One of the rarities Japan can boast with is “snow monkeys” living in Nagano prefecture. The monkeys are Japanese macaques, a species vernacular to Japanese mountains and they are the most northern-living nonhuman primates in the world. The monkeys are able to survive winter temperatures below -15°C thanks to hot springs in which they soak as much as humans like to.
You can see them in place with a distinctive name – Snow Monkey Park located in Jigokudani (Hell's Valley). The locals called this valley because of its steep cliffs, strong steam coming off the springs, and likely for its sulfuric smell, as well. Mountains surrounding the park are at the base of the Shiga Kogen area, close to the popular ski resorts. The valley is transected by Yokoyu River. The closest train station is Yudanaka in Yamanouchi-machi.
How to get there:
From Yudanaka station you can take a bus which can take you to the Kanbayashi station. A single way ticket will cost you 310 yen and the way up takes about 10 minutes. From there it takes about 25 minutes to climb up the mountain to get to the entrance to the Snow Monkey Park. You can also walk from Yudanaka station through Shibu Onsen, an area of many ryokans (Japanese inns) where you can find also shops or small restaurants. When walking you can also come across sake brewery in Yamanouchi, where you can taste sake for free. If you are going with your own car, there is a free parking near Kanbayashi Onsen, from which it takes 25 minutes too.
Admission fee and other information:
The entrance fee for adults is 800 yen, for children (under 18 years) 400 yen. If you are visiting in a group of at least 20 people, you can get discounted tickets. Unfortunately, there is no discounted price for seniors. The park is open from 6 am to 4 pm.
The monkeys usually don’t soak in water when the weather is not too cold and they usually hang out outside of the pools. So if you want to make sure you will see them soaking in the hot springs you can check the current situation on live cam at http://www.jigokudani-yaenkoen.co.jp/livecam2/video_en.php
In case you are fond of hot springs and get jealous of monkeys warming their bodies up in spring water, you can go to Jigokudani onsen korakukan near the geyser of a hot stream in the valley. The entrance for onsen is 600 yen.
Each monkey in the troop has its rank on top of which is a “boss monkey”, called Ryuoh. Males usually don’t like to soak in the hot water. Originally, the monkeys don’t like to get their fur wet and only about 30% take bath in hot springs. When they get out of the water, they don’t lose their heat so quickly as humans since they barely sweat. Therefore, they keep warm long after leaving the water. They also like to cuddle each other in order to maintain warm, which makes cute photos.
Male monkeys tend to migrate between troops as loners in order to find female monkey from another group to mate with. Afterwards, they don’t stick with their new family.