As any cold weather adventurer will tell you, there’s nothing quite like slipping into a hotter-than-hot bath after a long day of trekking through the snow. And that goes double for monkeys.
Mountain explorers in Japan have long shared the hot springs of Yamanouchi, Japan with their fellow primates—something visitors to the region can experience as well.
In 1949, Joshinetsu Kogen National Park was established. In 1964, the Jigokudani Yaen-koen area in the park was declared a conservation area for Japanese macaques, Snow Monkey Resorts explained. There, the monkeys can take refuge within their natural habitat and know they are safe to bath just mere feet from humans.
Since the conservation efforts began the monkeys and their visitors have truly created a symbiotic relationship, with park rangers feeding the monkeys all year long. Best of all, anyone is welcome to come and pay them a visit. Here’s how you can travel to the park to see the monkeys taking a dip, and where you could potentially relax with them too.
Best time to visit:
There really isn’t a bad time to visit the region as the monkeys come to visit all year long. It just depends on what you’d like to see. According to Snow Monkey Resorts, there are two distinct seasons: green season and winter season.
The green season, which takes place over the spring, summer, and fall, is obviously warmer, which may make some visitors more comfortable. It’s during this time that the monkeys also tend to have and show off their babies.
But, if you specifically want to see the monkeys in the hot springs you must come during the colder winter months. This is when they’ll dive in and potentially soak right alongside you. (And they do so for the same reasons humans bathe: To lower their stress levels.)
How to get there:
Getting to the park is typically an easy feat. All you need to do is fly into Tokyo and board a bullet train directly to Nagano Station. Tour operators will also bring you from the city to the mountain, though the drive can take much longer.
Where to stay:
There are a number of spectacular places to stay near the park including hotel Kanbayashi Hotel Senjukaku, a space that perfectly blends tradition, amenities, and luxury. Inside the hotel guests will find a restaurant serving delicious meals while overlooking the area gardens, artwork done by local painters, and deluxe rooms with views of the hot springs below.
For those looking to spend more time in the center of town, check out the Jizokan Matsuya ryokan. Located next to the Zenkoji Temple complex, the hotel is ideally located and comes with everything you’ll need for a relaxing stay including Japanese-style breakfast and kaiseki dinners, along with room options ranging from shared to private spaces.
Where to go to soak with the monkeys:
The hot springs inside the park are just for the monkeys. Sorry, no human swimmers allowed. But, Snow Monkey Resorts explained, you could always “try your luck at the nearby Korakukan Onsen." There, the monkeys first observed and copied the humans visiting the hot springs, and will still join people today.