Snow Monkeys at Jigokudani Yaen-Koen!

After we saw that about ten of our friends had recently seen snow monkeys, SMS and I decided we wanted to see them too!   We took a day trip out to Nagano, which is slightly crazy given the travel time but it’s what we had and we made the most of it!

We left a little before 8.  We decided to take the trains because we weren’t sure what the road conditions would be.  Plus, it was nice to break up the travel into segments.  We also got to walk around a little on the train so overall, it was very convenient.  A little pricy, but convenient.  
We took the Keikyu line to Yokohama, the JR Tokaido line to Tokyo station and the Asama Shinkansen to Nagano station.  In Nagano, we stopped at Tully’s for a coffee before catching the express train on the Nagano Electric Line, otherwise known as the “Snow Monkey Express!” in both Japanese and English announcements.

We arrived at Yudanaka Station and decided to walk to the Snow Monkeys (must be capitalized).  The bus was coming in 25 minutes and the sign said it was a 25 minute walk so we decided to see the town and get some exercise.  It was also a beautiful day and we had been sitting for the last four or so hours so it was a pretty easy decision.  
Heiwa Kannon- the green tones are from the bronze and not weird glare.

 A little ways into the walk, we came upon an old Japanese lady sitting by the bus stop.  This may be a little known fact but old Japanese ladies are SMS’ weakness.  She said we should climb the stairs next to her to the Heiwa Kannon Buddha temple.  We said we were off to see snow monkeys, but then we decided this was a little bit of serendipity and why not check out a new temple?  We went up the stairs and saw the 25m bronze statue of the goddess of happiness.  We decided to check out the interior of the temple.

Making my way up to 33!

For 200 yen, we were allowed into the temple and given the most awesome tour by an older Japanese gentleman.  He showed us the main alter and the original statue that the 25m statue is based on.  After we lit some incense, we went to the back of the main room and down a hallway that led to the interior of the 25m statue base.   In the base are 33 Kannon statues based on 33 sacred temples in Kyoto and Nara.  Each one has a small bell in front of it that can be rung.  If all bells are struck, it is believed that a person will attain true happiness.   Sign us up!  We ran all 33 bells, which took a little while since you can’t just run along them like you’re running your hand along a picket fence.  You have to strike the bell, bow, pause, then move on.  

Ringing the final bell outside for world peace!

Although we weren’t too pressed for time, we did want to get to the Monkey Park with some extra time for photos and looking at the monkeys so we kept walking.  It turns out that by following the iPhone Maps app (when will I learn!?!?!?!), we took the supply road which had a steap uphill.  We were curious as to why no one was on that road but at the actual park, there were tons of people.  Well,  there’s another (flat) trail that most people take to access the park.

Where are all the other people?

The way we entered, there was a parking lot and a 10 minute walk to the ticket shack.  There was a snow monkey at the guard shack (and a human too) but other than that, there were no monkeys until we walked in, went up the stairs, crossed a bridge and then finally, showed our passes at the ticket window/gift shop area.  There are a lot of monkeys around, but the coolest are the monkeys clustered around an onsen where most of the classic photos are taken.  It is totally awesome!  I was prepared for it to be cheesy, touristy and not my thing and while it is a little touristy and cheesy, it’s so cool!  There are baby monkeys on adult backs, which is funny when they’re brought into the onsen involuntarily.  There are actually lots of baby monkeys and they are very cute.

There was one funny/feeling bad moment when I saw a little Japanese toddler with his family enthusiastically waving and smiling at a little baby monkey.  The kid was so happy and probably thought it was a stuffed animal come to life.  Well, the baby monkey took it poorly and aggressively jumped at the kid, swiping at him.  The kid immediately started crying and his Dad picked him up to rescue him.  The juxtaposition of the monkey and kid was pretty funny even though I did feel badly for the kid since he was so scared.

Foot onsens are delightful!

After about an hour and many pictures later, we headed out along the path that everyone else (smartly) takes.  We went back to the train station by bus and met an interesting French photographer who had incredible photos and loves volcanos.  When we got to the station, we had 25 minutes before the train so we hung out in the free foot onsen outside.  Awesome!  Then it was a long trip back with a dinner at a Nagano izakaya.  The less said about that dinner, the better.  It was a rare strike-out.  The food looked so good but ended up being things like chitterlings stew and dried squid jerky.  Boo hoo!

Meal Fail.  I now have the sads :o/

We got home around 2300.  It was a super long day but totally worth it.

***All photos in this post from SMS except for the last three, which should be fairly obvious given the quality!***

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