21
Apr-2017

A Guide To Visiting the Jigokudani Snow Monkey Park in Winter

Japan, Snow   /  

 

CHEEKY MONKEYS

 

He stuck his tongue out at me.

Right there, staring straight into my camera lens, this Japanese macaque had the audacity to poke out his tongue!

The cheek.

Japanese macaque at the Jigokudani Snow Monkey Park in winter

 

John and I couldn’t help but giggle.

Visiting Japan’s Jigokudani Snow Monkey Park in winter had been high on our bucket list and here we were, right amongst them all in their natural habitat; snow monkeys to our right, to our left and everywhere in between.

SO MANY FLUFFY MONKEYS.

Their furry little coats and hoods looked so snug around their faces, while their scarily human-like fingers and toes had me contemplating the incredible mysteries of both creation and evolution.

 

A baby snow monkey at the Jigokudani Snow Monkey Park in winter

 

Suddenly, there was a hideous screeching sound and I turned to see an adult monkey suddenly plunge onto the back of another, claws digging into his back.

The monkey under attack snarled, baring his ugly yellow teeth. So much for being cute…

 

Japanese snow monkeys fighting

 

The two monkeys screamed at each other while the defendant tried to shake off his enemy. But the aggressor had him pinned down to the snow.

I imagined the aggressor whispering something into his victim’s ear along the lines of,

“If you ever come near my missus and my kids again, I will end you.”

Or maybe,

This is what you get when you steal my food.”

Whatever it was, the message was effectively delivered as the macaques eventually retreated from one another.

Just another day at the Jigokudani Snow Monkey Park in Japan.

 

A baby snow monkey stares with its mouth open

 

John and I had travelled by bullet train – shinkansen – to the Nagano prefecture, about 226 kilometres away from Tokyo, to get to the Jigokudani Snow Monkey Park.

We were in the heart of Japan and being late January, we had entered a winter wonderland.

We chose to DIY our trip rather than take a tour, which saved us a little money, although it meant more planning.

I can wholeheartedly say it was one of the best experiences of my life and worth every second.

 

JOURNEY INTO THE SNOW MONKEY PARK

 

Signage to the Snow Monkey Park

 

The track into the park was icy and slippery; at times I wondered if we were ever going to actually reach the entrance.

There’s a 1.6km walk into the main park area. It hadn’t seemed like a big deal initially, but when you’re trudging through snow and ice, the distance suddenly seemed like a marathon.

People of all ages were walking the track, from young children to older men and women, with varying levels of fitness and preparedness, judging by the number of high heels and ballet flats I saw.

Even those in sturdy shoes were not immune to stepping on a smooth piece of ice – some only skidding before correcting their balance, others falling over in dramatic fashions, dignity lost.

At the entrance, there was quite a crowd waiting to get in and we wondered if we would see much. 

We didn’t have anything to worry about.

We were greeted by dozens of furry little creatures, big and small, individuals and in groups, scattered everywhere, next to the hot springs, in the hot springs, in the river, on the track, tumbling down from rocky hill faces and just chilling in trees.

 

A mother snow monkey grooms her child

 

The monkeys spent a lot of time foraging for food, their creepy little fingers pulling up blocks of snow and ice to find what might be underneath.

 

Close up of snow monkey hands

 

Other monkeys snuggled up to each other to stay warm. 

 

Snow monkeys in a group hug in Japan

 

Most of the time, the monkeys groomed one another.

 

A snow monkey carefully grooms another macaque

 

But by far the cutest scenes were of the baby snow monkeys.

Some of them would huddle into the warmth of their mum, while others stayed warm in the natural hot springs. Occasionally they’d sit out and cool off, their fur damp from the steam.

 

Baby snow monkey at the Jigokudani Snow Monkey Park in winter

 

A baby snow monkey cools off from the onsen

 

And then, out of nowhere, a monkey would suddenly leap metres across the pool and start chasing another macaque, who’d somehow pissed it off.

Nearby tourists would scream and scatter, fearing a monkey attack would put an end to their day trip.

 

 

THE JAPANESE MACAQUES & THEIR HOME

 

The Japanese macaques are indigenous to Japan. They are covered with a furry coat to help them survive during the winter months. They often sit in or hang around by the natural hot springs to stay warm in the harsh winters.

 

Snow monkey drinking from the hot spring

 

The Jigokudani Snow Monkey Park is their natural habitat. It’s not a zoo – no one owns the animals and there are no fences blocking them from humans. They don’t do tricks and they’re not forced to interact with tourists.

Sometimes, the monkeys roam over to the nearby ryokan and have been known to join humans in their onsen!

Park staff feed some barley to the macaques, as during the winter time there is little food around other than tree bark and winter buds. In the warmer months, the monkeys search the mountain for wild vegetables, nuts, flowers and fruits.

Visitors are not allowed to touch the monkeys and definitely not allowed to feed them anything.

In fact, John’s half-eaten apple was nearly confiscated prior to entering and we were warned a monkey would attack and steal it from him if he was holding it in the park.

 

BREAKING RULES…OR SAVING A MONKEY?

 

As we walked back along the track, we noticed one monkey had plastic in his mouth. He had obviously tried to get into the remaining crumbs inside a muesli bar wrapper.

 

A snow monkey tries to eat some plastic rubbish

 

We don’t like seeing animals with plastic rubbish in their mouths. As scuba divers, we are saddened by the number of marine creatures and birds which die after ingesting plastic.

But if we had tried to take the plastic directly off the monkey, it probably would have attacked us. We decided to give the monkey some leftover apple in exchange for the rubbish.

Yes, yes, I know we were not allowed to feed the monkeys, although this was outside the park area and on the main access track. In our opinion, fruit was far better than plastic.

The macaque took the plastic wrapper out of its mouth and grabbed the apple to eat instead.

 

A snow monkey takes a piece of apple handed to him

 

Maybe the monkey was smart enough not to eat any plastic. But we made a judgement call that apple was a far better option than a monkey ingesting plastic.

What would you have done?

 

TIPS FOR VISITING THE JIGOKUDANI SNOW MONKEY PARK IN WINTER

 

In winter, the track can be very slippery. You’ll need to wear sturdy and grippy shoes so you don’t skid. The walk is doable for all ages, but you will need to take your time and be prepared to walk for about 30-40 minutes before getting to the park entrance.

Be sure to dress warmly. The best option is to wear layers which you can take off if you get hot walking.

Don’t pat the monkeys. A guard will yell out to you if you try to do this.

Monkeys can attack. Keep a safe distance and don’t get between a mother and her baby, or between two fighting monkeys!

Two snow monkeys fight while a young one watches on

 

HOW TO GET TO THE JIGOKUDANI SNOW MONKEY PARK FROM TOKYO

 

While there are many tour companies who can take you to the snow monkey park, we decided to it ourselves.

We had to get from Tokyo to Nagano – approximately 226km, but just over an hour on the bullet train.

Here’s what we did:

*Took a train to Ueno Station, one of the stations where you catch the shinkansen to Nagano.

*We purchased tickets on the day, but had some difficulties due to our limited Japanese and the kiosk manager’s limited English.

*You can choose an unreserved or reserved spot on the shinkansen. A reserved spot means you get a designated seat, but an unreserved ticket means it is first-in-first-served for seats in the main carriage. If you miss out on a seat, you’ll have to stand in the aisle until one becomes available. We had a reserved ticket on our way to Nagano, but unreserved on the way home. After walking in the snow all day, standing in an aisle for 80 minutes was not much fun!

*From Nagano, there are many people who can help direct you to get to the Snow Monkey Park. This website provides details of the different options.

*We took a bus from Nagano to the start of the Snow Monkey Park at Kanbanyashi. We purchased a ticket from Nagano station that also included the entrance fee to the park.

*Once we arrived at Kanbanyashi, we still had to walk a little further to get to the trail entrance. Along this street are ryokan and small shops, with a souvenir store at the very entrance to the trail. This is the last shop you will have access to, so if you need something to drink or to hire better shoes, now’s the time to do it.

*From the entrance of the Park, it’s a 1.6km walk. In winter, the track is covered in snow and ice which made it very slippery. Take your time and watch out for icy patches.

*If you prepaid for your ticket, you can go through a fast line at the park entrance, otherwise you’ll need to wait in the queue. Our one-day pass (which was included the bus tickets) cost ¥3,200 each.

*Give yourself several hours to spend time with the monkeys. Watch out for slippery spots and hold on to the rails when going up and down the stairs.

*Make sure you have had something to eat prior to entering the park as there is nowhere to purchase food until you are back out of the park.

WHAT TO WEAR TO THE JIGOKUDANI SNOW MONKEY PARK IN WINTER

 

  • Here’s what we wore to stay warm:
    • Fleece lined leggings/warm trousers 
    • Waterproof sturdy snow boots 
    • Merino wool socks
    • Thermal tops (1 x base layer, 1 x mid layer)
    • Waterproof jacket (we wore our ski and snowboard jackets)
    • Warm hat
    • Woolen scarf (merino wool is lightweight and warm)
    • Waterproof Gloves
  • Other items to bring:
    • Camera: we used our Nikon D7200 and 70-300mm Tamron lens
    • Waterproof camera bag
    • Bottled water
    • A sealed snack once you have left the park – DO NOT EAT INSIDE THE PARK OR A MONKEY WILL PINCH IT!
    • Japanese yen for tickets and food
    • Lip balm to protect against the cold

 


DISCUSS: Have you ever been to a snow monkey park? What do you think about these cheeky monkeys?

 

Everything you need to know about visiting the Jigokudani Snow Monkey Park in Japan + what to wear in winter!

Oregon Girl Around the World

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  • Ah, they are tooo precious and your photos are absolutely stunning!! We had plans to see them (just got back from Japan last week), but the snow had melted and it was more ‘muddy’ so we thought the magic was a bit lost and went chasing cherry blossoms instead!! Good on you for swapping the apple for the plastic! Sometimes rules are meant to be broken for the better!

    • They are precious aren’t they! Thanks for your kind words. To be honest I would love to go back and see them at any time of year! It would make the walk into the park easier if it wasn’t covered in snow. But I would also love to see the cherry blossoms in Japan too so hopefully one day we can see them, and you can see the monkeys in winter!

  • megan_claire

    OMG this is my DREAM! Amazing photos guys! I LOVE that the Jigokudani Snow Monkey Park is their natural habitat and is not a zoo – we’re massive wildlife fans, and it’s only rewarding if you know it’s an authentic experience. So sad to hear that there is plastic available for them to obtain – I would have done exactly the same thing as you, I think you handled that really well. AWESOME photos!!

    • Yes us too – really amazing to see them out in the wild. It was our dream to see them and it ticked all expectations and more! It was surreal being there after wanting to go for so long. Just incredible to spend time with them. I don’t know where the plastic came from because usually Japan is such a clean place, but I guess it would be hard in such a busy tourist area to keep everything super clean.

  • Kelly Ann Duhigg

    Oh those cheeky monkeys. I love monkeys but was a little scared by them when I saw them in China. I would not want to mess with an angry monkey but am so glad that you got to visit the park and take such great pictures. Even if the monkeys look like they’re killing each other. 🙂

    • No I wouldn’t want to mess with an angry one either! The babies were cute and relatively non threatening but those adults did scare me a little when they went a bit crazy! Such a great experience though.

  • This looks like my kind of place. Even though I come from India where monkeys are pretty much everywhere, they are cute – aren’t they. Love the cheeky furry monkey pictures. Which camera did you use?

    • They were so cute with their furry hoods and coats! So fluffy, very cool to see them in this habitat. We use a Nikon D7200 and Tamron 70-300mm lens.

  • Amazing photographs! Monkeys are really…..intense and creep me out a bit (due to a past monkey attack, go figure – so rational fear I suppose) and I failed to visit this spot during my trip to Japan. But, wow, pretty fascinating stuff and again, amazing pictures!

    • Thanks Sarah! Yes fair enough, I would be scared if a monkey had attacked me too! But we are still glad we went, it was a pretty amazing experience to see them so close.

  • Efthimis Kragaris

    I love your narrative! I don’t think that I would have given an apple to the macaque but congrats because it seemed like the right choice! This is definitely a dream trip for me!

    • Thank you! Yes it may not have been what everyone would do but it’s not fair seeing animals with plastic in their mouths. But other than that, it was definitely a dream trip for us!

  • Silvia Galván Peña

    I like the sounds of this place! We are actually headed to Japan in November, so might added it to the list… although not sure whether it’d be the same not visiting in winter… And good thinking with the apple! I think it was the right thing to do! 😉

    • Oh you should definitely go! I would go again even if it wasn’t in winter, because they monkeys are still absolutely fascinating to see and observe. The area is really beautiful too, it’s nice to get into a smaller more remote part of Japan and the scenery is really stunning. I’d definitely recommend it!

  • Milijana

    The monkeys look so fluffy. I especially like the first photo of the cheeky monkey and the photos of monkeys warming each other. Although they can attack the visitors and be nasty a bit, I believe the visitors forgive them easily because of their cuteness !

    • I know, they were so cute when they all huddled up together! I didn’t want to get too close to some of the adults, but yes, their cuteness makes it easy to forget they are still wild animals.

  • Never knew there’s a thing called snow monkey! They look adorable! I know they’re not the cuddly type, but I’d love to see them in person!

    • Oh they were just amazing to see in person! Especially with their fluffy coats and hoods, very cute. Totally recommend a visit, they were so awesome to observe!

  • I love your opening shot! He looks like such a playful fella! And good job they’re all wrapped up warm in all the fur, it looks mighty cold there! I’d love to visit them!

    • Thanks! Yep it was pretty freezing so just as well they have some hot pools and fluffy coats to help them survive! Winters are very harsh especially when there is not much food, which is why these monkeys have developed the extra fur to keep them warm.

  • What a fun experience. I could watch monkeys pick at each other’s fur all day. The eyes of these monkeys just pulled me in. Fun post!

    • It was super fun! So cute watching how dexterous they grooming each other. Very cute and absolutely fascinating. Glad you enjoyed it! Thanks for stopping by!

  • Thanks so much Sam, we love the cheeky photo too! Exactly our thoughts – plastic and critters definitely don’t go well together.

  • When they get angry, they really look quite scary! But most of the time they were pretty placid. A great place to visit!

  • I think we were more excited than some of the children to be there! Really a wonderful experience. Thanks for your comments.

  • Jenna

    Great photos–I love the first one with the monkey sticking his tongue out, lol! We visited the Snow Monkey Park in late spring and really enjoyed our visit. It would have been great to see it with more snow in the area though! Great tips for visiting the park!

    • Thanks! We were so happy with our photos of our day trip. I think it would have been just as awesome in the springtime! But the snow does make it look pretty 🙂

  • Whoa! Such clarity! What camera do you use?
    The first pic is like the 😛 emoji. Lolz… Indeed such.
    The snuggled monkeys look so adorable but not as much as those baby monkeys!!!!!
    I’ve never walked 1.6km in snow, so I don’t know how that feels like!

    • Thanks! We used our Nikon D7200 and Tamron 70-300mm lens on this day. They were so cute all snuggled up, but yes, can’t beat the cuteness of the babies!

  • Zinara

    Oh my god! This is the cutest post I’ve come across. I love all your pictures but the first picture of a Japanese macaque poking his tongue out was the best of all. The baby monkeys are so cute and adorable :3 Your pictures are brilliant! Can I ask you what camera you use and how you edit your pictures if you don’t mind?

    • Oh thanks! We were so happy with our photos of the day. We use a Nikon D7200 and Tamron 70-300mm lens. We just do some basic Lightroom edits (we shoot in RAW) to lighten shadows and tone down highlights, increase whites and bring down blacks. That’s our standard photo edit for RAW photos.

  • It’s always a great experience to see animals in their natural habitat! I think I might be a bit jealous. 😉 Also, you did the right thing with the monkey and an apple – much better than it munching on plastic and risking some serious health problems. I hope it was only an accident and that it’s not a usual thing to have trash lying around for them to pick up. 🙂

    • Honestly, it was such a great experience to see them in the wild and get so close to them, highly recommend it! Glad you agree the apple was better than plastic. I’m sure it was only an accident as Japan is usually a very clean place.

  • This slightly reminds me of our trip to Zhangjiajie and seeing all the monkeys in the snow, it was so much fun! Although today my wife did get attacked twice off monkeys at Batu caves in Kuala Lumpur, they’re very cheeky!

    • How awesome! They are such incredible creatures – but not when they get attacked! Can’t believe you had monkeys try and attack you…that’s insane!

  • These monkeys are so adorable!! I love how energetic they are! It’s so cute that they act a lot like humans sometimes!

  • I’ve seen all your super detailed snow monkey images on Instagram it’s good to read a little more about them! What would I do about the plastic situation? After reading what you did, I think I’d do exactly the same, a nutritious apple is 1000 times better than licking crumbs off a piece of plastic which it could have eaten. I would definitely take the bullet train from Tokyo like you did and prepare well for the walk to the entrance.

    • Glad we could provide a good story to match the photos on our IG page! The bullet train was an adventure in itself, definitely a great experience!

  • Marissa Abao

    I would like to visit this place too because these monkeys look nice and calm. I have seen photos and videos of aggressive monkeys in Thailand. The place looks awesome too. The monkeys here like the environment and it is suitable for them.

    Iza c/o Kathy James (Walk About Wanderer)

    • Most of the the monkeys were calm except the odd one who started screeching at another! But mostly cute and quite placid, just doing their own thing without worrying about the humans nearby.

  • This is so interesting that these monkeys are able to thrive in the winter. We’ve been to the Sacred Monkey Forest in Bali but this one is a different kind of experience. I really enjoyed watching that video, too.

    • Oh wow that would have been pretty cool in Bali – but yes different experiences. We have never been to any monkey parks or forests before so it was a new experience for us – and one we’ll remember for a long time to come.

  • I loved Jigokudani Park. Those monkeys are such an interesting cute creatures! Thanks for evoking some really great memories! #FarawayFiles

  • Ravenous Travellers

    Firstly – your pictures are incredible!! Love the close up shots of the monkeys, it’s almost as if they are posing for you! we’ve always wanted to see Jigokudani Snow Monkeys up close. Totally agree about the plastic too, definitely better for them to be munching on apple!

  • Your pictures are so adorable and the text is so funny how it went from cute and cuddly to crazy and mean in five seconds haha Pinned this! #FarawayFiles

  • My kids would LOVE this. What an amazing experience. It’s crazy that you can get so close to them! Beautiful images and great tips. Thanks for sharing – cheers from Copenhagen (where the only monkeys are my own!) #FarawayFiles

  • travellingslacker

    Wow the monkeys are so expressive! Great closeups of them. I always find it hard to capture animal faces. ALso, thanks for such a detailed and practical guide for visiting the park.

  • How cute are those monkeys, especially the babies – the teeth baring a bit less so but it’s amazing to be able to see them in their natural habitat. Clever creatures to love next to the hot springs, fur coats or not. Useful to know about the walk too. #farawayfiles

  • Untold Morsels

    Those snow monkeys seem to love the camera more than the Kardashians! There is so many unique things to do in Japan – top of my wishlist! Thanks for sharing on #FarawayFiles

  • They are soooo cute and fuzzy! And I love your beautiful photos. Thanks for sharing this! #FarawayFiles

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