Holiday Trip to Mainland Japan: Jigokudani Yaen-koen (aka Snow Monkey Park)

On Christmas morning, Mark and I woke up early to pack our gear and head to Nagano to see the snow monkeys! This was a HUGE "Japan Bucket List" item of mine... so you can imagine my excitement!! We decided against a tour for two reasons (1) it was expensive and (2) the tour brought us back to Hakuba and we wanted to continue on towards Tokyo, instead.
As I mentioned in my "Route and Travel Info" post, we took the Alpico Highland Express Bus from the Hakuba bus stop to Nagano Station. It took just about an hour to get to Nagano Station and we didn't have to make reservations. Easy day!

Once we got to Nagano Station, we thought our biggest task would be finding a locker big enough for our backpacks because my prior research had told me lockers were limited. We definitely didn't want to lug them around the majority of the day so we took a roll of the dice. Luckily for us, there were lockers right inside the station (on the bus stop end) and one large locker fit both of our bags with room to spare.

If I remember correctly, we had about 20-30 minutes before we needed to board the next bus, the NagaDen Bus Express, so we grabbed a quick bite at a noodle shop on the first floor of the station and I charged my phone. I was so nervous about my devices dying and we had a long day ahead of us!

I had done A LOT of research leading up to this day. I had print outs of bus routes, where the lockers were, timetables, etc... and it paid off. We really didn't have any hiccups throughout the whole day and we saved nearly $100 total by doing the tour on our own.

Mark and I wore our ski bibs and snow boots because they'd recently had a snow storm and their Facebook page advised people to be prepared for climbing over light poles and under trees. After it was all said and done, we were a bit overdressed. However, I don't regret our decision at all. I was warm and comfortable, which meant I didn't have to limit my time taking pictures of the monkeys. 

It was a little bit of a trek to get to the onsen, but nothing too serious. We enjoyed seeing everything covered in snow and ice! The path wasn't too busy and, for the most part, wasn't too slick or muddy. We paid the entry fee, 500 yen, and continued down the path. We instantly started seeing monkeys at this point! Ehh!! So exciting!

The onsen itself, if I'm being honest, was much smaller than I expected. It's the size of a hot tub, but I expected a lot of them or one, much larger, pool. Actually, I'm not really sure what I expected to be exact, but my initial reaction was, "That's it?!" Please don't get me wrong, I loved every single minute of our time here. I think I had just built it up in my head to be this entire park of onsens full of monkeys. Ha!

Mark was busy getting GoPro footage and I was snapping away the entire time. I loved the babies! Oh man, baby monkeys are the cutest thing! Anyway, after about 20 minutes, a guy came down to feed them and they all started climbing out of the water. 

I was still taking photos and I look over to see Mark wiping his pants off with snow. When I walked over to him, he told me that while they were climbing out of the water one of them brushed up against him and he SWEARS got poo on him. Ha!

I'm cracking up right now just thinking of how freaked out he was that a monkey pooed on him. I told him it was probably just dirt or something, but he stands by his story that a monkey got out of the onsen and brushed poo on him. Hilarious!! 

My sister loves monkeys so I started to text her and remembered this fancy app called FaceTime! Yep, I FaceTimed my mom and sister at Snow Monkey Park. They were together in Chicago (my dad was already in bed) for Christmas and, although service wasn't great, it was pretty epic!

After they were all eating and out of the water, there wasn't really much to see. We snapped a few more photos, like the epic shot that Mark got of me and a monkey, and started the trip back down to the bus stop. Be aware that there will be a lots of people there that are trying to get amazing pictures, just like you. Be patient, you'll get your turn.

OMG, he's so handsome! This picture is from the bus stop a SMP, but I really only put it up for bragging rights.

We waited about 15 minutes for the bus that took us back to Nagano Station, grabbed our bags, changed over into normal clothes, stocked up on snacks/booze for the trip to Tokyo, and walked around the corner to our Willer Express Bus. {note: from Nagano Sta. Bus Terminal, face the road and walk to the left. You'll go around a parking garage and the Willer Express bus stop is across the street, near a gas station.} We were happily surprised that this bus had electrical outlets on it, but disappointed to see that there wasn't a bathroom. Don't worry, it's not too much of an issue because the bus has a few pit stops along the way.

Once we made it to Tokyo, we navigated our way to Oak Hostel and settled in for the night. The area of the hostel is pretty nice. It's close to restaurants, train stations, and a 7/11 if you need an ATM or snacks. There's also a wine shop nearby that we found useful! 

Next up, Tsukiji Fish Market and a day spent in the city! 

To check out my previous posts related to this trip click the links below:

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