When planning our Japan Campervan Tour one of the Japanese attractions that Ewelina and I were both keen to visit was Jigokudani Monkey Park. We are both wildlife fans and wanted to make the effort to visit this place. Many of the must see sights in guidebooks tend to be temples or shrines so a day spent at Jigokudani Monkey Park can be a pleasant change!
You will often hear them referred to as the snow monkeys of Japan. Images of the monkeys enjoying the hot spring with snow lying on the ground have been hugely popular on social media and has no doubt led to an increase in visitor numbers. It’s actually one of two popular monkey parks in Japan, the other being Arashiyama Monkey Park Iwatayama. If you don’t have any plans to head to the Japanese Alps region of Japan then this other park might be a good option since it’s close to Kyoto which seems to be on most people’s itinerary.
Jigokudani Monkey Park – Getting there
If you happen to be driving, the park is relatively well signposted and will appear as a point of interest in most satellite navigation systems and Google Maps. What about if you want to go there using public transport? To reach Jigokudani Monkey Park from Tokyo you will need to take a train from Tokyo to Nagano station. You then need to change train for one headed to Yudanaka Station. Once at Yudanaka station you need to then either take a bus or taxi to the monkey park. It’s quite a time consuming trip from Tokyo at over 5 hours. So during your trip planning you will need to decide if there is enough in the general area for you to include this on your itinerary.
Jigokudani Monkey Park – What to expect
There are a couple of car parks, the closest to the park charges a fee and is apparently on a fairly narrow street. The lower car park is free with facilities like toilets and a cafe. From this lower car park you need to walk about 20 minutes on a good path to the ticket office. The entry fee at time of writing was just 500 Yen which was very reasonable but I understand this is to increase to 800 Yen from December 2016. Once you have gained entry it’s a short walk to the hot pool that features in all the photos you have probably seen online.
The whole place feels very natural and whilst there are some facilities and shops it does not feel overly commercialised.
The Macaques at Jigokudani Monkey Park are wild but seem to very accustomed to humans. They will happily walk right past you and generally ignore you in favour of paying close attention to what is happening within their troop. Naturally they would congregate around the hot pool in winter for the warmth. They do so now however on an almost constant basis since the park leaves food around to ensure paying visitors are guaranteed to see them.
During our visit we enjoyed watching the monkeys interact with each other. It was clear that a few of the larger males seemed to be in control and would generally dominate the food. There were no violent exchanges but some chasing went on and we witnessed a number of vocal exchanges. Monkey society seemed well organised though and they all looked like very healthy specimens. There were a large number of females, many with a newborn close by. Naturally as with most mammals, the young ones were very popular with the paying customers.
In summary it’s a great wildlife opportunity for anyone visiting Japan. You are guaranteed a very close encounter for what is a very reasonable entry fee. It’s become one of the more popular tourist attractions in Japan. I expect it would be even more popular if it was located in a less remote location.
Why not watch the following video we filmed at Jigokudani Monkey Park on YouTube!