地獄谷野猿公苑 - The Snow monkeys of hell valley
In the days between Christmas and New year we decided to go to 湯田中 - Yudanaka in 長野県 - Nagano Prefecture to take pictures of the famous Japanese snow monkeys. The area has quite a bit of volcanic activity, and therefore also a lot of 温泉- Onsen, the relaxing thermal baths. However, in Yudanaka humans are not the only primates enjoying to soak in the hot water. The aptly named 地獄谷 - hell valley (one of several similarly named places all over Japan) has hot springs scattered around and the Japanese macaque has discovered how relaxing it is to soak in the hot water.
Japanese macaques are the only primates (other than humans) that live this far north and have to deal with snow. They are also the only primates (again, other than us) that enjoy bathing in hot springs. According to legend, a young macaque was playing with an apple. The apple fell into the hot spring and the monkey jumped after it. The hot water was quite nice, and so the monkey was returning to take a bath frequently, and quickly the other monkeys learned from this behaviour and started bathing as well.
The monkey park is roughly 1,5 hours by foot from the train station. You can take a bus for two thirds of the distance, but since there usually is no snow in Tokyo, we enjoyed the walk through the winter wonderland of Yudanaka. There is a small entrance fee to the park, but in my opinion it is worth it.
The monkeys in the park are wild monkeys, but quite used to humans taking pictures of them. They are coming to the park because of the hot spring and the food that is put out by the park officials. It is highly discouraged to bring food into the park, to avoid feeding the monkeys with unhealthy things, as well as avoiding visitors getting attacked. More information can be found on the park website.
It was quite cold and snowing the whole time. Therefore we grew more and more envious of the monkeys sitting in the hot water. So, after around 2 hours at the monkey park, we hurried back to the hotel and went to the Onsen there. Monkey free, but still with a nice outdoor area where we were able to sit in the steaming water and let snow fall on our heads.
But enough of the travelling details, this trip was mainly about taking pictures, so here is a small selection: