Snow Monkey Park, Jigokudania Yaen-Koen, Japan

Japan’s Hot Spring Bathing Snow Monkeys

Steam was rising from the onsen, but the hot spring had a different kind of occupant than you would normally find. This hot spring was filled with monkeys. Escaping from the cold, some monkeys sat and soaked with a pensive stare while others groomed and picked at their fellow bathers. Observing the macaques interact with one another and go about their daily business was extremely intriguing—it was hard to look away.

Snow Monkey Park, Jigokudania Yaen-Koen, Japan

When I brought up the idea of taking a trip to Japan after finding ridiculously cheap airfare, Micah had one request: he wanted to see those monkeys. The snow monkeys, or Japanese Macaques, that bathe in a hot spring, to be exact.

Snow Monkey Park, Jigokudania Yaen-Koen, Japan

Neither of us had any idea where they were actually located in the country, but I readily agreed to his one request and snatched up the airfare deal as fast as I could. We were going to Japan!

Snow_Monkey_Jigokudania_Yaen-Koen_Japan_06

Next up? Working the snow monkeys into our itinerary—I certainly couldn’t ignore the one and only request for the entire trip, and I was secretly just as excited to see them myself!

Snow Monkey Park, Jigokudania Yaen-Koen, Japan

Jigokudani Yaen-Koen, aka the Monkey Park, is located just outside of the tiny town called Shibu Onsen. The park isn’t really a park, per say, but rather more of a hot spring in a valley where wild monkeys live and come to bathe. There is also a small visitor’s center with interesting facts and photos, but the monkeys definitely steal the show. Entrance to the park is 500yen for adults and 250yen for children.

Snow Monkey Park, Jigokudania Yaen-Koen, Japan

Snow Monkey Park, Jigokudania Yaen-Koen, Japan

Snow Monkey Park, Jigokudania Yaen-Koen, Japan

Winter is the best time to visit, as there will be more monkeys in the hot spring trying to warm up from the winter chill. Some of them might even have a beard of fresh snow! The monkeys do bathe in the summer as well, but not near as much, and it makes sense—who wants to sit in a hot bath in the summer heat, am I right?

Snow Monkey Park, Jigokudania Yaen-Koen, Japan

Snow Monkey Park, Jigokudania Yaen-Koen, Japan

Snow Monkey Park, Jigokudania Yaen-Koen, Japan

While the monkeys are wild and choose to live in the area and bathe in the hot spring on their own, sometimes the park rangers throw food into and around the spring to entice the monkeys to go for a swim. I’m not too keen on this aspect of the park, but the monkeys aren’t held captive and are free to come and go as they please. Also, the park does have strict rules about visitors not feeding or touching the monkeys.

Snow Monkey Park, Jigokudania Yaen-Koen, Japan

Although I’m sure the crowds can get much larger, they were fairly large when we were visiting, and it left me feeling a bit sad for the monkeys.

Snow Monkey Park, Jigokudania Yaen-Koen, Japan

They seem to have a constant stream of paparazzi, but at the same time they seem very accustomed to humans and pretty much ignored our presence, except for the curious baby monkey that jumped on an observer’s camera to investigate and inspect this strange object!

Snow Monkey Park, Jigokudania Yaen-Koen, Japan

Getting to the park is a bit of a journey—if you are coming from Tokyo, you can take the train to Nagano and then hop on a connecting train to Yudanaka. From there, you can take the local bus or taxi to the park’s parking lot where you will have a 10-15 minute walk to the entrance of the park. We were staying in Shibu Onsen, so we decided to take the bus to our Ryokan first. Many of the hotels in Shibu Onsen offer a ride to the Monkey Park, but we decided to walk the 2.5 km route from town as we had been sitting on a train all day. The forest road is closed to vehicles in the winter, but we were told that we were allowed to walk on the road—we visited in March, and although we encountered a bit of ice it was fine to walk on. However, if you go in the middle of winter, I would avoid walking this road as the ice would make it a pretty difficult and potentially dangerous hike.

Snow Monkey Park, Jigokudania Yaen-Koen, Japan

Snow Monkey Park, Jigokudania Yaen-Koen, Japan

While seeing the snow monkeys was a special experience, it left me feeling a bit conflicted as well. Getting up close to a wild animal (and one of my favorite animals) in such a unique setting was definitely a highlight, but the crowds and knowing that the rangers feed the monkeys made me a bit uneasy. Whatever the case, I’m so glad the monkeys brought us to Shibu Onsen—we fell in love with the tiny, adorable town and it ended up being one of our favorite experiences from the entire trip!

Snow Monkey Park, Jigokudania Yaen-Koen, Japan

Have you been to visit the snow monkeys? What is your favorite wild animal?

 

24 Comments
  • Fiona
    Twitter:
    Posted at 12:45h, 15 August Reply

    Wow, they look as if they have little fur coats on. Amazing pictures! You must have had a blast!
    Fiona recently posted…Cau Kingston – ReviewMy Profile

  • Carol Colborn
    Twitter:
    Posted at 15:22h, 15 August Reply

    Interesting monkeys! Now I want to go and see them! I wonder how they are related to the Barbary macaques in Gibraltar near Spain?

  • Cory Lee
    Twitter:
    Posted at 17:33h, 15 August Reply

    Wow, this is seriously one of the most awesome things that I have ever seen! I love monkeys and will definitely be adding Japan to my bucket list now.
    Cory Lee recently posted…Staying in Paradise at the Margaritaville Island Hotel! Fins Up!My Profile

  • Lesley
    Twitter:
    Posted at 18:51h, 15 August Reply

    This has been a wild year for me with penguin, chimpanzee and gorilla encounters. In a couple days, I will add whale sharks to that list and then great whites and polar bears in a couple months. I’d love to include the snow monkeys in Japan. What a great encounter. But I can understand your mixed feelings because it does seem like an invasion.
    Lesley recently posted…Cape Enrage, New Brunswick Takes Me To The EdgeMy Profile

    • Jenna Kvidt
      Posted at 04:08h, 19 August Reply

      Oh how cool! Pretty much ever single one of those is on my bucket list to see in the wild–that’s so awesome you’ve been able to see them all!
      Jenna Kvidt recently posted…Robot Restaurant in Tokyo, JapanMy Profile

  • Alice Teacake
    Twitter:
    Posted at 02:17h, 16 August Reply

    This is just adorable! I really do love monkeys – they can be super naughty sometimes though 😀 I understand how you feel about the numbers of people coming to these sights. I think it’s the beast of finding out about somewhere awesome, writing about it and more and more people catching on. The locals need to bear this in mind and make sure they manage the numbers of people who visit and maintain the natural beauty and environment of the location. Thank you for sharing your photos, they are lovely!
    Alice Teacake recently posted…5 Things a Korean Fortune Teller Told MeMy Profile

  • Stacey Valle
    Twitter:
    Posted at 15:11h, 16 August Reply

    oh my goodness! I really really want to go there!!! I went to Japan last summer, and I heard about it but doubt it would be a good time to visit since it was so humid! I mean, like you said, who would really bathe in hot springs in a very hot humid day? I’m not so sure about my plan yet, but I did considered whether I should go to Japan next spring during April to see cherry blossom and this! Hopefully April would be a good time to see the monkeys in hot springs.

    • Jenna Kvidt
      Posted at 04:13h, 19 August Reply

      I think April could be a decent time to check them out–we were there at the end of March and there was still quite a bit of snow around! Hopefully next spring is the same and you can get out there to see them!
      Jenna Kvidt recently posted…Robot Restaurant in Tokyo, JapanMy Profile

  • Bobbi Gould
    Twitter:
    Posted at 17:48h, 16 August Reply

    Monkeys are my FAVORITE!! I just found a new bucket list item!! Yes!! How freaking cute are they?! So jealous!!! I have a new reason to go to Japan.
    Bobbi Gould recently posted…My crazy experience at LA TOMATINA!My Profile

  • Dawn Kealing
    Twitter:
    Posted at 23:00h, 16 August Reply

    I have always wanted to meet the monkeys! Monkeys are definitely my favorite wild animal; though, I only like seeing them when they’re in the wild. I think I’d have a hard time, just like you did, when seeing them though. We are quite aware of what happens when animals get so used to humans; though, hopefully these guys will be able to keep enough distance and live their normal lives at the hot springs. 🙂 Your pictures are stunning, such beautiful captures of the little guys! <3
    Dawn Kealing recently posted…Skyfest | Quesnel’s International AirShowMy Profile

    • Jenna Kvidt
      Posted at 04:15h, 19 August Reply

      Thanks, Dawn! They are my favorite too, and I agree with you–I always feel so bad for them locked up because they are so human like. They were pretty fun to observe in the wild though–hopefully they can continue living normally for many years to come!
      Jenna Kvidt recently posted…Robot Restaurant in Tokyo, JapanMy Profile

  • Julia
    Twitter:
    Posted at 05:14h, 20 August Reply

    Wow! Definitely going to have to visit these little guys when I go to Japan. What great pictures.
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  • Laurel
    Twitter:
    Posted at 12:13h, 21 August Reply

    This is on my bucket list! Would love to see snow monkeys!
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  • Natascha from Westwards
    Posted at 07:17h, 28 August Reply

    Nice post and I agree that winter is definitely the best time to visit Jigokudani. Actually the bathing is not a natural behavior. A research project had been launched there in the 1960s and they started to feed the monkeys. As the monkeys had some spare time (they did not need to search for food that much), they started to bath in the hot springs (among other things). Glad, that you liked Japan.
    Natascha from Westwards recently posted…Hiking in the Alps from Chamonix to Nendaz: A variation on the Haute RouteMy Profile

  • Suzette
    Posted at 14:32h, 02 April Reply

    What a place! Similarly, on my trip to Japan I learned that the onsen towns in the mountains have incredible charm. I had such a memorable visit with the snow monkeys when I visited Kyoto in January and I wrote all about it on my blog. Next visit to Japan I hope to make it to Nagano and beyond 🙂

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