When you think of images of Japan, some of you might think of a picture of monkeys soaking and warming themselves in a hot spring under heavy snow. They are monkeys at Jigokudani (Hell Valley) Hot Spring deep in the mountains of Nagano Prefecture. Now it is only 90 minutes to Nagano once you hop onto a bullet train from Tokyo Station.
Snow Monkeys simple guide
How to get there from Nagano Station
There are a few ways to get to Snow Monkey Park using public transportation, but the easiest way is to take a direct bus from the East Exit of Nagano Station. It costs ¥1,500 one way and takes about 40 minutes. There are only a few buses running every day, so please plan your trip carefully.
Then, you must walk about 40 minutes of the mountain pass to get to where the monkeys are. There are some slopes at the beginning and at the end of the walk, but otherwise, it is flat and an easy walk.
The park is open all throughout the year. However, please prepare for rain and cold weather (shoes for heavy snow may be essential). From April to October, the Park is open from 8:30 to 17:00. From November to March opening time is 9:00 to 16:00. It costs 800 yen to enter and 400 yen for a child.
Tips to see monkeys at Jigokudani
There are some days monkeys may not come down from the mountain, especially during the mating season between autumn and winter. It is wise to check the live camera on the site beforehand. There are about 160 monkeys and the numbers are increasing.
It is not that monkeys are coming down to take bath every day. They come down because they are fed there. They are fed barley, soya bean, and apples three to four times a day, and that is why all the monkeys are rather chubby. They often drink hot spring waters, but unless it is freezing cold, they will not necessarily dive into the hot spring pool. And I have been told there are many who would never go in.
There is only one inn (Korakukan) at Jigokudani Onsen, and it is usually possible to use their hot spring bath as a visitor, but it is about 100 meters away from where monkeys bathe. (As of fall 2020, it is closed because of coronavirus.)
Where you get off and get on the bus, there is another, more popular onsen resort called Kanbayashi Onsen. There are several inns over there if you would like to relax overnight. There is one onsen venue called ‘waku waku no yu’ 10 minutes’ walk down the road, you can take a bath there as a visitor if you have time to spare before your bus.
There are not many places to dine, but one place I particularly recommend is Farm House, only a minutes’ walk from the bus stop. The restaurant is run by a local sake and beer maker, but the building used to be a famous politician’s mansion. Nice atmosphere and service will make a memorable ending on your visit to see snow monkeys.
Snow Monkeys might not be a great enough reason to visit all the way especially when the weather is bad and not many monkeys are around. In Nagano, where they hosted the Winter Olympics in 1998, they have Zenkoji Temple. It is an old temple, and the Japanese say we cannot die without seeing Zenkoji.
And if you take a train to Matsumoto (1 hour) in the southwest’s wards, there is Matsumoto Castle. It is one of the most authentic castles remaining in Japan, so if you are a castle fan, do not miss it. Matsumoto is also a good starting point to explore the Japanese Alps, and there are many skiing resorts around.
Kamikochi is known for its beauty all throughout the year and Kurobe-Alpine Route offers you beautiful scenery of the Japanese Alps. Or, if you go up north for another one hour on a bullet train from Nagano, you can reach a beautiful old city of Kanazawa facing the Sea of Japan.
Jigokudani Monkey Park
Address: 6845 Hirao, Yamanochi, Shimotakai District, Nagano 381-0401, Japan (map)
Hours: Monday – Sunday 9AM–4PM
Contact us : firstname.lastname@example.org