Yudanaka Snow Monkeys
Yudanaka, rich in natural hot springs, is located deep in the mountains of the Yamanouchi area in Nagano. Some 200 monkeys live in this area, and photographs of snow-covered monkeys bathing in open-air-thermal pools have made Yudanaka Onsen famous worldwide. Legend has it that they started to take dips in the hot pools during the 1960s when a local Japanese inn owner took pity on them and left food out in winter. A special outdoor bath or ‘rotenburo’ was eventually built for them, and Life magazine dubbed the bathing monkeys ‘snow monkeys’.
Yudanaka Onsen itself is like a small version of Yellowstone National Park, with its bubbling, steaming, and sulfurous volcanic vents and pools. Visitors can see these snow monkeys bathing in summer as well as in winter.
Jigokudani Yaen Koen
The Jigokudani Yaen-Koen (altitude 850 meters) is located in the Valley of Yokoyu River sourced from Shiga-Kogen of the Joshinetsu-Kogen. Because of the very steep cliffs and the steam coming out of the springs everywhere, ancient people called this valley Jigokudani (Hell valley).
Being so high up in the mountains, Jigokudani is buried in snow for almost one-third of the year. Even that kind of severe environment is a paradise on earth for monkeys to live in. Troops of wild Japanese macaques have inhabited this area throughout the ages. Since the establishment of Jigokudani Yaen-Koen in 1964, it has been a worldwide popular place for watching the monkeys bathe in their hot spring and for ecological observation of researchers or photographers.