onsen monkeys are those macaques in japan who figured that they can have a much better life soaking in a hot thermal spring than freezing in the forest. fyi, on average, the nagano area is covered in snow one third of the year, so these monkeys are pretty smart.
last time i was in japan, i went to see the onsen monkeys in the jigokudani monkey park aka hell’s valley. we arrived in nagano after a night trip, from sapporo. the station was full of olympics marks. nagano achieved world-wide fame when it hosted the ’98 winter olympics. we got on a bus and it took us into the snowy mountains. click here for details. it left us somewhere in the wilderness, on the side of the road. it was a wonderful sunny day. a sign told us that we had to walk through the forest for a couple of kilometers, in order to reach onsen monkeys territory. we walked and walked and saw warning signs on the side trees. they showed the shape of the foot traces we could have come across. i remember the monkeys and some sort of small bear. also, some hooves. we arrived at a cabin and passed it by. as soon as we did, i saw a little baby monkey soaking up the sun. the monkeys were quite tame but they were not friendly enough to pet or touch in any way.
as it was such a sunny day, the entire family was out of the water, enjoying the sun light. most of them were grooming each other.
50 of the approximately 200 monkeys were present. the visitors were just as many, but i must tell you that i was surprised. some of the people proved to be intrusive and disrespectful. everybody wanted to take pictures of themselves as close as possible to the monkeys, who were not at all interested. fortunately, they were fully able to scare the people off with a little screeching and sudden movements.
the people wanted pictures with the onsen monkeys in the water, so, every once in a while, the quiet caretakers were spreading some seeds on the bottom of the pool. the monkeys went in to pick them, people took their pictures so everybody was happy.
go visit the monkeys if you are in the area. but please treat them with respect and allow them to be themselves not some picture props. thank you!
photo credits: little aesthete, tudor bucenica, razvan apopei