If you’re visiting Japan, thumbs up for the snow monkeys. Take the train from Nagano to Yudanaka station. Inquire at the information desk outside, and you’ll be politely directed to the bus for Kanbayashi. Once there, walk two kilometers down the trail to Jigokudani Monkey Park. If you’re visiting in winter, wear some boots — the snow-covered trail is quite slippery.
The macaques at Jigokudani Monkey Park are some of the northernmost primates in the world. They are unique among all macaques in using the surrounding hot springs to stay warm throughout the winter.
The monkeys look serene and meditative as they warm their bones amidst the busy tourists and cameras around them. They doze off, their hair kinks as it succumbs to the steam, and the whole scene is a lot like what you and I experience if we dip into a public hot spring or onsen. Except for the youngsters — they fixate on the tripods and trekking poles at the water’s edge. One places a hand on the other’s arm as if to say, “I know you’re curious, George, but please be careful.”
I visited Jigokudani Monkey Park last February while skiing in nearby Myoko Kogen. This week, I questioned the appropriateness of a blog post about monkeys. But here it is, because it’s winter and we can’t stop loving the world. We must keep celebrating the good, the beauty, all there is to see and wonder about here on earth — including the snow monkeys. But with all the recent events among humans, I find myself wondering … are they perhaps a nobler species?