Seeing snow monkeys at Jigokudani in Japan
It is my long held belief that the snow monkeys at Jigokudani must help to sell a lot of holidays to Japan. If you’ve ever seen any promotional materials for the country, chances are you’ve seen one of these cute creatures staring back at you. They’re usually photographed enjoying the hot springs in the snow, looking ridiculously close to humans relaxing in a hot tub.
And just in case you have no idea what I’m talking about, here’s what you’re missing out on. I mean, just look at that face!
Although we spent our honeymoon in Japan during the spring cherry blossom season, rather than in snowy weather, we decided to add Jigokudani Monkey Park to our itinerary. Especially as we already had plans to see deers in Nara and visit Rabbit Island near Hiroshima. (I may have done some we-must-see-as-many-animals-as-possible persuasion on Mr A.)
What is Jigokudani Monkey Park famous for?
How many monkeys are in Jigokudani Monkey Park?
Why do monkeys bathe in hot springs?
When is the best time to see the monkeys at Jigokudani Monkey Park?
Getting to Jigokudani Monkey Park
Getting to Jigokudani Monkey Park is pretty straightforward. It is located within Joshin’etsukogen National Park in the Nagano prefecture. To reach Jigokudani Monkey Park take the train from Tokyo to Nagano. From there you can either take a direct bus to the park or the Snow Monkey Express train (yep, it’s a thing) to Shibu Onsen town.
We took the train and were approached at Shibu station by a lovely old man. We were a bit confused at first, but it turned out he was a volunteer from the town’s English class. After explaining the bus system to us and arming us with maps for the area he waved us on our way.
This became a common occurrence in Japan and made us realise just how suspicious we had become during our travels in other countries. We were so used to people offering to help in return for money, that we were surprised by the number of people who simply wanted to help us. Letting down our guard was something we definitely had to get used to in Japan.
We were staying in a Japanese ryokan in Shibu Onsen. So after dropping off our bags we set off for Jigokudani Monkey Park. It can be reached from Shibu Onsen by a pleasant 45 minute walk through a forested area. In spring this path is pretty easy to walk. However in winter it can get very slippery in the snow. So make sure you have decent footwear and adequate warm clothes.
It is also possible to drive closer to the park and walk the last 10 minutes or so.
If you’re short on time and you would like someone else to take care of the planning and transport, it’s easy to book a tour to see the snow monkeys at Jigokudani from Nagano or even Tokyo. These three tours all have fantastic reviews and take the stress out of planning:
Is Jigokudani Monkey Park worth visiting?
Deciding whether Jigokudani Monkey Park is worth visiting comes down to your own personal views on the subject of wild animals and their interactions with humans. We really enjoyed our visit and did not feel like the monkeys were in any way being forced to be there. In fact, they seemed to ignore the park’s visitors completely! However I have since read reviews where visitors have described the monkeys being fed later in the afternoon in order to make them stay, instead of returning to the mountains.
The other complaint I’ve seen is that the site is small. This is true and it is definitely a place to go and sit and watch the monkeys, rather than having a large area to walk around.
When we arrived we were pleasantly surprised by the low entrance fee of 800 yen for adults and 400 yen for children. This is something you don’t often find at tourist attractions in other countries. However, reasonable entrance prices was again something we found a lot of in Japan.
As soon as we entered the park and looked across the valley we noticed monkeys moving on the mountain opposite.
At first they were difficult to spot. This was because their grey bodies camouflaged into the rocks. But gradually we saw more and more of them moving easily across the steep slopes.
Our personal experience of Jigokudani Monkey Park
The park straddles a river, which runs from a hot spring and is the monkeys’ favourite place to be in winter. There were lots of monkeys on both sides of the river and while they weren’t scared of humans, they weren’t overly-friendly either. They didn’t approach people, probably because of the strict no food policy implemented on the site.
They mainly seemed to be uninterested in people. Their principal concerns were basking in the sunshine and grooming.
There were also a few mothers feeding their babies. Plus plenty of youngsters who were playing rough and tumble, much to the annoyance of their young female ‘babysitters’.
We spent ages sitting watching the monkeys. It never fails to amaze me how human-like their expressions and mannerisms are.
Although the park is small we were definitely glad we made the visit. After all, you don’t see many faces cuter than this…
For more information about the snow monkeys at Jigokudani Monkey Park visit http://en.jigokudani-yaenkoen.co.jp/
If you’d like to read more about visiting Japan, find out how to use a Japanese onsen here. Or what it’s like staying in a Japanese ryokan here.
Pin it for later:
Awww look at these gorgeous creatures! I’d never actually even heard of snow monkeys before! I know what you mean about needing to let your guard down. We had a random local volunteer at one of the metro stations come up to us to offer help and it was so nice to see he was just genuinely there to help but made me cross with myself for always being so cynical, I think it can be a bit of a London trait 🙂
I agree Shikha, it was definitely a good lesson to learn to let our guard down. I loved watching the monkeys. We have heard since that they can be quite violent, but we didn’t see any of that and I could have spent hours watching them interact with each other.
Wow, your photos are really good (or maybe you had good models, ha!). I clicked on the title not knowing what they were, but as soon as I saw the pic I recognised them. So cute!
Thanks Char. I definitely think the models are better than my camera skills 😉 Yes, I’ve seen lots of pictures of them around on the web too, but didn’t really know what they were called until we started doing research for our trip.
They are very cute aren’t they? 🙂