Activities in Kanbayashi Onsen inc. Jigokudani Monkey Park
Established in 1964, the Jigokudani Monkey Park was created as a refuge for a local troop of monkeys who now frequent the park on a daily basis.
With approximately 150 to 160 monkeys – Japanese macaques to be exact – in the troop, you are likely to encounter many on any given day and with no barriers separating the monkeys from visitors, a visit to the park is a rare chance to walk through and between wild animals going about their lives!
The monkeys have achieved global fame for their unique behaviour of soaking in ‘onsen’ (hot springs) and ability to thrive in the deep snow of winter. But don’t let that fool you, the monkeys come to the park throughout the year and are just as entertaining in spring, summer and autumn.
Stay & Explore Kanbayashi Onsen / all year round
The park is accessed via a forest trail starting from Kanbayashi Onsen. Kanbayashi is a small ‘onsen’ (hot spring) village with traditional guesthouses and a small number of restaurants and cafes open during the day.
While quiet, Kanbayashi Onsen is a great place to stay, allowing early morning or late-afternoon visits to the monkey park when visitor numbers are at their lowest.
Guesthouses have their own hot springs – actually utilising the same natural source as that in the monkey park – and pride themselves on traditional service including ‘kaiseki’ (multi-course) meal service.
Kanbayashi Onsen is an ideal place to stay and from where to explore the attractions and enjoy the activities of Yamanouchi.
Visit the Jigokudani Monkey Park / all year round
But of course, the monkeys are the big attraction! As the only troop of monkeys in the world known to naturally bathe in hot springs, the Jigokudani Monkey Park – often referred to as the Snow Monkey Park – is one of the region’s most popular destinations and Yamanouchi’s best known attraction.
With no barriers separating you and the monkeys, this is a unique chance to observe these curious creatures in close proximity and witness the unusual sight of a Japanese macaque relishing the warm thermal waters of the park.
Most famous for their antics in winter, the monkeys in fact come to the park throughout the year.
Spring sees the local cherry blossoms bloom and the year’s baby monkeys being born, followed by the lush, hot and humid summer and finally, the beautiful leaves of autumn; all before winter takes hold again and each season offering its own reasons to visit.
No matter what time of year you are visiting Nagano and Yamanouchi, a visit to the monkey park is something of a must-do!
Eat, Stay & Play: Enjoy the Restaurants of Kanbayashi / all year round
Visitors to Kanbayashi Onsen can enjoy a couple of great restaurants and cafes. Located only moments from the trail leading to the monkey park, Enza Café is open all-year round and serves a mixed menu of Japanese staples and Western favourites.
Through winter, Enza’s ramen and hot drinks are always popular while in summer, their summer burger menu and craft beers really hit the spot.
Enza’s open-plan including outdoor seating allow guests to savour the surrounding forest. Through autumn, a large ‘momoji’ trees turns a stunning shade of red above Enza’s terrace – the perfect spot to go slow and enjoy the tranquil atmosphere of Kanbayashi.
Further down the hill, in-between the public bus stops, Hotarutei is a fine-dining restaurant housed in a beautiful 160-year old mansion.
Serving a traditional Japanese menu including warming ‘nabe’ hotpot, tempura, wagyu beef along with sushi and sashimi sets, Hotaru-tei provides an outstanding dining experience within walking distance of the monkey park.
In spring, the cherry blossom trees directly in front of Hotarutei are exceptionally beautiful.
Snow Monkey Resorts Info & Gift Shop / October to May
Located at the entrance to the trail leading to the monkey park, Snow Monkey Resorts Info & Gift Shop is open daily from 09:00 to 17:00 between late-October and late-May.
Visitors looking for a memento of their visit, should make sure to pop-in and select from their range of official Snow Monkey Resorts merchandise along with other souvenirs and snacks. English-speaking staff are on-hand to assist with your needs and enquiries, including baggage storage while you’re in the park.
During winter, rental gear including snowboots and jackets are available and always in demand, while other winter clothing including gloves, hats and more is available for sale. Cramp-ons (metal spikes) that attach to the underside of your shoes or boots are also available.
Closed from June until late-October, visitors wanting to official Snow Monkey Merchandise or in need of English assistance should head to Enza Café where the same stock can be purchased.
Kanbayashi Onsen Sendayaki / early-February
For visitors headed to Yamanouchi in early February, make sure to time your visit for the ‘Kanbayashi Onsen Sendayaki’ Festival. This small fire festival sees members of the ‘Mitake-kyo Chusei-kosha’ – a Shinto sect that worships Mount Ontake – move from the lower town of Shibu Onsen up to Kanbayashi Onsen in ceremonial attire.
Parading from Shibu Onsen to Kanbayashi Onsen, the festival concludes with the three Shinto members walking across burning charcoal as a form of purification – a very local and unique ceremony.