Snow Monkeys of Jigokudani

The friendly, helpful staff at Kanazawa Station Visitors’ Centre advised me not to attempt a day trip to the Snow Monkeys from Kanazawa. Not unsound advice, but I ignored it anyway (as I only had time for a day trip) and caught the 8:58am Hakutaka567 Shinkansen (bullet train) from Kanazawa to Nagano. On arrival at Nagano Station, after asking directions, I flew down a couple of escalators and bought a day pass to the Jigokudani Yaen-Koen. The pass included the return trip on the local Yukemuri express train (or the express bus) between Nagano and Yudanaka on the Nagano Dentetsu line, the local bus between Yudanaka Station and the park entrance, as well as admission to the park.

From the local bus stop to the park main entrance, it’s a short uphill walk along the road, and once you’re in the park, you climb a set of stairs, walk approximately 1.6km through the forest, and then climb another set of stairs at the end of the trail to reach the macaques.

The park’s visitor advisories stress that visitors ensure they wear appropriate footwear, but humans being what they are ignore advice when it doesn’t suit them (yes, I know, I ignored advice not to attempt the day trip), and I saw many people attempting to walk the snow- and ice-laden forest trail in the most ridiculous footwear, including one chap in sandals and socks.

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Forest trail to the Snow Monkeys © 2018 Karen Price

The walk is beautiful but quite treacherous even for those in sensible footwear. You need to watch out for iced sections; I saw people land flat on their backs without warning. And while the unfenced forest drop-off is not exactly sheer, it is precipitous, and you’d need rescuing with ropes if you slipped on the ice and disappeared over the edge, so a good sense of balance comes in handy. And bear in mind that you’re walking at altitude, even if it’s only 850m, so you need at least a basic level of cardiovascular fitness. Many visitors seemed to struggle along the way.

Is it worth it?

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Snow Monkeys © 2018 Karen Price

The monkeys are utterly fascinating to watch, particularly those bathing in sleepy bliss in the hot spring, and I wish I’d had the time to observe them for a bit longer.

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Japanese Macaque – Jigokudani © 2018 Karen Price

However, it’s not quite the scene of simian serenity depicted in the brochures. It’s not so much disturbed by the constantly scrapping, screeching macaque troupe romping about in the surrounding snow, but rather by their human cousins behaving badly. Contrary to the blurbs that advise that the monkeys ignore humans, this is not what I observed, and my guess is that the situation has developed due to our endless stupidity. The park provides many clear warnings to visitors to not bring packets or foods into the area and to not attempt to interact with the monkeys in any way, all of which were ignored by some people on the day I was there. I watched as a macaque went for a girl who attempted to retrieve a torn packet of junk food rubbish from him. Another bystander amused himself by throwing snowballs at the animal, which it blocked with a fascinating human-like action. And the way that macaque sat and stared long and hard after the idiot as he walked off down the path chilled me to the bone.

Jigokudani means ‘Valley of Hell’, and in Jigokudani Yaen-Koen, Hell is other people.

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Bliss © 2018 Karen Price

A few things to note if you’re planning a similar visit:

  • The JR Rail Pass is incredibly good value for getting around Japan (not to mention much more convenient and relaxing in comparison to flying), and I cannot recommend it enough. But it doesn’t necessarily cover all local train routes, so check beforehand (in my case, it covered all the local train trips I took except the local train from Nagano to Yudanaka).
  • Although the Shinkansen (bullet trains) are equipped with all the modern conveniences including impeccable toilets, many of the local trains do not have toilets, including the local train from Nagano to Yudanaka, so make sure to check, and take your comfort breaks before boarding.

16 thoughts on “Snow Monkeys of Jigokudani

  1. Snow monkeys! Such a wonderful shots of them, BB. Looks like it was worth the cold and adventure. Was there are particular reason why the staff advised you not to go? Maybe it was because of the weather. Sounds like you went slow and all was well. You would think people with common sense would think twice about disturbing the monkeys. They are probably much more smarter than many of us 😀

    • Thanks, Mabel. 😄

      They advised me not to try and do it in one day from Kanazawa, as it is a 600km round trip on trains & buses, not to mention the walk. So given the timetables, etc, it doesn’t give you much time with the monkeys and if you miss the last local bus/express train to Nagano, etc., it makes for a very long day/night. You’re better off staying overnight in Nagano or Yudanaka one way, so it’s a shorter commute, and thus allows more time with the monkeys.

  2. How fortunate you are to have seen these wonderful creatures so close and to take such beautiful photos of them. I have seen them on nature programs and am always amazed at the ways they have adapted to their natural surroundings. Yes, it is unfortunate that there will always be those in the human arena that are uncaring of how their choices have a very negative impact on those we need to protect. As this is probably one way for money to be raised, until something else happens to change it, people will continue to travel to see them. Fortunately, there are those like yourself, who bring to the fore the need to act in better ways upon entering this habitat and I commend you for that. Hope you are well.

    • Hello Renee,

      Thank you. I feel very fortunate to have been able to make the journey to see them, as they are really interesting to observe. They are apparently the only macaques in the world to bathe in hot springs and their mannerisms and expressions of blissful relaxation in the water are quite hilarious.

  3. The selfishness and stupidity of some people never ceases to amaze me.

    My husband has always wanted to visit Japan, as well as see the Macaques at home; one day, maybe… Thanks in the meantime for this fascinating insight.

  4. wow, wonderful experience for you and amazing photos 😀 Humans are ridiculous when it comes to some tourist experiences – not following basic instructions – this is why people die in outback Australia in waterholes and on long dry four wheel drive tracks without the right provisions – not to mention not swimming between the flags on our treacherous beaches!

  5. Well, holy cow! An icy unfenced trail with a precipitous dropoff! You are a brave soul, but I knew that already. And those monkeys! What faces – are they red from the heated pool or always that way? The Sartre quote is delicious. I would never have understood that quote when we studied existentialism in high school – (how ridiculous is that?), but I do now.
    And the look on the macaque’s face as he contemplated the snow thrower – all I can say is that anger and the desire for vengeance apparently predate the arrival of our species on this planet. Of course we have perfected those emotions.
    Great post, BB

  6. Pingback: Snow Monkeys of Jigokudani — beeblu blog | By the Mighty Mumford

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