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Monkey Business

As his deep brown eyes fixed on to me with an intense stare, I immediately looked away. I could feel his gaze burning in to me as I tried to focus on the craggy rocks of the uneven hillside and unsuccessfully tried to look relaxed as I waited. I need not have worried though as when I looked back moments later, the Alpha Macaque of the Jigokudani Snow Monkeys had certainly forgotten about me and had moved on, leaping over the rocky landscape with ease and agility.

Jigokudani Onsen

From Tokyo, the journey out to Jigokudani is long but incredibly simple to undertake it just needs a little organisation. Comprising of the Tokyo Metro to get to Tokyo Station, the Shinkansen to Nagano Station (approx. 90 minutes), the Dentetsu Limited Express to Yudanaka Station (45 minutes), local bus journey to Kanbayashi Onsen (15 minutes) and a final walk up to the Park (just under 2km from the bus stop), it could be questioned as to whether it is worth it. My answer would simply be a resounding yes. It is wild monkeys bathing in an onsen, the only place on earth that you can see this! It is definitely worth it and the 3 hours that we spent in the area were wonderful.

The monkeys are completely wild, although you pay (Y800) to enter the park and the path ways are maintained for visitors, the monkeys are definitely free to roam far beyond the park. As I gazed in to the hills, I had to focus to notice the multiple beige backed Simians that were scattered all over the hills. There were plenty who had ventured down to the park though and 5 or 6 had settled in to the onsen - a delightful sight as they appear to completely relax whilst the steam rises from the water surrounding them. Additionally, witnessing mothers tending to the baby macaques, males fighting each other over territory and young monkeys frolicking near the river in youthful play was wonderful.

A Bathing Macaque
Bathing Macaques
A Bathing Macaque

The 2km walk from the bus to the Onsen was a certain reminder that the monkeys are wild and, although they have a loveable appearance, are feral. Whilst following a family walking ahead, as we turned the corner a small group of 4 or 5 Macaques were waiting near to the path and upon seeing a plastic bag that was being carried by the family bound towards them and ripped the bag from their hands. The humans and Macaques were both unscathed but they clearly knew that a plastic bag could mean food. There was no further interaction from the monkeys and they remained just off the path whilst we walked past. They are not to be feared but their feral nature is to be respected.

There is a cafe between the bus stop and the Park as well as vending machines for drinks. There are also toilets both at the park and along the walking route. For more information about the Park, the website is very helpful.

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