The season when you would love to relax leisurely in an open air hot spring is coming. Now I will introduce one such recommended place for the upcoming season. That is Jigokudani Monkey Park in Yamanouchi town, Nagano prefecture – a place known for monkeys, not humans, bathing in the hot springs. Unique in the world, this place has a special open air bath where monkeys enter and can be observed from very close. Trying to pull through the cold, their appearance and expressions make them look almost like humans.
Walk through the forest to reach Jigokudani Monkey Park
There are two ways to reach Jigokudani Monkey Park. You can drive through Shibu Onsen until the paid parking lot of Jigokudani and then continue on foot for about 15 minutes till the park. However, the road is closed for the winter period between December and March.
The other way is to park the car at Kanbayashi Onsen’s free parking lot and take the walking trail. In the winter that is the main route to the park. It takes about 30 minutes one way, but the trail is well maintained and you can have a pleasant walk in the forest. You will likely encounter monkeys on the trail as well. If you use public transportation, the route from Kanbayashi Onsen is your only option.
An open air bath covered in steam and monkeys relaxing inside
There is a special open air hot spring bath in the park made for the monkeys. It is located in the ravine, a pleasant location also for bathing humans, and the water temperature is 41 degrees in the winter.
The monkeys coming here are wild. During the day they descend from the mountains, dip in the hot spring, get fed and have a rest.
Their number varies by the season: in hot summer days few of them can be found in the bath, but when it gets cold during autumn and winter many monkeys come and that is the best season to view them. However, they come and go even within the same day. When I visited the park, lots of monkeys were dipping in the bath surrounded by steam.
The view of the bathing monkeys is quite pleasant
Watching the monkeys dipping in the hot water brings you quite a pleasant feeling. Some rest with closed eyes, others groom each other and spend a leisurely time. Of course, sometimes they might raise their voices and start a fight too.
Contrary to zoos, there are no fences so you can watch the monkeys from very close. But don’t stare in their eyes (they might find this hostile) and don’t touch them, as written on the signs.
Their adorable expressions and behavior are very relaxing
The adult monkeys rest calmly in the water, but the younger ones move around and look like they are playing in the bath.
There are many baby monkeys whose adorable expressions and behavior make you feel relaxed from just observing them. Monkeys often act similarly to humans so you will not get bored of watching them.
You can do sight-seeing around the hot spring fountains or you can enter a hot spring yourself
Next to the monkey park is “Shibu Jigokudani Hot Spring Fountain”, designated as a natural monument that you can visit. Boiling water gushes out loudly from the earth – a stream of an up to 20-meter height can be seen during the highest periods of this fountain. On the opposite side across the river is the only Japanese ryokan inn in Jigokudani “Korakukan”. There is an open air bath with a view to the river which you can use as a guest of the inn or as a day trip hot spring.
It feels great to enter a hot spring yourself and warm up after you’ve watched the monkeys do the same. (Day trip hot spring can be used from 12:00 till 15:00) If you’re lucky monkeys will come to the inn’s open air bath too and you might dip in the water together with them.
Jigokudani Monkey Park is close to the famous hot springs towns of Shibu and Yudanaka, so I recommend you visit this place for the rare views it provides. In the winter the snow-covered monkeys dipping in the hot water are often called “Snow Monkeys”, attracting many foreign tourists to this place which you must visit if you take a winter trip to Nagano.
Jigokudani Monkey Park
Open: April~ October from 8:30 till 17:00 November~ March from 9:00 till 16:00
Admission fee: Adult 500 JPY, children 250 JPY
Access: 15-minute on foot from Jigokudani parking lot (500 JPY), closed between December and March. Alternatively, a 30-minute walk from Kanbayashi Onsen’s Monkey Park parking lot (free). If you use a bus, take it from Yudanaka station for about 15 minutes and get off at Kanbayashi Onsen bus stop, then walk for 30 minutes to the park.
Note: Please check the official website of Jigokudani Monkey Park for more details. During weekends in the winter there might be shuttle buses from Yudanaka and Shibu Onsen to Jigokudani parking lot. Please ask at Yamanouchi Tourism Association for more information.
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