Honestly, seeing these monkeys has long been the single biggest reason I have wanted to visit Japan.
I really thought they were up on Hokkaido – and it turns out there was an ‘Onsen‘ (hot spring) on the northern island where people could bathe with monkeys, but the actual troop of wild Japanese macaque hot water lovers are in Nagano prefecture!
It cost about $40 for a train/bus/entrance ticket to the park and a lovely 2km walk through the tree. Worth every minute and every cent.
These expressive little beings found a hot pool in the 1960’s and realised soaking in natural hot water was simply delicious. The troop is wild but certainly symbiotic with its human relatives who do provide a safe place and food in the snowy winter months.
Of course, they may have known about the pleasures of natural warm water from the many natural pools dotted throughout the volcanic hills.
Protecting this lively troop was one man’s labour of love.
We, the gawking masses, simply stood around watching and photographing these monkeys as they played, ate, washed, slept and groomed. They spend much of their waking time picking through each other’s fur looking for lice. To make sure the lice do not get away, they eat the little pests.
Simians are always a pleasure to see and our Japanese macaque cousins feel particularly human. Both days we spent in Nagano, Finn and I also soaked in hot springs. Washing, chatting and just relaxing.
The Nagano region in known as the ‘Roof of Japan.’ It is much more populated than the mountain are where I live, but it offers beautiful mountain views and apparently excellent skiing.
The snow monkey park is located near the town of Yamanouchi. After spending several chilly hours with the monkeys, we walked about 3 km’s through town back to the train station.
En route back to Nagango city, we stopped at Obuse to sample chestnuts, miso and Sake! I’m still not a connoisseur, but working on it 🙂