All right. The Naked Stranger gets it. He digs, man. Animals behaving like people never stops being entertaining. Seeing a dog on a surfboard on Funniest Home Videos is great. Watching a parrot swear like a sailor never stops being funny. And a monkey enjoying a hot bath, well, how can you not want to take a peek.
The only problem with Jigokudani Monkey Park though is that the Naked Stranger is all about his own personal pleasure. So walking two kilometers to watch another species enjoy a bath goes against the grain of what this column is all about. But due to the popularity of the Jigokudani Monkey Park, here it is. The Naked Strangers guide to surviving a day at the monkey onsen.
The first point that needs to be heeded about Jigokudani Monkey Park is that, irrespective of what Charles Darwin thinks, monkeys are not people. So you need to be very careful of your own body language and behaviour when in the presence of the Japanese Macaque.
Most importantly, please do not touch a Japanese Macaque. Japanese Macaques perceive touch as a sign of love and may want to come back home with you at the end of the day if you try and fondle them. Always remember to ask the monkey permission before making any forward gestures and let them know right from the start that you are not in it for the long haul.
Try to avoid direct eye contact with the Japanese Macaque. Monkeys perceive eye contact as a sign of aggression. If you want to fight a full grown male Japanese Macaque, you will be required to pay an additional ¥500 surcharge. And irrespective of how tempting it may be, please refrain from slapping the Japanese Macaque on their cute little red buttocks.
Do not, under any circumstance, bring your own pet monkey to the park. The Japanese Macaque is extremely jealous. Try also not to bring any friends who may even remotely resemble a monkey. Please shave friends eye brows where required.
Do not feed a Japanese Macaque. All monkeys at the park are paid appearance fees and can afford to buy their own food.
The Japanese Macaque is a highly socialized species with a strong sense of social hierarchy. If you see a pack of them together whispering in a sinister way, stay well away. You don’t want to be involved in a foreign coup attempt while on your holiday.
Jigokudani Monkey Park, Yamanouchi, Nagano Prefecture
Address: Yamanouchi-machi Shimotakai-gun Nagano, Japan 381-0401
Hours: April to October 8:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. / November to March 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Best time to go is from November to March when the monkeys frequent the baths to stay warm.
Cost: ¥500 (adults)
Tel: (0269) 33-4379
The Upside: Lots of photo opportunities of monkeys in various poses.
The Downside: Youcan’t join them in the bath so you may feel like a stalker at times. There is also a 2 km. walk to get there, so it is not the best for elderly people or those with physical disabilities.
The Monkey Facts:
- Jigokudani Monkey Park is on the edge of the Joshinetsu National Park. The monkeys spend lazy days in the onsen before returning to the trees at night.
- The Japanese Macaque is the most northerly dwelling primate species in the world.
- The water in the onsen is about 50 degrees. Humans are recommended to bath at the human onsen down the road.
Nearby Attractions: Shiga Kogen Ski Area, Yudanaka Onsen Town.
Access: Jigokudani Monkey Park can be accessed by train from JR Nagano Station. Take the Nagano Dentetsu train to Yudanaka. From Yudanaka, take a bus or taxi to Kanbayashi Onsen then it is about a 20 minute walk to the entrance of the Jigokudani Monkey Park. From there it is about a 2 kilometer walk through the forest. If driving, get off the Joshinentsu Highway at Shinshu Nakano and take route 292 towards Shiga Kogen. Drive the road to Kanbayashi onsen then walk.