Japanese Snow Monkeys:
Information, Directions, Tours, Maps & Hotels
A visit to the Nagano area would not be complete without seeing the Japanese Snow Monkeys in Jigokudani Monkey Park (地獄谷野猿公苑 Jigokudani Yaen Kōen) in Yamanouchi Town, Nagano Prefecture – near Iiyama and Togakushi. The Monkey Onsen is located in the valley of the Yokoyu River which is part of the Joshinetsu-Kogen National Park. Despite its relatively remote location, roughly 90,000 visitors trek through the woods of Nagano each year to see Jigokudani Wild Monkey Park. Visitors base themselves in nearby Kanbayashi Onsen, Shibu Onsen or Yudanaka Onsen
The large population of wild Japanese snow monkeys go to the valley during the winter foraging elsewhere in the national park during the warmer months. The main onsen bath was constructed specifically for use by the monkeys. The monkeys descend from the steep cliffs and forest to sit in the warm waters of the onsen, and return to the security of the forests in the evenings. The monkeys are all free-ranging; their numbers move in and out of the valley depending on the season. In winter, when food is limited, monkeys congregate in and around the pools for warmth and the daily supply of barley and soybeans. However, they are still sometimes sighted even in the summer as they take occasional baths. Some would say that this is because they are lured by food thrown into the pool by park wardens.
The name Jigokudani, meaning “Hell’s Valley”, is due to the steam and boiling water that bubbles out of small crevices in the frozen ground, surrounded by steep cliffs and dense forest. Jigokudani is as nearly as far north as it gets for monkeys (the furthest extreme being the Shimokita Peninsula at the northern part of the Honshu island). No primate, with the exception of humans, is known to live in a colder climate. And it does get cold here—snow covers the ground for four months of the year, and winter temperatures average 14ºF (-10º).
How did the Japanese snow monkeys start bathing in the onsen?
The story goes that in 1963, a young female monkey clambered into a hot spring to collect soybeans that were floating on the surface of the water. The behavior was copied by others in the troop, and soon it became common for the monkeys to retreat to the hot pools when the harsh winter arrived. Naturally the tourists followed soon after.
Japanese Snow Monkeys: Warnings
Leave any food you may have inside the visitor’s centre. It is also not advisable to carry plastic bags or eat in front of the Japanese snow monkeys. You are also warned not to touch the monkeys nor stare into their eyes. Travel lightly, especially in winter – good shoes/boots and a backpack rather than a suitcase.
|Yudanaka Onsen and Shibu Onsen Weather Forecast|
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Japanese Snow Monkeys Onsen Park: Getting there
Brief directions about how to get to the Japanese Snow Monkeys in Nagano
From Nagano Station to the Japanese Snow Monkeys
There are three options to get from Nagano Station to the snow monkey park:
1. One day Japanese Snow Monkey tour from Nagano - organized by JTB. Ideal for those on a JR Rail Pass. Runs in winter only.
2. Express Bus to Kanbayashi (￥1,300)
Nagaden express buses operates 8+ buses a day during the winter from Nagano Station’s East Exit (see map) up to the Shiga Kogen ski area. They stop at Kanbayashi Onsen (”Kanbayashi Onsen Guchi” stop) which is in the vicinity of the Kanbayashi trailhead.
3. Train to Yudanaka (￥1,130~1,230 yen)
If you want to take a train from JR Nagano Station, take the Nagano Dentetsu limited-express train to Yudanaka 湯田中. Service is more frequent than the above-mentioned express buses, and you can choose between local trains (￥1,130 yen, approx. 1 hour 15 min.) and express trains (45 mins / ￥1,230). A JR Pass cannot be used on this line but a Shinshu Pass is available (see below). Also see the video below for a visual explanation and also how to get to the Japanese Snow Monkeys from Yudanaka Station.
4. Chuo Taxi (from ￥2,722 per person round trip)
Chuo Taxi is offering a new, hassle-free taxi trip to the snow monkey park from Nagano Station. The cost is 17,000 yen for a regular taxi (4~5 people) or 24,500 yen for a jumbo taxi (~9 people) including transportation to Kanbayashi and back, and stand-by time so you can enjoy the monkeys for an hour. Call 026-282-7777 for reservations.
From Yudanaka Station to the monkey park, you can choose from the following:
1. Local Bus (￥210)
Roughly matching up with the train arrivals, local buses connect Yudanaka Station to the Kanbayashi trailhead in a quick 7 minutes.
2. “Holiday Shuttle” (￥800)
Shibu Onsen provides a “Holiday Shuttle” bus from Yudanaka Station directly to the Jigokudani Parking Lot. It is closer to the monkey park entrance than Kanbayashi (15 minutes walk vs. 30 minutes), but is a lot steeper of a walk. Reservations Recommended (tel 0269-33-3600). The Shuttle runs on Saturdays, Sundays and Holidays from December to March, with 6 runs each direction per day.
3. Taxi. From Yudanaka Station take a taxi to the trail head at Kanbayashi Onsen (roughly ￥1,000).
Video for getting to the Japan Snow Monkeys
This video has been recently reclassified as ‘private’. We are endeavouring to locate another source.
Walking to the Japanese Snow Monkeys Hotsprings
From Kanbayashi it’s all on foot, trekking up the snow covered road until a trail breaks off through the trees (see below). For two kilometers the path winds its way through a forest of red pine and Japanese larch until finally arriving at Jigokudani. All up it’s about a thirty minute walk (roughly three kilometers in total) to the Jigokudani Yaen-koen entrance. The admission fee is ￥500 for adults and ￥250 for children.
Nagano Train Pass
Try the new Shinshu Nagano 2-day (consecutive) ‘free area’ pass. For 2,500 yen it will get you from Nagano to Yudanaka, Nozawa and Myoko as well as the bus from the station to Zenkoji Temple. You can also get to Matsudai, Obasute, Shinano, Ueda and Togura. Unfortunately no Hakuba or Matsumoto (although you never want to catch the slow train there anyway).
Onsen for humans!
If you feel like a hot spring dip yourself many of good hotels can be found in the area further down the valley. Fudo-Son no Yu Kotobuki is conveniently located just under the gateway of mountain path to Jigokudani Yaen-koen, whilst dozens of ryokan with hot spring baths are located in and around Yudanaka and Shibu Onsen. There are also several fine public onsen (see Shibu Onsen map here) known as Soto-yu Meguri. Look for the this symbol (right) on maps and signs when seeking onsen.
Check out this onsen page for further details of Nagano onsen
Nearby Shibu Onsen 渋温泉 with its narrow streets offers a particularly nice atmosphere with people strolling in their yukata and wooden geta sandals. Some inns date back sixteen generations and their wooden facades look like they came from a historic period drama. The main Inn “Kanaguya” was one of the models for Studio Ghibli’s award winning Spirited Away. Check the fantastic Shibu Onsen video featuring Kanaguya below to get an idea.
See a Shibu Onsen map
Yudanaka Onsen and Shibu Onsen Hikes
You will find information on many hiking trails in and around Yudanaka and Shibu Onsen here. Places include Shibu-ike (pond), Hyotan-ike, Mt Urashiga (2040m), Shijyuhati Marshlands, Mt Hatchiyama, Mt Shiranesan (2160m) Lake Yugama, Mt. Ainomine, Lake Yumike and Onuma-ike.
|Shimaya Ryokan is our No. 1 accommodation destination in Yudanaka Onsen. It is located in the centre of town and only 8 minutes away from Yudanaka station. When requested, the ryokan will provide ‘on-demand’ free shuttle services to and from the Jigokudani Snow Monkey Park. Read or leave a review of Shimaya Ryokan here. See more Yudanaka Onsen / Snow Monkey accommodation here|
|Yudanaka Seifu-so is a traditional Japanese style guest house located in Yudanaka Onsen. Free breakfast and LAN connections provided. The building was built during the Meiji era (1868-1912) with a traditional inner garden too. All of the 15 guest rooms are Japanese-style rooms with tatami mats. Guests can use the onsen privately upon request (for free). Breakfast is Japanese-style. Dinner is also available and features Japanese specialities made with Shinshu beef and other fresh local products. Meals require an additional fee and advance notice. Free wi-fi available.|
See more Yudanaka Onsen / Snow Monkey accommodation here
|Shibu Onsen Kokuya Inn is a popular historical inn dating back 400 years with friendly hosts located in Shibu Onsen. The Kokuya prides itself on providing a genuine Japanese inn experience. The hotel has five indoor hot springs (onsen) and four open-air baths. Enjoy a hot tub on the balcony too! See more Shibu Onsen / Snow Monkey accommodation here|
|Jinpyokaku Honten is an authentic Japanese inn with a history over 100 years that sits near the entrance to the Jigokudani-koen Monkey Park. It is a very traditional Japanese inn first opened in 1901. Over the years it has played host to a large number of famous writers (inc. Yasunari Kawabata), artists & politicians. Yomiuri Travel rated this inn a member of the “100 real hot-springs” in Japan in 2004. See more Kanbayashi Onsen / Snow Monkey accommodation here|