Visiting the Nagano Snow Monkeys from Tokyo

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Some of Japan's most photogenic residents, Japanese macaques spend their days soaking in the natural hot springs of the snowy Japanese Alps near the Nagano Prefecture. Here are some tips for seeing these Japanese snow monkeys of Nagano on a trip from Tokyo.

Where to Go
One of the best places to see the monkeys is within Jigokudani Monkey Park, the only place in the world where they can be seen soaking in hot springs, often surrounded by snow. Set some 150 miles (240 kilometers) from Tokyo, the park offers an excellent opportunity to observe some of Japan’s most famous wild animals in their natural habitat and also snap some memorable photos.

When to Go
For the best chance to see the monkeys in the hot springs, plan to visit during the colder, snowier months. While it’s still possible to see them in summer, they don’t enter the pools as frequently during this time (though you might get lucky and spot some newborn baby snow monkeys).

How to Go
Japan’s rail network has been operating a bullet train between Tokyo and Nagano since the Nagano Olympics in 1997. Today, the journey takes 2 hours and 20 minutes. From Nagano Station, visitors can catch a local bus to the park entrance. For a more convenient and hassle-free experience at the snow monkey park, opt for a guided day trip tour from the capital, with a stop at historic Zenkoji Temple.

Things to Know
Most visitors who go to see the snow monkeys also make time for a little hot springs relaxation themselves, sometimes at the nearby Yudanaka Onsen. When planning a trip to a Japanese onsen such as this one, keep in mind that tattoos are often frowned upon (and sometimes not even allowed) in these facilities. If you’d like to enjoy this experience but have a large or prominent tattoo, make sure to ask about the establishment’s tattoo policy ahead of time. You can also consider renting a private bath or covering your tattoo with tape or a sticker.
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