Monkey Business at Yudanaka

Trip Start Nov 10, 2009
Trip End May 07, 2010

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Where I stayed
Shimoya Ryokan

Flag of Japan  , Nagano,
Friday, March 26, 2010

A pink-faced, hairy beast stared unblinkingly, just inches away. Its beady eyes, deepset in the ruddy visage, glinted with what could be mistaken as human intelligence.

"Stop staring, Per, and give me the camera," I said.

   We were in Jigokudani, face-to-face with the wild "snow monkeys" who come down from the surrounding mountains each day to bathe in the hot spring pools. The story goes that the monkeys began to use the onsens after watching the locals doing the same. It was decided (probably for hygiene reasons) to build the monkeys their own pool and a troop of 200 has been visiting ever since. The park is amazing - I'm not sure what we had expected, but we didn't expect to be walking side-by-side with the monkeys who didn't care tuppence for our presence. The two rules: don't touch, don't feed, have ensured the monkeys see visitors as neither friend nor foe, and happily they ignore us. It is strangely addictive watching the monkeys frollicking in and out of the water, some of them even swimming. If only for the fact that they were constantly scratching and checking each other for fleas, I would have popped one in my bag and brought it home.

We are staying in the nearby village of Yudanaka. The large-haired host of our ryokan is a teensy, weensy bit odd. There's no doubting that underneath that brusque manner and all that hair, he's a lovely, helpful man, but on the surface he bears more than a passing resemblance to Charlie Chaplin's Great Dictator. In clipped English, almost identical to Japanese, his every sentence is an order, and every order is punctuated with the phrase 'happy memory'.

"Catch train to Obuse happy memory. Eat at this restaurant happy memory. Take photo now happy memory."

          In the short time we have known him, we have no doubts that he would make an excellent Propaganda Minister for the various Communist countries we have passed through. For despite - or perhaps because of - his strict instructions to enjoy ourselves, our time in Yudanaka has indeed been filled with happy memories. The traditional Japanese ryokan, with futon-style beds and rice paper walls, is a lovely place to stay and it even has its own onsen tucked away in the basement. The natural spring water is astonishingly hot and, once again, provided a relaxing end to the evening. Throwing in the traditional tanzen and yukata clothing and we could hardly have had a more Japanese time.
Anyhoo, back to another world now... we're saying goodbye to monkeys and onsens. Next stop, the bright lights of Tokyo!
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Ming on

That is so cool. I think I know what I'd like as a souvenir...

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