Feature: The Snow Monkeys of Jigokudani

Jigokudani Yaenkoen.  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) taking an onsen.   I had often heard about Jidokudani and even driven past the entrance on the way up to Shiga Kogen more than a few times, but until recently I had never actually stopped to check it out.  (I suppose I was always in too much of a rush to get to the snow at Shiga Kogen).  I now wish I had found out about it earlier....

The Jigokudani Yaenkoen park opened in 1964 and since then many thousands of people from around the world have visited the park to observe the lifestyle of the Japanese Macaque.  The Japanese Macaque (Macaca fuscata) is a monkey species native to northern Japan, and is the most northern-living non-human primate, surviving winter temperatures of below -15 °C.  They have brown-gray fur, a red face, hands and bottom, and a short tail - and often seem remarkably human like.

In the wild they spend most of their time in forests and feed on seeds, buds, fruit, invertebrates, berries, leaves, and bark.  The monkeys have a body length ranging from 80 to 95 cm.  The males weigh around 10-14 kg while the females are usually around 5.5 kg.

The park is located in the Yokoyu River valley, which flows down from Shiga Kogen.  At an elevation of 850 meters, the area is called Jigokudani ("Hell's Valley") due to the steep cliffs and hot water steaming out from the earth's surface.  It's also a fairly harsh environment in winter with snow on the ground for a third of the year, but it is also a paradise for the couple of hundred monkeys that live there.  We're lucky too, because we can enter their world and watch them enjoying themselves.  Watching the monkeys play, take a leisurely onsen - or even swim in the onsen - is a lot of fun.  All the time the monkeys basically just ignore their human watchers and just get on with whatever it is they want to be doing. 

If you are in the area, a visit to see the monkeys of Jigokudani is highly recommended.

    How to get there:

Jigokudani is located in Yamanouchi town, at the base of the Shiga Kogen region of Nagano.

By Train:
From JR Tokyo Station, take the JR Shinkansen to Nagano.
From JR Nagano Station, take the Nagano Dentetsu train to Yudanaka.
From Yudanaka, take a bus or taxi to Kanbayashi Onsen.
From there, it's about a 30 minutes walk to the Jigokudani Yaen-koen entrance.

By Car:
Exit the Joshinentsu Highway at the Shinshu Nakano I.C.
Follow Route 292 towards Shiga Kogen.
Before you , you should see a sign for Kanbayashi Onsen the monkey park.  Park your car and then walk to the Jigokudani Yaen-koen entrance (about 30 minutes).

As it takes 30 minutes or so to walk to the entrance, it's recommended that you have at least two hours to enjoy the park.

More info:
Jigokudani is open throughout the year.
Summer (Apr-Oct): 8:30am-5:00pm
Winter (Nov-Mar):
Admission fee:
Adult - 500 yen
Child - 250 yen


Snow Japan would like to thank Jigokudani for use of the above official photos.


SnowJapan member muikabochi posted some great photos of the Snow Monkeys on the site:

More of muikabochi's photos can be found here