Looking for snow monkeys near Yudanaka in Japan

February 2015 

Where to see snow monkeys in the wild? Although Japan is a highly industrialized country full of large cities home to millions of people, there are still some places that offer unique nature experiences, such as the central Alps, where visitors can observe the Japanese macaques bathing in the hot springs to escape from cold and snow.

Nagano Yudanaka railway Japanese Alps
How to get to the snow monkeys? The snow monkey, more properly known as Japanese macaque (Macaca fuscata), also called "red-faced monkey", lives in most of Japan territory, however, one of the loveliest places to observe them in nature, is the mountain range west of Tokyo. In particular, near Yudanaka, there is a world-famous national park where visitors can observe the snow monkeys in winter, while they have bath in the geothermal waters, to escape from the cold. Yudanaka is easily accessible from Tokyo and other cities in Japan, as the city is served by a railway line to Nagano, in turn served by Shinkansen (bullet train).
Japanese Buddhist temple
Yudanaka is a small provincial town in the heart of the Japanese Alps, where life flows quietly and away from the bustle of big cities. Generally, the reason for which visitors get to Yudanaka, is to look for Japanese macaque (snow monkey), but the place is also interesting for several monuments, like this Buddhist temple which also houses a large statue of Buddha.
Buddha statue

The interior of the small Buddhist monastery in Yudanaka, with altar, shrine and Buddha statues.
Yudanaka Japan
Snow in Yudanaka
Yudanaka photos. The town is very different from a typical Japanese metropolis and resembles rather a quiet mountain village with lot of snow.
Hot spring
Yudanaka is known in Japan for hosting natural spa and hot springs.
Yudanaka hot springs
More photos of Yudanaka showing releasing steam from hot water. This is also often used in houses, where there is no need for electrical or gas boilers.
Trail to snow monkeys
A path of just over one and a half kilometers from the outskirts of Yudanaka, leads to the sanctuary of the Japanese macaque.

The best time to go to visit snow monkeys is early in the morning, when tourists are still few. The path leading to the entrance of snow monkey national park goes through a dense forest of conifers.
Forest in the Japanese Alps
After less than half an hour walk, I reach the entrance to the national park, where there are also the houses of the guardians.
From a large fumarole, a thick cloud of steam with a strong smell of sulfur is released.
Soon, numerous Japanese macaques appear in the distance, initially confused with the surrounding rocks having almost the same color.
Snow monkey Japanese Macacus
Photos of Japanese macaque. The Japanese macaque, or snow monkey, is a highly social primate not at all intimidated by humans. Seeing them running and playing in the snow, it's a pretty unique experience, since primates are normally associated with tropical paradises or, at least, with warm climates.
Monkeys having hot bath
But the real peculiarity of the Japanese macaque is to take advantage of the many spas available along the Japanese Alps, to escape from cold and snow by having an hot bath.
Monkeys in the hot springs
Snow monkeys
Japanese Macacuses Macacus having a bath

Japanese macaque photos. These macaques heat up and relax in the thermal waters of the Japanese Alps, to escape the cold weather and snow.
Monkey under the snow Snow monkey in Japan
More photos of snow monkeys, primates who survive to cold and snowy winters, warming up in the geothermal waters.
Monkey and snow in Japan
Cute monkeys

More photos of Japanese macaques.
Monkey face
The snow monkeys are also known as "red-faced monkeys" for the particular color of their face. As often happens in the world of primates, each monkey has a different face that distinguishes it from others.
Monkey in hot water
Scimmie che si spulciano
Monkeys having a bath
Snow monkeys having a bath in the hot springs.
Baby snow monkey

A puppy instead likes to go in apnea, even bathing his head.
The snow monkeys are very sociable and it is not uncommon that some of them they stay together with photographers and visitors.
Monkeys in the hot springs Japan hot springs
Snow monkeys having a bath in geothermal hot water.
Angry monkey
Monkey playing with snow
Snow monkeys on the snow, in a landscape rather unusual for primates.
Monkey among ice
Snow in Yudanaka Snowfall in Japan
Snow in Japan
During the night, lot of snow has fallen in Yudanaka, creating a surreal landscape that can be enjoyed from the train going back to Nagano.

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