Jigokudani, Japanese snow monkeys (じごくだに)

Jigokudani, which translates to “hell’s valley”, is famous for its Onsen (natural hot spring baths). It is also the only place in Japan where wild Japanese macaque take baths in the hot spring water. Although they specifically enjoy the warmth of the Onsen in winter, the monkeys of Jigokudani stay at the park all year round (I don’t know if they would stay there if they were not fed everyday by the park keepers!).

At Jigokudani, monkeys are not shy or afraid of humans and will often cross your path. Visitors are often within a few steps from them. A little lonely baby monkey came to see me as I was crouching to take photos. He was carrying a branch but diverted his attention to something much more interesting: my camera tripod! He really wanted the tripod as his new toy but I could’t afford to let it go! It was quite heartbreaking to remove it from his hands. I eventually had to say good bye and walked back to the hotel in Yudanaka onsen. I often think about this little one and hope to see him again one day…

We went to Jigokudani by the Nagano Dentetsu Line to Yudanaka and then took a bus from the train station. English speaking guides can help at Yudanaka station.


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Country: Japan
Area : Chubu area
Prefecture : Nagano-ken
City : Yamanouchi-machi
District : Hirao
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Japan > Chubu area > Nagano-ken > Yamanouchi-machi > Hirao

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Gaijin San

Since my better half is Japanese I often have the chance to travel to Japan. I grew fond over time of this magnificent country. I thought of sharing with you some places worth visiting in this little but growing travel guide to Japan. I try to show with images what I can't express with words. I hope you may find here some inspiration! For those who wonder, I chose the moniker Gaijin-San after being called like this by a waitress at a grilled eel restaurant. "Gaijin" means foreigner and "San" is a honorific suffix in Japanese.

5 thoughts on “Jigokudani, Japanese snow monkeys (じごくだに)”

  1. Nice photo’s!

    I’ll be in Tokyo for 7 days at the end of December. I was wondering if it’s worth it to take the long and expensive trip to Jigokudani..
    Its going to be Shinkansen, bus/train, 40 min walk.
    Don’t mind the time but its the money that gets to me.

    1. Hi Thomas,
      Thanks for your kind comment.
      It is difficult to say if it is worth it. It surely depends a lot on your own tastes. I really wish I could go there in winter when they are the most interesting to observe, taking a bath. In summer, they merely go to the baths because the caretaker puts food in the water… December should be one of the best time to see them!

      It may also depend whether you are living in Japan and seen all those famous cities already or if it is your first time. If I had only 7 days in Japan, I would probably try to see more around the Tokyo region like Kamakura or Hakone. When I went to Jigokudani, I happened to be staying in Nagano for few days.

      If you decide to go, I suggest also visiting Zenko-ji temple in Nagano. It is just a short walk from Nagano Shinkansen station. That way you would see Japanese countryside, a famous temple, a typical Onsen town and snow monkeys all in one trip!

      Hope it help make up your mind.

      1. Thank you for the quick reply!

        Yes, it will be my first time in Japan. I personally think it would be great to see some countryside and use it as an excuse to leave Tokyo for a day.
        I’m from Holland so I wont get this chance everyday. If there is snow, you are basically saying: ‘Go there!’
        It is going to be a busy week. So much to see and do..

        I have added your blog to my favorites so I can read some every day and get some inspiration!

        1. Thomas, If it is your first trip in Japan, I think it is worth to do a little Shinkansen trip! There is no Shinkansen from Narita airport to Tokyo, so you have to go outside of Tokyo to try it. I think it is an integral part of the Japanese experience (you can bring your own beer and drink in the train!).

          I really love Tokyo. In my opinion, some of the must see places include Tokyo Skytree, Senso-ji temple, Meiji-Jingu shrine and Tokyo Tower. Museums should be kept for rainy days. If you encounter good weather, I encourage you to walk in different neighbourhoods and feel the atmosphere of Tokyo. You can look a the photos I published in this blog to see what “atmosphere” you like best!

          Another day/ half day trip to see Mount Fuji should be interesting if weather is fine. Only a short Shinkansen ride from Tokyo station to the Shin Fuji station!

          Don’t hesitate to ask if you have any other question!

          1. Tokyo Skytree, Akasuka and Mount Fuji are also on the to-do list.
            The photo’s on your Flickr are really nice. Offcourse the scenery will be different around Christmas and New Year.

            First, I think it is important to make a good itinerary for myself.

            Thanks for the help, I’m sure I will come back here and if any questions come to mind I’ll let you know.

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