Jigokudani Monkey Park in Nagano


I like monkeys. I always have. They’re on the top of my list of dream pets. Clint and I saw some Japanese macaques at the zoo this past summer, but were uncomfortable by their confinement. Wild animals need to be in the wild! I’m not particularly anti-zoo or anything. Some animals need to be in a protective environment; we just wish for more plentiful space for the animals. It’s sad sometimes.

But the world was right again when we went to Nagano this past weekend for the macaques, affectionately known as snow monkeys. I’ve seen the photos in National Geographic. I’ve marveled at them bathing in the BBC nature documentary Life. I absolutely had to see them! Lo and behold, they’re in Japan, and only a bus ride away!

We started at the bottom, and trekked upwards through the snowy trail for a good 30 minutes. Some parts were slippery, and even with my grippy boots, I almost fell a few times. I don’t know how the girl in heels and the guy in Crocs with no socks made it up.

Along the trail, we saw two monkeys wandering around looking for food. In my excitement, I plopped right next to one. Clint was fearful I’d get hurt in my naïveté. The monkeys are so used to humans, though, he didn’t even care that we were there!

The rest of the visit was a photographer’s dream. As soon as we entered the park, we could see adult male monkeys canvassing the area while mother-baby duos cuddled nearby. I was elated! Like the other photographers, I did my best to not disturb them too much. While they’re used to the human presence, we still have to respect their terrain. I tiptoed around a mother monkey protecting her baby from the harsh cold. Adorable doesn’t even begin to describe the situation. There was so much instinctual love all around.

We finally reached the onsen where groups of monkeys were bathing in the natural hot spring water. What a mystical and charming sight it was. There were monkeys relaxing, a couple had minions cleaning and picking fleas off them, and a few cheery youngsters egging each other on to jump in.

The whole experience was both mesmerizing and enlightening. We can’t wait to go back in later spring for the cherry picking with them!

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