Monkey Onsen

It’s snowing!

Light snow became snow showers overnight. By morning the accumulation was so beautiful–about 4 inches of new snow. On Saturday after breakfast we put on our warmest clothes, paid a small fee for snow boots, and were given a ride up the mountain. From there we set out to walk about 2 kilometers further up the mountain to Monkey Park!

The snowy trail was half the fun and we stopped often for photo ops.

Snow monkeys, properly known as Japanese macaque, live in the area year ’round. They spend nights in trees higher up, but come down to a hot spring and nearby stream during the day. Humans also come there during the day for research or photography, some of them with impressive cameras. The “Monkey Onsen” has a web site with more information and live web cam at http://www.jigokudani-yaenkoen.co.jp/

JIGOKUDANI YAEN-KOEN, “The world of Snow Monkey,” has attracted people since 1964. Jigokudani means “Hell Valley” because of its steep cliffs, steam rising everywhere from hot springs, and snow cover four months of the year.

We watched in wonder and amusement at the monkeys soaking in the steamy onsen, grooming each other, sitting on the ledge, or digging in snow for morsels of food. As long as we don’t scare them or try to feed them, they are basically disinterested in people.

A heated cabin nearby offers hot drinks, souvenirs, displays, and prize-winning photographs of snow monkeys. It’s a very popular stopping place!

We made it down the mountain in time to catch a bus back to the train station, just a short walk from the family-run inn. I fell a couple of times on the ice–just went down on one knee the first time but fell pretty hard on my hip the second time. My younger escorts and I linked arms the rest of the way.

It was nice to get back to the warmth of the inn, then into the onsen, with time for a nap before dinner. A beautiful day!

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