Introducing Yamanouchi – Home of the Snow Monkeys
Within easy reach of Nagano City, Yamanouchi is a small enclave known for its abundant nature, numerous hot springs and most famously, as home of the Snow Monkeys of Jigokudani.
Established in 1964, the park was created as a conservation area and refuge for a troop of monkeys whose habitat was under threat from development. Persuaded to venture into the park with the time-proven incentive of food, the monkeys quickly became fond of their quiet little sanctuary and have been coming there on an almost daily basis ever since.
Today, the monkeys are known for one special reason – the unique behaviour of soaking in hot springs. Yamanouchi is blessed with Nagano’s largest supply of natural thermal water, which flows to the surface at numerous points throughout the area. Once in the park, the monkeys observed their human counterparts enjoying a nearby ‘onsen’ (hot spring) and it wasn’t long before they were doing the same. As they say, monkey see, monkey do!
Though wild, the monkeys come to the park on an almost daily basis throughout the year, attracting visitors from all over the world. The park is at its busiest through winter, when deep source covers the landscape and the monkeys spend the most time in the hot spring. In spring, the cherry blossoms bloom and the year’s baby monkeys – typically born from late-April through to late-June – appear in the park.
Summer brings lush green growth and hot conditions before temperatures cool through autumn and the landscape turns yellow, red, amber and brown with the changing leaves.
Much like the park, the surrounding area of Yamanouchi has a history and strong association with refuge, healing and renewal. The area is home to multiple hot spring towns boasting numerous ‘ryokan’ (traditional guesthouses), most with their own in-house onsen.
Of these towns, Shibu Onsen has a fascinating 1300-year history, long sought-out for the claimed medicinal properties of its various water sources. Shibu Onsen is home to numerous guesthouses and when grouped together with nearby hot spring villages of Yudanaka Onsen and Kanbayashi Onsen, the overall area of Yamanouchi boasts one of the largest concentrations of onsen and ryokan in Nagano.
Staying a one of Yamanouchi’s many guesthouses is an ideal way to enjoy Japan’s renowned traditional service – including traditional ‘kaiseki’ (multi-course) dining that showcases the abundant produce of the region.
Summer through to autumn is a particularly good time to visit, as the year’s vegetables, fruit and rice are harvested from nearby farms and provide the restaurants and guesthouses of Yamanouchi with an abundance of delicious ingredients from which to craft their seasonal menus.
Indeed autumn is one of the best times of year to visit Yamanouchi, as the landscape is transformed into a mosaic of deep red, gold, amber and brown with the turning leaves.
A truly spectacular sight, it’s the ideal time to make use of Yamanouchi’s multiple ropeways and enjoy hiking in the nearby mountains.
Yamanouchi’s three ropeways – Yokoteyama and Higashidateyama in Shiga Kogen and the Skyland Express Ropeway in Kita-Shiga Kogen – all offer outstanding views and walking trails, with a cafes servicing visitors to each.
Of course, it won’t be long until winter rolls around again, and in Nagano and Yamanouchi that means one thing – snow! Lots and lots of snow!
Yamanouchi is home to Shiga Kogen – Japan’s largest and highest ski resort. Boasting Nagano’s longest season and most reliable snow conditions, Shiga is spread across an expansive area including five mountain peaks and beautiful tree-lined runs through the valleys.
Having hosted events during the 1998 Winter Olympics, Shiga’s winter pedigree speaks for itself and skiers and snowboarders can test themselves on Olympic runs that are clearly marked to this today. The resorts of Kita-Shiga Kogen including Ryuoo Ski Park and X-Jam are equally easy to get to using public transport and include the popular Sora Terrace.
For further information regarding everything on offer in Yamanouchi, please refer to our ’20 Things To Do in Yamanouchi’ page.