Nagano, Japan: Snow Monkeys!!!

Grilled mochi with red beans

Our sixth day in Japan started early, so we ate breakfast on the train… grilled mochi filled with adzuki beans that we had purchased the night before. Yum.

Nagano houses

So where were we off to so early?

Nagano houses

It was a two hour train ride, but this time we weren’t going to Kyoto…

Arriving in Nagano

We went to Nagano!

In Nagano, coming out of the train station

Yep, site of the 1998 Winter Olympics. 😀

In Nagano, looking away from the train station

We didn’t stay long though. We had just a few moments to step outside the Nagano train station and look outside, before we were back on a train again.

Local Nagano Train

This time a much, much smaller express local train.

Back view from the train up the mountain

Which had an awesome view out the back.

Back view from the train up the mountain

So where we going?

View from the train, cars stopped at the tracks

Past small village streets, where the clanging of the train crossing bell could be heard before we got to every road.

View of a bridge from the train

Over a bridge…

Curve view from the train

… around a few curves…

Past a stopped train

… to grandmother’s house we go?

Pause at a train station

No, wait, that’s not right… both my grandmothers live in the US.

Last stop!

And I’m pretty sure (though not 100% certain) that the Japanese side of my family isn’t from Nagano.


Here we are! But where is here?

Bus with Ninja Allison

Look! A ninja! I knew we’d see one in Japan!

Oh wait.

That’s me.

Did I mention it’s really freaking cold where we were going? REALLY. FREAKING. COLD!

Little town view from the bus

In fact, it was snowing. Can you see it? 🙂

Crossing the river in the bus

Yeah, so… we’re still not there. We’re on a bus!

Off the bus

Now we’re there!

Well, almost.

We’re off the bus, anyways… and it’s snowing harder.

Building on the way up...

Now we walk. Uphill. In the gentle snowfall.

Son at the bottom of the mountain

The snow might not seem all that significant, especially to those of you who live in or frequent snowy areas… but Son had never, ever been in snow before.

I had always promised him that someday, I would take him to see snow. And finally, he got to. 😀

Entrance to the snow monkey park

Here’s where we were headed!

At least, this is the entrance.

More hiking before we’re actually there though…

Can you tell where we were going yet?

Leaves with snow

The higher up the mountain we got, the more the snow stuck.

Me on the path

It was a beautiful hike, but that’s not why we were there…


(And the point also wasn’t to get a bunch of silly pictures of me freezing my tush off… *stern look at Son*)

Me on platform

Only halfway there… but a nice little refuge if it’s snowing or raining too hard!

Me, warmer

Almost there…



Yudanaka Onsen

We’re here! For real! Finally!

Side monkey, eating

I’m sure you’re wondering by now… where exactly is “here”?

Monkey looking to the side, making face

This is the Jigokudani Snow Monkey Park in Nagano, Japan.

Snow monkey walking towards us on the bridge

A large family of snow monkeys comes down from the surrounding mountains to hang out here during the day, and then go back up to their home in the mountains at night.

Although us visitors are not allowed to feed the monkeys, workers here will give the monkeys a few apples as treats every day. They don’t mean to provide the monkeys with their full diet, but instead give them incentive to keep coming down to the snow monkey park in the valley every day.

Two snow monkeys in the river

The monkeys enjoy frequenting the hot springs – not surprising, because it gets really cold there! (And we were there in spring… imagine how cold it would be in the dead of winter!)

Stretching monkey on the bridge

There are no cages, nor even any barriers separating you from the monkeys… as you can see, you could reach out and touch one as they run right past one! (Not that I recommend that. The monkeys tend to not care one bit about the humans taking pictures of them, but the Snow Monkey Park says not to touch or feed the monkeys, and with good reason! You wouldn’t want a monkey to turn on you, or not return to the park because humans spooked/drove them off.)

Me next to a monkey

You could spend hours watching the monkeys play and eat and all that monkeys do.

Monkey in a hot spring

We did.

Wet monkey in a hot spring

You can too! There’s supposedly a live webcam that lets you watch the monkeys all the time. (I say supposedly, because I see it frozen on a picture from earlier today, but haven’t seen any updates to it since then.)

Monkeys play fighting

Lonely monkey in the pool

Lonely monkey grooming its arm in the pool

Half-wet monkey on rock in the middle of pool

We probably would have stayed out there longer, if we hadn’t needed to catch the bus back to the train station.

Momma monkey

If we did this again, we probably would make it a two-day trip, and stay at one of the little hotels on the mountain, so we could spend more time with the monkeys.

Momma monkey with baby on back, climbing up the wall

And definitely would go in either winter or summer, when the colors are more vibrant and everything’s not just brown.

Back of monkey with swing

After a while of watching them, you started to learn each monkey’s distinct personality.

Monkey on swing

Surfing monkey on swing

3 monkeys on box

Ninja monkeys on box

Momma monkey next to box

Son taking a picture of the little monkey looking at Son

The above picture is one I took on Son’s iPhone, of him taking the below picture. See how close they could get? One even ran up and grabbed onto Son’s leg as it was playing with another monkey!

Little monkey looking at Son

We were up there for two hours (not including the half-hour walk up to the monkey park) before I got too cold… I went and hung out in the little hut that doubles as a souvenir shop, that has a tiny heater so I could thaw out my fingers and legs.

Hugging monkeys

While I warmed up, Son went back out again, for another hour!

Momma monkey with little baby

He loved taking pictures of all the different monkeys…

Baby monkey yawn!

… can you blame him?

Another ninja monkey!

Monkeys in hot spring

Monkeys hugging

Wet monkey

Wet cold hugging monkeys

Wet cold hugging monkeys looking at each other

Monkey grooming another's head

Back down the mountain we went…

Mossy log

Snow-covered log

… and caught the little local train back to Nagano

Empty train going back to Nagano

Train tracks

Train stop/go light

Yudanaka train station

Yudanaka train station

Waiting to leave at the Yudanaka train station

Inside of the train

Train filled with school children

Looks like we were just in time to share the train with masses of uniformed local school children, who all took the train home after they were finished with their school day.

Children taking the train home from school

Nagano manhole cover

By the time we got back to Nagano, we were starving. So of course, we went in search of good food.

Tokyu Food Show

Every department store in Japan has a big food area in the basement. They’re worth checking out!

Food stall

Chinese food stall with pork buns

We stopped by a food stall that had steamed pork belly buns… ohmygod SO good.

Pork bun

Then we got an egg tart…

Egg tart

Ice cream waffles

… and a banana-chocolate ice cream-filled waffle.

Ice cream waffles

After taking an elevator up to the top floor to see if there was any other good food up there (there were restaurants, but nothing that really appealed to us.) we decided to walk to the Zenkouji Temple.

View from top floor

Mos Burger

On our way there, we passed a Mos Burger. We had been wanting to try this Japanese burger chain, so we stopped in and shared a burger. Very good… much lighter and tastier than most burgers you can find here in the US!

Mos Burger counter

Then we kept walking.

Me and the taxi

Until we found a little shop with free wifi… and discovered that the Temple had already closed a couple of hours ago.

Walking back to the train station

Oops. Good thing we checked!

Guy practicing diablo in front of Nagano 1998 sign in the station

Back to the train station we went, to go reserve our ticket (free with the JR pass) to take the Shinkensen back to Tokyo.

Back outside of the station

We had some time before the train left, so we went off to find some more food.

Water jugs in soba shop

Because Son really wanted to try some soba while we were in Nagano (it’s the specialty there).

Soba and tempura dinner

What? We’re food bloggers. We never really stop eating. 😉


Son loved the soba…


I loved the tempura…

Pickles and scallions

Son eating soba

… and we had just enough time after our meal to stop and watch this man paint huge pictures with water, before we had to dart to the platform to catch our train.

Water painting

What a long day! Such a tiring day, in fact, that Son and I fell asleep on the way back to Tokyo, my head on his shoulder, his head resting on mine.

It’s a good thing Tokyo was the last stop… the conductors had to come wake us up after all the other passengers had left!


Don’t forget, just a couple of Japan posts left! Leave a comment on any of my posts about Japan, and you’ll be entered to win one of two bamboo rolling mats and packages of nori from the Tsukiji Fish Market. One comment per post, please!

18 thoughts on “Nagano, Japan: Snow Monkeys!!!”

  1. sean campbell -

    Beautiful animals and you captured them perfectly, and the food wasn’t bad either. Cheers

  2. greg thompson -

    Great great post. Ichiban! Makes me really get out and travel again. I always had Japanese Calendars when I worked for Yamasa Shoyu and Asahi beer, which usually had a snowy forest seen in December. But we never think of Japan as looking like that! Domo

  3. martin -

    So cool! I’ve always really wanted to visit Japan but the pictures of the snow monkeys sealed the deal! It’s gotta happen soon!!

  4. cella -

    wow amazing pictures of the monkeys!
    about the bus trip to the monkey area, around how long did it take & was it on a steep slope?
    (i am thinking of going there, but the mini bus is not operating at the time i am planning to go)
    thank you!

  5. Cristina -

    Hi, first time that I found your blog.
    Great work, tell me what kind of camara did you use, because the pictures are really great! I will go, hopefully 2011 to Japan, I need till then a very good camera – our pictures are not so clear. thanks from Austria/ Vienna cristina

  6. Helen -

    The pictures are amazing!! And the monkeys are so adorable. I wish I can come here during my trip, but I don’t know if I could handle the cold in October!

    Also, do you mind what lens Son uses?

  7. Toni -

    Wow your photos are amazing and I really want to see these monkeys for myself, just trying to work this out you were there in July (summer) and was very cold with snow? I am trying to decide if we will be able to do this in February as a day trip from Tokyo or whether we won’t be able to because of too much snow (we are from tropical location so will be struggling to keep warm anyway).

  8. zat -

    hi there
    I loveee watching all the great pictures of your blog especially on your trip to Japan. Im going to Japan next year and I made your blog as reference. I really like the idea of photo journalism.
    I am going to Kyoto, Osaka, Nara, Nagano and Tokyo all in 9 days. Is it feasible? Is 1 day for Nagano sufficient enough?