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Day 9, Nagano

Visiting the Jigokudani Snow Monkey Park

sunny 53 °F
View Japan 2023 on Helen K.'s travel map.

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There are certain images that stick in my mind. One of them is of an award winning photo of a Snow Monkey in a hot spring that I saw when visiting Washington DC at the Smithsonian Natural History Museum. It may have won first place in the Nature category for the Smithsonian Magazine. The monkey's face was covered with snow and there was steam arising from the hot spring. I never would have imagined that I would ever get a chance to see a snow monkey in person, let alone photograph one. We had many options for sightseeing while in Nagano, from temples, to shrines, to castles, to a shopping plaza, to a ski resort, but when I/we heard the words, "snow monkeys" from Kingman's mouth, that's all he needed to say. Yesterday it was the Snow Corridor, today, it's going to be Snow Monkeys!
We meet on the first floor of the REI hotel at 8:30 IMG_1881.JPGand stop by a 7-Eleven for snacks.

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I notice a sign for the store says Seven & i Holdings and ask Kingman about it.

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He replied "Some 7-Elevens are owned by a holding company and some are independent franchises" In most of our travels overseas, 7-Eleven is ubiquitous, but particularly so in Japan. In Sapporo we found two 7-Elevens within a two block radius of each other right near our hotel. I remember the 7-Eleven near my parent's house in Hollywood Park. It was where my brothers, Tyrone, James, Caleb and their buddies, hung out and kept the store owner, Sunny Fong, company after school. When Sunny's kids went away to college, Sunny asked Caleb to work after school. I remember 7-Eleven as the place to buy Slurpees and the Big Gulp, but in Japan, it's a place we go for egg sandwiches and rice onigari. When we need more yen, we always look for a 7-Eleven with an ATM. If you have a Charles Schwab debit card, cardholders have zero foreign transaction fees and receive ATM fee rebates at the end of each month. Here's a bit of trivia that I have learned since I googled Seven & i Holdings; 7-Eleven is owned by a Japanese company, Ito-Yokado which serves as a holding company (the "i" in Seven & i is because of Ito-Yokado) as the US company went bankrupt over thirty years ago. Japan has over 21,000 stores, over twice as many as in all of the US with it's 9,400 stores. No wonder they seem to be everywhere in Japan. While not as large as Walmart, Amazon, or Costco, Seven & i Holdings ranked number 8 in the Global Retailers 2023 top 50 list.
After getting our snacks from 7-Eleven, we head to the JR station. Signs on the manhole cover and in the JR station proclaim Nakone as former host of the 18th Olympic Winter games

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If you're reading this Corey, tell Amanda that there is an annual Olympic Commemorative Marathon held here in mid April. This year it will be held on April 25th. There are a couple of ways to get to the park, and Kingman has determined that we will take the express bus. There are convenient signage to direct us to bus 23. 8f561080-e7c1-11ed-9a28-695231aae856.JPGIMG_1888.JPG We head to the same east gate that we arrived at yesterday afternoon. We get in line and wait for the bus. large_IMG_1889.JPG The cost is 1500 yen per person one way. We attempt to pay when we get on, but the driver tells us to pay him at the end. The bus is almost full. As we head for the park, I am noticing an abundance of pretty trees with blossoms. large_IMG_1905.JPG large_IMG_1892.JPGWe pass by many orchards and farmland. When we arrive at the destination, we pay by cash because that is what was stated online, but we notice some passengers taking a bit longer to get off the bus. The driver does accept credit cards now. The bus lets us off near the cone shaped cafe call Crystal Terrace and the Shigokgan Roman Museum, a small museum by a noted Japanese architect. Near the drop off spot is a beautiful cherry blossom tree. large_DSC_1711.JPG We stop to take photos.What you're supposed to do when you are next to this tree?

What you're supposed to do when you are next to this tree?

Janet had read online that the entrance to the Snow Monkey Park was ten minutes, so when we read the sign, we were surprised to read forty minutes. IMG_1911.JPG What was misleading to Janet and perhaps anybody else looking at online information is that it's five to ten minutes to walk up to the entrance of the TRAIL leading to the park. We walk along the car road where there is a restroom area with a sign telling you that there are no further restrooms leading to the park until you reach the entrance about a mile ahead. The scene is so beautiful because trees are still in full bloom. large_c1b9add0-e798-11ed-9a18-91f58561aa1c.JPG There are small spa resorts that line the road that beckon you with their outdoor displays and landscaping.IMG_1930.JPGIMG_1928.JPG IMG_1918.JPGDSC_1723crop.jpge8235ee0-e79c-11ed-bbfb-adf9ad5ad9c0.JPG The weather is sunny and the temperature is in the mid fifties. It couldn't be a better day for a little hike. I see someone who is using a small brush to clean the blossoms off the top of a car. There is a carpet of blossoms on the ground.large_IMG_1921.JPGlarge_IMG_1922.JPG What a contrast from yesterday, where we are blanketed by snow, fog, and haze. Today the sun is shining, the sky is blue, and spring bloom is everywhere. I know we won't see monkeys covered in the snow like the photo in my memory, but just the chance to see the monkeys in any season is worth this hike. Plus, we don't have to hike in the snow. We see a big sign pointing the way to the park.

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IMG_1924.JPG There is an area that has a small torii gate and Shinto shrine. IMG_1932.JPGIMG_1933.JPG A few steps ahead is a mysterious tree with hanging creamy white pods. I need to ask a Master Gardener about this one. IMG_1934crop.jpg. We approach a ramp and stairs. At its foot is a sign pointing to a live monitor which shows the scene at the hot spring. IMG_1936crop.jpgIMG_1937.JPG We see visitors taking pictures of monkeys, so we head up a short flight of stairs which soon changes into an unpaved path that is wide enough for 3 people to walk. IMG_1938.JPG IMG_1940.JPG The mountain side path has no guardrails and and the path is muddy. Afraid of heights, Janet hugs the right side of the path and walks at a quick pace ahead of the rest of us. She keeps her head down and looks at the ground. Janet way up ahead

Janet way up ahead


Because of the physical exertion of walking and the sun being out, Janet has taken off her ski coat. She is also wearing her fur lined boots as the all her other clothes and shoes have been shipped ahead. The mud on the path gets kicked up on our pant legs as we walk. My fear of heights isn't too acute today as the path is wide and the drop isn't deep enough to set off alarms. There are many clusters of cedar trees that can break a fall as well. Like Janet, I don't venture on the left of the path, but I take my time to take photos, take on and off my down jacket, and step around puddles, looking for the least muddy area to walk on. It didn't matter, my black flared pant legs were splattered with brown mud. Trina was sporting a sprain in her leg having jumped up suddenly to pick up her phone to answer an emergency call in the early a.m. She and Kingman wore hiking boots. Despite her sprain, she and Kingman were up ahead of all of us. When we are about half a mile from the entrance we see a snow monkey in the woods!

first monkey sighting

first monkey sighting

A bit earlier on the path I had noticed an animal dropping so I had wondered if we would encounter a monkey soon. The further we continued, the more monkeys we saw. There is a sign telling us not to feed the monkeys. IMG_1949.JPG This isn't the first time I have seen monkeys up close in the open. The Port Oasis in Cartagena had free roaming monkeys that were climbing on trees overhead, but I only caught a glimpse at them as we walked pass. We had taken a bus to Arashiyama Bamboo Forest and Monkey Park near Kyoto on our first Japan trip, but it was dark by the time we arrived so we saw neither the bamboo or the monkeys. To see the snow monkeys, also known as Japanese macaques roaming among us, nonchalant, oblivious, or unmindful of the presence of humans was captivating. As Kingman likes to describe it, "Helen's eyes grew wide open the moment she saw those monkeys". As we neared the Jigokudani Onsen Korakukan (Inn) we see a monkey eating leaves from a twig. He scared away a fellow who wanted some too.

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DSC_1733crop.jpg We see a snow monkey in the tree with the Jidokudani Onsen in the background. DSC_1752crop.jpg If you stay at this onsen, you can use their hot springs and have your own private view of the snow monkeys. How the snow monkeys came to use the hot spring is a tale about adaptation, or if you want, a case of Monkey See, Monkey Do. The story goes that in the early 1960's a Ryokan owner who liked to feed the monkeys, accidently dropped an apple into the onsen (hot spring) and a monkey jumped in to get it. The monkey stayed in the hot water and soon other monkeys copied it. It soon became a popular place for the monkeys. As the area around the mountain became more populated with farms, the Snow Monkey Park was established in 1964 as a way to protect the monkeys from the encroaching farmlands, and the hot spring was turned over to the exclusive use of the monkeys. As we are passing by the Jigokudani Onsen Korakukan towards a bridge, we see a lone monkey in a tree, and another walking on the edge of a path, and yet another on a bridge. Everybody has their cameras trained on these monkeys as if IMG_1951.JPG7f1f4a70-e7d9-11ed-991f-972ab8da5e1e.JPG9b8d94a0-e7d9-11ed-82d0-39bc056343d1.JPG9b69b8f0-e7d9-11ed-991f-972ab8da5e1e.JPGwe aren't sure if there will be more to be seen. Then we come upon a scene of monkey grooming. It starts out peacefully but soon it leads to a monkey fight. IMG_1973crop.jpgIMG_1979crop.jpgIMG_1986crop.jpg Then we see three monkeys. One peaceful spectator is watching a fight. Then there a truce. A very short one. Then they're at again. IMG_2004.JPGIMG_2007.JPGIMG_2008.JPGIMG_2010.JPGWe stop by a geyser and take turns walking around the side carefully to stand behind the geyser for a picture. The Ma's tell us that if we go around on the left side we will get wet from the spray, but if we go around to the right side, our shoes will get wet from the big puddle. The Louie's go right and left. Mike and I both go left. I think this is my first encounter with a geyser. What's unusual about the Shibu no Jigokudani Geyser is that unlike most geysers, such as Old Faithful, which erupts at intervals ranging from minutes to hours, this geyser emits a continuous plume of water. In addition, the water isn't quite at a boiling temperature which is the reason we are able to be so close to it. The little bit of spray that I felt wasn't noticeably hot.

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DSC_1739.JPG Near the geyser is a covered excavator. Is it covered to keep the acidic plume from corroding it or it is covered to keep the smart monkeys from monkeying around with the gears? IMG_2022crop.jpg We are now at the entrance of Snow Monkey Park. IMG_2026.JPGIMG_2027.JPGThe sun is peeking through the cedars. It's 12 degree C out. We buy our tickets and read the Don'ts sign and encounter our first curious little snow monkey as we enter. IMG_2029.JPGIMG_2037.JPGIMG_2030.JPGIMG_2036.JPGlarge_IMG_2041.JPG The park attendant tells us that there are 200 Snow Monkeys in the park. The monkeys are nonchalant about people coming to their hot spring and go about doing what monkeys do. They eat.

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DSC02269.JPGThey drink.

They drink.

The babies nurse and sleep on their mother's backs

The babies nurse and sleep on their mother's backs

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They groom.
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They go in and out of the hot springDSC02289.JPGDSC02283.JPGIMG_2157.JPG
They ignore intrusive humans, but they are attracted to inanimate objects.DSC_1770.JPGDSC02176.JPGDSC_1760.JPGeb4e3390-e84d-11ed-80c9-4136a99f0a73.JPGDSC_1807crop.jpg
Especially this inquisitive guy. This little fellow loves ice chips and is exceedingly curious. IMG_2082.JPGIMG_2098.JPGI'm going to check this out!

I'm going to check this out!

Can I have a look?

Can I have a look?


Please?

Please?


I need to take a look!

I need to take a look!


Hey!

Hey!


I said Hey!

I said Hey!


Can you see me now?

Can you see me now?


How about now?

How about now?

Is this better?

Is this better?


How about now?

How about now?


This is a park no no, I gotta go

This is a park no no, I gotta go

The park attendant signals to the little guy that he needs to stop.
large_f8ebb4f0-e7e4-11ed-8f9b-6f84d33f96a5.JPG As we leave the park we are left with indelible memories of our time with the gentle, well mannered, captivating, and contemplative Snow Monkeys. DSC02220.JPGDSC02341.JPGIMG_2122.JPGDSC_1790.JPG On the path back we make a pit stop at the cute Enza Cafe for a snack. large_DSC02360.JPGDSC02362.JPGIMG_2175.JPGNagano produces some of the best apples in Japan. We bought the apple turnovers as well as their apple flavored soft service ice cream. The turnover was flaky and the apple filling inside was delicious. This was the first time trying apple flavored ice cream and it did not disappoint. It had a light, refreshing flavor in a decorative cone.IMG_2177.JPGIMG_2178.JPG We were able to sit at a table to enjoy our snacks. I would definitely recommend stopping at this cafe on your way back from the Snow Monkey park.
As we walk back down to catch the bus, Kingman and Trina head to the restroom near the beginning of the route. The rest of us keep walking, oblivious to the signs pointing to the bus stop. large_DSC_1826.JPGDSC_1831crop.jpg At a fork in the road, we decide to go right. The descent is steeper than we remember and when we get out to the street, nothing looks familiar. DSC_1833.JPG Kingman WeChatted "We are at the bus stop. Bus may get here at 1:28". Trina tried to called us by voice call 3 times. Doug WeChatted back "We took a detour". As we head back up we see a guy heading down and we tell him that the bus is the other way. He says he knows, he's just killing time. By the time we head back up at the fork of the road we are huffing and puffing. It's only then that we notice bus stop sign pointing left. Fortunately by this time, Kingman tells us "You got 16 minutes". When we reach the bus stop, we go to the ticket booth where our cousins are first in line. large_DSC_1835.JPGDSC_1837.JPG Then they realize that we need to go across the road and stand at the spot where the bus had dropped us off, in front of the Crystal Cafe. As we wait I comment to the gentleman behind me about how he managed to keep his white tennis shoes spotless. He replied that he had used the restroom area to clean his shoes. There was a shoe cleaning station there, which is what had kept our cousins occupied as we walked ahead. Our cousins shoes were spotless too. So the moral of the story is, when you don't take time to check for signs, you miss out on more than just time. We went to the Mi Do Ri mall's food floor and enjoyed a pasta lunch. Kingman has ordered one of the classic izakaya drink, the lemon sour. large_IMG_2185.JPG IMG_2042.jpgThen it was time to go to our rooms, change our muddy clothes, and do a load of laundry. For dinner, we went our separate ways. The Louies tried the soba restaurant that the Ma's recommended after their experience from the previous evening. Mike and I walked the streets which were really little alleyways around our hotel, but wound up going back to the Mi Do Ri food mall as well. Then it was time to call it a day and go to sleep with visions of cherry blossoms and Snow Monkeys in our heads. d8cb98d0-e851-11ed-8cfc-af42ede0a733.JPGlarge_06768c10-e855-11ed-bc49-e31d21d89648.JPG

Posted by Helen K. 17:00 Archived in Japan

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