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In the hot spa.
In the hot spa.
Up close.
David gets quite close.

Japanese Snow Monkeys

Thursday, August 19, 2004
David ventures to Nagano in the centre of Japan to visit the fascinating snow monkeys.

The Japanese macaque is the world's most northerly non-human primate. It lives on three of Japan's four main islands and the stocky and heavily furred creature has earned its name "Japanese Snow Monkey" by surviving harsh winters. Up to 60,000 of them live in Japan's hilly forests, and they move so quickly through the trees it is difficult for scientists to study them. They have observed the way they learn, communicate and organize one another, and they pass new learnings from generation to generation.

The reddish-brown animals weigh up to 15 kilograms and live in groups which sometimes exceed 200 members. They sleep in trees at night and during the day forage for food — they eat plants, insects, small vertebrates and in winter, feed on bark.

Jigokudani literally means "Valley Of Hell" and it was given that name because of the severe terrain, steep slopes which are subject to landslides and avalanches, and the winter shade which sunlight penetrates in a small way.

It is covered in snow for about one third of the year, and the steaming geysers which pierce the landscape provide the luxury which attracts the monkeys.

The Jigokudani Natural Park was established in 1964 and is home to about 250 wild monkeys, free to wander around the place they know is theirs. During winter you can visit them between 9am and 4pm and can get as close as 1 metre.

Not as wild as they once were, the snow monkeys accept supplementary wheat seeds from rangers and seem to pose for photographs while hanging from trees, playing, fighting, raising their families or just looking somewhere between relaxed or bored.

While they look furry and cuddly and very friendly you should not try to touch them, feed them or make direct eye contact. They can interpret that as aggression. They learn by observation and identify each other and interpret moods by eye contact.

A series of volcanic pools was set up in the 1960s to keep the monkeys out of people's backyard hot tubs. It is thought they saw how much humans enjoyed the hot water in mid-winter, and decided to try it for themselves.

The Buddhist Tendai sect used the macaque as the model for their three wise monkeys — the ones who saw no evil, spoke no evil, heard no evil.

The best snow is between December and March, and there are plenty of traditional ryokans, or Japanese inns to stay in in the Jigokudani area.


Near Nagano in the middle of Japan, two hours from Tokyo.


Jigokudani Wild Monkey Park costs about $7 for adults and $3.50 for children. It is open year-round.
Accommodation can be booked through Japan Tourist Bureau. Kouraku-kan costs around $270 per person per night, including dinner and breakfast.
Qantas flies daily to Tokyo. Return economy airfares start at $1863 from Darwin, $2116 from Perth, $2118 from Brisbane and Melbourne, $2139 from Sydney and $2150 from Adelaide per person. Prices include charges/taxes and are current at time of writing, but may vary at time of booking. Seasonal surcharges and conditions apply.
Please note prices are valid at time of transmission and to the best of our knowledge are inclusive of GST.

More information

Japan Travel Bureau (JTB)
Ph: 1800 800 956
Japan National Tourist Organisation
Ph: (02) 9251 3024

To book a flight visit or call 13 13 13

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