Watch Japanese snow monkeys soak in hot springs at Jigokudani Monkey Park in Nagano! This day trip from Tokyo by bullet train starts with a guided tour of Zenko-ji, a 7th-century temple designated as a national treasure. Afterward, spend an hour snapping photos of the bathing snow monkeys. This seasonal day trip runs from January to April, and is limited to 15 people to ensure a small-group experience.
With your train ticket in hand, make your own way to Tokyo station in the morning and board the Shinkansen bullet train for the approx. 2-hour journey to Nagano. When you get there, meet up with your guide and small group at the Nagano station departure-arrival course and depart by bus. Following a 30-minute ride you’ll arrive at Zenko-ji Temple. Founded in 642, the Buddhist temple has been used as a place of worship in Japan for centuries. Stroll through the gate with your informative guide to visit the main hall, a majestic wooden structure known for its impressive size.After a walking tour of this national treasure, stop for a hearty lunch of soba buckwheat noodles (a Nagano specialty).Then head to Zenkojishita station, where you’ll board a local train for the 1-hour ride to Yudanaka station. Once you’re picked up from here and driven to Kanbayashi Onsenguchi, it’s a 35-minute walk along a 1-mile (1.6-km) promenade to Jigokudani Monkey Park, internationally renowned as the only place Japanese macaques — snow monkeys — can be seen enjoying hot springs. Watch this close-knit population of monkeys as they settle into the spring-fed pools at Jigokudani Monkey Park, which is often surrounded by snow. They descend from the nearby cliffs and forest to soak here, and you'll be close enough to see the relaxed expressions on their faces as they settle into the warm water.After almost an hour, you’ll depart for Yudanaka station for a 1-hour ride by local train to Nagano station. From there, it’s almost 2 hours on the bullet train back to Tokyo station, where your full-day tour ends.Please note: A minimum of two people per booking is required.
Pleasant in winter when shrouded in snow but far less appealing when seasonally bare, Yudanaka is a sprawling hot-spring town, best known for this wildly popular, though rundown, zoo, made famous by the 1992 film Baraka, where wild monkeys appear to bathe in natural onsen pools. In operation since 1964 and showing its age, the park sees thousands flock here each year to see the over-photographed troupe of Japanese macaques who are lured into the pools with food.
Monkey and Hot Springs Day Trip to Nagano
They're at times a little savage as they run wildly around you on the paths to the man-made onsen. The monkeys are a few hundred steps climb from the car park, which is itself at the end of a 1.6km winding uphill road.
The ruse is most convincing in winter when snow hides the industrial debris by the river; although the only way in is via a limited operation shuttle bus on that slippery, windy road.
If you're determined to make the trip, take the Nagano Dentetsu line from Nagano to the Yudanaka terminus (tokkyū ¥1260, 45 minutes), then take the bus for Kanbayashi Onsen Guchi and get off at Kanbayashi Onsen (¥230, 15 minutes, eight daily). Walk uphill along the road about 400m until you see the sign reading 'Monkey Park', then begin your rather gruelling uphill walk.
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