Japan: Nagano

I love Japan for its uniqueness and for never falling short in offering its visitors something fascinating experience. Even before thinking about moving to Japan, I wanted to go see the hot-spring monkeys in Nagano. Seeing the Nagano monkeys in real life was every bit as charming as I imagined it would be. But of course getting to the Monkey Park (Jigokudani) was not an easy feat.

As for transportation, I caught an evening plane from Osaka to Tokyo and spent the night at a very reasonably priced old-school capsule hotel in Tokyo. The next morning I took a two hour bullet train from Tokyo to Nagano. Then I took a 45 minute bus ride from Nagano Station to the Monkey Park. From that point I had to walk a couple of miles in the snow to finally get to the hot spring that was deep in the mountains. All in all it was a long journey, but it was totally worth it!

My housing when I stayed in Tokyo was basic and cheap. The capsule hotel I stayed at is called “One Night 19.80 Yen Hotel”, and that is exactly what it was! The play-on words hotel delivered just as it claimed: it was a 1980’s style capsule hotel that charged 19.80 yen per night. The staff was super friendly, the hotel was clean and the bed was comfy enough. The only flaw was finding this place. After a long day of traveling, finding this place in a dimly lit, tucked away street corner of a quiet neighborhood was not fun. Now that I’ve found it, it’s my go to place whenever I stay in Tokyo- as I always seem to be on a budget when I travel!

The morning after arriving in Tokyo I eagerly got up  very early. I got ready for the long day ahead by packing all my necessary gear: food, Nintendo 3DS and camera. I was off to Ueno Station to catch the bullet train for Nagano Station.

One of the personal goals I had for this trip was to speak Japanese and only in Japanese throughout the whole 3-day Tokyo and Nagano excursion. So buying food, tickets for the bullet train, monkey park pass, asking directions etc. was to all be conducted in Japanese. And… success! In one go I accomplished multiple tasks that I promised myself I would do seven years prior: make it back to Japan and immerse myself in Japanese. As you can imagine, I was smiling from ear to ear when the time came to see me some bathing monkeys!

Once I arrived at Nagano Station I had to make the choice of going straight to see the onsen-zaru (hot spring monkeys) or going to check out the Zenkoji Temple near the station in search of the”key to paradise”, a key hidden in the darkness in an underground passage at the temple. I chose the monkeys! And a right choice it was as it took much, much longer to get there than I anticipated. There seemed to be only one bus that went to and from the Monkey Park so I was going to have to wait a while.

I could have made it to the Zenkoji Temple, snapped some pictures and rushed back or wait patiently at the overly-priced coffee shop inside the station until the next Monkey Park bus arrived. I was way too eager to make my date with the monkeys, so I waited… and waited. Finally, the hour the bus pulled up I was the first person to jump in and the first to jump out. Once I arrived I found out that it would take a long hike up the slippery, cold and wet mountain to meet my friends. But I had gotten this far and not much could stop me now! Indeed it was a long hike…

A pretty long hike.

In fact, a very long hike.

And then, just like that, there were monkeys everywhere!

Monkeys everywhere!

Finally, I arrived!

I made it! And I took a lot of pictures!!

It was a beautiful sight to see, but one thing that the magazines or books may not tell you about this magical place is how it smells! In Japanese this place is called Jigokudani, which means “hell valley”. There is a really bad sulfuric smell lingering in the air. Plus, the hot spring water isn’t exactly clean, as evidenced by the presence of my wild group of friends.

Still, I had a great time taking group pictures and family pictures of the buddies I traveled so far to see.

One other thing that you probably won’t see in the pictures or post of other people is the amount  of visitors and professional cameramen that make the same effort to come here. They can hinder you from getting the best angles of these one of a kind munchkins.

Regardless of the crowds and the long distance, I came here for the wet hot spring monkeys and that is exactly what I got!

In total my budget was about 50,000円 ($500 ish) for this Tokyo and Nagano trip. I checked off a couple of to-do tasks on my long bucket list but it definitely wasn’t cheap, considering I already lived in Japan.

In the end, I had a super duper time and would highly recommend this place to anyone who is an animal lover and is willing to spend the extra cash and effort!

Now time to get back to my hotel capsule and get ready for tomorrow’s adventure: Tokyo Trip ! Happy Travels!


  1. I hope you keep traveling and continue to provide us with images and descriptions etc. of all the corners of the world you visit! Keep up the good work, Mario!! From a fellow Japanophile

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