Monkey see, monkey do: Visiting Jigokudani's Bathing Snow Monkeys - Vikingess Voyages

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Monkey see, monkey do: Visiting Jigokudani's Bathing Snow Monkeys

As the old saying goes; monkey see, monkey do! In Jigokudani - literarily Hell's Valley - the monkeys have learned to enjoy bathing in the hot spring, and if you visit the valley you can see both young and elder monkeys monkeying around or just soaking in the hot water. Although these monkeys belong to a very common Japanese species called macaque, the monkeys living in the snowy areas of the country are more often referred to just as that - “snow monkeys” (スノーモンキー). You can find macaque monkeys all over Japan, but it is only the snow monkeys in Nagano's Jigokudani that are known to take hot spring-baths, a peculiar sight that attracts visitors from all over the world.

I recently went on a trip to Nagano with a group of friends to see the bathing snow monkeys, and we had a fun and memorable weekend thanks to the furry superstars.

Our trip started out Saturday morning with an early bus ride departing at 7 am from Shinjuku, and after almost 5 hours on the bus we finally arrived in Nagano. We continued by local train, and after approximately 70 minutes we finally arrived in Yudanaka.

 From Yudanaka station you can chose to go to Jigokudani by foot, a walk that would take a little bit more than an hour. However, if you're staying at a hotel in the area it is possible that they can arrange transportation by bus to the entrance to the Jigokudani area for free. In our case we were staying at a Japanese style ryokan hotel called Aburaya Tousen (あぶらや), and they arranged a free minibus for us the following morning to go see the monkeys.

The bus took us to the entrance of the Jigokudani Yaen Kōen (地獄谷野猿公苑 - Hell's Valley's Wild Monkey Park), and from we had to do an approximately 25-30 minute  walk into the wild forest.
The hike to the Jigokudani vally is beautiful, and you can enjoy both the view and the silence of the forest to its fullest. Just remember to bring along good shoes and warm clothes for the trip! One of our friends came with high-heeled boots and that was not exactly a wise move. The track can be slippery, and even during the winter there are areas where it can be a bit muddy.
As the track goes into the forest with no artificial light in sight it is also advisable to start the trip early in the morning so that you can get back while it is still light. In fact, the monkey park area is only open until 3 pm, so make sure you're early enough to get the most out of the visit.

At the end of the track to Jigokudani you find the old ryokan Jigokudani Onsen Korakukan which opened in 1864 and is said to be the place where the monkeys first started bathing in the hot spring
Going down a slippery slope at the end of the track
At the end of the track you finally reach the little valley where the monkeys are playing around and bathing in the hot spring. There is literarily noting else there to see or do, but with the furry creatures monkeying around will probably still keep you entertained for an hour or two.

One thing I would specially recommend is to avoid weekends! As a full-time employed expat in Japan I don't have the luxury to go travelling whenever I want, but if you do, trust me you don't want to waste your time people-watching when your goal was to do monkey-watching. All these tourists in the middle of nowhere running around taking pictures made me think about Jack Johnson's song where the lyrics goes just like that - "pictures of people taking pictures". The ratio was probably more than 10 people for every bathing monkey, and there was also a TV-crew present interviewing some random foreigners tourists.
A young monkey posing for a photo
Monkeys watching tourists while resting on one of the cables transporting warm hot spring water
Despite the large number of tourists the monkeys are used to having people hanging around, and most of them play around totally unaffected by all the attention. I still think that we probably could have seen more monkeys entering the hot spring if there weren't for the large number of tourists, as obviously not all of the monkeys dared to come close.
Monkeys coming close to the onsen but still keep their distance
The monkeys like to groom each other and are apparently unaffected by weird tourists - in this case my darling - fooling around
In summary, Jigokudani is definitely a unique destination well worth the visit if you get the chance. Just remember to stay away from the weekend if you can!
When you get back to the entrance area you can buy a souvenir (or just warm yourself for a while) in the souvenir shop

Basic Info

Place Jigokudani Monkey Park (Jigokudani Yaen Kōen - 地獄谷野猿公苑)
Location -7 km from Yudanaka station,
-1.6 km from the Jigokudani Yaen-Koen entrance
Opening Hours The park is open 365 days a year.
Opening hours are as follows:
April to October: 8:30am-5:00pm
November to March: 9:00am-4:00pm
Admission fee Adults 500yen / Children 250yen

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This page contains affiliate links, and if you follow a link and make a hotel reservation through these links you help support this blog without any additional cost to you. Thank you so much for your kind support!

Thank you for reading! Please feel free to leave any comments or questions below
- Anette

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About Anette
Anette came to Japan as an exchange student in 2010, met the love of her life and got stuck. From her base in Tokyo she writes about her experiences as a full-time worker in Tokyo and about her travels in Japan and abroad. She's a free-spirited adventurer who enjoys both the great outdoors and her urban lifestyle.

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About Me

Adventures ofAnette

A modern day shield-maiden who loves to explore the unbeaten paths of the world. From her base in Tokyo, Anette takes on both rural and urban challenges, and goes by the motto "No challenge too big, no adventure too small"!
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