Mar 20, 2018
Getting from Tokyo to Jigokudani Snow Monkey Park in Nagano is an entertaining journey which can involve a combination of Shinkansen, express trains, and buses. Starting from Tokyo, all journeys to the Snow Monkey park using public transport will require a change at Nagano. Here we look at how much it costs to get from Tokyo to the snow monkeys at Jigokudani and guide you through the transport options available.
Jigokudani Yaen-Koen (地獄谷野猿公苑), aka Snow Monkey Park, is world renowned for its resident Japanese macaques which have been assigned the moniker, “Snow Monkeys.” During the winter months travelers, both domestic and foreign, head to the mountainous Yamanouchi region of Nagano to see this pack of macaques, ideally, taking a dip in the steaming onsen waters for which the region is also famous.
The snow monkeys of Jigokudani hit the world stage when images of them bathing were featured on the front cover of time magazine in 1970. Since then, they’ve obviously become accustomed to all the attention, as not even an army of camera-wielding tourists seems to put the monkeys off from taking a dip (nor does it seem to make the feel obliged to do so).
Despite the park’s popularity, however, getting from Tokyo to Jigokudani Yaen-Koen isn’t the easiest of journeys, although it can be a fun one. We take a look at how much it will cost to travel from Tokyo to the Snow Monkey Park covering a number of the transport options available to travelers.
Tokyo to Nagano by train
Unless you’re driving, it’s likely that all journeys from Tokyo to Jigokudani Yaen-Koen will involve transit at the train station in Nagano.
Shinkansen from Tokyo to Nagano
The Hokuriku Shinkansen links Tokyo with Nagano. There are three kinds of train that make the journey. Costs and journey times are listed below (costs in Japanese Yen):
~ 85 min
|HAKUTAKA||7,680||8,200||10,770||15,910||~ 95 min|
|ASAMA||7,680||8,200||10,770||13,860||~ 95 min|
Taking express and rapid trains from Tokyo to Nagano makes little sense. Journey times will be over 4 hours and at costs of around 10,000 yen travelers won't be saving any money. Stick to the Shinkansen.
Using only local trains from Tokyo to Nagano will get costs down to around 5,000 yen but when we consider that such journeys will take around 6 - 7 hours, again, taking the Shinkansen makes emphatic sense.
Nagano to Yudanaka by train
The gateway to Jigokudani Yaen-Koen is Yudanaka (湯田中), a small onsen town that is the terminus of the Nagano Dentetsu Line.
Direct Nagano Dentetsu Line trains from Nagano to Yudanaka are "express" only. The journey takes around 50 mins and is quite a scenic one as you gently amble up into the mountains. Trains are comfortable with paired seating, dropdown tables and overhead luggage space. They can't compete with Shinkansen for being shiny and clean, but they are more than enough for a quick 50-min journey.
At the time of writing, there were 7 departures daily from Nagano to Yudanaka which we detail below:
|Dept. Nagano||Arrive Yudanaka|
Fares for these trains are 1,260 yen one way. Express trains are sometimes referred to as "Limited Express Snow Monkey," just in case you want to be sure where its going!
Local trains from Nagano to Yudanaka run on the same line but will require a change at Shinshunakano. Fares are 1,160 yen one way. Journey times are around 1 hour 10 - 20 mins.
Notes on trains from Nagano to Yudanaka
Nagano Dentetsu Line trains depart from a rather uninspiring station / platform area on a basement level outside of the main Nagano station building (Zenkoji Exit). Ticket machines are of the old skool kind and we weren't able to use our Suica / Pasmo cards.
Depending on your schedule, get to the train as early as you can for a seat (around 20 mins beforehand should secure you a seat). On both outbound and return journeys there were plenty of people who were forced to stand. Even if it is possible to make advanced booking for this train service, it won't reserve you a seat.
You can't be mistaken about which train you are on -- there are signs and posters for "Snow Monkey" everywhere.
Tokyo to Nagano by bus
Alpico Group run highway buses from Tokyo (Shinjuku Busta) to Nagano Station. There are 14 daytime departures that take around 4 hours. A night bus departs at 23:35 arriving in Nagano at 5:08. Fares are between 2,900 - 4,800 yen one way.
Nagano to Snow Monkey Park Bus Stop
The Snow Monkey Park Bus Stop is one of two access points to Jigokudani Yaen-Koen. The stop is located in Kanbayashi Onsen, south of the Yokoyu River. From here it is a 30-min walk to the monkeys.
Nagaden buses run from Nagano Station (East Exit) to Snow Monkey Park Bus Stop -- 11 departures daily between 8:15 and 17:15. The journey takes around 45 mins with one way fares costing 1,400 yen (700 yen for children).
Yudanaka Station to Jigokudani Yaen-Koen
Entrance to Jigokudani Yaen-Koen is 800 yen (adult) / 340 yen (child)
The most common route from Yudanaka Station to Jigokudani Yaen-Koen is via the above parking lot at Kanbayashi Onsen. Buses depart from the station taking around 15 mins to reach the parking lot at Kanbayashi Onsen. Fares are 310 yen one way. Taxis will make the same journey in around 10 mins with fares around 2,000 yen.
It's also possible to walk all the way to the park from Yudanaka. Head first to the delightful Shibu Onsen just 20 - 30 mins from Yudanaka Station. Cross the river at one of the many bridges here from where it takes around 20 mins to walk to Kanbayashi Onsen. A well marked trail heads to the entrance of Jigokudani Yaen-Koen taking around 30 mins to navigate. From the park entrance it's a very short walk to the monkeys.
An alternative and more entertaining route is available via public transport only in winter. North of the Yokoyu River an off-road trail from the eastern end of Shibu Onsen takes a winding and vertiginous course, clinging to forested mountain sides to a small parking area which marks the start of a quiet trail to the park.
"Snow Monkey Holiday Minibus" run services most days from the end of December to the end of March. Seats on buses must be booked in advance (although same-day bookings will be possible) and return times will be fixed (giving visitors around one hour and a half at the park -- plenty enough time). Buses fit 9 and depart two at a time (you'll understand why by the intrepid nature of the driving conditions). 5 departures daily from Yudanaka (and Shibu Onsen) between 9:10 and 14:50. Wellington boots are available to rent for free and are much advised. From the trail head it takes around 15 mins to reach the monkeys.
Fares: 1,900 yen return (from Yudanaka) -- the fare includes entrance to Jigokudani Yaen Koen.
English-language information about onwards transport and facilities in the area is readily available at Yudanaka Station. At the time of our visit and English-speaking volunteer guide was busy at the station helping out the many travelers that were passing through.
Total costs for getting from Tokyo to Jigokudani Yaen Koen
Cheapest way ...
Highway bus to Nagano Station = ~ 3,000 yen
Local Nagano Dentetsu Line to Yudanaka = 1,160 yen
Total = 4,160 yen (8,320 yen return)
Shinkansen bus combo ...
Shinkansen to Nagano Station = 7,680 yen
Bus from Nagano to Kanbayashi Onsen = 1,400 yen
Total = 9,080 yen (18,160 yen return)
Shinkansen and Limited Express Snow Monkey ...
Shinkansen to Nagano Station = 8,200 yen
Nagano Station to Yudanaka = 1,260 yen
Bus from Yudanaka to Kanbayashi Onsen = 310 yen
Total = 9,770 yen (19,540 yen return)
No expense spared ...
Shinkansen (Gran class) = 15,910 yen
Nagano Station to Yudanaka = 1,260 yen
Taxi from Yudanaka to Kanbayashi Onsen = 2,000 yen
Total = 19,170 yen (38,340 yen return)
Driving from Tokyo to Jigokudani Yaen Koen
Driving routes from Tokyo to the Yudanaka area will likely start on the Kan-etsu Expressway northwest of central Tokyo (try to get on at Oizumi / 大泉 ). From here the Kan-etsu loops through Saitama Prefecture. At the city of Fujioka change onto the Joshin-etsu Expressway which bends east at Chikuma passing Nagano City. Get off at Shinshu-Nakano junction (信州中野) and join the Shiga Nakano Toll Road which soon becomes Route 292 then 403. Cross the Kakuma River at Yomase and head along Route 478 to Yudanaka about 2 km away.
How much does it cost to drive?
Expressway tolls from Oizumi (Tokyo) to Shinshu-Nakano junction are around 6,000 - 7,000 yen. The drive will take around 3 hours.
Renting a car with a pick-up / drop-off in Tokyo and Yudanaka respectively looks unlikely due to the lack of options in Yudanaka. Besides which, costs for pick-ups / drop-offs in separate locations are very high in Japan. Alternatively, expect to pay around 15,000 - 20,000 yen for the rental of a k car from Tokyo for 3 days.
Do you have any experience of getting from Tokyo to Jigokudani Yaen Koen? How much did it cost? What do you think are the cheapest and fastest ways from Tokyo to the Snow Monkey Park?
See our ‘How Much | Travel’ series for more destinations from Tokyo and beyond ...
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