With great photographers capturing one-of-a-kind shots of snow monkeys playing around and hanging out in the onsen at Jigokudani, it is no wonder that this monkey park often makes it to Japan’s top 10. In recent years, hundreds upon thousands of tourists have ventured to the park, hoping to catch a glimpse of the monkeys in the outdoor hot springs and maybe even get the million dollar photo most can only dream about.
So why then, are we unable to recommend this park to our readers? Although we do not normally talk negatively about destinations on this blog, we decided to make an exception because we truly believe in honest travel. We also would have appreciated knowing what we know now before we went ourselves.
Jigokudani snow monkey park is a bit of a zoo
We said it. The Japanese sell the snow monkey park as a ‘harmonious place for monkeys and humans’ but the fact is that these monkeys are living in a walk-in walk-out zoo.
The snow monkeys only go in the onsen when it is VERY cold
We went to the monkey park in mid-February on a cold yet sunny day. We kind of expected that the monkeys wouldn’t be in the onsen much because even we had unzipped our coats and removed our gloves on the walk up. We were not that disappointed when we saw that there was only a mother and her baby enjoying the sun on the side of the pool.
The disappointment did come, however, when the park rangers arrived with buckets of food and started throwing it to all of the animals and even in the hot spring to force the monkeys to go in. This is when we realised that the monkeys rely on humans to be fed.
So is it even worth going to Jigokudani?
It only costs 800 yen to get in, but even if it is cheap we don’t think it is worth it. The monkeys do not behave naturally when they are being fed by humans and this really ruined it for us. You should also know that there is only 1 onsen to look at and it is not hidden away in the hills like you might imagine.
How to see snow monkeys without going into the official park
Go back to a few days before and we had decided to go on a hike through the forest, which unknown to us a first, also leads to the monkey park. Officially the road from Yammanouchi to the park is closed in winter, but we did see some other footprints and it was extremely accessible. If you take this road, you arrive near the monkey park on the left hand side of the river, opposite to where the majority of tourists hike on the official path. We arrived around 4:30pm when the park starts closing and everyone leaves. But the tourists are not the only ones heading into the forest, because the monkeys also start looking for somewhere to sleep for the night.
We walked past dozens of monkeys in their natural habitat and it was so much more pleasant to see. You just need to be on the other side of the river.
So if you’re a bit anti-zoo like us, you might appreciate visiting using this alternative way. You’ll also save yourself 800 yen 😉
Been to Jigokudani monkey park? Tell us your thoughts in the comments.