Fun Times at Jigokudani Monkey Park

Japan is a country rich in beautiful landscapes, natural resources, and wildlife. One of Japan’s popular indigenous wildlife species is the Japanese macaque.


The Japanese macaque is known as saru (monkey) in Japanese but to distinguish it from other primates of the world, it is called Nihonsaru (Nihon means Japan in Japanese). The Nihonsaru are Old World monkeys, a group of primates that fall under the superfamily Cercopithecoidea. They are also known as “snow monkeys” because they live in areas where snow is prevalent throughout the year.

Japanese macaque. | Martha de Jong-Lantink

Jigokudani Monkey Park (地獄谷野猿公苑) or Jigokudani Yaen Kōen  in Yamanouchi, in Nagano Prefecture, a part of Joshinetsu Kogen National Park (locally known as Shigakogen), is located at the northern area of the Yokoyu-River.  Jigokudani,  or Hell’s Valley, is aptly named for the boiling water that spumes from the crevices of the frozen ground.

13728815813_a9c913fd09_zThe area is surrounded by steep cliffs and cold forests, and heavy snowfalls cover the ground for about four months of the year. Jigokudani is accessible solely via a narrow two-kilometer footpath through the forest. The place is relatively well known, but the difficulty in getting there makes it hard for many visitors to access.

Jigokudani Monkey Park. | David McKelvey

macaque2Jigokudani is famous for the many wild Japanese macaques or snow monkeys that inhabit the area during the winter. They climb down from the steep cliffs and forests to enjoy the warm waters of the hot springs (onsen).  The monkeys tend to want to stay all year round because they are also fed by park attendants.  Visiting Jigokudani at any season will allow you to see hundreds of monkeys.

Taking a bath. | Yosemite

Jigokudani Monkey Park and the Japanese Macaques are only some of the few unique things to see and explore when in Japan.