In the Japanese Alps in the Yamanouchi region northeast of Nagano is one of Japan’s most enjoyable parks, Jigokudani Snow Monkey Park (地獄谷野猿公苑). In this special park, you come face to face with a very special animal, the Japanese macaque. You have probably seen a photo of monkeys bathing in hot springs with a thick layer of snow in the background. Those photos were taken here.
Are you planning to visit this special park? In this article, you will learn more about this park and these happy animals. But first you will get a short history of the origin of this park and the sad fate the Japanese macaque suffered then.
The sad fate of the Japanese macaque
When Sogo Hara, an employee of Nagano Electric Highway, was taking his first hike in the mountains of Jigokudani around 1950, he came across a group of Japanese macaques. He was obsessed by these special animals that he decided to come here more often and keep an eye on them. But each time he discovered that they were fewer and fewer and that they were fleeing from the deforestation that was taking place in the valley. This deforestation was a result of the ski resorts being built in the region. The macaques fled to lower-lying areas and ended up on farms. There they destroyed the harvest, which led to unrest among the farmers. At some point, they had had enough and decided to hunt the monkeys.
But before the hunt was started, they discovered that the monkeys were bathing in the hot springs, called onsen in Japan. The photos were so impressive that Sogo Hara decided that an official park should be set up here to protect the animals. He made an agreement with the farmers that the animals would be fed, so that they would not destroy any more crops. To this day, the monkeys are fed every day and can no longer be found on the farm.
10 years ago, the park experimented with letting visitors feed the animals. This was abandoned after a short period, because it only made the monkeys aggressive. Feeding the animals is therefore forbidden!
Onsen and macaques
Japan is a volcanic island. It is therefore not surprising that Japan has more than 3000 onsen. An onsen is a natural hot spring and the Japanese love it. It is an ideal place to relax and put busy life aside. And apparently the monkeys agree.
The Japanese macaque, or Macaca Fuscata, by the way, lives mainly in Japan in forested areas and high plains. They are herd animals and like to imitate each other. They like to eat fruit, leaves and tubers, but also insects and snails. On average, they weigh between 10 and 20 kg and can live up to 30 years. And for the rest, they have many human characteristics, but you can discover these for yourself in the Jigokudani Snow Monkey Park.
An impression of the Jigokudani Snow Monkey Park
The photos below were taken in September. It was beautiful weather then and too hot for the Japanese macaques to even take a bath in the water. Of course, the best time to visit this park is in the winter months, but it is already fantastic to see these animals. Below is a short impression in photos of the Jigokudani Snow Monkey Park…
In conclusion, the Yamanouchi region is a quiet area where you can go for a walk and escape the hustle and bustle of Nagano city. If you are on your way to Nagano after visiting the Jigokudani Snow Monkey Park, take a stroll around to discover the large Buddha statue and have a rest at the station with your feet in an onsen.
Tip: Do you fancy an onsen yourself? In this region, called Yamanouchi, you can find many hotels with a traditional Japanese onsen.
Would you like to visit Jigokudani Snow or no Snow Monkey Park?
How to get there? From Nagano Station, it is about a 45-minute train ride to Yudanaka Station. From there, take a bus to Jigokudani Snow Monkey Park. It runs twice an hour. The ride takes about 15 minutes and then you walk 1.6 kilometres to the park entrance.
Opening hours: From April to October, the park is open from 8.30am to 5pm. From November to March, 9am to 4pm. Admission to the park costs 800 yen.
Falling in love with these cute Japanese macaques? And what did you think of the Jigokudani Snow Monkey Park? Feel free to leave a comment below!