Visiting the Snow Monkeys at Jigokudani Monkey Park in Japan

By Stef Zisovska
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Visiting the Snow Monkeys at Jigokudani Monkey Park in Japan

Stef Zisovska
 
 
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Jigokudani National Park is a part of the much bigger Joshinetsu Kogen National Park in the Prefecture of Nagano in Japan. The park offers a stunning experience of watching monkeys taking a bath in natural hot springs surrounded by snow. The park is inhabited by Japanese macaques, which are also called Snow monkeys. They live in large social groups and are not afraid of humans.

A few minutes walk from the entrance you’ll get to the first pool, which is man-made, where you will see many of them enjoying the hot water. If a monkey crosses your path, don’t be scared and don’t touch it. They are beautiful to watch but not to touch.

Snow monkeys
Snow monkeys

The park is open year-round, but the best time to visit is when there is snow in the region, which makes the monkeys look even more spectacular because of the surrounding environment. In the warm months, they barely enter the hot springs, so the guards throw in some food for them to jump in. The best months to see these amusing creatures are January and February when they spend most of their time next to each other in the springs. Jigokudani valley, where the park is located, means “hell valley”. It’s a common name in all the volcanic regions of Japan.

During the winter the path in the park can be quite slippery, so make sure you wear sturdy shoes. As for clothing, dress warmly and with layers. Don’t pat the monkeys, the guards will yell at you and you won’t understand a word they’re saying unless you know Japanese. The monkeys can attack and be aggressive, especially if you stand between a mother and a baby or between two fighting males. Be very careful when walking by them and try not to disturb them.

Japanese macaques
Japanese macaques

What to wear?

  • Fleece lined leggings/warm trousers
  • Waterproof sturdy snow boots
  • Wool socks
  • 2 Thermal tops
  • Warm hat that covers your ears
  • Waterproof jacket (you can wear your ski jacket)
  • Woolen scarf
  • Waterproof gloves

Other items to bring

  • Camera
  • Waterproof camera bag
  • Bottled water
  • Sunscreen and lip balm to protect your face from the cold
  • Sealed snacks. Don’t even to think about eating in front of the monkeys because they will steal your food, and you never know what’s good for them.
  • Japanese Yen to buy tickets

If you see a monkey eating someone’s snack and walking around with a plastic bag in their mouth, inform the guards immediately. Snow monkeys spend the days in the hot springs only during the winter months, while at night they hide again in the forests and the cliffs above the valley. They love communicating with each other and taking care of each other’s babies. Just like other monkey species, the macaques are sociable and intelligent.

How to get to Jigokudani Snow Monkey Park from Tokyo

A couple of Japanese macaques lounging in the onsen – Author: PMS2718 – CC BY-SA 3.0
A couple of Japanese macaques lounging in the onsen – Author: PMS2718 – CC BY-SA 3.0

Go to Ueno Station where you can catch a shinkansen (a bullet train) to Nagano. From Nagano, it’s easy to find more information about how to get to the national park, and the local people can be very helpful as well. Take a bus from Nagano station where you can get a bus ticket together with the park entrance ticket. Go early and be prepared to spend a few hours with the monkeys. Walking in the snow can be a bit tiring, so make sure you have a big breakfast before entering the park. Stay safe and good luck!

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