Monkeys in Hotspring? You‘ve seen it maybe in TV. You were amazed about it but thought it‘s impossible to see that by yourself in reality. The hot spring bath taking monkeys is a must see in Japanese winter. And access is not that difficult.
It‘s an incredible experience to walk through the Jigokudani Yaen Park, the Monkey Onsen Park, and watch those monkeys taking a relaxed bath in the hot springs. Definitely one of the best attractions in Japan.
In this article we combine the monkeys with a stay at a very traditional hot spring village in the Japanese alps and some train rides.
- Nine hot spring village Shibu Onsen
- Wild snow monkeys in Hotspring – Jigokudani Yaen Koen
- Sample itinerary
- Shinano Wide View Limited Express
- Access Information
9 Hot spring in Shibu Onsen
Shibu Onsen is a hot spring resort with a history of about 1300 years. It‘s located in beautiful scenery. The lanes are paved with cobblestone and surrounded by traditional wooden houses. Many of them a ryokans which is special type of Japanese accommodations.
The best way to experience the atmosphere is by strolling around just wearing a Yukata. A Yukata is a light cotton version of a kimono. In case you are staying overnight you will get such a Yukuta at your ryokan. Just take it one and don‘t take it of during your stay in Shibu Onsen.
Staying in a ryokan is a must in Shibu Onsen. There are plenty of them also with different price ranges. If you are up a real relaxing time make sure you choose one with meals included. This is quite usual for ryokans and food is typical great and delicious with lot‘s of local specials. Often meals are served in your room.
Some of the ryokans also have their own outside hot spring bathes. This can really round up your relaxation. Those bathes in the ryokan can typically be reserved and used privately. That‘s nice if you want to enjoy the bath with your partner of family since public bathes are usually gender seperated.
The Public Bathes
Another attraction in Shibu Onsen are the 9 public bathes houses that are used also by locals frequently. Try to do „Kyu-To Meguri“, the tour of nine bathes for purification. Each of the bathes have different sources and medical effects.
Taking all nine bathes during your stay is a challenge but a great experience. And said to be healthy. Be aware: Some of those bathes had been really hot. Depending on your bath habits it might feel to hot to enter. But you can add some cold water in most of them.
Even though they are public bathes the are locked and usable only by locals or overnight guests. Your accommodation will provide you with the master key to access them.
See the Monkeys in Hotspring
Jigokudani Yean-Koen is the wild snow monkey park that has been established back in 1964. It got its name from the steep cliffs and the steam coming of the hot springs. So the ancient people called the valley “hell valley” which in Japanese is called “Jigokudani. The valley is covered by snow almost one third of the year. A lot of Japanese macaque, also know as snow monkey, live in this valley despite the harsh conditions. The valley has been naturally inhibit by them through ages. Probably to the harsh weather conditions the monkey love to take a bath in the hot springs to warm themselves up. They seem very accustomed to humans. So they are taking their relaxing bath not caring much about the people and photographers around them.
Not only in the water itself but around the forest you can spot many monkey and observe their social behaviors in their groups. Since the establishment of the park it became really famous and popular. Spotting wild monkey in the mountains is difficult and rare. Here in the park, due to the hot spring bath they frequently assemble around the bath so you can easily see and observer them. But they are still in their naturally living environment and not in a zoo cage.
Obviously best time to visit is during winter when there is snow. Then the hot springs are steaming and the bath taking monkey look relaxing and impressive.
It’s a nature park with wild living animals. So be mindful, stay on the paths, don’t litter and accept their living environment when visiting.
Sample Itinerary to see the monkeys in hotspring
Hopefully you are not in a rush. So this sample itinerary could by a good plan for you as well.
|Access to Nagano from wherever you are in Japan. Stay a night in Nagano e.g. in a business hotel in the city
|Get up relaxed in the morning and take the short train trip Yudanaka Onsen. Go straight to the monkey onsen park or drop you baggage in the accomendation first. Stroll trough Shibu Onsen and try to complete all 9 public hot spring bathes Enjoy a ryokan experience
|Grab a delicious breakfast in your rykan Complete the 9 public hot spring bathes Check out and return to Nagano Do some sightseeing in Nagano and continue to your next destination.
It could be an idea to add this stay into your longer trip e.g. when moving from Tokyo towards Nagoya, Osaka or Kyoto.
Shinano Wide View Limited Express
The Shinano Wide View limited express operated by Japan Railway (JR) connects Nagoya to Nagano via Matsumoto. The travel distance is around 250km and takes around 2 hours and 40 minutes on the fastest service. The rolling stock is the 383 series which runs in sets of 6, 8 or 10 cars. The name Shinano is the ancient name of Nagano. The rolling stock is a bit old but interesting. The cabin windows are quite high and large so you get good views of the area. The trains runs through the alps, through valleys and along rivers. So there are plenty of scenic views to catch which make that ride a very great experience. As the monkey park, also this train is a great experience in winter. There is also a couple of sights such as the Nezame-no-toko Gorge along the way between Nagoya and Nagano.
The train is a limited express trains. This means it has reserved seats but requires and additional fare to paid.
Access to Shibu Onsen and the monkey onsen park is not that difficult. Firstly you need to get to Nagano. There are different possibilities to get to Nagano depending where your are starting from.
The Hokuriku Shinkasen connects Tokyo to Nagano. Fastest services run in just 79 minutes.
The Shinano Wide View Limited Express runs from Nagoya on a scenic trip through the mountains in approx. 2 hours and 40 minutes.
The Limited Express Thunderbird connects Osaka to Kanazawa in about 2 hours and 40 minutes. From the Hokuriku Shinkasen runs to Nagano in in about 65 minutes.
Otherwise the Tokaido Shinkansen takes you in 52 minutes to Nagoya on their fastest services. There you can board the Shinano Wide View to Nagano.
From Nagano the Nagano Electric Railway runs to Yudanaka Station in just less then 40 minutes.
The monkey park can be reached by bus or taxi from Yudanaka Station.
Shibu Onsen can be also reached by bus (2 per hour), taxi (5 mintues) or by walk (30 minutes) from Yudanaka Station.
It‘s also possible to walk or hike from Shibu Onsen to the monkey park. It‘s about 4km and should take around 40 to 50 minutes.
From the bus stop and parking place of the monkey park it‘s a short hike of about 1km to reach the monkeys.
Shibu Onsen (engl) – https://www.shibuonsen.net/english/attractions.html
Jigokudani Yaen Park (engl.) – http://en.jigokudani-yaenkoen.co.jp/
Q&A about the Monkey Onsen and Monkeys in Hotspring
Are the monkeys in the hotspring really taking a bath?
Yes, they are. In and around the pond during winter many monkeys assemble. And they are frequenty entering the water and enjoy the hotspring water.
How to get to the Monkey Onsen?
Easiest way is to get first to Nagano which is served by Shinkansen from Tokyo or by Shinano Limited Express from Nagoya. Nagano Electric Railway brings you from Nagano to Yudanaka station. From there you can take a bus.
What else to do near the Monkeys in Hotspring?
Enjoy onsen yourself, go skiing or hiking. Shibu Onsen has 9 public baths to enjoy. The ski resorts of Nagano Prefecture are close by. And hiking in the alps can be fun as well.
What’s the next destination to go after the Monkey Onsen?
Hit towards the northern coast of Japan. Near Toyama is Kurobe Gorge or the Kurobe Alpine Route. The coast around Kanazawa is famous for their fish. Having fresh sushi there is a totally different thing then the ones in Tokyo.