A visit to the Japanese snow monkeys

Japanese snow monkey

Everyone loves monkeys. Actually no, that’s not strictly true. While many people coo at the sight of seeing our distant cousins pulling funny faces, most of us consider them a pest when they get up to their usual mischief and try to separate us from our snacks and loose camera gear.

The macaques that come to bathe in the hot springs at Jigokudani (known to one and all as the Japanese snow monkeys) are uncharacteristically well-behaved. It’s almost as if their Japanese environment has rubbed off on them. We spent an hour by the hot pool observing these curious creatures interact and there wasn’t a single incidence of theft. In fact on several occasions the younger monkeys leapt within inches of their human visitors, generally acting as if we weren’t there as they brushed our legs before scuttling up the hillside.

Leaving Sam to snap the pictures that I’ve shared here, I was free to observe as youngsters squabbled noisily to the visible disapproval of their elders, parents protected their babies from the cold and children played in the snow without a care; all in all the typical kind of behaviour you’d expect when watching any of our relatives go about their everyday life.

Snow monkeys are big business for this mountain valley near the Olympic city of Nagano. On our train from Nagano to the end of the line at Yudanaka Onsen (the train was called the Snow Monkey Express) most passengers were Japanese tourists, heading up to the mountain villages with the main aim of seeing the snow monkeys. Snow monkey cuddly toys are big sellers.

Yet for all the fuss, there were only around 20 other people who made it through the blizzard that greeted us and trekked up the mountain pool to watch the monkeys as they soaked in the hot water.

Snow monkeys Japan

Snow monkeys Japan

Japanese snow monkey

Japanese snow monkey

Japanese snow monkeys

Snow monkeys Japan

Mother and baby snow monkey

Japanese snow monkeys at Jigokudani

japanese snow monkeys at jigokudani

Disclosure: We were in Japan to research a set of commissioned articles (links to follow in due course). Many thanks to Inside Japan Tours, the Japan National Tourism Organization and Virgin Atlantic for their valuable help along the way.

Author Information

Freelance travel writer

8 Responses to “A visit to the Japanese snow monkeys”

  1. I let out a long sigh when I saw your tweet. I have wanted to see the snow monkeys for soooooo long. I’ve had Mitsuaki Iwago’s book for years now, and every now and then I get it out and drool over the photos. Now I can add your post to that, to remind me I still need to go there!

    April 1, 2014 at 10:03 am
  2. Seeing the snow monkeys in Japan is forever on my list. They look so cute and nice to hear they are good natured (although all monkeys are lovely in my opinion). Definitely different to seeing them anywhere else in the world! Lovely images.

    April 1, 2014 at 11:11 am
  3. Olga #

    I loved all your photos, but especially the fifth one. Those eyes. So expressive…

    April 1, 2014 at 11:01 pm
  4. Bob #

    I saw these monkeys on Nat Geo and they looked so cool. I especially loved the fact that they can get a reprieve from the cold winter by diving into the hot water springs in the park.

    April 3, 2014 at 2:10 pm
  5. Oh, we’re in sync! I posted on the snow monkeys today. Your photos are much, much better though 🙂 . Then again, we were a bit rushed, so I don’t take all the blame.

    April 4, 2014 at 5:47 pm
    • Great pictures too Bronwyn – and the photo of the path through the forest brings back happy (if very wintry) memories 🙂

      April 4, 2014 at 8:09 pm
  6. These are amazing photos! If I had a bucket list this would definitely be on it. Well, I plan to go one day. Not that I have a bucket list. They are great!

    April 17, 2014 at 7:47 am
  7. Joanna #

    I really love the pics too. I’m leaving to Nagano in a couple of days even more excited now.

    April 17, 2014 at 10:34 am