Travel Guide to Hell’s Valley

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Japan’s Jigokudani Monkey Park

Japanese Snow Monkeys enjoy the art of hot tubbing.

Everyday, the people of Japan enjoy the art of soaking in a hot bath. At Jigokudani Wild Monkey Park outside Nagano, monkeys indulge in the ritual, too. The Japanese Macaque, commonly called Snow Monkeys, are native to Japan and more than 200 of these tan, fuzzy creatures with deep pink faces inhabit the park.

Visiting the park is entertaining and an ecological treat seeing the Snow Monkeys in their natural habitat. Pairs of monkeys pick and groom each other while sitting on rocks. Baby monkeys nuzzle close to their mothers with their little paws gripped tightly.

Juvenile monkeys scamper along the hillside sometimes playing and sometimes running in fear from the alpha male. Occasionally, a loud screech echoes throughout the valley, signaling a warning of some sort.

Year-round, monkeys enjoy the mineral-rich waters of the hot spring, but more so during the winter when temperatures dip below freezing. As they soak, they seem oblivious to the tourist-paparazzi snapping photos, taking videos and observing.

For those wondering, humans cannot soak in the hot spring next to the monkeys. Near the park is a ryokan (Japanese hotel) with a hot spring for people.

Visiting Jigokudani Wild Monkey Park is easiest during late spring, summer and early fall, due to the lack of snow. It’s a 30-minute uphill hike to the park. However, snow and cold temperatures provide dramatic scenery with heavy steam and more monkeys seeking warmth in the hot spring.

Tips for visiting Jigokudani Wild Monkey Park

  • Keep food hidden. If the monkeys see something which looks like food, they may become hostile and try to grab it.
  • Observe at a safe distance. While they may look cute and cuddly, the monkeys are wild animals. If they feel threatened, they will act out accordingly, including screeching and possibly attacking.
  • Don’t stare into a monkey’s eyes. Staring signifies hostility and the monkeys feel threatened by this action.

Geography: The park is called Jigokudani Yaen-koen but is commonly referred as Hell’s Valley Monkey Park. Jigokadani means “Hell’s Valley,” named for the steam rising off the valley’s hot springs. It’s located in northeastern Nagano Prefecture’s Joshinetsu Kogen National Park and is less than 300 kilometers northwest of Tokyo.

Getting there: Getting to the monkey park is easy using trains and the local bus. Train travel time is between 2.5 and 3.5 hours (excluding waiting for connections). Departing from Tokyo, use the JR Nagano Shinkansento Nagano. In Nagano, take the Nagano Dentatsu Line (a local train) to Yudanaka.

Pick up a bus in Yudanaka to Kanbayashi Onsen. It’s a 30-minute walk to the entrance of Jigokudani Yaenkoen. An information center serves as a gateway into the Wild Monkey Park. It provides a brief overview, lockers and sells souvenirs and minimal food.