One of the premier tourist attractions in Japan during winter is Nagano. Spot the ‘Snow Monkeys’ soaking in an onsen in all their bare, red-faced, fuzzy-headed glory. The Snow Monkeys, more rightfully referred to as wild Japanese macaques, offer a unique animal viewing experience that can be enjoyed by anyone and everyone.
The Jigokudani Monkey Park (Jigokudani Yaen Koen) was originally established as a conservation area to save the monkeys from the effects of habitat destruction. their habitat being destroyed. It took some time for the primates to adjust to living within the perimeter. But, now they feel right at home, taking daily soaks in the man-made onsen, almost completely oblivious to the people visiting them daily.
Most people have tunnel vision for these critters and plan only for a visit to the park. You’ll be glad to know that the reserve is actually located close to some nice human onsen towns!
Best Time to See the Snow Monkeys in Japan
The Jigokudani Monkey Park is actually open all year round, so any time 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, luscious greenery serves as the backdrop for some stunning photo ops. In Autumn, the vibrant changing koyo leaves are just as impressive.
However, as you can guess from the name, winter is prime time in this region. Hiking for 20-30 minutes through the gorgeous winter scenery meets visitors with a wide-open onsen with steaming hot water, and families of Japanese macaques luxuriating inside. 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 immense crowds here during winter. We recommend heading there as soon as the park opens to try and get maybe an hour or two of silence before people arrive.
Make the most of your day with an organized tour. GoVoyajin currently offers a 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. Adults can even enjoy a sake-tasting experience. This is one of the area’s most exciting and fast-paced Snow Monkey Park tours, sure to keep you warm and running. 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, here’s what to know:
- 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 will be visiting one of the many snow events in Hokkaido during winter, you can also see them in Hakodate. Snow monkeys can be seen soaking in a man-made hot spring in Hakodate’s popular hot spring resort, Yunokawa.
- Address: Yunokawacho, Hakodate, Hokkaido
- Hours: 9:30am – 4:30pm
- Price: 300 yen
Although it is also possible to catch a glimpse of these monkeys in the wild, there’s no guarantee you will. If you want to venture out on your own, try the Oku Nikko area in Tochigi.
Where To Stay near the Japanese Snow Monkeys
If you need accommodations close to the action, we’ve listed 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 in town, offering only the best of the best amenities. Kokuya features all the necessities to make your stay as comfortable and enjoyable as possible. It offers a free shuttle to and forth from Yudanaka Station, plus nine different indoor and outdoor hot-spring baths. Kokuya has on-site premium dining options, and certain rooms even have private onsen ensuite.
Why Guests Love It: Excellent staff go beyond to ensure your stay is comfortable. The private onsen is a must, but make sure you also try the different on-site baths, as they’re all fantastic.
Book It Now: Shibu Onsen KOKUYA
Yudanaka is a more affordable option but don’t be fooled into thinking it’s any lower standard. This is actually one of the best sellers in Yamanouchi! Located a stone’s throw away from the station (a 3-minute walk), Hotel Yudanaka has everything you need for a relaxing and uniquely Japanese. Each guestroom has tatami mats and warm, fluffy futons.
There are healing public onsens to soak in, or you can take advantage of their sauna or hot tub. There’s even an entertainment room and a karaoke section. The accommodations also offer free transport to the Snow Monkey Park.
Why Guests Love It: The incredible views of the rolling hills and the mountains surrounding the beautiful town are amazing. It has an affordable price and a convenient location.
Book It Now: Hotel Yudanaka
If you are given the chance, we highly recommend witnessing these adorable wild Japanese Snow Monkeys in person. Seeing pictures of their florid complections against the white snow is one thing, but being able to experience seeing them live is something else. It’s a sight distinct to Japan’s winter, so try and fit it in, as you’ll never know the next time you’ll be around to do so!