“Snowfall in Yamanouchi”

Yamanouchi, Japan. February 2019. (12 photos)

This is part 7 of my Japan 2018-19 photo series.

Nagano, the home of the 1998 Winter Olympics is a city in Japan, about 173km northwest of Tokyo. By shinkansen (the bullet train) it takes about 90 minutes to get there from Tokyo. Northeast of Nagano one finds Jigokudani Yaen Koen, near the town of Yamanouchi. It is part of the Joshinetsu Kogen National Park.

“Snow falling on cedars”

At 850m above sea level, heavy snowfall covers the area for about four months each year. A solitary narrow 2km path leads through the forest to Jigokudani Yaen Koen.

“If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?”

“Serenity now”

“The road to “hell””

At the end of the trail, one reaches Jigokudani Yaen Koen. The name Jigokudani, means “Hell’s Valley”, and it is so named due to the steam and boiling water that bubbles out of small crevices in the frozen ground, forming natural onsen (hot springs) surrounded by steep cliffs and cold and hostile forests. But these hot baths are not for humans; rather they’re for the local inhabitants, snow monkeys. If you weren’t aware of it, Jigokudani Yaen Koen is more popularly known as snow monkey park.

“What you looking at?”

The park is famous for its large population of wild Japanese macaques, more commonly known as snow monkeys, that go to the valley during the winter, foraging elsewhere in the national park during the warmer months. The monkeys descend from the steep cliffs and forest to sit in the hot waters of the onsen, and return to the security of the forests in the evenings.

“Feels sooo good”

“Shared bodily warmth”

“Somebody’s watching me”

There are live webcams at snow monkey park. Anyone watching it at a certain time on a certain day would have seen me clearly. Fortunately, the footage is not archived.

“I’m never getting out of this onsen”

Wild monkeys bathing in hot springs. Only in Japan. Seriously.


“Happy trails”

You’ve probably realised I didn’t take these photos during my trip to Japan in autumn, October/November 2018. Rather, I took these last week during a return visit to Japan for 8 days, in the Japanese winter. I could call this part 1 of my Japan in winter 2019 photo series, but I won’t.

This is part 7 of my Japan 2018-19 photo series.

Leica Etcetera, Photography Etcetera

Jigokudani Yaen Koen


66 thoughts on “Jigokudani Yaen Koen

      • I would imagine that a place like that would be swamped with people. Personally it seems like it would be best enjoyed in a somewhat meditative state–I tend to like to enjoy nature in solitude.

        • I agree, it would be fantastic to be there without others to distract, but that’s not possible for a place like this. Still, it was actively snowing and cold. There weren’t as many people there as I thought there might be.

    • Visiting the snow monkeys of Jigokudani was the core element of my trip to Japan this time; the only planned event. It was such a beautiful experience to be there with them, in that environment. I hope you have the chance to see them for yourself sometime, Sally.

  1. Beautiful images Draco! I saw a documentary about the snow monkeys at Jigokudani last year and it’s lovely to see them enjoying the hot springs here through your lens 🙂🐒

  2. Absolutely delightful and beautiful, Lignum. The monkey in the first shot looks prepared to repel invaders with snowballs if necessary and the expression on the one in the water is priceless. Nice to have you back on my blogging radar.


    • Thank you, Janet. I was wondering if any of them were going to throw snowballs at me, but I was safe. 🙂 It was amazing how close you could get to them without them being startled – within a couple of feet. It was a great experience.

  3. Ohhh my!! The two photos of the monkey in the bath with that look on its face are worth every yen you might have spent there. Somehow it puts everything in the perspective. The question is whether you joined them in there, since you’re worried about the camera feed archives. 😀 😀 Excellent stuff!!

    • Yes, that monkey in the hot springs was hilarious. We can all appreciate what he’s experiencing through his facial expression. Did I join him? I’ll have to leave that to your imagination. 🙂

  4. Back in Japan so soon? I hope to be someplace warmer and without snow soon. And yes! Sometimes you have to get the special photo gloves to work the camera in the cold or suffer the consequences of numb digits 😉

    • Actually, I didn’t know I had a week off until 2 weeks beforehand. Since I was suffering in the local extreme heatwave, I wanted to go somewhere cooler, and Japan just seemed right. 🙂 I had the ice cleats for my shoes but not the photo gloves – live and learn.

  5. Now these are incredibly beautiful photos of the snow monkeys! How surprised I was to see you went back for them! From the documentaries I have seen, I love them, but your photos are even better than those on TV. You have captured precious moments and I know – I would not have wanted to leave either… Thank you for posting to all of us!

  6. Love the expressions on the snow monkeys! They must have been hard to leave 😀 We just had snow here last week…soooo peaceful, as you’ve captured in your photos! Unfortunately the rain is back here and it is almost all gone now. 😢

  7. How wonderful to be back in Japan so soon. I love the expressions of the faces of the monkeys (monkey?) in the hot spring. I should get out of the Hiroshima-Tokyo urban belt next time I’m there.

    • You’re right, it’s the same monkey in both photos of the hot springs. There were 9 monkeys in and around the pool, but that facial expression won out for inclusion in this post. 🙂 It was an easy decision to go back to Japan once I knew I had the time off. There is so much more I want to see as well, including Hiroshima.

    • More careful than paranoid. 🙂 It’s a beautiful place. The necessary trek through the winter forest to see monkeys roaming freely and bathing in hot springs. A truly unique experience.

  8. You escaped being seen… again! I think it’s a mark of a good photographer who manages to always be unseen. 😉 This must be the Japanese Narnia, quite magical!

    Those monkey are so funny… their faces are positively human, they even have little beards! 😅

    • Narnia- that’s a great analogy. It did seem like a wintery fantasyland and watching them soak in the hot springs was incredible. I wanted to get in there as well – it was so cold. 🙂

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