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Japanese Monkeys Relax In Onsen “Hakodate Tropical Botanical Garden”

湯の川温泉の函館市熱帯植物園の外観 ▲Hakodate Tropical Botanical Garden just celebrated its 45th anniversary.


湯の川温泉の函館市熱帯植物園の笠井園長 ▲The principal Ms. Kasai

Did you know that travelers from Asian countries visit Hakodate to see Japanese monkeys in a hot spring? I went to Hakodate Tropical Botanical Garden which has just celebrated its 45th anniversary, and interviewed to the principal Ms. Kasai, to hear stories about those monkeys.

Monkeys also say “ahhh, feels good..!”

About 7km east from Hakodate mountain, and on Isaribi Street by seaside, there is Hakodate Tropical Botanical Garden. It is a walkable distance from ryokans in Yunokawa Onsen district, also just 3km from Hakodate Airport. In this botanical garden which the size is as large as a baseball ground, there are so many attractions such as greenhouse, monkey mountains, “Water Square” which is popular to kids during summer, and many good old playground equipments such as battery-operated go karts. During winter, there is this scenery that is so popular in this botanical garden, which is “monkeys in  onsen”.

First of all, let’s take a look at how the monkeys are like!


湯の川温泉の函館市熱帯植物園で、サル舎を清掃するスタッフ ▲Every morning starts from cleaning. They will fill onsen water in to the pool on the right back.


It is Yunokawa onsen-like scenery that there is a huge onsen pool with typical monkey mountain. 90 monkeys are bred in Hakodate Tropical Botanical Garden. During the day, monkeys spend time outside but they sleep inside during the time of the year which has lot of temperature gap. 

Wouldn’t you sympathize with these monkeys’ faces?

湯の川温泉の函館市熱帯植物園で冬期に見られる、温泉に入るニホンザル ▲Luxury life with onsen everyday.


湯の川温泉の函館市熱帯植物園で冬期に見られる、温泉に入るニホンザル ▲Very human-like posing.


湯の川温泉の函館市熱帯植物園で冬期に見られる、温泉に入るニホンザル ▲They are in onsen all day.


Monkeys in onsen became popular to foreign travelers to Japan

Hakodate city established this facility back in 1970 to utilize the plentiful onsen water. From 2003, NPO Hakodate Ecology Club runs the Botanical Garden. Of all the 90,000 visitors per year, most of them visit in July and August which can take kids to play at Water Square.  


湯の川温泉の函館市熱帯植物園で冬期に見られる、温泉に入るニホンザル▲It will be a swimming pool during summer.


The second most popular season is from December to April, with Japanese monkeys in onsen becoming a huge attraction to travelers from foreign countries. The pool will be filled with onsen from 1st of December to beginning of May every year.


In the hot water every monkey makes “feeling good” faces. By the way, all the pictures were taken by a still camera put on places where monkeys cannot reach, in February 2015. Everyone gets warmed when they see them grooming each other. “Japanese monkeys are a wild animal that may attack human so it is dangerous to get near usually. Capturing their natural face becomes possible because of our staff with deep knowledge about them and our special camera equipments.” says Ms. Kasai.


湯の川温泉の函館市熱帯植物園で冬期に見られる、温泉に入るニホンザル▲Doesn’t look getting chilly because of onsen


I asked Ms. Kasai about what the park does to prepare for the onsen season.

“Every year from 1st of December begins the season we can have onsen from Hakodate city. When we open the bulb of pipe and fill the pool with onsen, everyone gets into onsen right away! The hot spring source is about 50℃ so staff add water depending on the temperature outside. Monkeys dip their hands in first to check the water temprature. Some of them don’t get in until it reaches to the right temperature.” says Ms. Kasai. How smart they are!


湯の川温泉の函館市熱帯植物園で職場体験する中学生 ▲Junior high school students doing job experience.


This Botanical Garden is rooted in Hakodate city, so they have been accepted students for job experience. Recently, the number of visitors from Asian countries such as China and Taiwan is raising. They come here to see the Japanese monkeys in onsen. Hakodate Tropical Botanical Garden is the only two sightseeing spots that can see monkeys in onsen in Japan, and it is popular as a “Japanese” scenery. “Those foreigners feed the monkeys and take pictures by their camera and smartphone a lot. Around monkey is very crowded and lively.”


湯の川温泉の函館市熱帯植物園のサル用のエサ ▲A bag of monkey biscuit is 100 yen


How about feeding them if you find any monkey attractive.


Japanese monkey becomes the promotion icon of Yunokawa Onsen

Yunokawa Onsen Rryokan Association focused on Japanese monkeys in Hakodate Tropical Botanical Garden, and appointed monkey as a promotion icon. They made official posters and pamphlets. At the beginning, they were to make posters using scenery of onsen district, but it did not feel quite right to them. They convinced the chairman to make a brandnew poster. This is the final poster.


函館市熱帯植物園のニホンザルを使った観光ポスター ▲They are planning to make postcards as well.


“The cameraman spent half a day around 20th of March to do the shooting. Mr. Kasai was generous that let us enter the Botanical Garden before the door open and we tried to capture a picture with monkey’s face and steam of onsen. From April it will be to warm that we cannnot capture steam, so 20th of March was really close to the deadline. “, Mr. Izumi from Yunokawa Onsen Ryokan Association says. I see, this face of monkey came from morning onsen! Monkeys are not only cute but they now became an important character to promote Yunokawa Onsen.


函館市の湯の川温泉 ▲Remember, Hakodate is not only nightview and squids, also Japanese Monkeys in Yunokawa!


Tropical plants in the green house are also must-see

Ms. Kasai who raises monkeys has a huge responsibility. “We are responsible for lives of animals and plants, so we are never able to take a day off, even just for a day. Even the garden is closed because of repairment or maintenance, staff cleans and feeds everyday to keep animals and plants healthy. The green house is not an exception, we take really good care for plants.” Ms. Kasai told me a backyard work. If you have chance to visit Hakodate Tropical Botanical Garden, not only the monkeys but take a time to see around green house. 


函館市の湯の川温泉にある、函館市熱帯植物園の温室 ▲Foot bath (on the right) is filled with hot water throughout the year.


There is a foot bath near the greenhouse, so if you become feel like onsen after seeing the monkeys, it is a good idea to dip your toes in. Other than Japanese monkeys, you will be able to see mini rabbits, koi, goldfish, tropical fish, turtles and parakeets. Those animals are popular to kids.


函館市の湯の川温泉にある、函館市熱帯植物園の温室内部の様子 ▲Agave americana flowered first time in 40 years. (picture was taken in July 2015)


In the green house, various flowers welcomes you to enjoy tropical colors. “Agave americana is also called ‘Century’, because it is so hard to see the flower” says Ms. Kasai. Agave americana is a kind of cuctus. 


函館市の湯の川温泉にある、函館市熱帯植物園の温室内部の様子 ▲You will notice how large “traveler’s tree” is, by comparing to Ms. Kasai.


函館市の湯の川温泉にある、函館市熱帯植物園の温室内部の様子 ▲Even if there is a snow storm, inside the green house is very warm.


Winter is also a season that lots of events go on. Until Christmas, there will be events such as handbell performance, chorus, and strings. 


函館市の湯の川温泉にある、函館市熱帯植物園の温室内部の様子▲Many events are held on this stage in the green house.


函館市の湯の川温泉にある函館市熱帯植物園の温室内部の様子 ▲Agapanthus from South Africa.


300 kinds, 3,000 tropical plants and cute animals. The year 2016’s zodiac is monkey. Let’s go see Japanese monkeys relax in Yunokawa onsen!




Transportation Guide

1. Tram/Streetcar : Take the one bound for Yunokawa, 25-minute trip from Hakodate Eki-mae stop.
2. Walk :15 minutes after getting off at Yunokawa tram last stop.
3. Hakodate Bus : 20 minutes from Hakodate Eki-mae terminal to Nettai Shokubutsuen-mae stop.
4. Taxi / Car : Car park available. Approx15 minutes from JR Hakodate Station.

  • Japanese Monkeys Relax In Onsen “Hakodate Tropical Botanical Garden”