Japanese Monkeys Let off Steam

Tuesday 25 May 2010, 9:09PM

By Dock Street Group


Snow Monkeys in onsen
Snow Monkeys in onsen Credit: Dock Street Group

Most of us enjoy a long soak in a hot pool on a cold winter’s day, but did you know that monkeys are also partial to a bit of a frolic in hot springs?

The world famous Jigokudani wild monkey hot springs in Japan, some 300 kilometres north west of Tokyo, are home to about 200 wild monkeys, who naturally migrate to the hot water for shelter during Japan’s harsh winter temperatures. The natural hot springs (or onsen) are in a National Park, adjoining the Shiga Kogen Resort, and are believed to be the only place in the world where you can observe wild monkeys frolicking in hot pools.

The monkeys are known as the Japanese Macaque, or more commonly Snow Monkeys, and are native to Japan. They are tan coloured with pink faces, and adults and baby monkeys are fascinating to watch as they groom each other and play on the rocks, amongst the steam rising from the hot pools.

Humans are not permitted to soak in the springs alongside the monkeys, but there is a nearby (ryokan) Japanese hotel with hot springs for human travellers. Visiting the Jigokudani Wild Monkey Park involves a 30 minute uphill walk to the park, and it is easiest to reach in late spring, summer and autumn. But it’s also worth the effort in winter when snow provides more dramatic scenery with plenty of steam and more monkeys seeking out the warmth of the hot springs.

The springs are also close to Hakuba in the Nagano Prefecture, which was the site of the 1998 Nagano Winter Olympics. Hakuba is the skiing mecca of Japan, with many challenging runs for serious skiers, as well as the most spectacular alpine scenery in Japan.

A day trip is available, which suits travellers on a longer ski holiday but also those on a tighter schedule, which includes a visit to the snow monkeys. The trip departs from and arrives back in Hakuba, and also includes the Masuich-Ichimura Sake Brewery, a wonderfully preserved 240 year old brewery where you can try a range of sake. The tour also visits Nagano City, home to the 1400 year old Zenkoji Temple, designated a national treasure. It is one of Japan’s most revered temples and houses the first image of Buddha brought to Japan in the 7th century.

The streets surrounding the temple are lined with lantern lit shops and tiered roofed stalls souvenir shops, restaurants and galleries.

The full day tour to the Jigokudani Wild Monkey Hot Springs costs from $NZ165 per person. For more information talk to your travel agent or phone 0800 899 111 or email: