Snow Monkeys of Jigokudani

The friendly, helpful staff at Kanazawa Station Visitors’ Centre advised me not to attempt a day trip to the Snow Monkeys from Kanazawa. Not unsound advice, but I ignored it anyway (as I only had time for a day trip) and caught the 8:58am Hakutaka567 Shinkansen (bullet train) from Kanazawa to Nagano. On arrival at Nagano Station, after asking directions, I flew down a couple of escalators and bought a day pass to the Jigokudani Yaen-Koen. The pass included the return trip on the local Yukemuri express train (or the express bus) between Nagano and Yudanaka on the Nagano Dentetsu line, the local bus between Yudanaka Station and the park entrance, as well as admission to the park.

From the local bus stop to the park main entrance, it’s a short uphill walk along the road, and once you’re in the park, you climb a set of stairs, walk approximately 1.6km through the forest, and then climb another set of stairs at the end of the trail to reach the macaques.

The park’s visitor advisories stress that visitors ensure they wear appropriate footwear, but humans being what they are ignore advice when it doesn’t suit them (yes, I know, I ignored advice not to attempt the day trip), and I saw many people attempting to walk the snow- and ice-laden forest trail in the most ridiculous footwear, including one chap in sandals and socks.

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Forest trail to the Snow Monkeys © 2018 Karen Price

The walk is beautiful but quite treacherous even for those in sensible footwear. You need to watch out for iced sections; I saw people land flat on their backs without warning. And while the unfenced forest drop-off is not exactly sheer, it is precipitous, and you’d need rescuing with ropes if you slipped on the ice and disappeared over the edge, so a good sense of balance comes in handy. And bear in mind that you’re walking at altitude, even if it’s only 850m, so you need at least a basic level of cardiovascular fitness. Many visitors seemed to struggle along the way.

Is it worth it?

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Snow Monkeys © 2018 Karen Price

The monkeys are utterly fascinating to watch, particularly those bathing in sleepy bliss in the hot spring, and I wish I’d had the time to observe them for a bit longer.

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Japanese Macaque – Jigokudani © 2018 Karen Price

However, it’s not quite the scene of simian serenity depicted in the brochures. It’s not so much disturbed by the constantly scrapping, screeching macaque troupe romping about in the surrounding snow, but rather by their human cousins behaving badly. Contrary to the blurbs that advise that the monkeys ignore humans, this is not what I observed, and my guess is that the situation has developed due to our endless stupidity. The park provides many clear warnings to visitors to not bring packets or foods into the area and to not attempt to interact with the monkeys in any way, all of which were ignored by some people on the day I was there. I watched as a macaque went for a girl who attempted to retrieve a torn packet of junk food rubbish from him. Another bystander amused himself by throwing snowballs at the animal, which it blocked with a fascinating human-like action. And the way that macaque sat and stared long and hard after the idiot as he walked off down the path chilled me to the bone.

Jigokudani means ‘Valley of Hell’, and in Jigokudani Yaen-Koen, Hell is other people.

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Bliss © 2018 Karen Price

A few things to note if you’re planning a similar visit:

  • The JR Rail Pass is incredibly good value for getting around Japan (not to mention much more convenient and relaxing in comparison to flying), and I cannot recommend it enough. But it doesn’t necessarily cover all local train routes, so check beforehand (in my case, it covered all the local train trips I took except the local train from Nagano to Yudanaka).
  • Although the Shinkansen (bullet trains) are equipped with all the modern conveniences including impeccable toilets, many of the local trains do not have toilets, including the local train from Nagano to Yudanaka, so make sure to check, and take your comfort breaks before boarding.
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Cherry on the top

My work meeting finished at 4pm. I still had minutes to type but was also due to meet a friend for dinner and the theatre at 6:30pm on the other side of The Bridge.

Anybody who lives in Sydney knows that trying to get across the Sydney Harbour Bridge by car into the city from 5pm onwards gobbles time. So I made the journey at 4 and typed the minutes here. A lovely way to end the work day.

Look Up

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Concealed in the sameness
the faded blue suit
Clark Kent by day
Who cares, who cares to look?

But out there
when darkness falls
it’s kite-flying breathtaking riddles
out of dayshadows, an infinite teasing
of zetetic minds
unphysics exploding:

The Universe
ultimate mystery man.

Opposites

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Ugg Boot Face-off

To find oneself, at 50-something, studying astrobiology (under duress) as a subject in a Bachelor of Arts (Linguistics) degree is a little discombobulating, to say the least. Particularly if your last contact with the fields of chemistry, mathematics and physics was some 30-odd years ago (and geology, never). But the university at which I’m studying crawling through my degree has a rule (which only came into effect after I started) that every undergraduate student must complete a Planet unit and a People unit outside of their stream in order to complete said degree.

So, every week this semester just past, a very grumpy band of Arts students, including me, would huddle together in the prac room, muttering furiously over concepts such as chirality; and biomarker composition; and whether the lump of rock before us was sedimentary, metamorphic or igneous; and whether another lump of rock before us was a stony, iron, or stony-iron, meteorite; and whether the earth was oxic or anoxic when another lump of rock before us was formed.

On the opposite side of the room, sat a bunch of engaged, aspiring astrobiologists, scientists and geologists, who spoke in a language even the polyglot Arts student doesn’t care much for. We were strange bedfellows; almost different species. 😀

What a discomfiting experience.

But, it blew my mind!

I learnt so much. About how far (and not) scientific knowledge has come since I was at school; why the exploration of our solar system (so what’s the big deal about a bunch of dead rocks and gassy balls in the sky?) is deeply interesting; the mysteries of the vast and strange universe that we find ourselves in; and, most fascinating of all, the extent of the microbial and extremophile world around, beneath, on, and in us. I even had a bit of fun with the Design-a-Lander-for-Titan assignment (the tutors mentioned that they were looking forward to the Arts students’ designs. Yeah, I thought, some comic relief).

There is much value in seeking out our opposites and differences in knowledge, beliefs, philosophies and interests.

What have you learnt recently that has broadened your mind?

Curve

I’ve had the good fortune to travel to Shanghai twice in the last 6 months for work. On my most recent trip there, I was lucky enough to be shown around by wonderful hosts, and so I got to see the some of the incredible architecture in the Pudong area for the first time.

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This is the interior of the Shanghai Grand Hyatt hotel from the top floor, a view not for the fainthearted.