 800 yen for adults, and 400 yen for children - and those under 6 years of age get in for free. Definitely wear footwear that has a good grip on it, as parts of the path leading up to the monkeys does get very slick and icy just due to the weather conditions!