Chamarra’s Nature Field Note: Snow Monkeys in Nagano!

Snow Monkeys in Nagano! 

Location: Jigokudani Yaen-Koen, Japan, Near Kusatsu


Did you ever think that monkeys would take relax and take baths in a pool of water that naturally heats itself? Well, they do! In The Jigokudani Yaen-koen located in the Valley of Yokoyu River high in the mountains, there are Japanese macaque, also known as Snow Monkeys. In Japanese, they are called Nihonzaru. Nihon means Japan and Saru means monkey. The “s” becomes a “z” and makes Nihonzaru, Japanese Monkey. Where do they live? How do they live? Find out more about this unique species of monkeys that are native to Japan!

What does this creature or plant look like?:

When I first noticed the nihonzaru I noticed their light brown, thick hair and red face. The color of their hair blends in with the dirt on the ground of their environment, but they stick out with their red faces. When the monkeys groom one another they have to work hard to separate the hair to find little insects. As my friends and I watched the monkeys groom one another we noticed that they even have blue skin on their stomachs! They also have “a short tail – and often seem remarkably human like” (SnowJapan). I noticed how human like they were when I watched them in the hot spring and walking around the area. Some baby monkeys would fight with each other like siblings. Inside the hot spring one monkey tried to grab another and scared a baby which went swimming to its mother. The mother held her child and made sure it was okay.

How did I feel when I saw it?:

When I first saw a snow monkey, it was sitting at the bottom of the stairs leading to the park eating out of a bag of chips. It must have pulled the bag out of someone’s hand and ripped it open! People are not allowed to feed the monkeys. So, when I saw it sitting there I was very surprised! I was even a little scared to get close to it. I have never been that close to animals in the wild in their natural habitat. I think it was a little surprising, because I was not sure how they would react to people. Also, before we went into the park we were told not to look the monkeys in the eye especially if it is a male monkey. If you look them in the eye and stare at them they may try to attack you, because you are showing dominancy or trying to act like you are stronger than they are.

Also, if you stare at a male monkey’s mate they might also try to attack you. One of the people at the park was standing in front of a monkey and stared at him too long so the monkey almost grabbed him.

Still, I learned that the monkeys are not scary! Even though they may seem scary after reading that, they really are not. They let you get really close to them and take pictures. Some even seem like they are posing for the camera! Also, a baby monkey walked right up to a friend and grabbed his hand and began sniffing him. My friend put his hand out and a baby monkeys came to him, sniffed, and played with his fingers. We were all so jealous! We wanted to touch the monkey, too! The monkeys were a lot of fun to watch.

Where does it live?:

The Snow Monkeys I saw live in Nagano Prefecture’s Jugokudani Yaen-Koen or Jugokudani Park but Snow Monkeys also live on the Japanese islands Honshu, Shikoku and Kyushu. Try and find Nagano Prefecture on a map of Japan. It is next to Gunma Prefecture which is where Kusatsu town is. I went there also during my trip to see the snow monkeys.

The park is all the way up in the mountains. The mountains were very steep and to get to the park we had to walk on a long path through the woods and up very steep stairs. It felt like a hiking trip! Also, we could not avoid the mud on the path and all of us had muddy shoes by the end of it. Someone was even wearing flip flops!

I noticed that there were many monkeys were living in Jigokudani Park. The Wildlife Conservation Society says that monkeys can live with up to 500 other monkeys! Could you imagine sharing the same home with 500 other people? However, the groups can become smaller as male monkeys leave and join different groups once they get bigger (Wildlife Conservation Society).

How does it use its environment to survive?:

“In the wild they spend most of their time in forests and feed on seeds, buds, fruit, invertebrates, berries, leaves and bark (SnowJapan). However, these monkeys live in harsh conditions very unique to the area. Jugokudani Yaen-Koen “is buried in snow almost one third of the year” (“Jigokudani”). Also, the “temperature drops to 10 degrees below zero” (“Jigokudani”). Although it is very cold there, the monkeys have hot springs or onsen. An onsen for humans is a public hot bath. They can be inside or outside. It is usually separated for boys and girls. You first take a public shower and then get into the hot water. It is a way of relaxation. The monkeys also use one to stay warm in the cold. The water is naturally heated by sulfur. The sulfur warms the water even when the temperatures are cold. They all relax in the water and pick out the bugs in one another’s hair. They take turns searching through their fur and eating the bugs they find.

What can harm this creature or plant? Are we worried about it?:

These monkeys are being affected by deforestation which cutting down trees in the forest. This hurts them because it takes away parts of their habitat. If they do not have a place to live they cannot survive in their environment (Wildlife Conservation Society).

Unfortunately, humans are harming the Snow Monkeys, but they are not endangered and Japan protects them! They still have their own habitats like Jigokudani Park.


Works Cited


“Jigokudani Yaen-Koen Official Website.” Jigokudani Yaen-Koen. Jigokudani Yaen-

koen, Inc., n.d. Web. 09 Apr. 2013.


“The Snow Monkeys of Jigokudani.” The Snow Monkeys of Jigokudani. Monkeys             Bathing in an Onsen in Yamanouchi, Nagano | Features | SnowJapan.   SnowJapan, 2013. Web. 09 Apr. 2013.


“Snow Monkey.” Snow Monkey. Wildlife Conservation Society, n.d. Web. 11 Apr. 2013.


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