Nude dudes, really ? Yep, keep reading … The day is packed with plans as we head out early from the Hotel. Our primary objective is to head north to visit the Jigokudani Snow Monkeys. Closely followed by a traditional Japanese onsen (hot spring water spa), a relaxing massage, and some dinner at a local Izakaya. Here is the skinny:
All week Derek, Miwa, and I have been looking forward to going to visit the snow monkeys. It is hard not to when it seems like every sign post and billboard we pass has been littered with advertisements. After a train ride, followed by a bus ride, then 30 minute snowy trek deep into the forest, we finally arrived at Jigokudani. Jigokudani translates to “Hell Valley” because of the boiling water that reaches the earth’s surface, causing steam to rise out of the valley.
The forest and valley open up to quite a site. However, we did not enter a zoo or enclosure of some kind. There were no walls or bars present to separate the monkeys from us. We were truly among them, watching them how nature intended. A few young monkeys were running by our feet wrestling with each other, others were carrying snow balls. Older ones were perched up on the hand rail having a nap, literally inches from us. As we continued further, the area opened up to 20-30 more monkeys playing tag or foraging for food in the snow. Some exchange glances as we passed, others are too focused on the task at hand.
The central location for viewing was a natural onsen, which is a hot spring water spa. The monkeys would just climb in and go to sleep, as if to relax from the day’s previous activities. Some would have smaller monkeys grooming them as they napped and enjoyed the heated water. Others would be the center of attention for eager tourists (like ourselves) to snap once in a life time photos. Across the river you could see even more monkeys playing on the side of an embankment or perched at a peak, as if they were a lookout.
None were aggressive. None tried to rob your pockets or backpacks. They did not seem to mind the company of humans in their natural habitat. It was as if there was an understanding that we were curious of how they spent their time, so they obliged by letting us watch. In total, there is said to be around 200 Japanese Macaque. I later found out that they do not even live at the onsen, they simply commute for a chance to warm up.
Spending time among the monkeys was one of the most surreal experiences I have ever had. I realize my words do not do this experience justice, so I was able to locate a live feed for you to check out. I also created a new image gallery specifically for the Snow Monkeys. There are some awesome shots, so please check them out when you get a sec.
After being outside all day watching the monkeys warming up in a warm pool of water, it was time for us to do the same. After some home made, hand cut, Buckwheat Soba noodles and freshly picked tempura mushrooms for lunch, we made it back to the train station. Lucky for us it is centrally located to numerous local onsens. Derek and Miwa attempted to give me some basic protocol regarding how these things work …
Chicks and dudes are separate, no exceptions. Everyone is nude, no exceptions, though you do get a tiny towel to keep with you. There is typically an indoor and outdoor facility, along with a community bathing area. The natural spring water is freaking hot, nearly too hot for me. The outdoor area was by far my favorite. There is something about being outside in the freezing weather, but still sweating from the hot water. I will spare you all further details and mental imagery that accompanies the thought of me being naked with a bunch of 80 year old Japanese dudes though. After a quick shower sitting on an 8 inch stool, we headed back to our hotel in Nagano.
A quick massage and a tasty dinner at a well-decorated Izakaya and we called it a night.
Unordinary: Coca Cola machines that sells beer? Yep, check that off the list! Show Me!