To make the most of our stay, we booked one night at a “Jigokudani Onsen Korakukan”. It has been family run for over seven generations and is 200 metres from the entrance to the park. While it was expensive, we would easily have paid double to do this again. In the morning and evening the monkey will climb the roof and even join you in the onsen (hot spring) outside if you’re inclined.
The rooms are traditional japanese with paper walls, and a small sitting area, along with a futon bed that rests on the floor. Included in the room price ($280.00AUD) are a traditional (delicious) dinner and breakfast as well as welcome tea and sticky rice treats. We spent our dinner along side the only other guest at the hotel.
It was at this meal, that Mike and I both tried crickets for the first time! We became painfully aware that we did not know what to do with half of the food in front of us. There was a long moment of eyeballing each other and giving sideways glances to the man at our right. We were hoping that we could follow his lead… luckily he noticed us struggling and showed us what to do.
Ryuji Nobuka is 78 years old and is a retired teacher. He was travelling on his own, and generously shared some sake with us over dinner. Mike and he polished off the sake, as I was having trouble swallowing more than a tiny sip at a time. There was plenty to laugh and talk about. Whenever things got tricky (and I couldn’t mime) we used out translator. We spoke with our new friend for two hours.
Ryuji told us that his name meant “Two Dragons” which is probably the coolest name I’ve ever heard. He thought my name initially was “Holy”, however I explained it was actually “Holly” which is a plant with a berries that is quite poisonous. Mike, well his name just means Mike… It’s very interesting what our names translate to.
He invited us to visit with him in Kyoto, when we return to Japan. We took portraits of each other (as he is an avid photographer too) and have made the promise to keep in touch via email. Mike and I were both really pleased to have met him and to have shared such a lovely dinner (and breakfast).
Jigokudani Yaen-koen, Snow Monkey Park was the highlight of our time in Japan so far. If you have time and are in the Nagano region, it is well worth the trip. These monkeys are wild, and have been soaking in these hot springs for over 150 years.
You are encouraged to take photographs, however feeding and long eye contact are discouraged. Understandably so, every so often one of the females would become territorial, and start to show her long front teeth to a tourist who got too close!
As I post this blog, I think back to the first time I saw images of these monkeys in National Geographic.
It feels surreal to have encountered them in real life. They have this playful nature, and the ability to bring great joy and happiness. I found myself grinning and laughing out loud while we were with them.
Have you seen these monkeys in Japan? If you have, what did you think?
Thanks for reading. Holly (& Mike)