One of the premier tourist attractions in Japan during winter would be heading to Nagano to spot the gorgeous ‘Snow Monkeys’ soaking in an onsen in all their bare red-faced, furry skinned glory. The Snow Monkeys, or more rightfully referred to as wild Japanese macaques, offer a unique animal viewing experience that can be enjoyed by anyone and everyone.
Located in the Jigokudani Monkey Park (Jigokudani Yaen Koen), this home of the monkeys was originally established as a conservation area to save the monkeys from their habitat being destroyed. Whilst going from completely wild to living within a perimeter took some time, they’re now right at home, taking daily soaks in the man-made onsen and almost completely oblivious to the people who come to visit them daily.
Most people actually have tunnel-vision when visiting the Snow Monkeys and plan only for a visit to the park, however, it’s actually located close to the onsen towns of Shiba and Yudanaka. A ryokan stay in the countryside plus a visit to see the native Japanese macaques? Sounds like a dream! Check out our Ryokan recommendation at the end of the article but first, let’s discover when we can see the snow monkeys in Japan.
Best Time to See the Snow Monkeys in Japan
The Jigokudani Monkey Park is actually opened all year around, so anytime would be a good time to give these cheeky monkeys a little visit. During spring, you might get lucky to witness some adorable newborns in the park. In summer, the surroundings are full of luscious greenery, making for some gorgeous pictures. In Autumn, the koyo makes for an epic backdrop.
However, if you’re looking for the ultimate period to visit the park, then winter is prime time. It really can’t get much better than hiking for 20-30 minutes through the gorgeous winter scenery, to be met with a wide-open onsen with steaming hot water, filled with gorgeous Japanese macaques for you to observe and fawn over. With white snow clinging onto the surrounding rocks and distant mountains, steam rising from the waters, and bright red faces peering out from the water’s surface, you’ll be witnessing an image straight out of National Geographic.
Where to See the Snow Monkeys in Japan
Jigokudani Monkey Park
Obviously (as we’ve pointed out earlier) the easiest and most popular area to visit the Snow Monkeys is at the Jigokudani Monkey Park located in Nagano. Expect there to be immense crowds here during winter. If you’re looking to view them in solitude, we recommend heading there as soon as the park opens to try and get maybe an hour or two of silence before people start arriving.
If you don’t want to have to plan your way to and from the Snow Monkey Park and also want to make the most of your day, why not try and organised tour? GoVoyajin currently have this cool 1-day tour which includes a visit to the Snow Monkey Park, the nearby historic Zenkoji Temple, and lunch at one of Nagano’s best restaurants as well as a sake tasting experience. It’s tipped as one of the more exciting Snow Monkey Park tours, and because it involves such a variety of different activities, you’ll never get bored.
Interested? Check out more information on the tour here.
If you decide to go to Jigokudani Monkey Park on your own, please find below some useful info.
- Address: Japan, 〒381-0401 Nagano, Shimotakai District, Yamanochi, Hirao
- Access: From Nagano Station, take the bus to Kanbayashi Onsen. This will take 40-minutes and cost 1,500 yen. From the onsen bus stop, it will take 30-40 minutes to walk to the park. If you are visiting outside of winter, you can drive and park at the paid parking lot nearby, and walk to the monkey park in just 10-15 minutes.
- Hours: 9:00am – 4:00pm
- Price: Adult: 800 yen, Child: 400 yen
Yunokawa Onsen, Hakodate
If you’re going to be up north in Hokkaido during winter and can’t fathom the travel to central Japan for the Snow Monkeys, you can also see them in Hakodate. During winter, the snow monkeys can be seen soaking in a man-made hot spring in Hakodate’s popular hot spring resort of Yunokawa.
- Address: Yunokawacho, Hakodate, Hokkaido
- Hours: 9:30am – 4:30pm
- Price: 300 yen
There are several other places you can visit to attempt to see them in the actual wild, however, these places are few and far between, do not guarantee a sighting, and are difficult to get to. They include the Oku Nikko area in Tochigi.
Where To Stay near the Japanese Snow Monkeys
If you’re super keen and want to stay at an accommodation that is close by to the attraction, we’ve listed below two options that are comfortable and convenient.
This gorgeous, unassuming ryokan is situated in the heart of the stunning Shiba Onsen town. It’s one of the premiere ryokans within this town, offering only the best of the best amenities and features all the necessities to make your stay as comfortable and enjoyable as it can be. It offers a free shuttle to and forth from Yudanaka Station, a whopping nine different indoor and outdoor spacious hot-spring baths, on-site premium dining options, and certain rooms that boast private onsen baths.
Why Guests Love It: Excellent staff who go beyond their duty of care to make sure your stay is comfortable. The private onsen is a must!! Make sure you also try the different onsens on the property, they’re all fantastic.
Book It Now: Shibu Onsen KOKUYA
Yudanaka ryokan is a more affordable option than the aforementioned, however, don’t be fooled into thinking it’s of any lower standard. It’s actually one of the best sellers in Yamanouchi! Located literally a stone throw away from the station (3-minutes walk!), it’s got everything you need to ensure your stay away from urban Japan is relaxing, intimate, and uniquely Japanese. Each guestroom is fitted with a tatami mat and warm and fluffy futons.
There’s a variety of healing public onsens to soak in, or else you can take advantage of their sauna or hot tub anytime of the day. There’s even an entertainment games room and a karaoke section. And guess what? They even offer free transfers to the Snow Monkey Park! How good is that.
Why Guests Love It: The incredible views of the rolling hills and the mountains surrounding the beautiful town is amazing. Best thing about this hotel is the affordable price and convenient location.
Book It Now: Hotel Yudanaka
If you are given the chance, we highly recommend making the effort to witness these adorable wild Japanese Snow Monkeys in person. Seeing their gorgeous faces in pictures highlighted against the white snow is one thing, but being able to experience seeing them live and within reaching distance to you (but please remember it is prohibited to touch them!) is something else. It’s a phenomenon that’s distinct to Japan’s winter, so try and fit it in as you’ll never know when you might be able to see it ever again.