Monkey madness at Jigokudani Monkey Park, Nagano

Beyond the regular Tokyo-Kyoto-Hiroshima tourist route there is much to explore, and Jigokudani monkey park is one of those little gems that may not be part of the regular line-up of things to do in Japan. Yet only a 90 minute Shinkansen ride to the north west of Tokyo lies Nagano, a city of two million, which is often overlooked by tourists. But, my Japanese friend had other plans for us; we would not be part of the tourist crowd disconnected from real life Japan and its many oddities and quirks. So she introduced us to some monkey business.

Jigokudani valley and Yokoyu river

Jigokudani monkey park

Watch out for cheeky monkeys. Literally.

Just a two kilometre walk on a gravel and dirt foot path through the forest lies Jigokudani Monkey Park. On a very crisp spring morning in late March, we found ourselves scrambling over the icy patches, trying to avoid the muddy bits. Why hadn’t anyone told us it would still be that cold? We were eager to get our minds off the biting wind chill by means of snow monkeys doing a very Japanese thing: enjoying a good onsen.

Monkey peeking out of the hot pool

Monkey peeking out of the hot pool

Yes, bathing monkeys. Apparently it is not just humans that saw the benefit and enjoyment of all those naturally occurring hot springs in Japan; our furry little distant relatives did, too, en masse. Every morning, a population of over 200 wild Japanese macaques descend on the valley of the Yokoyu river, in search of a delightful spa experience.

And so here we were, having paid our small entrance fee, when it appeared… the first monkey. No doubt a narcissist, knowing that visitors would be swooning all over him with their cameras and iPads so close to the entrance. Such a poser.

Looking for something?

Looking for something?

A few dozen metres further, his best mate reminded our Japanese friend of why it were in fact a good idea to peruse the lockers at the entrance, by trying to snatch her rustling, colourful plastic bag. The monkey was quite serious about it, too, considering the speed at which he charged at her, and his very vocal disappointment when she ripped it away from him whilst reprimanding him in Japanese. Cheeky bugger.

Getting up close and personal with a monkey - they don't seem to mind!

Getting up close and personal with a snow monkey – they don’t seem to mind!

Monkeys sunbathing

Sunbathing at Jigokudani monkey park

A little further down we cross the stream over to the hot pool area. Oh yes, the monkeys got it all, even proper pools. And this is where a nature documentary just unfolds in front of your eyes. Monkeys around you, left, right and centre, jumping around playing on the boulders, hopping in and out of the pools, or being completely still, soaking in the hot pools, minding their own business.

I think he's enjoying his onsen

I think he’s enjoying his onsen

It gets even better though. As if having a secluded valley with hot pools wasn’t enough, monkeys even get their snacks served whilst enjoying a good soak. Thanks to very caring park rangers, once in a while it rains cereals. It’s basically the monkey equivalent of having a champagne bubble bath.

Picking food out of the pool

Picking food out of the pool

Bathing and eating - my favourite things!

Bathing and eating – my favourite things!

Jigokudani monkey park: the practical stuff:

  • Wear sturdy footwear on the path leading to Jigokudani monkey park. It can be very muddy or icy, or both, and you don’t want to embarrass yourself by slipping in front of our distant relatives.
  • If you visit in the winter months, make sure you are dressed for very cold weather. There is no place to properly warm up in the vicinity, so bring your gloves, hat and scarf!
  • Don’t carry food, even in a plastic bag unless you really want to lose it. It will be snatched away from you!
  • There is a small entrance fee of 500 Yen.
  • Opening hours are from 9am to 4pm in the winter (Nov-Mar), and 8.30am to 5pm in the summer (Apr-Oct).

Have you ever had a close encounter with a wild monkey?

Christina

About the author: Christina Hegele runs Sandal Road, a blog on her favourite destinations. It just so happened that 95% turned out to be about New Zealand. Follow Christina and her blog on Twitter, like her blog on Facebook, and subscribe to her Youtube channel. Alternatively, subscribe to her email newsletter at the top right of this blog.

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  1 comment for “Monkey madness at Jigokudani Monkey Park, Nagano

  1. 20 August, 2013 at 19:23

    Great to get an email alert for a new post from my subscription I have to your site, Christina! I figured you were off to some new wonderful place. It’s amazing you were able to get that close to the monkeys and your photos are AWESOME!! I’ve seen shows on tv where they caution about doing this. I can see the park is very open to the tourists and they seemed to be very relaxed in your presence :) Looking forward to your next writing! :)

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