The Snow Monkeys of Jigokudani + More Firsts in Japan

Monday, January 5, 2015 Permalink 0

I’ve always been intrigued by the snow monkeys who “take onsen” – especially after seeing Marsel van Oosten’s viral image of the macaque “checking his email” in the famous hot springs. When we figure out this unusual routine happens pretty close to Tokyo in a region referred to as the “Japanese Alps,” Todd and I are all in.

Macaques in Onsen

It’s about a mile hike up to the Jigokudani Snow Monkey Park, through a lush forest on a well maintained trail.

Trail to Monkey Park

The forest is marked with tree identifications along the way.

Tree Identification

Once we climb all the way up to the hot springs, we find many families of monkeys scampering about and soaking in the hot water. They swim and play, groom each other, and enjoy the relaxing heat while the rest of us shiver with our cameras. We joke about how this really is a tourist destination for the monkeys to watch people.

About an hour after we arrive, a park ranger comes and builds a little bonfire. I have yet to see this happen at the Boiling River in Yellowstone. It is welcome for our stiff hands and cold toes.

Grooming in Hot Springs

Macaque in Hot Springs

The view from our hotel, Aburaya Tousen, looks over the town Yamanouchi and the Yudanaka river.

View to Yudanaka RiverLeaving Yamanouchi with a dusting of fresh snow on very small vintage electric train took us through the mountain valleys and back to catch the Shinkansen at Nagano Station.

Vintage Electric CarThe next stop is Kyoto. We stay right downtown for the easy walking access to a variety of neighborhoods. One of the streets we discover is narrow, winding and full of tiny restaurants. We find a place with a sign out front that says “Voted Best Gyozas in Kyoto.” With that prompt, we walk in to discover they make gyozas (and nothing else, really) in a staggering variety. After sampling nearly every flavor, we basically roll back to the hotel with happy tummies.

Pontocho Street Pontocho Street VignetteKyoto VignetteKamo River Kyoto

We explore another part of the city, walk through the bamboo forest, see many temples and note how many people in Kyoto use bicycles as transport.

Bamboo Forest KyotoTemple in KyotoBike Rentals

The sign says,” 3D Latte Art.” We MUST go in.

Hello Kitty Latte ArtOn to Tokyo. We stay in between Shibuya and Harajuku, birthplace of “kawaii” – the Cute movement, Karoake bars, Hello Kitty and the crazy scramble crossing.

Here we are looking down at the crossing from the upper floor Starbuck’s window. It’s mid morning, a very mellow time for central Shibuya.

Shibuya Scramble

Did somebody say noodles?

Tokyo Noodle BowlOne of my favorite places we discover in the area is the Meiji Shrine and park. We’re lucky to see the last of the fall colors even though it’s the first week of December!

Meiji Shrine and Park

You can find more photos on my Instagram feed! Thanks for reading! 

  • Michael Hacker
    January 5, 2015

    This is fantastic, Audrey – love the photos, and would (seriously) like to get your detailed itinerary as reference when I finally make it to Japan. Congratulations, there is some terrific work in here.

  • audreyhallphoto
    January 20, 2015

    Hi Michael! Thank you! Japan is a wonderful place and I would love to give any tips from our experience there. I hope that I can return – there is so much to see and do there!

  • nan newton
    February 16, 2015

    Audrey, This makes me want to go to Japan again. Your photos are incredible. It brought back the appreciation of what I saw when I was there, and actually untangled them for me. There is so much and it’s such a different and exotic world. Thank you for all that you give to this world visually and otherwise.

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