Monkeys in a Japanese hot spring

When the winter becomes too much, these snow monkeys head to the hot spring. This incredible natural sight in Japan has to be seen for yourself!

Written by Michael Turtle

Michael Turtle is the founder of Time Travel Turtle. A journalist for more than 20 years, he's been travelling the world since 2011.

Michael Turtle is the founder of Time Travel Turtle and has been travelling full time for a decade.

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Jigokudani Monkey Park, Nagano, Japan

They’ve got the right idea, these monkeys.

It is so cold outside – below freezing – and I’ve lost feeling in my toes. I’ve got on three layers of clothes – two of them wool – and the warmest woolen hat I have. Yet still I can feel the icy air cutting at me.

Oh, how I wish I was in that steaming onsen with its natural hot waters.

monkey hot spring, japan, Jigokudani Monkey Park

I guess we’re quite alike, the monkeys and me.

It’s strange to think that animals would have the same reaction to the cold as humans. Normally you think of native animals that have adapted to their surroundings and act like… well, animals.

Sure, penguins in Antarctica might huddle together but they’re not building igloos.

monkey hot spring, japan, Jigokudani Monkey Park

That’s why it’s such a strange sight to see these Japanese macaques (or snow monkeys, as they’re also called) doing exactly what the Japanese people do in the winter – soaking in a natural hot spring up in the mountains.

And you can understand why it brings plenty of visitors here to the Jigokudani Monkey Park near Nagano each year.

monkey hot spring, japan, Jigokudani Monkey Park

There’s definitely something very cute about the whole scene. But I find it a little bit unnerving too, I have to admit.

It’s got a touch of ‘Planet of the Apes’ about it. It’s almost as though these cute little snow monkeys are becoming more like us humans by using the onsen – maybe at a rate we don’t understand.

They show no shame or humility about that either.

monkey hot spring, japan, Jigokudani Monkey Park
monkey hot spring, japan, Jigokudani Monkey Park

As I watch them, the macaques just stare casually back at me and relax even more into the hot water, giving a look that makes me wonder if they know something I don’t. Perhaps about a monkey revolution that will start at any moment.

monkey hot spring, japan, Jigokudani Monkey Park

There’s no snow coming down right now at Jigokudani Monkey Park but the landscape in every direction is white from the latest fall.

There’s a fast flowing river running through a ravine and the onsen is perched about ten metres above it, on somewhat of a cliff. The slope continues up even further and monkeys are running all over it.

monkey hot spring, japan, Jigokudani Monkey Park

The water in the hot spring is about 42 degrees Celsius – perfect for keeping warm in these icy conditions. But the monkeys can easily survive without it and seem to use the onsen more for comfort.

Some of them will sit in the pool, while others will spend most of the day running around the mountain, climbing in the forest or hanging on the river bank.

At night they all head for the trees and sleep on branches in the forest. The next morning, after waking up at dawn, they forage for breakfast and then make their way back to the hot spring area.

monkey hot spring, japan, Jigokudani Monkey Park

The snow monkeys have a routine during these cold winter months and I imagine they’ve got used to each day involving humans. There is a decent sized crowd of visitors at the onsen for the hour that I’m here but it’s never so large that it’s annoying.

Perhaps the numbers are controlled somewhat by the two kilometre walk along the icy forest path that is the only way to access the site.

monkey hot spring, japan, Jigokudani Monkey Park
monkey hot spring, japan, Jigokudani Monkey Park

You wouldn’t want there to be too many more tourists here, though. The onsen is actually much smaller than I imagined – about the size of an average backyard pool – and you can only stand around half of it.

It means there are limited spaces to get a clear view or photograph of the snow monkeys. But, if you have one of the front row spaces, you will be face to face with these cute (potentially revolution-scheming) animals.

They will come right to the edge and then pretend to ignore you, they’ll jump over you from behind when they’re coming back to the pool from a hillside excursion, and they’ll even – as happened to me – roll right over your feet while they’re fighting each other.

monkey hot spring, japan, Jigokudani Monkey Park

And they know how to pose, these monkeys.

From the tiny babies with their big innocent eyes to the alpha males who close their eyes and throw their head back in ecstasy, the faces of the macaques are so expressive.

I am taking far too many photos because there’s a constantly changing performance on stage in front of me.

Although, of course, the animals are probably not doing this for our benefit. They seem so disinterested in us, we might as well be rocks.

monkey hot spring, japan, Jigokudani Monkey Park
monkey hot spring, japan, Jigokudani Monkey Park

I could stay here and watch them for hours but I fear my toes may soon fall off from the crowd.

It’s with some reluctance that I eventually head back towards the forest path and away from the onsen. As I stamp my feet and clench my fists to get the blood pumping, I think about the evening ahead. There’s a good chance it’s going to include an onsen.

monkey hot spring, japan, Jigokudani Monkey Park

I guess we’re quite alike, the monkeys and me. And I still find that a bit unnerving.

Where is the Jigokudani Monkey Park?

The Jigokudani Monkey Park is located at 6845 Yamanouchi-machi, Shimotakai-gun, Nagano, Japan, 381-0401
You can see it on a map here.

When is the Jigokudani Monkey Park open?

The Jigokudani Monkey Park is open at the following times:
April – October: 0830 – 1700
November – March: 0900 – 1600

How much is the Jigokudani Monkey Park?

Entry tickets to the Jigokudani Monkey Park cost:
Adult: 500 yen
Child: 250 yen

How to get to the Jigokudani Monkey Park?

It is possible to get to the Jigokudani Monkey Park by public transport. The best options are to either cath the Nagano Dentesu Bus for Kanbayashi from Yudanaka station, or the Shiga-Kogen Line of Nagaden Bus from Nagano station.

Top tip

You can visit the park during the summer months and you’ll be able to see monkeys – however, don’t expect them to be in the onsen if it’s warm weather.

You can find out more information here about the Jigokudani Monkey Park.

Time Travel Turtle was a guest of the Japan National Tourism Organisation but the opinions, over-written descriptions and bad jokes are his own.

Where is the Jigokudani Monkey Park? The Jigokudani Monkey Park is located at:
6845 Yamanouchi-machi, Shimotakai-gun, Nagano, Japan, 381-0401
You can see it on a map here. When is the Jigokudani Monkey Park open? The Jigokudani Monkey Park is open at the following times:
April – October: 0830 – 1700
November – March: 0900 – 1600 How much is the Jigokudani Monkey Park? Entry tickets to the Jigokudani Monkey Park cost:
Adult: 500 yen
Child: 250 yen How to get to the Jigokudani Monkey Park? It is possible to get to the Jigokudani Monkey Park by public transport. The best options are to either cath the Nagano Dentesu Bus for Kanbayashi from Yudanaka station, or the Shiga-Kogen Line of Nagaden Bus from Nagano station. Top tip You can visit the park during the summer months and you’ll be able to see monkeys – however, don’t expect them to be in the onsen if it’s warm weather. Official website You can find out more information here about the Jigokudani Monkey Park.

Time Travel Turtle was a guest of the Japan National Tourism Organisation but the opinions, over-written descriptions and bad jokes are his own.

23 thoughts on “Monkeys in a Japanese hot spring”

  1. I really loved it there when I went years ago.
    Although there was a snowstorm and it was freezing cold, I stayed for hours and took way too many photos.
    Luckily there are some nice onsen nearby where you could soak in and warm up again.

    I also highly recommend visiting nearby Matsumoto Castle if anybody happens to have enough time. πŸ™‚

    Reply
    • Oh, don’t talk to me about taking too many photos. Every time a monkey moved its head slightly, I took another shot. I don’t even want to count how many I ended up with – the animals were just all so cute and I couldn’t help myself!! πŸ™‚

      Reply
  2. The monkeys maybe don’t understand what the fuss is. Maybe they are thinking “dude, I am having a swim. What’s the excitement for?” πŸ™‚ I would like to see them but can’t ever see myself going to Japan

    Reply
    • Oh yeah, it’s definitely a must see! It wasn’t quite what I was expecting – a bit smaller – but there was a lot more action and things to see than I thought, so it really lived up to the hype!

      Reply
  3. The writer is a moron. The monkeys here have probably been doing this long before humans even found the hot springs. Why is seeking warmth during the cold so ‘unnerving?’ I almost expected the writer to find it ‘unnerving’ that they were scratching themselves just like the writer when he had an itch! OMG! It’s the Planet of the Apes, people… they’re taking over!

    Reply
    • They don’t seem to mind it (certainly not as much as I would – brrr!!). They don’t need the hot water to survive – it’s just for comfort. So I guess it’s just like when we get out of a hot shower on a normal day.

      Reply
  4. We loved spending time with the monkeys and it was so great to see them free.
    There were a few annoying tourists there who were trying to piss monkeys off for a photo.
    Great to see you included a photo of the pool with everyone around it. You never see that until you get there.

    Reply
    • I’m glad you appreciated that wide shot! I almost didn’t include it because it ruins the ‘magic’ of all the other photos. But the size of the pool and all the tourists around it really surprised me so I wanted other people to know what to expect. Not that it takes away from it at all.

      Reply
  5. i have never seen or heard of monkeys swimming in a hot spring ever before, how fascinating this must have been to experience it ! I am currently living in Hong Kong and plan to visit Japan sometime soon – although i am waiting for the summer months to be honest as i avoid cold weather as much as i can! So glad i found your blog, i found it on the expeditioner top travel blogs list, so well done on that too πŸ™‚

    Reply
    • Thanks, Jasmine. Japan in summer would be nice but I think spring is the most beautiful time (and the weather is good). There’s something special about winter, though, and it’s a really magical time in the country. Basically, you can’t go wrong with any time of year!! πŸ™‚

      Reply
  6. Seems they are the world’s most innocent monkeys. Its a worth visit. Its just one needs to be careful while reaching the park as the ground is too slippery.

    Reply
  7. So Interesting !
    How ironical that monkeys are enjoying a nice bath in the hot springs , keeping themselves warm and
    the tourists are watching them, freezing in cold .

    Reply
  8. I was wondering if you ever considered changing
    the layout of your website? Its very well written; I love what youve got
    to say. But maybe you could a little more in the way of content so people
    could connect with it better. Youve got an awful lot of text for
    only having 1 or two images. Maybe you could space
    it out better?

    Reply

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