Yudanaka, a tiny hot springs town at the base of the volcanic Shiga Kogen, rose to international fame in the 1970s for one reason alone: the snow monkeys.

While Japanese macaques, or snow monkeys, as they are colloquially known, roam the mountainous regions of the archipelago between Kyushu and northern Honshu, the macaques at Yudanaka, whose range centres on the geothermic Jigokudani valley, are easily observed as they relax in the valley's onsen - a picturesque sight amidst swirling winter snows.

What makes the macaques at Yudanaka so unique is that their behaviour. First begun in 1963, when a young monkey waded into the spring to retrieve some food and stayed to enjoy the warmth, the behaviour soon became popular throughout the troop. Because of this, the Jigokudani snow monkeys have been a catalyst in changing scientific thinking about macaque behaviour.

Though the town of Yudanaka is pleasant enough, and excellent skiing is to be had at Shiga Kogen, the main reason to come here is the unforgettable sight of the snow monkeys, and Into Japan Specialist Tours would be delighted to include a visit to the steaming Jigokudani area as part of a winter holiday to Japan.