I am sure you have seen the iconic pictures of the snow monkeys in Japan sitting warming themselves in hot springs. I believe they were first made famous by Sir David Attenborough. We decided that the snow monkeys were one of the many animals we wanted to see while in Japan and if we saw them in the hot springs it would be a bonus, like in one of our favorite board games Tokaido.
We got the bus from Nagano in the morning after stowing our bags in lockers at the station. It was a cold morning, although since we were still in Honshu there was no snow, just a bit of frost. The bus dropped us off and we made our way following google maps. We had gone fairly early in the morning in order to beat any crowds and make the most of the day.
Our route was not terribly easy until we reached a large sign denoting that this was the way to the snow monkeys. There was an outdoors shop next to this entrance for people to buy hats, gloves and suitable shoes. Luckily we already had all of these things, but we did take advantage of the many signs leading to the last public toilet.
It was a nice walk through the woods, but cold as we were on the shady side of the valley. We got some pretty views and information boards about the monkeys on our route.
We were beginning to wonder just how much further we would have to go when we turned a corner coming into a village.
We were slightly surprised to see this village, especially as they were advertising ramen since we thought we had left all the amenities behind us. We were just considering a hot bowl of ramen to warm us up as we didn’t know how much further it was to the monkeys when we saw them.
There were just a few at first but then came more and more. We knew this wasn’t the sanctuary as we knew tickets were required to get in. We had bought those tickets as part of our bus ticket, and yet here they were hundreds of snow monkeys.
At first they were all on the far bank, but then some of them started to come over in our direction. We got this monkey selfie, while he was warming himself on a hot water pipe.
We hung about for a bit just watching the monkeys antics and taking photographs of them. They seemed a little more wary than the monkeys we had seen in China and other parts of Asia. I was glad for that given we had seen someone bitten and they seemed somewhat more natural than in South East Asia.
At the time they were fairly easy to spot, because they were mostly constantly moving, however looking back at these photos I can appreciate their camouflage a bit better. After a while of watching we did start to get cold from not moving around and more tourists started to appear making it a bit more crowded, so we decided after one more photo with the monkeys to make our way to the sanctuary proper.
I think we did actually time it quite well as just when we were ascending towards the entrance of the sanctuary the monkeys started a mad rush up the river on the other side. I think it must have been feeding time.
I also couldn’t resist a photograph of the valley itself as it really was rather beautiful.
It really wasn’t far up the path until we reached the entrance to the sanctuary, we approached the building, presented our tickets and were let through. The monkeys weren’t immediately obvious, but there were some about and it wasn’t long until we came across one next to a pool.
This one seemed to be separated from the rest and kept calling out, it also looked as though it had something wrong with it’s hand. As we passed it by it seemed to be making it’s way back to the rest of the monkeys which we saw all at once (together with a lot of tourists) when we turned the corner and found the hot springs proper.
We had a look around and we saw the pools but they were empty, the closest we saw was some monkeys though the steam. I guess even though we were finding the temperatures incredibly cold, it wasn’t cold enough for the monkeys to sit in the hot springs.
Having said that we still saw a lot of monkeys, possibly the most monkeys we saw on our entire trip and although there were a lot of tourists it was probably one of the less crowded experiences of seeing monkeys as well. There was a little walk we could take down by the river and I was so surprised how brilliant the camouflage really was, some times I didn’t realise that the monkeys weren’t stones until they started to move and some of the babies were so very cute!
My personal favourite of all the monkeys we saw was the little guy in the picture below, to me he looks like a little elf or something sitting all huddled up with his pointed ears and his little feet clasped together.
It was a really nice, if chilly experience seeing the snow monkeys, and the best part of it to me of all our animal experiences in Japan was how much more of a natural environment this seemed to be for the monkeys. Yes, they were used to humans, but apart from a bridge and some viewing platforms it felt like we were making our way into the monkey’s world instead of them coming into ours, although clearly they did that too given the visitation to the village below that we saw.