Snow Monkeys and Sumo in Japan
A trip to see the snow monkeys had been on my bucket list for some time. I really wanted to see the monkeys who use the hot springs as their personal hot tub.
A Bullet Train to Nagano
It is possible to visit the the Jigokudani Snow monkey park as a day trip from Tokyo. The first step is to take a bullet train to Nagano. It takes between 1 hour 20 and 1 hour 40. There are multiple trains per hour and is covered by your Japan rail pass.
Bento boxes can be purchased at kiosks at the stations. By pulling out the metal tab the contents of the box are heated, it makes for a very tasty breakfast.
Now to Get to the Snow Monkeys
There are now 2 options. You can take an Express bus to the park which takes just under an hour. It is then a 10 – 15 minute walk. The only issue with this is there are only a few buses daily, so you need to check the schedule.
Perhaps a better option and the one we took is to take the Nagaano Dentetsu (Nagaden) train line to Yudanaka station. It takes around 40 mins. Then catch a bus to either Kanbayashi Onsen or Snow Monkey Park. It takes about 10 minutes. From here it is about a 25 minute walk to the park through some lovely forest. It is a beautiful walk amongst the tall, imposing trees with the sun glinting through them. The whole journey was very smooth with no waits.
If you are going to opt for the second option then buy a Snow Monkey pass at Nagano railway station. This gives unlimited use of the Nagaden trains and buses as well as entry to the park. This will save you money and make it easier as you won’t have to purchase train and bus tickets.
Snow Monkeys (Japanese Macaques) at the Park
It wasn’t long before we saw our first snow monkeys frolicking on the bridge. Soon there were monkeys everywhere, running around the rocks or soaking in the hot springs. I was in heaven and could have stayed there all day. I did stay there for many happy hours watching their antics and taking photographs.
The monkeys are Japanese macaques and have been in the park for decades. They are all wild monkeys.
The Wrath of the Guards
There are guards in the park to ensure the safety of the monkeys and make sure no-one tries to feed or touch the monkeys. I incurred the wrath of one of them, who shouted at me ‘Do not touch the monkeys! ‘With respect, it was the monkey who touched me, I didn’t have any say in the matter. I was watching 2 monkeys playing. One left, leaving the other alone. All I said to the monkey was ‘Aww, has your friend left you’.
I think he thought he’d found another friend in me and grabbed my arm with both hands. Then the guard shouted at me. My travelling companion thought it was highly hilarious. It was one of the best days I have had and I was still grinning hours later.
Bathing in an Onsen (Japenese Hot Spring)
Along the path to the guesthouse there is an Onsen, a Japanese hot spring bath. Onsen water is believed to have a multitude of healing properties. What better place to stop off on the way back.
Rules of the Onsen, you have to be completely naked. You must also shower first. Tattoos are a bit of a taboo in Japan, as they are associated with the Yakuza, the Japanese mafia. Most onsens ban tattoos. It was very soothing and relaxing soaking in the warm water. Luckily I had this one to myself. Just as I had dressed and was drinking a cold beer, others arrived.
An Evening at a Sumo Tournament
We got back to our Tokyo hotel and it was a quick change and back out. Tonight we were going to the finals of a sumo tournament. The arena was huge, there were so many people there and the atmosphere was electric.
Sumo is a Japanese style of wrestling and is Japan’s national sport. The rules are simple, the first wrestler who is ejected from the ring or touches the floor with any part of his body except the soles of his feet loses. There are no weight restrictions so wrestlers can find themselves up against a much larger opponent, so weight gain is an essential part of training. First the ring is purified with salt. Then all the wrestlers line up around the ring.
I wanted to go for the experience but we both loved it. I hadn’t realised it was quite so brutal. You have a vision of men in over-sized nappies bouncing off each other’s bellies. How wrong! It was very exciting and very aggressive with clashes of heads and elbows to the face. My friends were all laughing before I came away. Knowing me they thought I’d want to join in and had visions of me in a baby nappy.
If you want to see some Sumo wrestling whilst in Japan, you need to book tickets several months in advance. I booked mine online whilst still in the UK. I loved the Sumo but by the end I was like a nodding dog in a car. We were up at 5am, it had been a long but very exciting and memorable day.