Onsens are a big part of Japanese culture. People of all ages go with friends and family to relax, and some onsens are also known to have mineral waters to heal different ailments. Well, as it is so common in Japan, it shouldn’t come as a surprise to hear that monkeys enjoy taking part in the onsen experience as well! Nagano is an area northwest of Tokyo, only about an hour and a half shinkansen ride away, and is famous for its snow monkeys. Originally, I wanted to go stay in a hostel for the night and have a longer stay in Nagano, but due to time constraints (there’s so much to see in Japan!) we decided to only go for the afternoon.
One of the best parts of visiting the snow monkeys was the trek to get there. I believe there is another, more direct ways to get to the actual site (some hostels may have a bus service as well), but I highly recommend the route we took! We hopped on the local bus which dropped us off at the base of a trail. This trail was awesome and it took us through the forest for about a half hour. Even though its almost Spring, it was still snowing that day and so we had to step carefully (especially me because, let’s face it, I’m clumsy.) Definitely take the trail if you’re planning on going to see these snow monkeys, talk about a great scenic route.
Once we finally reached the area, the first thing we saw was a naked man sitting in an onsen for all the world to see him. Seriously? After taking a few pictures (he was far away so it was NOT perverted!), we headed in for the main attraction. From reading up on this, I knew that you are not supposed to make eye contact with the monkeys because they will take it as a form of aggression. So naturally, what did I do? I made eye contact with every monkey in the place. I couldn’t help it, I panicked – snow monkeys were EVERYWHERE! Sitting on the bridge, walking along the path, darting between people’s feet. But fortunately they were too concerned with picking things from each other’s fur and bathing in the onsen to give me a second glance. Sorry guys, you get zero privacy while bathing. Once I calmed down and realized there would be no animal altercations today, I really enjoyed the scene. It was something very different to check out in Japan apart from the typical tourist spots. I’ll say it again, you’ll find the coolest stuff in Japan when you take the time to get out of the big cities!