The Nagano Snow Monkeys
For just 500 yen (£3), a flight to Tokyo and a train to Nagano, you can go and see these awesome little snow monkeys in their natural habitat in the Jigokudani Yaenkoen Park. After causing absolute havoc in the local town about 50 years ago the environmentalists decided to start feeding them up at the onsens rather than have the locals kill them off as pests. The idea worked. Monkeys copy monkey behaviour and before long there were hundreds of the Japanese Macaques, to give them their proper name, chilling out in the onsens and making the most of the cushty life they’re given in return for modeling for endless tourists photos.
Last week I was one of the said ‘endless tourists’. I trekked up to the Yudanaka Shibu Onsen past geysers, along huge drops and up steps. Conditions are harsh for the snow monkeys up there, in fact it’s known as Hell’s Valley because of it. More snow falls in the Japanese Alps than almost anywhere else in the world but the little troopers can survive cold as low as -15C.
The monkeys only come out in the day – in true Japanese style they come from 9 until 5 to lounge about in the onsen, pick fleas off each other and scurry for food. Watching them was so weird – they were so human like in their interactions and mannerisms.
If ever you’re in Tokyo it’s definitely worth making the trip up there for a few hours.
It was a beautiful day and an easy hike the day I went. As you can see from the pics – it was the best £3 spent ever!