Japan has amazing natural wonders like Mount Fuji, cherry blossoms, and Abukumado Cave.
Another natural wonder you cannot miss is the onsens (or natural hot springs) in the Japanese mountains. And one of these natural onsens is home to Japan’s most fascinating animals – the Japanese Snow Monkey.
You can actually visit an onsen with Japan’s national animals, the Japanese snow macaque, and see them bathing in the warm waters.
These snow monkeys live in high-altitude mountainous regions and love taking baths in hot pools to warm up.
While taking this trip is better for off-season traveling during snowy seasons, the mountains are remote and can be tricky to get to.
Lucky for you, this guide breaks everything down from how to get there, when to visit, and why you should see these adorable bathing monkeys.
Where to See Japan’s Snow Monkeys
- Where to See Japan’s Snow Monkeys
- Why do Snow Monkeys Like the Hot Springs?
- What to Expect from the Snow Monkeys in Japan
- How to Get to the Snow Monkeys
- Additional Info About Jigokudani Snow Monkey Park
- Final Thoughts on Snow Monkeys In Japan
You can find these monkey onsens at Jigokudani Monkey Park. The park was founded in 1964 by Sogo Hara to keep the local macaques safe from possible extinction. Jigokudani Monkey Park is located around 250km northwest of Tokyo.
These Japanese monkeys didn’t always have these mountain views. After their habitat was under threat by loggers cutting down trees to build ski resorts, these primates moved to Jigokudani.
Soon, they ran amuck, stealing neighboring farmers’ apples from their trees.
Angry farmers complained to authorities about the thieving primates. They then allowed farmers to shoot the monkeys if they were caught stealing apples again.
Thankfully, Sogo Hara sought to save them and built Jigokudani Monkey Park.
Surprisingly, this Jigokudani oasis’ nickname is ‘Valley of Hell,’ but that has nothing to do with these mischievous primates. It is due to volcanic activity nearby that causes the hot springs to form.
As the steam and heat emits from the springs, it feels ‘hot as hell.’
There´s also a webcam placed at the onsen so you can see from home how life is at the hot spring.
Why do Snow Monkeys Like the Hot Springs?
It was a case of ice monkeys see, ice monkeys do. Contrary to popular belief, the monkey park wasn’t built here because Japan’s snow monkeys liked the hot springs.
Usually, monkeys don’t like being anywhere near water.
It was actually the other way around. The park was built first, and then this odd behavior started.
The story goes that some monkeys noticed people bathing in the onsens near the Korakukan guesthouse.
With a mix of this curious observation and bobbing for apples in the springs, these monkeys started jumping into the onsens themselves. That was a few decades ago, and they are still destressing in them today.
Unfortunately, humans can’t destress in the hot springs with these adorable animals. They are wild, after all, and can be unpredictable at times.
The Korakukan guesthouse still exists today and accepts guests for a dip in their onsens where it all began.
What to Expect from the Snow Monkeys in Japan
The Japanese snow monkeys have been living in the park for over 60 years.
There are about 150 wild monkeys in the area, and they like to travel together as a troop.
But things are not always peaceful; there are rival groups of Macaques in the area, which often fight over the control of the onsen.
Keep in mind that these are wild monkeys, so they come and go as they please. No fences or wiring are keeping them locked in.
By now, they are relatively comfortable being around people and having a few cameras around them.
Tourists can take nice close shots of the monkeys, enjoying their swim, or grooming each other.
So close that you might even get splashed as they jump in the pool.
There’s an information center in the park that educates guests more on the monkeys and the park.
Most of it is in Japanese, but some of it has been translated into English. However, a guided tour is always a great way to experience something new.
How to Get to the Snow Monkeys
Jigokudani is in Nagano, which is the capital of the Nagano Prefecture. It is entirely landlocked and almost perfectly in the middle of Japan. This means it is quite easy to get to.
From Nagano, you then have to travel an hour before reaching Jigokudani Monkey Park.
To reach Nagano from Tokyo, you need to take a Shinkansen (bullet train) on the Hokuriku line.
This line travels from Tokyo to Kanazawa within two and a half hours.
Thankfully, your journey won’t be as long and only takes about 90 minutes, making the trip to Jigokudani Monkey Park an easy daytrip from Tokyo.
You can buy tickets from Japan Rail Pass or JR East Japan Railway Station.
JR East Tickets are a bit pricey at JPY 18,000 ($205 CAD) but are the better option. This ticket covers five days of unlimited travel on trains and bullet trains.
Getting to Nagano from Kyoto takes a bit longer than from Tokyo. You’ll take the Hikari train on the JR Tokaido Shinkansen (bullet train) to Nagoya for this trip. From there, you’ll need to make a transfer to a JR Shinano express train to Nagano.
The trip will take about four hours, and a Japan Rail Pass completely covers the tickets for JPY 10,500 ($120 CAD).
Nagano is the closest city to the Jigokudani Monkey Park. It can be a bit tricky to get to the park from Nagano, but using public transport is a great way to travel Japan on a budget.
The first option is to take an express bus directly to the park.
The bus runs non-stop from Nagano station to Kanbayashi Onsen and will take about 50 minutes.
Tickets cost about JPY 1500 ($17 CAD) per adult.
You can also take a train through the Nagano Dentetsu Railway to Yudanaka Station. From there you’ll take a short bus ride to the park. The total time for this trip will also take about 50 to 55 minutes. One-way tickets cost JPY 1290 ($15 CAD).
Both the train and bus drop you at the bottom of the village. From there, it’s a short walk to the entrance trail.
Additional Info About Jigokudani Snow Monkey Park
Here are a few important things to note about visiting snow monkeys in Japan.
Best Time to Visit the Japanese Monkey Onsen
The monkeys visit the onsen every day. Thus the park is open every day of the year too.
Open times vary between seasons, and parks close a little earlier in Winter.
In summer, the park is open from 08:30-17:00.
Whereas in Winter, opening times are 09:00-16:00.
The area is incredibly picturesque in wintertime, with freshly fallen snow covering the mountains.
The best time to visit is in the mornings between January and February.
By then, the mountains are enveloped in a perfectly white blanket of snow.
Autumn is also a good time to visit the park as the autumn leaves give a beautiful color show without the enormous crowd’s Winter brings.
Visit during October and November to miss the high humidity of the summer months.
Additional Info About Jigokudani Snow Monkey Park?
You can access the park through a 1.6 km (1 mile) trail through the forest. The trail takes most visitors about 20 to 25 minutes walking to and from the park.
It is well-maintained and level, so it shouldn’t be too challenging to climb most seasons.
However, in Winter, the trail can become a bit slippery. It’s best to take your time climbing up during snow and rain, and it can take about 30 to 45 minutes.
There is a slight incline and a few steps that might be a bit difficult to walk with the wrong shoes on. If you don’t have the right gear on, you can visit the gift shop nearby to pick something up.
Regrettably, for these reasons, the trail is not wheelchair accessible.
How Much are Tickets?
Entrance tickets to the park are ¥800 JPY ($7 USD) for adults.
While for children, the tickets cost ¥400 ($3.50 USD).
Can I Buy Food in the Park?
Unfortunately, there are no cafes or restaurants in the park. However, the park is in a small village called Kanbayashi Onsen, with restrooms, cafes, and restaurants. No food is allowed in the park, but water is fine.
What Can’t I Do in the Park?
The snow monkeys in Japan don’t mind having visitors over at their hot tubs. While these are generally calm animals, it is still important to consider their space and be respectful of their environments.
Please follow the park rules by:
- Don’t bring food into the park and avoid drinking water in front of the monkeys.
- You can take pictures of the monkeys but avoid holding, touching, or feeding them at any cost.
- Don’t use a selfie stick or flash photography around the animals.
- Stay at least one to two meters away from them.
Final Thoughts on Snow Monkeys In Japan
Visiting the snow monkeys in Japan is on many people’s Japan bucket list and with good reason.
These clever monkeys have learned to bathe in these hot springs to regulate their body heat by watching the people around them.
They are playful and kind and don’t mind you snapping their picture now and then.
If you’d like to watch these primates dip in a hot spring in Hell’s Valley, or you’d like to dip in one yourself, then Nagana and its primate guests await you.