Jigokudani Monkey Park in Nagano
Hot springs are relaxing for the mind and body, and we humans love it. But we aren’t the only ones who share such sentiments – the Japanese macaques at the Jigokudani Monkey Park (地獄谷野猿公苑; Jigokudani Yaen Kōen) also love soaking in the onsen (温泉; hot spring) during winter.
See macaques soak in the onsen
Image credit: Daniel Gregoire
The Jigokudani Monkey Park is a conservation hub dedicated to wild Japanese macaques in the mountainous area of Yokoyu valley. Sogo Hara, an avid hiker, opened the park in 1964.
Image credit: Jigokudani Yaen-koen
At the park, you’ll find the iconic sight of macaques soaking in the onsen, with expressions so relaxed that their photographs in the hot spring went wildy viral on the Internet. The hot spring in question is called Kurokukan.
These macaques have come to enjoy the perks of an onsen after copying human behaviour over the years, so perhaps they’ve picked up on our facial expressions as well.
Thanks to the park’s years of behavioural training and habitat conservation, macaques and mankind have achieved peaceful coexistence. As such, you can observe the macaques at a relatively closer distance than in the wild. They won’t attack you unless you intentionally provoke them.
Image credit: 林子渝
However, do note that the macaques typically only enter the hot spring in winter. Thus, you’d need to visit during this season to catch the hot spring monkeys in action.
Japanese macaque during spring
Image credit: Jigokudani Yaen-koen
Nevertheless, the park is open all year round for visitors to observe the Japanese macaques’ behaviour in their natural habitat.
Hike up the hell-like valleys
Image credit: ilovemonika
The Jigokudani Monkey Park experience doesn’t solely entail watching onsen monkeys. There’s also a 1.6km walking trail from the park’s entrance near the Kanbayashi Onsen to the Kurokukan, located 850m above sea level. This will take you approximately 25 minutes to complete.
Along the way, you can gaze upon steep valleys that birthed the name “Jigokudani”, which literally means “Hell’s Valley”. But fear not, as despite its intimidating name, you don’t have to be Bear Grylls to finish the trail. The path is fairly easy to walk on, but just be wary of the final section as it’s slightly steep. Do watch your step in winter as it’s especially slippery.
Join the macaques at Jigokudani Monkey Park
While Jigokudani Monkey Park may be a popular tourist destination for its hot spring monkeys, it is important to know that the park is still a conservation area. Don’t be that tourist who breaks the years of harmony established at the park by not following the park rules. Remember: don’t feed, touch, stare, bring pets in, or use a selfie stick.
Getting there: At the east exit of Nagano Station, take the 41-minute express bus to Shiga Kogen. Alight at Snow Monkey Park. From there, take a 35-minute walk to Jigokudani Monkey Park.
Address: 6845 Hirao, Yamanochi, Shimotakai District, 381-0401 Nagano
Opening hours: 8AM-5PM, Daily (Apr – Oct) | 9AM-4PM, Daily (Nov – Mar)
Admission: ¥800 (~USD7.41) for ages above 18, ¥400 (~USD3.71) for ages between 6 and 17; free for ages below 6.
For more places to see in Japan, check out:
- Monet’s Pond is a beautiful small pond that looks like a classical painting
- The Lockup Tokyo – a prison-themed restaurant
- Goryokaku Park is a star-shaped garden that was once a battle fort
- Book and Bed Tokyo Shinsaibashi lets you sleep overnight within bookshelves
- My Hero Academia Exhibition happening in Tokyo
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