Jigokudani is a valley surrounded by steep rock walls where steam can be seen rising from natural hot springs. Jigokudani Monkey Park, is famous due to massive population of wild Japanese snow monkeys, using natural spa exclusively by themselves. These are also referred to Japanese macaques “Macaca fuscata”, in Yamanouchi, Shimotakai District, Nagano Prefecture, part of the Joshinetsu Kogen National Park, located in the valley of the Yokoyu-River, in the northern part of the prefecture. The name Jigokudani, meaning (Hell's Valley), famous for steam and boiling water that bubbles out of small crevices in the frozen ground, surrounded by steep cliffs and terribly cold and intimidating forests. The heavy snowfalls, covers the area for 4months in a year, an elevation of 850 meters. The main onsen bath was constructed specifically for use by the monkeys.
The Jigokudani Monkey Park is only accessible through a 2KM footpath via forest, mostly uncrowded in spite of being relatively well-known. The monkeys descend from the steep cliffs and forest to sit in the warm waters of hot springs, and return to the security of the forests in the evenings. Though, monkeys are fed by park attendants, they are in the area of the hot springs all the year round, and a visit at any season will enable the tourist to observe hundreds of the macaques. This region receives heavy snowfall usually white from Dec-Mar, with January and February is the best time to visit the monkey park.
During the colder season, when food is very limited available, monkeys congregate in and around the pools for warmth and the daily supply of barley and soybeans. Further, sometimes monkeys are sighted even in the summer as they take occasional baths because they are enticed by food thrown into the pool by park wardens. Moreover, the macaques are medium sized monkeys, have stocky body with both a head and body length of approximately 500mm high. The tail length is less than a quarter of the head and body length, have grayish or brownish fur color, well-developed cheek paunches, ischial callosities and red faces. The biggest male was about 600mm, the biggest female was about 450mm, and infants were about 300mm.
In 1963, a young female monkey clambered into a hot spring to collect soybeans that were floating on the surface of the water. This unusual behavior was followed by others in the troop, and soon it became common for the monkeys to retreat to the hot pools when the harsh winter arrived. Naturally the tourists followed soon after. The wild monkeys keep their own schedules, as there are no fences or cages, and they do whatever they like. That’s the beauty of this whole park, and something that sets it apart from many of Japan’s other animal experiences.
Hence, a visit to the Nagano area would not be complete without seeing the Japan Snow Monkeys. Notwithstanding its relatively remote location, approximately 100,000 visitors trek through the woods of Nagano each year to see wild snow monkeys. Overnight visitors usually base themselves in nearby Kanbayashi Onsen, Shibu Onsen or Yudanaka Onsen. It’s definitely the most scenic, with snow-capped trees backgrounding groups of bathing Japanese macaques. Visitors can observe their natural lifestyle and numerous photos are on display at the park management building.