Japanese Alps: Snow Monkeys and Ryokan Experience

Japanese Alps: Snow Monkeys and Ryokan Experience

I bet you already heard of the Snow Monkeys of Japan… yes the ones who love to bath in hot springs during winter. We decided to go check them out. It was spring when we went and barely any snow was left, but the monkeys still played around the hot spring. Besides… we really wanted to have a Ryokan experience and I heard Shibu Onsen is great in this so we planned it all out.

In this post I will give you some information on the park, how to get there, where to stay and information about bathing in an onsen. So follow me!

Where is it situated?

The Jigokudani Monkey Park is located in the Japanese Alps, close to Nagano. The closest train station is in Yudanaka.

 

Snow Monkey park Jigokudani

Walking Trail

First thing you need to know about getting to the park: you will have to do a short hike/walk. From the closest point (the parking lot) it is still 1.6 km by foot.

Here below you find a map to situate you better.

Also worth mentioning is to wear comfortable shoes and maybe bring water for the way. Furthermore, if you want to go during winter you’ll have to be extra careful for the slippery paths!

 

 

After doing the full trail you will reach the entrance of the park. There you’ll find a small information center with all you need to know about the snow monkeys. You can also check information about returning buses if you haven’t done it already.

Now… I was very surprised how SMALL the park is. I honestly expected it to be bigger. After walking a little bit up to the hot spring, you will see that area is basically all they offer to tourists. Their main focus is on the hot spring itself.

Don’t forget to read the rules as they are very important and the park watchers will call on you if you misbehave. So rule number one: don’t feed the monkeys! Don’t try to touch them either, just let them be. They are comfortable with having people around them, but always watch your things as they can be sneaky.

Even if it is small, I really liked to see these creatures in person, especially how they play around with each other and in the water. And the baby monkeys were so adorable!

You can find more info if you are interested on their site. 

They also have a live stream video on the site that shows the hot spring! A tip if you would like to watch them on the stream: Check the time difference with Japan!

Below is a short video I made of the hot pool.

 

 

Snow Monkey 1-day Pass

If you are not staying in Yudanaka or Shibu Onsen. You can opt for a 1-Day pass from Nagano.

The Snow Monkey 1-Day Pass includes unlimited use of the Nagaden Trains, the Nagaden Express Bus between Nagano Station and Kanbayashi Onsen and the local Nagaden Bus between Yudanaka Station and Kanbayashi Onsen. Most important of all off course it includes the admission to the Jigokudani Snow Monkey Park.

This can save you some money as it is 2.900 yen and the retour train would be already 2520 yen and the entrance is 800 yen. See the walking trail map for the bus stop points!

 

How to get to the Snow Monkeys park

By train

You will have to take the train to Nagano first, which is accessible by Shinkansen. So you can use your Japan Rail Pass until that point.

After arriving in Nagano, you will have to exit the JR lines and go down to the Nagano Dentetsu train line. There you can take the Nagano Electric Railway Limited Express, which takes about 50 minutes and costs 1,260 yen. It requires no transfers to reach Yudanaka Station.

The pictures below shows the inside of this train. It is spacious and it has an own place for luggage which is very practical.

From Yudanaka you will have to take a bus. More info if you scroll.

If you need extra info about travelling in Japan by train. Check out my Japan train travel guide.

By bus

From Nagano Station, take the Nagano Dentetsu Bus (Nagaden) towards Shiga Kogen. This bus makes a stop at Kanbayashi Onsen Guchi, a short walk from the entrance to the monkey park. These buses do no stop at Yudanaka Station!

If you have the Snow Monkey 1-Day Pass and want to return to Nagano, taking the bus is the easiest way.  Just show the bus driver your pass. You can also pay with cash, the cost is 1,400 yen/one way and you can pay the bus driver directly.

If you want to go back to Shibu Onsen or Yudanaka, there are buses for that as well. The local Nagaden Bus between Yudanaka Station and Kanbayashi Onsen, also stops in Shibu Onsen. Just don’t forget that you will have to walk all the way back from the snow monkey park to the bus point and that can take up to 30 minutes.

 

 

Where to stay

 

Shibu Onsen and the 9 healing onsen

If you chose to stay the night in this area, you should stay in Shibu Onsen. I have never seen such a cute and peaceful town. At night it is so quite, you only hear the geta (Japanese wooden shoes) of people passing by and the water streams around you.

Any Spirited Away fans here? Well… then you know the mysterious bathhouse which Chihiro discovered ”Aburaya”. It is said that Hayao Miyazaki had depicted the framework of the bathhouse after having inspired by the traditional Japanese Ryokan ”Saigetsurou”.

Saigetsurou is listed as an important cultural property in Nagano Prefecture. It was built around 1936 and is made of 13 wooden pillars which stack up the whole building from the 1st floor to the 4th floor. Nails are rarely used.

 

Bathing in a (healing) onsen

Shibu Onsen is known for having 9 healing hot springs (called sotoyu). You can find them spread around town.  Each onsen have a different healing property. For example:  one onsen specializing in women’s health issues (bath number 8), eye infections (bath number 6), gout (bath number 4), and many more.  Completing your round of all 9 baths is said to grant you fortune and life longevity.

Important: they are VERY hot… and you will have to go in NAKED… with others if necessary as it is public. However… not everyone can enter. Only a selective few ryokans have the keys for it. Also what was very relative to me was: nobody with TATTOOS are allowed inside the baths… yep that meant having 7 tattoos myself I could not go in the water. Of course I went inside to check it out, but the water was waaaay too hot for me anyway.

 

 

Where to sleep?

I can recommend you to stay in a ryokan, a traditional accommodation type of Japan. Here you will have a room with the tatami wooden mats and you sleep on the floor in a futon (a super thin mattress and warm covers).

Pssst: We took the train till Yudanaka and our Ryokan picked us up at the station. After the check-in they drove us till the parking of the park. So if you stay in a ryokan, don’t forget to see if they offer this free shuttle service. Most of them do as Japan are masters in hospitality.

The Ryokan we stayed in

The ryokan that we picked was Suminoyu and we loved it as it wasn’t so expensive, but very appealing! Many in the area can go sky high in prices, so be sure to check your dates on time! They usually accept reservations from 3 months before and you will have to pay cash upon arrival.

Like I already mentioned, they offered shuttle service from and to the train station, also to the parking of the park. You just have to communicate what time you will arrive and they will gladly help you. The best thing is you can wear the yukatas and geta they offer and stroll around the little town like Japanese people do.

We also chose the half-board option with breakfast and the Japanese kaiseki dinner. Kaiseki dinner means you will have a full meal offered in small dishes.  This is just what I love, small cute dishes so you can taste a bit of everything. All where made with local fresh ingredients which is a big plus. The breakfast is also served in small dishes, cold and warm ones. It doesn’t look like much, but it sure was delicious and filling.

So if you want the full Japanese experience… try as many things they offer as you can!

 

Private onsen

Like most of the ryokans in the area, Suminoyu also has a private hot bath. They offer a bigger one inside, men and women separately off course. An other smaller one is outside, which is pretty cool as well.

Reminder: it is usual that ryokans do not have an extra bathroom in the rooms. The onsen IS the bathroom, which mean you will have to wash yourself here. It is possible other guests will be there as well. For me it is not a problem as I don’t really mind being naked with other female, but it is a thing you will have to keep this in mind to avoid surprises.

How do you do it? Well.. they have a place with mirrors and soap available near the hot bath. First you take a short wooden chair and a wooden bucket and place yourself in front of the mirror. Then you can soap in your body and shampoo your hair and finally you pour water to wash off with your bucket.  You can either go before or after washing into the hot bath and relax for how long you like. There is a separate room to keep your items, dry yourself, put on your clothes and get ready.

Want to book this ryokan? Or check out more in the area, I prepared a Booking search for you.

I really, really enjoyed my time in Shibu Onsen and with the snow monkey, it was a perfect time to relax a bit from hopping from one place to an other with the train. If you have questions about this place, you can always send me an email and I will try to help you out!

psst: Check out my full 21 day itinerary in Japan out if you are interested.

 



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6 Comments

  1. October 28, 2017 / 05:15

    Ah thank you so so much for including directions! That’s always the most difficult for me haha. Great post!

    • jessikat
      Author
      October 28, 2017 / 05:18

      I was afraid it would be hard too, but I never missed an itinerary by train or bus in japan! So easy and people are so helpfull!! ^^

  2. October 28, 2017 / 10:55

    This is a really useful guide. It’s great that you still saw the monkeys in the Spring. I wasn’t sure if they’d be around all year. I’d love to visit one day!

    • jessikat
      Author
      October 28, 2017 / 16:19

      I was not so spectacular as during winter, but I would freeze to death in winter time…besides I prefered to see the sakura trees. April is perfect for both ahha

  3. November 5, 2017 / 19:51

    Hi, Jess! Yet another great story I really enjoyed reading! This place looks magical. I`m impressed how well you brought different culture in a way everybody would be inspired to go and experience it themselves. You did a great job with details and very specific tips, so anyone can have a good time there.
    Nigel William recently posted…Wood lathe reviews fine woodworking 2017My Profile

    • jessikat
      Author
      November 10, 2017 / 19:40

      Thank you so much for reading it! I knwo it’s not simple to get there and it is not a daytrip from tokyo so i wanted to explain how to get there and why it’s worth it ^^

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