December 2000 (text a guess from 2007… PLEASE NOTE this story is no where near satisfying. After another trip or two I realized this waiting-until-the-end was not working and now I write as I go.)
Hokkaido on the overnight train from Tokyo.
Digi photos but I didn’t write the story on time to remember.
Jigokudani Rotemburo. Here’s the bit about that monkeys that I got off the internet somewhere:
Groups of wild Japanese monkeys are living in Jigokudani Yaen-koen, which is located in the mountains in Nagano. You can see these famous monkeys all over in the park. They are used to being around people and living as if they are humans.
There is an outside hot springs that was made just for the monkeys. In winter, you will see them soaking themselves in the hot water while the snow falls on their heads. Somedays they stay up in the mountains, but hopefully you will be able to see them bathe or swim in the hot springs.
The waters of the onsen are about 50 degrees celsius. It is not possible to bathe with the monkeys, though about 300-400 meters downstream from the onsen for monkeys there is a rotemburo for humans (there are quite a few rotemburo in the Yamanouchi-machi area).
This rotemburo is part of the Korakukan Ryokan (tel: 0269-33-4376) which is an old but excellent wooden ryokan with steep narrow staircases and creaking floorboards.
Getting to Jigokudani is relatively difficult, as the environment is harsh with heavy snowfalls (snow covers the ground for 4 months a year), the elevation is around 850 meters (about 2790 feet), and the only way in along the narrow 2 kilometer long footpath through the forest. Public transport in these parts is a bit sporadic, your only real option being the bus company servicing the snow resorts of Shiga Kogen and Yudanaka Onsen. The bus timetable is pretty sparse, so if you are going to visit you would need to allocate the better part of a day, and ensure that you have the times of the descending buses written down so that you do not need to wait for too long at the bus stop (the weather up in these parts can change quickly for the worse).
The monkeys in this valley are Japanese macaques (one of the 22 species of monkeys in the genus Macaca), part of a group of primates whose habitat stretches from Japan through to northern Africa (only humans – genus Homo – are more widespread). This species is found on Kyushu, Shikoku and Honshu having crossed from Asia via land bridges.