Why would two travellers used to seeing monkeys go all the way to Nagano and visit Snow monkey park, Japan? So many have asked us this question.Let me give you a little background here.
Monkeys aren’t exciting for us as someone born, raised, and living in India! We see the species of Indian Macaques almost every day. But trust me, seeing monkeys in Snow and the look on their faces showing the epitome of relaxation when they enter a hot water spring is irreplaceable.
So here is your practical guide to seeing the cute yet rascal creatures at Snow Monkey park AKA Jigokudani Monkey Park in Japan.
- Why is it worth visiting in winter?
- How is it in summer?
- History of Snow Monakey Park in Japan
- Is the Snow Monkey Park Ethical?
- Should you stay at a hotel near the park?
- How to get there?
- Best time of the day to visit and time needed
- Know before you go.
Is visiting Snow Monkey Park worth it?
Yes! If you go to the snow monkey park in winter, it is worth your time, money and the hike you take to reach the spot.
The furry little creatures soak in hot springs here and steal your hearts. The way monkeys glide into the hot water like they were born to be pampered is a thing to watch. That satisfaction on their face when the hot water touches them is such a surreal thing to watch, and you will be jealous of them. They cuddle with each other , close their eyes to rejoice making it look like they are meditating! All this happens with a tranquil set up of snow, forest and misty hot spring.
Does Jigokudani Monkey Park get crowded?
Yes and no, both. The place is popular among tourists. Most tend to visit the park post lunch after exploring Yudanaka onsen town. If you take the first bus and come to the park by 10 in the morning, you can avoid the crowd. We follow a common rule in famous places – Stay for longer than others!
Most tourists stay for about 15 minutes to take some snaps. Most tourists who come would take some snaps and go. But you stand and watch.
Watching these monkeys soak in the hot springs is a lesson in self-care. It’s like watching a bunch of little humans having a pool party, except the pool is hot, and the guests are hairy. But they know how to care for themselves and are unafraid to relax.
Should you visit Snow Monkey Park in Summer?
If you go in summer or autumn, you will surely be disappointed. The whole point of the Park is monkeys in Snow. If you go in summer, you will spot very few monkeys playing in the dirt! Go only in winter.!
The hot spring here is man made beside a natural hot spring. The story of why and how is as interesting as observing the monkeys.
What is the history of Jigokudani Monkey Park?
The Park was founded by a Nagano Dentetsu employee Sogo Hara in 1964. The story begins in 1957 when he found a troop of monkeys while he was hiking through Jigokudani, which means ‘Valley of Hell’,
The history is as interesting as the monkey plays. An entire display of park’s history, how mother monkeys protect the babies and why male monkeys boss over others is clearly displayed along the 2.5km hike. Ensure you stop, read, admire the scenic beauty and proceed.
Why is it Valley of Hell?
The steep mountains create deep valleys. The area is home to many hot water springs. The sulphur from these springs filled the surrounding with a characteristic smell. So poeple called it “Jigokudani”
Post world war 2, when Japan was making its comeback, the mountainous region was the focal point of ski resorts. So trees were cut down trying to convert way for the ski slopes, sledges and cable cars. Eventually, our cute fellas, “Japanese Macaques,” lost their natural habitats. So you can call them refugees of modern development.
How Snow Monkey Park in Japan was built?
The furry immigrants moved down to the foothill, leaving their natural mountainous homes and began living amidst human habitats near Yamanouchi (near Yudanaka) and Jigokudani.
Humans who destroyed monkeys’ homes weren’t happy with monkeys co-living with them. The fellas found plenty of food in farmlands. Undoubtedly they must have looted the harvest. Nagano is blessed with fertile soil and water. So the juicy apples and grapes grown here must have been a treat for our furry immigrants. The distressed farmers were tempted to kill the monkeys!
Hiker and monkey protector Sogo Hara was interacting with farmer communities to stop the hunting of monkeys. Meanwhile, his efforts were fuelled by another person.
Korakukan Onsen owners helping Hara
To avoid monkeys coming down to the town, the owner of Korakukan Onsen started leaving apples outside their inn. Slowly, the little rascals understood the apples were meant for them and restricted themselves to the guesthouse and the mountains.
A twist to the Monkey tale.
The researchers say the monkeys must have observed soaking themselves in the hot water spring and relaxing at the onsens. Slowly they must have started to copy humans chilling in the hot Onsen!
Another story has those apples that fell into the hot water spring accidentally. A monkey who tried to pull it out fell into the pool accidentally, only to discover how good it feels to take a hot water spring bath when it snows.
Sooner, other monkeys followed the lead to enjoy their sauna day. They began to occupy the Onsen meant for humans. One of the onsen guests photographed the ultimate behaviour of monkeys in deep satisfaction while soaking in hot water with their eyes closed, and it went viral!
The birth of Snow Monkey Park.
Who doesn’t want to see monkeys in a hot water tub and that immense bliss on their face while soaking? So humans came in bigger numbers to know the meditating monkeys to the Onsen. This made Hara build an artificial onsen a little away from the guesthouse onsen, where monkeys can still enjoy their sauna or spa time without causing trouble to humans.
Consequently, to prevent the monkeys from being considered pests in the nearby villages and keep them in the Park, a daily feeding routine was established through experimentation.
Do they feed Monkeys at Jigokudani Park?
Hara’s team discovered that the monkeys preferred raw barley and soybeans thrice a day and apples as snacks during the green season. So the practice still goes on to avoid monkeys going into the village. The park rangers are strictly instructed to feed them enough to stay in the Park and insufficient to survive. After all, we can’t tame and make them dependent on humans.
Thus Snow Monkey Park in Japan was born in 1964 and is a place for conservation, not a zoo.
Is Japan Snow Monkey Park ethical?
Ethical travelling! One of the easiest words to utter and the toughest to follow. I avoid visiting zoos for the same reason. Thailand’s Tiger parks are the best example of an inhumane way of promoting tourism. But I find Snow Monkey Park isn’t similar to any of it. In my opinion, snow monkey park is not caged and monkeys are almost free to come and go, it is ethical to visit the snow monkey park in Japan.
The snow monkeys at Jigokudani are wild animals.
And the monkeys are not kept in captivity and are free to come and go from the hot springs as they, please. Park’s staff maintains their natural behaviour and minimises their contact with humans. Japan’s government says the Park is also involved in research and conservation efforts to protect the monkeys and their habitat.
But I read a few posts where tourists visited the Park on an evening’s winter and saw staff using slingshots to bring the monkeys back to the spring! If this is true – it isn’t good!
Why do staff use some tactics to get the monkeys down?
The best time of the year to see snow monkeys is between December 2nd week to February when there is a lot of snowfall. Japan’s tourism website says that 10.30 to 14.30 is when more monkeys come to the hot spring to warm themselves up. By 15.00, the Snow melts, the temperature rises, and they return to the mountains.
Unfortunately, some tourists who come beyond that time get frustrated and anxious about getting the value they paid for the entrance. There have been incidents where tourists shouted and created a ruckus for not seeing monkeys in the Snow in the evening. So the staff may try certain things to force the monkeys to stay back in the hot spring.
Is there a solution to this problem?
Yes! Firstly tourists must not come here in summer. Secondly, during winter, you must plan to be in the hot spring before 14.00. Those who come later must not fight with the staff after not seeing monkeys in Snow. I have been to Safaris at Gir to see Asiatic lions and Jim Corbett national park to spot tigers. I have been unlucky either time. But I never picked a fight with the organisation for not showing me the wild beasts. They are meant to be wild. They rule the jungle, and we must appreciate their behaviour.
Thirdly, the staff who work there to protect shouldn’t bother if the monkeys come back – After all, they are here to save the monkeys and not to create a circus to entertain people. Plus, the staff must inform tourists in prior if the monkeys have gone back. So that visitors can decide not to buy the ticket.
Can you touch the monkeys at Jigokudani?
No, you cannot touch or interact with the monkeys at Jigokudani Monkey Park. I understand you – Those cute little pink faces with fur all around make them look cute. The way they snuggle themselves and sit looks super adorable. You even find them like soft toys to be hugged and comforted. Their behaviour and posture can make anyone feel like hugging them. But you can’t do any of these.
While these monkeys are used to human presence and are generally not aggressive, they are still wild animals and can behave unpredictably. Also, we must respect their space and observe them from a safe distance to avoid any potential conflicts or injuries.
Can you feed Japan’s snow monkeys from a distance?
Feeding the monkeys is strictly prohibited as it disrupts their natural behaviour and leads to health problems. The Park has strict rules in place to ensure the safety of both visitors and the monkeys. Unlike in Nara, where you find locals selling cookies to feed the deer, you won’t find any stalls here – Thank god for that. Otherwise, I don’t know what we would have given the monkeys and made them suffer.
Hotels near Snow monkey park Japan.
Hearing about getting there early, you may now wonder if you should pick the hotel nearest to Snow Monkey park. Well, there are options. But I suggest you don’t. The place feels very secluded. Even if you stay at Monkey park from morning to noon, you will be left with some part of the day. So I recommend you stay in Nagano or Yudanaka.
Staying in the forest isolated may sound great. But trust me, it is super cold! Plus, rooms here are pricey. So the only advantage you find here is you spend the rest of the day at Onsen (if you have booked the hotel with Onsen).
Here are some options if you still prefer to stay as close as possible to the snow monkey park.
How to get to Snow Monkey Park, Japan?
To get to Snow Monkey park in Japan, you must come to Nagano. The snow monkey park is about 37km from Nagano. Therefore, irrespective of the mode of transfer you choose, you will start your trip to the Snow Monkey park from Nagano.
How to get from Nagano to monkey Park?
From Nagano, there are two options to get you to snow monkey park – Bus and Train. The fastest way to get to the snow monkey park is by Nagaden express bus because it is a direct bus and requires zero transfer.
Nagano Dentetsu railway takes you to Yudanaka station; you must transfer to a local bus from Yudanaka to the snow monkey park station. Both are covered under the Snow Monkey pass.
What is the cheapest way to get from Nagano to Jigokudani Monkey Park?
There is hardly any difference between the Nagaden express bus fare (1500 yen) and the Nagano Dentetsu railway (1400 yen). So we recommend you take the bus to the snow monkey park. And go to Yudanaka later to have an onsen bath and return to Nagano from the train.
How much does it cost to go to Jigokudani Monkey Park?
The entrance fee to snow monkey park in Japan is 800 yen per adult during December 2022. This price is included in Snow Monkey Pass.
Is buying Snow Monkey Pass worth it?
Buying a snow monkey pass is worth your money, even if you stay for a night. Here is why.
|Price in Yen per person|
|Two way express bus to Jigokudani Monkey Park by express bus||3000|
|One time admission to Jigokudani Monkey Park||800|
|Cost of one Snow Monkey Pass||3600|
Snow Monkey Pass gives unrestricted access to express and local train services on the Nagano Dentetsu Line for 2 days. You can use this pass to get to any station between Nagano and Jigokudani Monkey Park. And Yudanka station. Plus, it also includes your entrance fees to Monkey Park.
How to get to Jigokudani Monkey Park by bus from Nagano?
- The Nagaden express bus leaves from platform number 23 outside the East Exit of Nagano Station.
- The platform numbers are clearly stated, along with the name. Otherwise, look for the platform with the longest line!
- The schedule differs in the season and also at weekends. So you must check with the tourist information office at Nagano JR station the previous day and collect the printed valid schedule.
- Buy the Snow monkey pass a day before to avoid the last-minute hassle.
- If you don’t want a pass, you can purchase bus tickets directly from the driver by paying only 1500 yen for one person in cash.
- Take the earliest bus, especially in winter. Though we took the first bus at 9.10 on Monday, the waiting line was long.
- These buses even arranged seats in the aisle, and most people waiting in the bar were squeezed into this! Trust me, a crowded bus in Japan is not a problem! You can never question Japan’s hygiene.
How long does it take to get from Nagano to Jigokudani Monkey Park?
The Nagaden Express bus journey to the Snow Monkey Park bus stop takes almost an hour. From there, you must walk for about 2.5km. This hiking isn’t hard as it doesn’t involve steep slope climbing.
But does include some mild slopes, steps, the cliff walks. Plus, walking on the Snow in winter isn’t an easy thing. Though it is just 2.5km, it took us 50 minutes as we walked slowly, adding a stop at the shrines, scenic spots, information and display boards throughout the journey.
What is the best time of day to visit Jigokudani Monkey Park?
Japan’s official local survey says that you see more monkeys in the Onsen between 10:30 and 14:30. Post 14.30, the Snow melts, and the monkeys return to their trees.
How long do you need to be at Jigokudani Monkey Park?
The hiking trail can take up to 35 minutes (one-way) if you walk continuously without stopping anywhere to enjoy the view. We suggest at least an hour at the hot spring -the beauty in the place lies in you finding a corner to stand and look at monkeys “Monkeying around”.
We splendidly spent around 2 hours watching these cute furry fellas bathing, meditating, cuddling, smiling, cooing, singing, scaring each other and picking ticks from the other,
Things to know before going to Snow Monkey Park in Japan
- Go only during winter. Summer visit to the park isn’t worth it.
- Don’t go to the park post 14.00. Once the Snow melts, all monkeys will eventually return to their mountains as it is warm enough for them on the trees.
- Dress appropriately! Monkeys don’t demand a dress code, but the weather does. The place name itself has “Snow” in it. So wear a warmer layer with anti-skid shoes, gloves and everything else you need to keep yourselves warm when it snows. Don’t forget to wear “Kairo.”
- There is a rental shop at the beginning of the trail if you still wear fancy footwear and forget your gloves. During the peak winter season, there is a high chance that this store will run out of supplies.
- Carry “Japan’s signature transparent Umbrella” to safeguard yourself from the snowflake droppings from the tree.
- There are lockers at the park entrance if you wish to dump your bag and carry only the camera – This gives you a lot of freedom. Trust me.
- The park office has clean toilets and a souvenir shop.
- You will find a cafe only on the train beginning. So fuel yourself well before beginning the hike. Don’t carry food in your hands. You know the monkeys! They love stealing your Nagano’s signature Milk bread (Gyunyu Pan).
What are your thoughts on visiting Snow Monkey Park in Japan? Let us know in the comment section below.