Snow Monkeys in Nagano Jan 2016

Wild Japanese Macaques or more commonly known as Snow Monkeys can be found at the Jigokudani Monkey Park in Nagano.  The Monkey Park is two train rides away from Tokyo, the Shinkansen Kagayaki (bullet train) for about hour and a half, then followed by the local train (Nagano Dentetsu Train), another hour, to Yunanaka Station and then a short car ride to the entrance of the park.  Instead of waiting for the 2nd local train, we reserved a taxi to take us from Nagano station to the entrance of the Snow Monkey Park which took about 1 hour.  And then it was another half an hour walk to the man-made onsen or hot spring pool in the middle of the park where these snow monkeys like to soak in the warm waters especially during the winter months.

DSCF0035Entrance to the Jigokudani Snow Monkey Park

DSCF0045It is a 1.6km walk along a tree-lined path from the entrance of the park to the ticket booth and then the hot spring where the monkeys gather.


DSCF0049The monkey onsen is set by the river running down from Shiga Heights.


DSCF0115The diet of these snow monkeys mainly consists of barks, twigs, grain, insects, fruits, etc.  They are constantly picking away looking for food.

Snow Monkeys are native to northern Japan and are remarkably human-like with brown-gray fur and a red face.  They go about their business without paying much attention to the crowds of visitors.  Some chased and groomed one another while others enjoyed their soaks in the onsen.  They live in matrilineal subgroups with alpha males and alpha females.  The leaders are not necessarily the strongest or biggest in size, but more likely determined by the status of its family in the group.  These snow monkeys are born into their social class which dictates their access to food.  Their social classes are inherited from the mother.  Daughter monkeys outrank monkeys subordinate to their mothers, and younger monkeys outrank their older siblings.  Male monkeys leave their subgroups upon maturation and join other subgroups.

DSCF0233Red color of the face is a sign that the monkey has reached adulthood

The park rangers supposedly feed the monkeys once a day around lunch time.  When we were there, the ranger blew on a whistle with a bucket of feed that looked like some sort of grain.  Within minutes, monkeys were zooming down the side of the mountain, at least over 50-60 of them, some with their babies on their backs.

DSCF0191Snow monkeys are known as one of the cleverest species of monkeys and they learn easily and share new skills with each other.


DSCF0243The cutest little baby monkey!

DSCF0231Baby monkey on the monkey bars :)

The hot spring here is reserved for the Snow Monkeys, but Nagano is an area filled with many onsens.  Shibu is an onsen town about 10 minutes away from Jigokudani Monkey Park.  Many of the ryokan hotels have been around for over 400 years.  In the Edo period between 1600-1868, Shibu was used as a relaxation area by samurais for healing in the hot springs after long battles.  We made a brief stop for some soba in Shibu but it seemed pretty dead during the day.  After our noodles, we continued onto Obuse for a short visit before heading back to Nagano to catch the train back to Tokyo.
It was a wonderful visit and I want to thank my friend Barbara for coming with me :)

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