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Sunday, June 07, 2015

Nagano snow monkeys at Jigokudani Monkey Park

Snow monkey sitting in the snow at Jigokudani Monkey Park, Nagano

Snow monkeys are Japanese macaques, a species native to Japan that are best known for chilling out in outdoor natural hot springs against a stark backdrop of snow. The easiest way to see them is at Jigokudani Monkey Park just outside of Nagano, first opened to the public in 1964.

Jigokudani Monkey Park at Nagano, Japan

We did a day trip to Jigokudani from Kanazawa, a journey of about three hours each way involving a shinkansen bullet train to Nagano, transfer to a scenic train to Yudanaka and then a short bus ride to the Monkey Park itself. You can also make the trip from Tokyo, also taking about three hours.

Walking path at Nigokudani Monkey Park in Nagano, Japan

It's about a 2.5 kilometre walk from where the bus drops you off to where the snow monkeys hang out around the natural outdoor hot spring. The path is narrow and sometimes steep, with few guard rails against the sheer mountain drop. It's a quiet and calming walk though, with a trail that is rarely crowded. There was a small commotion when we walked past a crowd hovering around a park ranger and realised he'd just bagged a snake that had wandered onto the pathway.

Snow monkey in Nagano, Japan

The exertion is soon forgotten when you catch sight of your first macaque. The monkeys seem relatively used to tourists, and are notorious for stealing food and objects that are not keenly supervised.

Snow monkey in front of the onsen hot spring in Nagano, Japan

The chance to observe wild Japanese macaques in their natural environment is quite a surreal experience. Japanese macaques live in social groups marked by female lineage (matrilineal). Males tend to move in and out of groups, often living in isolation or occasionally with small groups of males. The females always stay in their original family group.

Snow monkey in Nagano, Japan

Snow monkeys in the outdoor onsen in Nagano, Japan

The biggest gathering of macaques tends to be around the outdoor onsen, a naturally occurring hot spring. Jigokudani actually translates as Hell Valley, a name given because of the sight of the steam coming off the hot springs against the steep cliffs surrounding it.

Paparazzi around the snow monkeys in the outdoor onsen in Nagano, Japan
The outdoor onsen

And the hot springs is also where you'll find the most tourists, clamouring around with cameras and outstretched phones trying to capture the perfect photo. Guilty as charged.

Snow monkey in front of the outdoor onsen in Nagano, Japan

Baby snow monkeys playing in Nagano, Japan
Monkeying around

Watching the younger Japanese macaques on the jungle gym was pretty cool too.

Snow monkeys in the outdoor onsen in Nagano, Japan

Snow monkeys relaxing in the outdoor onsen in Nagano, Japan
Hot tub time

Snow monkey in Nagano, Japan

Snow monkeys in the outdoor onsen in Nagano, Japan
Japanese macaques grooming in the background

Snow monkey in Nagano, Japan
Soaking up the afternoon sun 

Baby snow monkeys playing on the jungle gym in Nagano, Japan
Just hanging

Snow monkey at Jigokudani Monkey Park in Nagano, Japan
So what's the latest goss?

Snow monkey at Jigokudani Monkey Park in Nagano, Japan
Kimmy K did what?!

Winter snow at Jigokudani Monkey Park in Nagano, Japan
Jigokudani Monkey Park in winter

This wasn't our first time to Jigokudani Monkey Park. We first visited in February 2010, the photos of which never made it to the blog. Here they are!

Jigokudani Monkey Park in spring and winter
Yokoyu River in spring (May) and winter (February)

By coincidence I snapped the exact same shot of the bridge over the Yokoyu River on both trips. The difference in scenery is phenomenal.

Snow monkey shivering in the snow in Nagano, Japan
That's why they call them snow monkeys!

The temperature was markedly colder in February, about 5C with light snow falling all around us.

Snow at Jigokudani Monkey Park in winter

The snow makes for dramatic scenery but it also makes the steep walk up the mountain markedly harder too. Slippery ice and piles of snow we had to trudge though meant we worked up a sweat even in the freezing temperatures.

Snow monkey at Jigokudani Monkey Park, Nagano

But seeing the monkeys in the snow made it all worth it.

Snow monkey in the snow at Jigokudani Monkey Park, Nagano

Snow monkey looking at snow at Jigokudani Monkey Park, Nagano

Baby snow monkey sitting at Jigokudani Monkey Park, Nagano

Tourists around the snow monkey at the outdoor onsen at Jigokudani Monkey Park, Nagano

The outdoor onsen is a lot more dramatic too, with visible plumes of steam rising from the hot water.

Snow monkeys in the outdoor onsen at Jigokudani Monkey Park, Nagano

It was so cold, you almost wanted to jump in with them. Almost.

Snow monkeys in the outdoor onsen at Jigokudani Monkey Park, Nagano

Snow monkeys in the outdoor onsen at Jigokudani Monkey Park, Nagano

Snow monkeys grooming each other in the outdoor onsen at Jigokudani Monkey Park, Nagano

Watching the snow monkeys groom each other was pretty endearing too.

Snow monkeys grooming each other in the outdoor onsen at Jigokudani Monkey Park, Nagano

Snow monkey in winter at Jigokudani Monkey Park, Nagano

Snow monkey in falling snow at Jigokudani Monkey Park, Nagano

I'm pretty sure this guy is giving us his best Blue Steel look.

Snow monkeys shrieking at Jigokudani Monkey Park, Nagano

We were sad to leave too.

Hot corn potage soup in a can from a Japanese vending machine
Hot corn potage in a can from a Japanese vending machine

And random food photos to qualify this as a food blog post? We loved the corn potage you could get in a can, served hot straight from the vending machine. This isn't unusual in Japan. You can often find cans of hot tea, coffee and corn soup, usually marked by a red light or line near the price - the cold cans and bottles are marked in blue.

On a windy train platform at the end of the day, this is exactly the kind of thing you want and need. The soup tasted decent too, thick and rich with plenty of whole sweet corn kernels in the mix.

Mother and child chicken croquette from Iida Shintaro at Midori, Nagano, Japan
Chicken croquettes from Iida Shintaro

We also stumbled upon these chicken croquettes from Iida Shintaro within the Midori department store at Nagano JR station. We picked them up on the way to Yudanaka and they were so amazing I bought another on our way back.

Mother and child chicken croquette from Iida Shintaro at Midori, Nagano, Japan
Mother and child chicken croquettes

The croquettes have a filling of chicken mince pressed around a soft boiled egg, a bit like a Japanese take on the classic Scotch egg. The Japanese call this combination of chicken and egg "mother and child", simultaneously poetic and poignant.

They were ridiculously delicious though. The noisy crunch of the deep-fried shell coupled with the sweet seasoned chicken mince and then the jackpot of sticky runny egg yolk made for a decadent treat.

Want to see the snow monkeys without leaving your chair? There's a live camera on the onsen that you can track on the Jigokudani website. Unfortunately it looks like it's undergoing repairs at the moment (methinks a cheeky monkey had something to do with it) but you can still browse some of the recent random happy snaps here.


>> Read the next Japan 2015 post: Kyoto Ramen Street and Arashiyama Bamboo Forest
<< Read the first Japan 2015 post: Toyama black ramen and firefly squid

Japan 2015: Toyama > Kanazawa > Nagano > Kyoto > Nara > Osaka > Kobe > Kagoshima > Hakata > Hiroshima and Miyajima Island > Sapporo > Otaru > Hakodate Tokyo


Jigokudani Monkey Park (Jigokudani Yaen-Koen)
6845 Yamanouchi-machi, Shimotakai-gun, Nagano, Japan
Tel: +81 (026) 933 4379
Open 8am-5pm in summer, 9am-4pm in winter

Iida Shintaro 飯田晋太郎 (Facebook page)
Midori Nagano (next to Nagano JR Station)
1-22-6, Minamichitose, Nagano-shi, Nagano, Japan
Tel: +81 (026) 219 6129
Open daily 10am-8pm

13 comments - Add some comment love

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posted by Helen (Grab Your Fork) on 6/07/2015 01:54:00 am


13 Comments:

  • At 6/07/2015 10:57 am, Anonymous Tania | My Kitchen Stories said…

    As soon as I saw the heading I knew the pictures would be amazing Helen. I would love to see these monkeys. I can imagine how difficult the trek would be in the snow. Love your final expose, chicken and egg croquettes look so good and soup in a can. Only in Japan eh?

     
  • At 6/07/2015 12:34 pm, Anonymous Martine @ Chompchomp said…

    Such stunning photography (as always) I love how you have captured the emotions of the monkeys beautifully. What an awesome day

     
  • At 6/07/2015 1:53 pm, Anonymous Hotly Spiced said…

    How gorgeous. They are so cute. I love how they live in family groups. How warm is the water? Amazing how they love to swim as other monkeys are terrified of water. There was a chimpanzee that drowned at Taronga Zoo a few years ago when he accidentally fell into the water - a terrible day! xx

     
  • At 6/07/2015 5:35 pm, Anonymous Berny @ I Only Eat Desserts said…

    These monkeys must be awesome for you to go visit them again :) I must take my bf here next time we're in Japan because one of the things he wants to do is be in an onsen with some snow monkeys :P

     
  • At 6/07/2015 10:23 pm, Blogger Sarah said…

    OMG SO CUTE! I loves them!

    I love how distinct the four seasons in Japan are.

     
  • At 6/08/2015 10:48 am, Anonymous Maureen | Orgasmic Chef said…

    You would have to drag me away from that place. What gorgeous photos, Helen. Your post makes me SO eager to visit the snow monkeys.

     
  • At 6/08/2015 12:11 pm, Blogger Ramen Raff said…

    The coating on those monkeys looks so fluffy!! Yolk porn on those croquettes!

     
  • At 6/08/2015 2:07 pm, Anonymous Monique@The Urban Mum said…

    We loved our time so much in the Nagano Region last January we are going back again to ski this December - this time we are staying just a quick trip from the Monkeys (in Nozawa Onsen), my father's first trip. he will love to read your post to see what he is in for...x

     
  • At 6/08/2015 7:48 pm, Blogger Annie said…

    one of my fiends is currently living in Nagona so it's lovely seeing what it's like during Spring. hope to stop by Nagona when i get the chance to visit Japan

     
  • At 6/09/2015 2:08 pm, Anonymous Racy_staci said…

    Love seeing the monkeys! I don't know what's scarier - trekking there in the winter or trekking there in spring when we can see the edge of the path too clearly. Good times.

     
  • At 6/10/2015 1:01 am, Anonymous sara | Belly Rumbles said…

    These monkeys are on my monkey bucket list, is a very short list, and they are probably on the top. Awesome pics Helen.

     
  • At 6/15/2015 7:48 am, Anonymous John | heneedsfood said…

    On my bucket list, as well. It's so much more dramatic in winter. Stunning shots, Helen!

     
  • At 6/20/2015 12:04 am, Anonymous JJ - 84thand3rd said…

    I just... I mean... So then... MONKEY! Seriously gorgeous shots Helen! I love watching any primates (they are always so human in their actions) but your photos are beyond. Officially on the list for the next trip!

     

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