Monkey Love: Trek to the Wild Monkey Parks of Japan

See wild monkeys up close and personal in their natural habitats

Portrait Of Monkey On Rock At Shore
••• Eric Ng / EyeEm / Getty Images

If you're going to Japan, you might love to see the wild Japanese macaques, better known as snow monkeys. There are good places where visitors can observe the wild monkeys as they play, eat, sleep and interact with their families in their natural environment. They are fed by the park staff in specific areas, and they're used to being around people. The monkeys are highly protected and each park has strict rules for the public not interacting with these wild animals. Pay attention to the rules in each park when you go, and you'll have a fun visit.

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    Snow Monkeys
    ••• Snow Monkeys. Photo (c) Shizuko Mishima

    This wild monkey park is located in Jigokudani valley in northern Nagano prefecture. There is a large open-air hot spring bath built just for the snow monkeys in the park. Many people visit just to see whole families of monkeys bathing there, especially during the cold months of winter. 
    Location: Yamanouchi-machi Shimotakai-Gun, Nagano prefecture
    Access: From JR Nagano station, it takes about 50 minutes by limited express train (the Nagano Dentetsu Line) to Yudanaka station. From Yudanaka, take a bus or taxi to Kanbayashi Onsen. It's a 30-minute walk to the park from Kanbayashi Onsen.

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    Arashiyama Monkey Park Iwatayama

    The park is located near the Togetsukyo Bridge, which is a symbol of Arashiyama in Kyoto. About 120 wild Japanese macaques live in the park on Mt. Iwata. It's a 15-20 minute hike to the viewing platform located at the top of the mountain from the park entrance. At the viewing platform, visitors can purchase small amounts of park-provided food for the monkeys; feeding them anything else is strictly prohibited. The platform is also a great place to enjoy beautiful views of Kyoto.
    Location: 8 Arashiyama Genrokuzan-cho Nishikyo-ku, Kyoto
    Access: 5-minute walk from Hankyu Line Arashiyama Station or Keifuku Line Arashiyama station / 15-minute walk from JR Saga-arashiyama station.

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    Mt. Takasaki Wild Monkey Park (Takasakiyama Shizen Dobutsuen in Japanese), is located between the cities of Oita and Beppu in Oita prefecture. This is a large habitat with nearly 1,400 wild Japanese macaques. They live in a forest on the steep slopes of Mt. Takasaki and come down from the mountain to the feeding area of the park. Visitors are amused by their antics in this area.

    Location: 3098-1 Kanzaki Oita, Oita Prefecture
    Access: 25 minutes by bus from JR Oita station to Takasakiyama Shizen Dobutsuen-mae stop. / 15 minutes by bus from JR Beppu station to Takasakiyama Shizen Dobutsuen-mae stop

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    The Michelin-lauded Mt. Takao monkey park is home to about 60 Japanese macaques that you can observe from close range. Each monkey has a name to which they sometimes respond, and the park keeps rigorous family histories in an effort to preserve the species. Park docents present humorous talks about the rules of the park and the monkeys' daily life, and visitor questions are welcome. One ticket will allow you entry to both the monkey park and the wildflower garden. Both are less than an hour from Tokyo.

    Location: on Mt. Takao
    Takao-machi, Hachioji, Tokyo
    Access to Mt. Takao 
    By car:
    • Chuo Expressway Hachioji IC > National Route 16 > National Route 20 (30 min.)
    • Ken-O Expressway Takaosan IC > National Route 20 (5 min.)

    By train:
    Keio Takao line, Takaosanguchi station (5-minute walk to Takao Tozan Cable Kiyotaki station)