Some of Japan’s most photogenic residents, Japanese white macaques spend their days soaking in the natural hot springs of the snowy Japanese Alps near the Nagano Prefecture.
These creatures are most popularly known as snow monkeys.
★ Where to See Snow Monkeys
If you have a chance to spend several days in Japan… You might be looking for some ways to see some of the most famous sights of Japan, such as temples in Asakusa, famous Tsukiji Fishmarket, unique fashion trends in Harajyuku and so on.
Another famous sight of Japan is also the Snow Monkey. The image of these monkeys taking a bath in a natural hot spring is one of the most iconic images of Japan.
《 Where to See Them 》
Most of the zoos in Japan have some types of Saruyama, mountain monkey, so can see them if you go to any zoo in Japan.
However, if you want to see them in the wild, there are very limited locations near Tokyo to see them. If you go up to the Oku Nikko area in Tochigi, you can see them in the wild and so on.
By far the most famous location is Jigokudani Monkey Park in Nagano Prefecture, where the famous images of Snow Monkey were taken.
The Jigokudani Monkey Park offers visitors the unique experience of seeing wild monkeys bathing in a natural hot spring.
Jigokudani, in which the park is located, means “hell valley” and is a common name for Japanese valleys with volcanic activity. Although its landscape is not as dramatic as some of Japan’s other jigokudani valleys, Yamanouchi‘s Jigokudani does produce a few steaming hot springs.
You might not have heard that name but you have probably heard about a place in Nagano where you can see “snow monkeys” (Japanese Macaque) chilling out in an onsen (hot spring).
★ The monkeys can be observed from very close
The Jigokudani Monkey Park is inhabited by Japanese Macaques, which are also known as Snow Monkeys. It is located in the monkey’s natural habitat, in the forests of the Jigokudani valley in Yamanouchi, not far from the onsen towns of Shibu and Yudanaka.
One of the best places to see them is within Jigokudani Monkey Park, the only place in the world where the monkeys can be seen soaking in the hot springs, often surrounded by snow.
Set some 150 miles (240 km) from Tokyo, the park offers an excellent opportunity to observe some of Japan’s most famous wild animals in their natural habitat and also snap some memorable photos.
Although the park is open all year round, the bathing monkeys are particularly photogenic when the area is covered in snow.
There is usually snow in the region from December to March, and the best timing for a visit is January and February. Monkeys enter the bath around the year, but they sometimes need some encouragement to do so by park wardens throwing food into the pool, especially during the warmer seasons of the year.
For the best chance to see the monkeys in the hot springs, plan to visit during the colder, snowier months. While it’s still possible to see them in summer, they don’t enter the pools as frequently during this time (though you might get lucky and spot some newborn baby snow monkeys).
The monkeys live in large social groups, and it can be quite entertaining to watch their interactions. Accustomed to humans, the monkeys can be observed from very close and almost completely ignore their human guests. Naturally, it is prohibited to touch or feed the monkeys.
★ keep in mind that tattoos are …
Most visitors who go to see the snow monkeys also make time for a little hot springs relaxation themselves, sometimes at the nearby Yudanaka Onsen.
When planning a trip to a Japanese onsen such as this one, keep in mind that tattoos are often frowned upon (and sometimes not even allowed) in these facilities.
If you’d like to enjoy this experience but have a large or prominent tattoo, make sure to ask about the establishment’s tattoo policy ahead of time.
You can also consider renting a private bath or covering your tattoo with tape or a sticker.
Below is some information about the park.
★ How to travel between Nagano and Tokyo
Most visitors to Yamanouchi will access the town from Nagano City.
《 How to travel between Nagano and Tokyo 》
🔵 By train
Tokyo and Naganoare connected with each other by the Hokuriku Shinkansen. The one way trip takes 80〜100 minutes, costs about 8,000 yen and is fully covered by the Japan Rail Pass and JR East Nagano Niigata Area Pass. There are multiple trains per hour.
🔵 By bus
Multiple bus companies operate frequent daytime highway buses between Tokyo and Nagano Station. The one way trip takes about 3〜5 hours. Conventional bus companies charge about 4,000 yen while fares by discount bus operators, such as Willer Express start around 2,000 yen one way.
《 From Nagano to Yamanouchi 》
🔵 By train from Nagano
Nagaden (Nagano Electric Railway) operates one to two trains per hour between Nagano (underground Nagaden Nagano Station, next to JR Nagano Station) and Yamanouchi (Yudanaka Station).
About half of the trains are local (70 minutes, 1,160 yen one way, one transfer at Shinshu-Nakano Station along the way) and half are limited express (50 minutes, 1260 yen one way, direct). The trains are not covered by the Japan Rail Pass.
🔵 By express bus from Nagano
Nagaden operates express buses between Nagano (bus stop number 3 at the East Exit of Nagano Station) and Shiga Kogen. There are four buses per day in summer and around ten buses per day in winter.
The buses do not stop in central Yudanaka or Shibu Onsen, but they stop at the Snow Monkey Park bus stop (40 minutes, 1,400 yen one way) from where the Jigokutani Monkey Park can be reached.
In Shiga Kogen, all buses stop at Hasuike (70 minutes, 1,700 yen), and some continue in direction of either Oku Shiga Kogen or Mount Yokoteyama.
🔵 By bus from Kusatsu Onsen
From late April to early November, Yamanouchi and Kusatsu Onsen are connected with each other by hourly bus connections via Mount Shirane where a transfer of buses is required.
The bus ride between Yamanouchi (Yudanaka Station) and Mount Shirane takes 70 minutes and costs 1,650 yen one way, and buses also serve the Snow Monkey Park bus stop.
The ride between Mount Shirane and Kusatsu Onsen takes 30 minutes and costs 1,130 yen. Some of the buses between Mount Shirane and Kusatsu Onsen are operated by JR and are covered by the Japan Rail Pass. All other buses are not covered by the pass.
9:00 to 16:00 (November to March)