Japanese macaques, locally known as the snow monkeys, are the most northern-living monkeys in the world. In the Jigokudani Monkey Park, located in the forests in Yamanouchi, we could admire these beautiful primates relaxing in a hot spring! Through the ages macaques have inhabited the area, but as a result of the construction of holiday resorts and deforestation, their habitat began to shrink and in 1964 the park was founded to protect them from harm. The creator Sogo Hara, with the help of other locals, started to leave apples in the valley and soon the macaques started to stick around while at the same time using the convenience of the natural hot springs!
On the way to the park entrance, the couple of backpackers from the opposite direction approached us and surprised us with their tickets. Thanking them, with the wide smiles we walked smoothly through the ticket gates. After the short walk, we saw the first macaques playing in the river and soon we were surrounded by them! Keep in mind that our camera doesn’t have an optical zoom so the photos show exactly the distance from which we were able to admire those beautiful creatures..Majority soaked in the steaming water, scratching tenderly each other and picking up lice. Others sat calmly on the rocks watching the rest jumping and playing on the snowy slopes, dashing into the dark forest and reappearing again. They were as curious as we were many times studying us closely. Then the alpha male macaque arrived and the young ones vividly gave space to him – it was clear that there was a strong hierarchy in the troop.
There weren’t many visitors in the park so that we could experience everything without rush. Frankly we would not want to be there in the height of the tourist season because after all the sightseeing trail is quite tiny. Even though we could spend the whole day in this fascinating place, it was time for us to get to the nearby Nagano city before darkness. After a few days of hitchhiking, and barely sleeping, the hostel room that we booked for one night felt like home.