Snow monkeys - another natural Japanese beauty
The Japanese macaque is one of the few mammal species native to Japan. They have an interesting coexistence with humans and offer a superb glimpse into this unique snowy world.
Home for monkeys
Yamanouchi, a town in the Nagano prefecture, is well-known for its hot baths, or onsen. It is also the home of the Jigokundani Snow Monkey Park. If it weren't for the monkeys, Yamanouchi would be just another bath house town within a day's drive from Tokyo. There would still be visitors, but not in the same way. Brochures and signs throughout Tokyo show the snow monkeys, not the baths.
The park is home to an interesting little creature that people from all over the world come to see: the Japanese macaque, or the snow monkey. The monkeys can be seen in the park at every time of year.
Take a hike
It is a 1.6-kilometer (1 mile) walk in the forest from the Kanbayashi Onsen to the monkey park. The park was established in 1964 after the Korakukan Ryokan (a Japanese-style hotel) in the Jogkudani Valley (Hell Valley) noticed the red-faced monkeys in the private bath. After paying the 800 yen ($7.24, €5.90) entrance fee, visitors get to make the picturesque walk.
Hope springs eternal
The monkeys love to take a bath in the hot springs in the park. Snow monkeys can be seen in the warmer months as well, but they will not be hanging out in the hot bath as much as they would in the winter. The monkeys also tend to spread out more during the warmer, sunnier months, instead of huddling together to preserve warmth.
Still warm in winter
The monkeys' fur keeps them warm throughout the winter, even when away from the hot spring.
Who's the daddy?
Snow monkeys have multiple partners throughout the mating season, so it is not certain who the father is. It is very common to see monkeys hanging on branches, eating and simply strolling along the paths around the park. Park staff do feed the monkeys barley during the day, so it does make a popular spot for the monkeys around feeding time.
The snow monkey park is a major hit for tourists, who can get close to the monkeys and take photos of and with them. The park has strict guidelines to keep humans and monkeys on good terms. Visitors are not allowed to feed the monkeys or have plastic bags out in the open. Monkeys could confuse the bags, which are not digestible in a monkey's stomach, for food, and snatch it from them.