At some unknown point after the Korakukan Ryokan Hot Spring Inn opened in the mid-1800s, a tourist soaking in the inn’s natural hot springs decided to slip a Japanese macaque monkey who had wandered over from a nearby forest a little morsel of food. It didn’t take long for the macaque monkeys of the Jigokundani Valley to figure out that receiving an endless supply of snacks and lounging in hot springs aren’t exclusively human activities.
By the 1960s, several troops of Japanese macaques—otherwise known as snow monkeys—had claimed the Jigakudani hot springs as their own. It was then that the Jigokudani Monkey Park was born. In lieu of soaking in the hot springs themselves, visitors can view families of macaques monkeying around in their natural habitat. The Jigokudani Monkey Park is surrounded by serene forests where travelers can take a peaceful walk.
The most popular time to visit the Jigokudani Monkey Park is in the winter, when the Jigokudani Valley is blanketed in snow. It is surreal and endearing to see countless monkeys frolicking in steaming pools with a light coat of snow covering their fur, Even though visitors are prohibited from soaking in the pools or touching the monkeys, the warmth from the thermal pools still provides a great deal of heat on frigid days to visitors strolling along the park’s boardwalk.
Through the centuries, Japanese culture has viewed snow monkeys as tricksters, scapegoats, and emissaries between gods and humans. The Jigokudani Monkey Park is the perfect place for you to draw your own conclusions about the potential character and motivations of snow monkeys, If you’re looking for a human-centric hot spring, nearby Shibu and Nozawa Onsen feature pristine natural hot springs. Perhaps the snow monkeys of Jigokudani Monkey Park will inspire you to attempt some new hot spring antics.