The Snow Monkeys of Nagano


2020.01.23

NAVITIME TRAVEL EDITOR

Jigokudani, or the Snow Monkey Park as it is more commonly known these days, offers visitors the unique experience of seeing a troop of macaque monkeys not only playing in the snow, but also bathing in the hot waters of a natural hot-spring. The park is located within the natural habitat of the monkeys, on a forested mountainside close to the towns of Shibu and Yudanaka, in Nagano.

  • Welcome to Jigokudani!

    Welcome to Jigokudani!

    The Snow Monkeys at Jigokudani in Nagano

    The Snow Monkeys at Jigokudani in Nagano

    Stepping the fine line between the hot-spring and its mountainous surroundings

    Stepping the fine line between the hot-spring and its mountainous surroundings

  • Soaking in hot waters

    Soaking in hot waters

    The Snow Monkey Park is situated next to a river that flows through a mountainous valley, when it’s covered in snow it makes for some beautiful views and photography!

    The Snow Monkey Park is situated next to a river that flows through a mountainous valley, when it’s covered in snow it makes for some beautiful views and photography!

  • 03

    The Story of the Snow Monkeys

    The park was founded in 1964 by Sogo Hara, a local man who wanted to keep the monkeys out of harms way, after farmers were given permission to kill any that were found to be compromising their work and produce in the nearby farming community. Sogo cleared a small area in the middle of a forest where he left piles of food, in an attempt to keep the monkeys from straying into the local towns and on to private farms. He’d leave apples close to a natural hot-spring bath throughout the year, until eventually the monkeys learned to stick around, and avoid the farms they had been invading. At one point the monkeys discovered the hot-spring too, and realized that bathing inside it was a great way to keep warm during the winter months, and so this unique phenomenon was born. The monkeys have made the area a part of their home ever since, and are thought to be the only troop of monkeys in the world that bathe in hot-spring waters to keep themselves warm.

    These days visitors are invited to see this fascinating spectacle for themselves throughout the year, although it is most popular during the winter months when the temperatures drop and the whole area is transformed into somewhat of a winter wonderland, blanketed in snow. This place isn’t a zoo, and the monkeys are free to come and go as they please, meaning the chances of seeing them bathing in the summer are considerably lower as they have less interest in the hot-spring bath during the warmer months.
    The monkeys are accustomed to being within close proximity to humans as they have attracted attention from curious visitors, photographers and wildlife fanatics for years. This means one can sit and watch them interact within their social groups from relatively close distances, they almost completely ignore the humans that are around. However, it is prohibited to touch, feed or attempt to interact with the monkeys and anybody caught doing any of the above will be forced to leave the park immediately by one of the park rangers.

    With that being said, here is our step-by-step guide to visiting and making the most of the Jigokudani Snow Monkey Park. And hopefully getting a chance to witness the snow monkeys relaxing in the hot-spring bath for yourself!

    The Snow Monkeys at Jigokudani in Nagano

    The Snow Monkeys at Jigokudani in Nagano

    The Snow Monkeys at Jigokudani in Nagano

    The Snow Monkeys at Jigokudani in Nagano

  • 04

    Getting There

    There are two approaches to the Monkey Park. One requires a thirty-minute walk along a hiking path through a forested area, while the other requires a fifteen-minute walk from a parking lot in the town of Shibu Onsen.

    The first approach is the more common way to access the park as it is where local buses, taxis and shuttle buses stop to drop off visitors – this route requires you walk along a fairly long path that can become slippery in winter, so sensible shoes with good grips are a must.

    The second approach is only really useful if you are staying in the town of Shibu Onsen, as the parking lot is limited in size, it is not serviced by public transport and the road to the Monkey Park itself is closed when there is a lot of snow on the ground.

    To access the first and more commonly used route, you have several options:

    1. The easiest route via public transport is to take the Snow Monkey Park bus from Nagano Station, operated by Nagaden Bus. There is approximately one bus an hour during the day, leaving from stop number 23 on the east side of the station. For exact bus times, it is best to search online as the timetables are seasonal ( with many more buses during winter season). This bus will drop you at the parking lot at the beginning of approach one mentioned above, from where you walk roughly thirty minutes to the Snow Monkey Park.

    2. Taking a train from Nagano Station to Yudanaka Station (there are direct “Snow Monkey” trains, or you can switch local trains at Shinshu Nakano Station). This is followed by a bus for either; Kanbayashi Onsen (alight at Kanbayashi Onsen and follow signs to the park, around 30-40 minutes by foot) or Snow Monkey Park (alight at Snow Monkey Park and follow signs to the park, around 30 minutes by foot).

    3. Taking a train from Nagano Station to Yudanaka Station (there are direct “Snow Monkey” trains, or you can switch local trains at Shinshu Nakano Station). Followed by a taxi to the Snow Monkety Park. There are often several taxis waiting outside Yudanaka Station, a ride to the park will cost you somewhere around 2000 yen.

    Getting to Nagano Station itself is fairly straight forward. It is connected to Tokyo by Shinkansen Bullet Train on the JR Hokuriku Line. The one-way trip takes around 90 minutes, costs about 8000 yen and is covered by the JR Rail Pass.
    Alternatively, there are buses from Shinjuku Bus Terminal in Tokyo, the one-way trip takes roughly 3.5 hours and costs between 2000 and 4000 yen depending which company you use.

    The Shinkansen gate at Nagano Station, is just minutes from the east exit where you can find buses as well as local and express train lines that run to the Snow Monkey Park

    The Shinkansen gate at Nagano Station, is just minutes from the east exit where you can find buses as well as local and express train lines that run to the Snow Monkey Park

    The Nagaden Snow Monkey bus will take you directly to the park

    The Nagaden Snow Monkey bus will take you directly to the park

    The Nagaden Snow Monkey train will take you to the nearest station to the park in the town of Yudanaka, from where you can either take a bus or taxi

    The Nagaden Snow Monkey train will take you to the nearest station to the park in the town of Yudanaka, from where you can either take a bus or taxi

  • The trains and buses are clearly marked on the ground in English

    The trains and buses are clearly marked on the ground in English

    The Nagaden local line which isn’t set up specifically for the Snow Monkey Park, but stops at Yudanaka station from where you can take either a bus or taxi to the park

    The Nagaden local line which isn’t set up specifically for the Snow Monkey Park, but stops at Yudanaka station from where you can take either a bus or taxi to the park

    Local buses like this pick up at Yudanaka Station and go past the Snow Monkey Park

    Local buses like this pick up at Yudanaka Station and go past the Snow Monkey Park

  • You will find taxis waiting at all of the stations mentioned in this article should you want to opt for a faster, more comfortable (and of course more expensive) route to the Snow Monkey Park

    You will find taxis waiting at all of the stations mentioned in this article should you want to opt for a faster, more comfortable (and of course more expensive) route to the Snow Monkey Park

    Nagaden also offer a 2 day Snow Monkey Pass that allows access to various other attractions in the Nagano region. Search online for details of this pass, or pop into the Nagaden office which is located on the west side of Nagano Station to learn more and pick one up. One pass costs 3600 yen.

    Nagaden also offer a 2 day Snow Monkey Pass that allows access to various other attractions in the Nagano region. Search online for details of this pass, or pop into the Nagaden office which is located on the west side of Nagano Station to learn more and pick one up. One pass costs 3600 yen.

  • 07

    Arriving at Jigokudani Snow Monkey Park

    Arriving by bus or taxi will bring you to the main drop-off parking lot, which is located approximately 2 km from the Snow Monkey Park. The dedicated Snow Monkey Park bus provided by Nagaden stops only here so there is no need to worry about missing your stop. Other bus services will announce when they are arriving at Jigokudani Snow Monkey Park, but if you are anxious about getting off at the right place you can ask the driver when you get on the bus to tell when you arrive at the Snow Monkey Park.
    Once you get off your bus/taxi, you simply follow the signposts to the Snow Monkey Park, along a path that winds through a scenic forest, there is a set of stone steps at the end. This path can become slippery in the snow so, as mentioned above, sensible footwear is recommended. Unfortunately, there is no wheelchair access.

    Once you reach the top of the stairs you will find a small ticket office which also has an indoor information center, where you can rest and read up on the history of the park and also learn about the fascinating alpha-male hierarchy system within the troop. Beyond the ticket office is a path that leads down to the hot-spring area, and of course the monkeys!

    The parking lot close to where the buses drop you off connects to the path that leads up the mountain to the Snow Monkey Park

    The parking lot close to where the buses drop you off connects to the path that leads up the mountain to the Snow Monkey Park

    Signposts along the way will guide you to the entrance of the park

    Signposts along the way will guide you to the entrance of the park

    There is a small information point and gift shop at the entrance to the road that leads to the Snow Monkey Park, where you can pick up information and souvenirs related to the park

    There is a small information point and gift shop at the entrance to the road that leads to the Snow Monkey Park, where you can pick up information and souvenirs related to the park

  • Although the path can be narrow at times, and slippery when covered in snow, it is fine for families and individuals who are suitably dressed for a hike in the snow!

    Although the path can be narrow at times, and slippery when covered in snow, it is fine for families and individuals who are suitably dressed for a hike in the snow!

    The path to the park leads you through a forest of cedar trees, along a winding river

    The path to the park leads you through a forest of cedar trees, along a winding river

    The ticket center at the park also has space to sit, keep warm and relax

    The ticket center at the park also has space to sit, keep warm and relax

  • Entry to the park costs 800 yen

    Entry to the park costs 800 yen

    You will likely see monkeys dotted about the place almost immediately after entering the park, before you have even made your way down to the hot spring pool

    You will likely see monkeys dotted about the place almost immediately after entering the park, before you have even made your way down to the hot spring pool

    The path through the park allows you to see the monkeys up close and personal, but be warned if you get too close they are liable to attack if they feel their young ones are under threat - exercise precaution at all times!

    The path through the park allows you to see the monkeys up close and personal, but be warned if you get too close they are liable to attack if they feel their young ones are under threat - exercise precaution at all times!

  • Observing the behavior of the monkeys and how the hierarchy within the troop works can be fascinating, and makes for some great photography!

    Observing the behavior of the monkeys and how the hierarchy within the troop works can be fascinating, and makes for some great photography!

    The path that leads down to the hot-spring bath allows great views out across the valley, and often has a few monkeys strolling along it, so be sure to have your camera ready from when you first step foot inside!

    Follow the path down, cross the small bridge at the end, and there you will find the famous hot-spring bath that the monkeys are often photographed in.
    During the colder months any number of monkeys can be found all over the park, with the younger ones often playing in the snow, and the older ones relaxing in or around the hot-spring bath. Having said that, these animals are not being kept in captivity, they are free to come and go as they please, and on occasion they aren’t anywhere to be seen. You cannot demand your money back in such circumstances, so please don’t even try. If you do find yourself in this predicament we recommend hanging around for bit, as they often come and go throughout the day.

    The chances are you will see some monkeys during any visit to the park, but the best time to visit is, without a doubt, in the winter in the morning as the monkeys tend to bath themselves at the start of the day, especially when it’s cold. Good luck with the monkey spotting!

    Snow monkeys gather round to keep warm in the natural hot-spring bath

    Snow monkeys gather round to keep warm in the natural hot-spring bath

    A young monkey and its mother sit by the side of the hot-spring contemplating a dip

    A young monkey and its mother sit by the side of the hot-spring contemplating a dip

  • One of the snow monkeys taking a morning bath

    One of the snow monkeys taking a morning bath

    A baby monkey sits by the side of the bath waiting for the elders in its group to finish washing themselves!

    A baby monkey sits by the side of the bath waiting for the elders in its group to finish washing themselves!

    The Snow Monkeys at Jigokudani in Nagano

    The Snow Monkeys at Jigokudani in Nagano

  • Watching the way the monkeys interact with each other is fascinating

    Watching the way the monkeys interact with each other is fascinating

    Remember to not only look down towards the bath when you’re at Jigokudani, but also look up, where you’ll see plenty of monkeys causing havoc and playing in the snow!

    Remember to not only look down towards the bath when you’re at Jigokudani, but also look up, where you’ll see plenty of monkeys causing havoc and playing in the snow!

    Jigokudani Yaen-koen
    place
    Nagano Pref. Shimotakaigunyamanouchimachi Hirao 6845
    phone
    0269334379
    opening-hour
    [Apr.--Around Oct.] 8:30-17:…
  • 13

    Shibu Onsen

    The closest town to the Snow Monkey Park, situated roughly 2 km away, is Shibu Onsen – a small town filled with Ryokan (traditional Japanese inns) and Onsen (natural hot-spring bathhouses). The town has a distinctively old-school vibe to it, with an atmosphere of Japan from an era long in the past. Narrow streets wind in and out of one another, lined on both sides with public bathhouses and a selection of places to eat and stay. If you have the time to stay a night or two during your trip to this area, we highly recommend this lovely little corner of old Japan. Options are limited though so booking in advance is essential – you won’t be able to just turn up and find a place to stay. An online search for Shibu Onsen Accomodation should yield a number of results and options for potential places to stay.
    Shibu Onsen doesn’t have a train service, but local buses run to and from the closest station in Yudanaka, which is about ten minutes away.

    Shibu Onsen has a host of Ryokan accommodations ranging in price and quality, they all carry an air of traditional Japan though

    Shibu Onsen has a host of Ryokan accommodations ranging in price and quality, they all carry an air of traditional Japan though

    The streets are also littered with public bathhouses

    The streets are also littered with public bathhouses

    The main strip in the town of Shibu Onsen

    The main strip in the town of Shibu Onsen

  • One of the many hot-spring bathes at Kokuya Ryokan in Shibu Onsen

    One of the many hot-spring bathes at Kokuya Ryokan in Shibu Onsen

    One of the many hot-spring bathes at Kokuya Ryokan in Shibu Onsen

    One of the many hot-spring bathes at Kokuya Ryokan in Shibu Onsen

    渋温泉 古久屋
    place
    長野県下高井郡山ノ内町渋温泉
    phone
    0269332511
    no image
    Shibu Onsen is also a great place to sample some local food, like a bowl of hot soba. Nagano is considered the home of soba noodles after all!

    Shibu Onsen is also a great place to sample some local food, like a bowl of hot soba. Nagano is considered the home of soba noodles after all!

  • Shibu Onsen is a quaint little onsen town with plenty to photograph

    Shibu Onsen is a quaint little onsen town with plenty to photograph

    The town of Shibu Onsen

    The town of Shibu Onsen

    The town of Shibu Onsen

    The town of Shibu Onsen

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