The Snow Monkeys of Jigokudani Yaenkoen in Nagano Prefecture have now achieved world fame as the monkeys who love to take a hot bath in winter. Featured in documentaries by David Attenborough and on the cover of Life Magazine, these bathing apes must be the most photographed monkeys on the planet.
The troupe of Japanese Macaques, who frequent the hot spring (onsen) in Jigokudani Yaenkoen, in Nagano Prefecture in central Japan, began visiting the pools sometime in the 1960s, possibly after observing humans doing the same thing...and liking it.
Such is the fame and expectation of these daily simian ablutions, food is now placed around and in the pools to satisfy the hundreds of camera and video-toting visitors who come to see the macaques bathe and play.
Winter is best time to see the macaques when their enjoyment and sense of fun in the hot water is tangible. Then their coats, where they are exposed, are frosted, even coated with snow, yet they look so warm and content (until, that is, they walk off to the forest again).
Despite the pampered treatment of the Japanese Macaques at Jigokudani Yaenkoen for the 1000s of snap-happy tourists who visit each year, over a 100,000 of these monkeys are killed each year in Japan, classified as pests, for their pilfering of farmers' harvests.
From Tokyo Station, take the JR Shinkansen (bullet train) to Nagano Station. Change to the Nagano Dentetsu train to Yudanaka (40 minutes by express or 1 hour by local train). From Yudanaka, catch a local bus (15 minutes) or take a taxi to Kanbayashi Onsen. From here it's a 20-30 minute walk to Jigokudani Yaenkoen (Entrance 500 yen).
© JapanVisitor.com & Mark Brazil
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