My name is Lisa and I'm a crafty girl with wanderlust working as an engineer by day. My blog chronicles projects in my home as well as pictures and stories from my travels.




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Misadventures of Lisa and Trisha: Snow Monkeys

While we were living in Japan Trisha and I would often go on road trips on the weekends. We would enlist some of our other expat friends, fill up the FunCargo (my little Japanese car) and head off.

On one of those trips, Trisha and our friends, Martin, Kuan and V-ken, headed up north to Nagano Prefecture. We stopped to see a variety of things on that trip but the main reason was for us to visit Jigokudani Monkey Park. 

I had read about the monkeys and was so excited to see them in person that I could barely contain myself. Trisha took this picture of me to the left waving my hands in excitement as we walked up the hill to the park.

The entrance building was pretty unassuming and after walking through a small exhibit about the monkeys we exited back outdoors into the park. 

The park itself was completely not what I expected. I thought there would be a path with a fence dividing the people from the monkeys, but instead you can freely walk along the valley with the monkeys running right up beside you.

The monkeys at Jigokudani are Japanese macaques, otherwise known as snow monkeys because they live in habitats with snow. Unfortunately, there was almost no snow on the ground while we were visiting because we were there a little too early in the winter, but it was still an awesome experience.

Near the entrance before descending to the river many of the monkeys were occupied with digging around in the dirt for insects to eat.

We also saw a number of the monkeys grooming each other. It was really charming to watch.

The monkeys had such expressive faces and I loved how the adults' pink faces contrasted with their brown fur.

The little babies were my favorite with their large eyes dwarfing the rest of their faces. They constantly scampered around their mothers and I was lucky to catch a picture of this little guy sitting still for a second. 

The monkeys were running around everywhere and were so used to people that they would run right next to you or just continue on doing what they were doing as you walked by. 

At this point we hadn't walked very far into the park and as we looked down into the valley we saw that the whole riverside was swarming with monkeys. They are a little hard to spot because their fur blends in with the rocks, but there are fourteen monkeys in the picture below.

We headed down to the river to get a closer look and saw the hot springs pools nearby where the monkeys were bathing. The name Jigokudani, which means "Hell Valley" in Japanese stems from the hot springs because people thought that the hot steam and water bubbling to the surface looked like Hell. In winter months the monkeys come to the valley to warm up in the hot water.  

In Japanese culture, relaxing in natural hot springs (onsen) is a very popular activity so it seemed very Japanese of the monkeys that they also would enjoy bathing in the hot springs.

Even in the water, the monkeys continued to groom each other. It was so neat to see and I really could have watched them doing this all day. 

I like how the monkey getting groomed in the photo below is giving the stink eye to the other monkey. 

The monkeys looked so peaceful and serene in the water compared to the way they were scampering around on land.  Watching the monkeys warming up in the hot springs with their reflections in the still water was quite surreal and beautiful to see.

We all were pretty camera happy and had so much fun watching the monkeys go about their business as if we didn't exist. Here's a photo of Martin taking a picture of one of the monkeys.

Of course, we had to catch a few pictures of ourselves next to the bathing monkeys.

Even though we were enamored with the monkeys, they really could have cared less about us being there and would get out of the water right next to us if they so felt like it. Luckily, I scooted out of the way before this little guy splashed me.

Trisha was not so lucky, however. I grabbed this cute picture of Miss Trish (it was Christmas time, hence the antlers and Santa hat) but then one of the monkeys decided he was done with his bath and popped out of the water right next to Trisha.

I caught her reaction right after she got soaked. Priceless photo, I'd say!

Before we knew it, dusk had settled on the valley and in a matter of minutes all of the monkeys slipped into the safety of the forest along the mountainside for the night. What had been a hive of activity moments before was suddenly empty. Our time in the valley was brief, but it was so amazing to see the monkeys up close that it ranks among my favorite experiences in Japan.

To get to Jigokudani Monkey Park, we drove and parked there which was very convenient. If you are taking public transit, you can take the Shinkansen to Nagano followed by a local train to Yudanaka. From Yudanaka station you can then take a bus or taxi up to the Monkey Park. Keep in mind that no matter how you get to the Monkey Park, vehicles cannot get all the way to the top and you will have a 15-30 minute steep walk before you reach the entrance. 

Of course, double check the details before you go, but at the time of this writing Summer hours (April - October) are 8:30am - 5:00pm and Winter hours (November - March) are 9:00am - 4:00pm. In the summer months the monkeys will go off into other areas of the park to forage for food, so it is not a guarantee that you will see monkeys if you visit then. Cost for entrance is ¥500 for adults and ¥250 for children and in my opinion is completely worth it!

Reader Comments (9)

Hi Lisa:
I love reading your blog daily - your adventures have been amazing. What great memories!
I always learn something new when reading your words and look forward to seeing your posts.
Thank you for always educating my life.
I hope you have a great weekend with your fiance.

February 22, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterVeronique

I love reading about your adventures. They are what makes travel fun and unique, and often remind me of my own, ;) My husband and I made the trip out to Jigokudani from Osaka, while visiting in Japan. After arriving by train in Yudanaki, there was a well-dressed lady with a clipboard asking new arrivals if any were heading to the monkey park. She then guided us to the bus that would take us to the start of the park trail. After reading many guidebooks that told us we could have trouble reading the directional signs, this encounter made us appreciate Japanese culture even more- -we were always noticing how considerate the Japanese are of each other and other people. Afterwards, we made a detour to Matsumoto to check out their castle and famous soba noodles. It was great end to such a memorable day. Thank you for sharing your experience.

February 22, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterEthylene

Hi Lisa,

My husband and I are planning a March trip to Japan right now. Do you have any suggestions of where we might stay in Tokyo or Kyoto? We are planning this really last minute, and are just buying our flight right now. We've done virtually no research, but plan on flying in on a Sunday, spending all day Monday in Tokyo, heading to Kyoto with a brief stop to see Mt. Fuji on Tuesday, a full day in Kyoto on Wednesday & Thursday, departing for Hiroshima for Friday, heading back to Tokyo on Saturday, and then departing on Monday. It's a fairly quick trip, but it seems do-able to us. What do you think?

Courtney Craig

February 22, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterCourtney

I enjoy the Trisha & Lisa adventure stories. You even make monkey stories funny, as I am not a big monkey fan.

February 23, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMary-Lou

Veronique- Thank you! I am trying to write these stories down for myself before I forget them and it is nice that other people enjoy them, too!

Ethylene- In my experience Japanese people love to help out foreigners who are traveling which is so nice. Didn't you love seeing the monkeys? We stopped at Matsumoto on the way to the park, too. I'll have to make a post about that as well. It is such a lovely castle!

Mary-Lou- Thank you! You wouldn't be able to help but like these monkeys. They are pretty tiny and so sweet to each other.

Courtney- It sounds like fun! Unfortunately, I don't really have any suggestion about where to stay however. I would recommend that for at least one night on your trip you book a ryokan, which is a Japanese type of bed and breakfast. You change into a yukata (Japanese robe) after arriving and after that it is all about relaxing. The ryokans have hot springs baths (separated by sex) that are amazing to relax in. You then get a multi course dinner with local ingredients before spending the night sleeping on futon in a traditional Japanese room. In the morning you can take another bath and have another lovely breakfast. It was one of my favorite things and such a Japanese experience. I've used this website to look for ryokan before: http://www.japanican.com/ryokan/

Do you have a Japan rail pass? With all the travel you are doing and between places connected on the Shinkansen, I think you will save a lot of money if you get a one week rail pass. To look up trains in English here is a great website: http://www.hyperdia.com/en/

Monday morning when you are jetlagged in Tokyo and wake up super early, try heading to Tsukiji Fish Market to see the Tuna auction. The rules have a tendency to change so you should double check, but I think they are still letting people in for that.

In Kyoto, my favorite shrine is Fushimi Inari (http://homeandawaywithlisa.com/blog/2012/5/25/my-favorite-shrine-in-kyoto-fushimi-inari-taisha.html) which I would definitely recommend. Also, I would stop at Nijo-jo (the old Shogun palace) and Kiyomizu-dera. There are so many amazing shrines and temples in Kyoto but those are the ones I would repeatedly take my visitors back to.

Also, if you have a chance on your way down to Hiroshima or back, I would stop for a little bit at Himeji-jo (Himeji Castle). It is one of the only castles in Japan that wasn't destroyed during WWII and reconstructed. Right now it is under renovation, but I've heard that it is still great to visit and you can see the traditional building techniques at work. It is also just a fifteen minute walk from the Himeji station which is on the Shinkansen line, so you could literally just take a 2-3 hour stop here on the way. Here's a report of what things looked like in November 2012 so you can judge if you want to visit: http://www.japan-guide.com/blog/schauwecker/121129_himeji.html.

In Hiroshima, definitely take time to visit Miyajima. It is gorgeous and especially wonderful to see when the tide is in and the great Tori looks like it is floating in the water. Here is a tide predictor for planning your trip: http://tbone.biol.sc.edu/tide/tideshow.cgi?site=Itukusima%2C+Hirosima%2C+Japan If you are there at low tide, you can walk out to the Tori which is fun, too. I also climbed the mountain on the island which had some spectacular views.

Anyway, I could go on and on, recommending things to you, but I will stop now. Let me know if you have any questions!

February 23, 2013 | Registered CommenterLisa

Such an interesting post. I have been obsessed with snow monkeys for awhile now and would love to visit this park. I just found your blog through the Pinterest Challenge and have been enjoying all your travel posts.

February 27, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterGrace @ sense and simplicity

Grace- Thank you so much! I'm so glad that you've been enjoying my posts. The snow monkeys are incredibly cute so if you ever have a chance I would definitely stop to see them.

February 27, 2013 | Registered CommenterLisa

Wonderful pix...really fun article.

July 19, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterErin

Those monkeys are so beautiful, these photos are such a precious insight into their habitat

February 16, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterLuxury Apartments Lady

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