The highlight of our trip to Chubu region of central Japan was to be up close with the adorable snow monkeys at Jigokudani Monkey Park.
From Matsumoto we made a one day shopping stop at Karuizawa staying at the Karuizawa Prince Hotel before arriving at Yudanaka Seifuso Hotel. I chose this ryokan style lodge as it is a short 10-minute drive to the monkey park entrance.
There are 2 public car parks near Jigokudani. The nearer one which is a 10-min walk to the park is closed in winter. From the next nearest car park it’s a 1.6km (about 30-min walk) along the Yumichi forest trail to the hot spring where the snow monkeys congregate for a hot dip in winter. The trail can be damp and slippery during winter so be well clad and wear a good pair of waterproof hiking shoes.
We arrived at around 10.30am and there was already a good number of visitors gathering around the man-made spring. Everyone was in full concentration, leaning and squatting to get that perfect shot with all kinds of photogear, lenses, and smartphones aiming at the primates. It was just as fascinating observing their human admirers.
Jigokudani (or “Hell’s Valley” ) is situated in the valley of the Yokoyu River. This is the natural habitat for about 200 Japanese macaque monkeys. In these harsh cold conditions the hot springs around this area is bliss for the monkeys. So blissful they are oblivious to the many tourists pointing imposing lenses at them. This provides a great opportunity to watch the red-faced macaques up close and observe their natural behavior of caring for their young and constantly preening their fluffy fur.
We were lucky that it was feeding time so we could see a swelling in the number of macaques and their young scurrying around picking up what looked like seeds and nuts thrown around by rangers with pails of monkey chow.
Summer: 8:00 – 17:00 / Winter: 9:00 -16:00
Admission: Adults: ¥500
There are signboards around the park warning tourists not to touch or feed the monkeys. So do heed them. For more information please visit Jigokudani Monkey Park website.
Read about our other driving holidays in Japan:
Matsumoto Castle (Dec 2015)
3-Days in Kyoto (Dec 2015)
Winter in Shirakawa-Go (Dec 2015)
9-Day Driving Trip to Ise-Shima, Shingu, Nara, and Kyoto (Dec 2016)