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Winter Japan Day 5 - Jigokudani Monkey Park

Updated: May 2, 2019

#Nagano #Jigokudani #Monkey #NikonD5100

Day 5 mission - to meet the Japanese macaques at Jigokudani Monkey Park. As we know, good things don't come easy (usually). And seeing these adorable snow monkeys is no exception. Here's how it goes...

To my surprise, the temperature had dropped further. Bring more clothes and always be prepared for the worst. Despite that weather forecast had indicated 0 to 5 degrees Celsius before we left for the trip.

There are 2 common ways to get to Jigokudani Monkey Park (地獄谷野猿公苑 Jigokudani Yaen Kōen) from Nagano station:


A) By Nagaden Bus.

B) By Nagano Dentetsu limited-express train to Yudanaka station, followed by either a short local bus ride or taxi.


The first option is obviously simpler, which is hence our choice. In both instances, you'll need to walk around 40 minutes to the Park anyway.


Simply go to bus stop number 3 or 4 outside the East Exit of Nagano train station (take the elevator one floor down). The bus departure times and their respective bus stop numbers are shown in the scanned leaflet above. However, do check with the information centre in the train station for the latest schedule.



You will see some information on the signpost and it should show "Jigokudani Yaen-Koen" along the route map. The stop to alight is "Kanbayashi Onsen Guchi". It costs 1,400¥ per person for a one-way trip. You only have to pay the driver when you alight the bus at your destination.

The 9.10am Nagaden bus arriving at the bus stop number 4.

Seat back, relax and enjoy the beautiful scenery along the way. It's a 40 to 50-minute journey, depending on the weather and road condition.

Arriving at Kanbayashi Onsen Guchi stop. You might be wondering where is the "bus stop". There is no prominent structure or shelter but simply alighting by the road. However, the LCD screen in the bus would show very clearly the stops it is approaching. And very likely, many other tourists will also be alighting here too.

Look out for signs to the monkey park.

Another way to make an ice kacang.

More signs. It's impossible to get lost.

The Shiga Kogen Roman Museum near the bus stop designed by Kisho Kurokawa. Sorry Dr. Kurokawa, we have no time for you today.

The road leading to Kanbayashi Onsen.

The slight gradient and icy road surfaces could potentially cause some nasty fall. Walk with caution. Many people fell because they had underestimated how slippery it could get.

After walking for about 10 minutes, you would see a huge sign and map showing the area. And from this point, there is only another 1.8 kilometres to cover.

More signs along the way.

Vending machine selling some really cold drinks.

After about 20 minutes of stroll from the bus stop, you would see the info and gift shop before the mountain trail.

The info and gift shop is the only place to beef-up your gear if necessary. You may rent rubber winter boots, jackets and snow spikes before embarking on the journey ahead. Seriously, I saw several people slipped and fell on the icy track. So do get what you need before moving further.

Please take their advice seriously.

Another 1.6 kilometres to go. However, due to the thick snow and slippery icy surfaces, and potentially a few falls if you're unlucky, it could take longer than expected.

Start of the 1.6 kilometres trail.

You wouldn't want to fall to the left.

The walk in the forest trail is quite beautiful, I guess especially so in the winter.


There is only one path to take and there are many signs along the way. Seriously, getting lost is impossible.


The walk could take longer than the 40 minutes as suggested by most travel guides. It took us 50 minutes as we were walking slowly and cautiously, plus my random brief stops for photography.

Congratulate yourself once you see this bridge and the house across. That is the Jigokudani Onsen Korakukan, the only accommodation in the valley if you wish stay overnight, or to bathe in the hot spring with the monkeys.

Walk for another 5 minutes, you would arrive at the ticketing and visitor centre of Jigokudani Monkey Park. Admission is 500¥ per adult.

In case anyone is thinking of bringing his latest toy for a show-off aerial shoot.

Thousands of people have travelled thousands of kilometres just to see these beautiful creatures.

The Japanese macaques are usually and mostly quite friendly. They move around humans very often in close proximity without any mischief. But the basic rules apply - do not feed, do not touch, and do not stare. Respect them and they will do the same to you.

A panoramic view of Jigokudani Monkey Park. The bridge leads to the entrance/exit and the hot spring on the left is where the macaques would hangout for that postcard photo. The Park's website has a 'Live' camera facing the hot spring (that reddish-brown box sticking out of the snow).

(Above) Macaques enjoying the hot spring. Photography and videography are allowed, including flash. Don't be surprised when a huge lens suddenly pops out over and above you. Spotted a few 300mm f2.8 and one 200mm f2 poking around.



The monkeys have probably been too used to the tourists all these years. You may encounter some at your feet amidst the crowd. Please do watch out for them, especially the innocent young ones. Look before you take a step back.

An adorable young macaque.

All alone.

And if the load of photos above has not bored you too much with the snow monkeys till now, here is a link to a short video of these gorgeous animals:



A little snowman by the trail on our way out.

Watch out for snow fall from the canopy.

Other than the risk of occasional snow fall, the walk through the forest is mesmerizing.

The Enza Dining and Café is located near the info and gift shop. Probably the only convenient place to grab lunch in the area.


After lunch, we headed straight to Shibu Onsen (信州渋温泉), a hot spring town about 1.5 kilometres away from Kanbayashi Onsen (near where we alighted our bus in the morning). It's possible to walk to Shibu Onsen but in such cold weather, we would prefer some form of transport. Incidentally, we saw a public bus in front of Kanbayashi Onsen and asked if it goes to Shibu Onsen. Indeed it does. We hopped on and arrived at Shibu Onsen in 5mins.

Shibu Onsen is a nostalgic hot spring spa town with many traditional onsen and ryokan.

The streets of Shibu Onsen. You'll be spoilt for choice which bath to go into.

Getting into some could be a challenge.

You would see many locals and some tourists walking down the streets in their yukata.

Remember to try their hot spring boiled egg. They are available along the street in front of some bathhouses. Be honest and drop your coins please.

The real excitement about Shibu Onsen is to visit all 9 bathhouses in a day and collect their stamps. It's supposed to be for good fortune and good health.

Do not enter the wrong door.

Some hard work required on the roof once a year.

The charming streets of Shibu Onsen transporting one back in time. After all, its birth dates back to the early 14th century and was once a spa destination for Samurais during the Edo Period.

Guess what's in it.

The nearest train station from Shibu Onsen is Yudanaka, which is about 2 kilometres away. Look out for signs like this to get to the station.

Arriving at Yudanaka station after a 30-minute walk.


Taking the train from Yudanaka station to Nagano might not be a straightforward affair at certain hours. While some are direct trains, you might need to change trains, depending on what time you board the train at Yudanaka. Above is a scan of the timetable leaflet, which is available at the station office. We took the 4.38pm train (circled), which means a transfer was needed at Shinsyu-Nakano station between platform 3 and 2.

This is the Local train departing from Yudanaka station. Classic, nostalgic and beautiful rolling stock.

Getting ready to move off from Yudanaka.


The nostalgic train cockpit of the Local train from Yudanaka to Shinsyu-Nakano, a short 8-minute ride.

Transferred to the Limited Express train at Shinsyu-Nakano station. It has a panoramic windscreen that offers passengers stunning views of the countryside.

Magnificent sunset over a snow-clad countryside on the way back to Nagano.

The 1000 Series Limited Express train with the cockpit above, arriving at Nagano subway station. Note that the subway station is NOT the JR train station. They are connected in the same complex but the entrance to the subway is near MIDORI departmental store.

And finally, ending Day 5 with some nice Japanese food and without saying, a bottle of hot sake on this very cold night.


(Monkey) Mission accomplished!



CONTINUE DAY 6


GENERAL INFORMATION:


GENERAL TIPS:

  • The weather could feel colder than the numbers suggest due to wind and flurry. It's better to be over than under-prepared. Do bring along REAL winter jackets from reliable makers.

  • Jackets with hoods are absolute essentials. Scarfs, neck and face warmers are very effective as well. Some locals were even wearing ear muffs.

  • Bring a good pair of gloves that are thick enough but also fit well. Better if it's a pair of touchscreen-enabled gloves since we use our smartphones so often. It can be annoying if you are planning to use your smartphone as your camera and need to remove your gloves every now and then.

  • Consider bringing heat packs as well to add some warmth in your pockets.

  • Cold weather is dry weather. Bring some REALLY good moisturiser with you. Those little travel-size tubes will not be enough as it's easy to underestimate the amount of moisturiser needed everyday. Bring different types if you are particular about application on different areas like body and face (remember to check-in if it exceeds 100ml).

  • Get a pair of snow boots or equivalent. Sinking your feet into thick snow (intentionally, inevitably or accidentally) means water seepage into your shoes. Having water in your shoes and wetting your socks in winter do not seem like a good idea.

  • Walking on icy surfaces is extremely slippery too. I've seen many people in their usual sneakers, running or cross-trainer shoes slipped and fell. Otherwise, you may buy an ice-spike sole attachment (around 1,500¥ a pair) to enhance your foot grip. They are available in most souvenir shops.

  • A pair of shades/sunglasses would be useful as the snowy landscape can be rather glaring.


PHOTOGRAPHY INFO & TIPS:

  • Was using Nikon D5100, Nikon AFS DX 10-24mm f3.5-4.5, Sigma 17-70mm f2.8-4 DC, Nikon AFS 50mm f1.4, Nikon AFS VR 70-200mm f2.8, Sony HX50V, Sony Action Cam AS30V, Apple iPhone 6, Samsung Galaxy Edge.

  • Other than keeping your hands warm and functionable, gloves should be of perfect fit to handle and operate your camera easily. Best if they are designed for winter photography. Get touchscreen-enabled gloves if you're using cameras with touchscreen feature.

  • Consider bringing cameras with bigger buttons and controls if you don't mind the bulk. I find it hard to use those tiny buttons on the D5100 with my gloves on.

  • Make sure your equipment can be used in sub-zero environment. Perhaps, do a test in your home fridge before your trip. This includes your lens as many lenses have complex electronic components these days.

  • Use a lens hood. It can be useful to prevent snow from hitting the glass directly, which can be annoying and hard to wipe dry.

  • Extra batteries are critical as they deplete fast in cold weather.

  • A waterproof outermost jacket with a hood could potentially eliminate the need to carry an umbrella during light snow. Imagine carrying an umbrella while trying to shoot.

  • Most indoor areas are well heated during winter, which is great for us but not our lenses. If you have stayed in the warm indoors for long enough (e.g. for a meal), condensation will occur. Hence, try to keep your camera cold in the bag if you want to be able to shoot immediately.

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