.. The name doesn’t fit with the place. Jigokudani means “Hell’s Valley”, but it is not anyway near a hellish kind of place when you see it.
It was dark, and I had to squint my eyes, trying to find where the bus stop was. Darn, I didn’t have my glasses with me. I finally was able to locate the bus stop and read the timetable. There seemed to be two bus schedules, one was a direct connection between Nagano Station to Jigokudani park, the other one had to stop somewhere else along the way. The first bus would be at 9AM in the morning.
It was still early around 8AM, but the Becks Coffee Shop in front of JR Ticket Office at Nagano station was already packed with customers. I lined up to order our coffee while my wife went to look for a seat. The cafe was serving many customers, but it only had three men working, a guy at the counter, a lady making coffee, and another man preparing toasts.
My wife looked around, trying to find a couple of empty seats. We were quite weary to sit close to other customers. The spread of Covid 19 was still early then, but we both were already aware of the risks. We found a table and enjoyed our simple breakfast sharing a cup of coffee.
It was still cold, there was a light snowfall early in the morning, but the sun had then come up. Four people, Australians, were already standing at the bus stop. Sigh. It was still half an hour to go. We had no choice but to line up as well.
There are several ways to reach Jigokudani park, or what was famously known as Snow Monkey Park, but the connecting point would be through Nagano station still. From Tokyo or Nagoya, you would have to transit at this station. From here, you could either ride a train to Yudanaka station or take the Nagaden bus directly to the monkey park. We took this direct bus that cost us Y1,500 one way.
The route above indicates a 41-minute ride on a bus, but on that day it took about an hour. The bus took us directly to the Snow Monkey Park bus stop, and we got there around 10AM. The scenery surrounding this parking space was already fascinating. I quickly checked the bus schedule for going back. The bus schedules in the afternoon were less frequent. I hoped we could make it back around 2PM or so.
We started making our way up toward the monkey park. The road was slippery, we had to walk carefully, and it took us about ten minutes with a short break at a public toilet along the way. We were on the first bus from Nagano station but by the time we reached this area, I could see there were a lot of people already. There are also hotels and inns, and the parking lot was already filled with cars. I expected a big crowd at the park. I just hoped I would get a good shot of the monkeys bathing.
“Are we there yet?” My wife asked.
The ten-minute walk on the snow and slippery ice were tough for my wife.
“No, we haven’t even reached the entrance yet.”
My wife was already panting by the time we reached the park entrance, and it was written 1.6km to go. Under this entrance, I could see ascending steps curving to the right.
“How about if I would just wait here? You can continue the walk to the park”. She said to me.
“No, we will just take our time and walk slowly.”
I remember I agreed to a similar suggestion the last time when we visited Kawaguchiko. In the end, it was just me alone enjoying the beautiful autumn foliage in Momiji Tunnel. No, I wouldn’t want to leave her here at the gate after all the troubles in getting to this place already.
“It’s slippery, I’m scared”, She said as we started climbing up the stairs. There were some people ahead of us already, but we took our time enjoying the walk and the view. The weather was pleasant. It was cold but a clear day. The view along the trail was beautiful and serene. Every now and then, we slipped but luckily didn’t fall.
Three young men were walking in the opposite direction coming back from the park, one of them slipped and fell. The other two burst into laugher before helping him to get up. I’d probably do the same if I were with my buddies and one of them fell down. They would do the same too, if I fell down.
The guide says that it needs around 25 minutes to walk from the entrance to the pond where the monkeys can be seen bathing. For both of us, it took about 40 minutes as we were not used to walking on the slippery ice surface, and the views were breathtaking. We stopped every now and then to enjoy the sceneries. Once you reached the Jigokudani Hotspring Korakuen, there would be another set of stairs to go into the area where the pond is located.
The history of the park began when Sogo Hara, an employee of Nagano Electric Highway observed a dramatic decrease in the number of the Japanese Macaques as the area developed. He then founded the park to protect the monkeys. After observing the humans soaking in the hot spring, these monkeys then soon copied the behaviour. Thus, the bathing monkeys emerged.
After paying the ticket at the counter (Y800/adult), you would see an open area leading to the hot spring. A strong smell of sulphur would welcome you. I overheard some visitors were saying that the monkeys smell. I just smiled, I guess they didn’t know.
Going back home from the park was much more comfortable. Our strides were longer and much faster than coming to the park. Now, if I could share some lessons learned from our trip there, here they are;
- Allocate the whole day for this visit, especially if you rely on public transport and if you start from other cities like Nagoya, Tokyo or even Osaka.
- Food is not allowed to bring into the park to protect the monkeys. So if you’re feeling a bit peckish, consider getting something to eat before taking the 1.6km walk into the park. Some restaurants are available near the bus stop.
- Take photos of the bus schedules when you arrive at the Jigokudani bus parking area. You need to buy the ticket at the little booth at the parking lot before boarding the bus.
- Wear a pair of comfy shoes, if they are slippery on ice, you could buy a pair of ice grippers for your shoes at the convenience stores (i.e. 7-11 or Lawson and the likes).
- 1.6km doesn’t sound that far, but if you’re from a tropical country like me and not used to walking on snow and ice, it could be tiring so get a good rest the night before.
- Watch for the weather forecast, it would be a bummer if you travel on bad weather as the view is magnificent as you walk toward the park.
- I love nature and photography so going there is all worth it. If nature is not your cup of tea, I wouldn’t recommend you to go here.
- Finally, enjoy your trip 🙂