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Yudanaka – Snow Monkey Town

December 18, 2011 by Chelsea Slone

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While planning out our trip through Japan I came across some photos of adorable monkeys bathing in hot springs, and as I kept flipping through these pictures I decided no matter where this place was I would just have to make time to visit, and that was that. So we used our rail pass to get to the Nagano prefecture and then jumped aboard the Snow Monkey Express Train to the tiny town of Yudanaka, aka home to the Japanese Snow Monkeys.

We arrived to our ryokan just in time to take our baths and have our dinner as the sweet couple who ran the ryokan told us. These are the communal baths I was talking about in my Miyajima Island post that I said I would try here but really didn’t expect to follow through with all of that… Well looks like I had no choice, and they were actually quite relaxing. See this is a bath house town filled with natural hot springs, so the hot spring baths are one of their biggest local attractions besides the snow monkeys of course. After our baths we dressed in the traditional Japanese style robes provided and were shown to our tatami matted dinning room where we sat on the floor and enjoyed the incredible Japanese meal prepared before us. I must say it was one of the most relaxing nights we had in a long time, eating dinner freshly bathed in a robe was like being at home for second – minus sitting on the floor around the table and the sleeping on a mat part. However, after being in Japan for two weeks now the traditional customs of wearing a robe and no shoes everywhere has definitely grown on us.

The next morning Tyler and I woke up early excited to hike up the mountain to see the snow monkeys in the Jigokudani Yaenkoen Park. The monkeys actually don’t live in this park, but only come down from the mountain tops to visit it’s hot springs during the day. The Japanese Macaque (Snow Monkeys) is a monkey species native to northern Japan, and is the most northern living non-human primate surviving the winter temperatures. During the day the monkey’s come to visit the area of the Park called Jihokidani, literally meaning Hell’s Valley due to the steep cliffs and hot water steaming out from the earth’s surface. It’s a harshly cold environment to visit for humans, but the monkey’s love to play here and bathe in the warm hot springs.

These adorable creatures were just amazing to watch interact. They ignore the human presence and play or bathe as if there were no one else around. The little ones could be a little shy if gotten close to, but the older monkeys hardly moved an inch if at all. We stayed out there for as many hours as we could and Tyler got some amazing photos of the Snow Monkey’s in action.

After hiking back down the mountain and warming up over some hot soba noodles and soup we decided to visit the sake brewery in town. The brewery was built with a viewing room where you could see the vats where the sake was kept to ferment, and then they provided tasting glasses with a bottle of every kind of Sake they prodouced so we were able to try each one. Being a local producer, they even had a little bottle of special Snow Monkey Sake, which was the perfect drink to end our wonderful day.

See you in Tokyo,

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One thought on “Yudanaka – Snow Monkey Town

  1. Hi there! My husband and I are planning a trip to Japan and I was just wondering- what “hotel” did you stay at while in visiting Yudanaka?

    Thanks!

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