Snow Monkeys of Jigokudani Park, Yamanouchi, Nagano
“It’s hard to be part of the famous snow monkeys of Jigokudani Park. Just imagine the pressure when people from all over the world including media outlets like CNN or National Geographic annually visits you for a feature story. Obviously, they expect you on your cutest mood and if you are covered in snow, then its just perfect television”.
“Then, there are the tourists- who mostly armed with big cameras trying to capture our every move, I bet they have photo collection showcasing every angle of my red face. There was this guy who decided to point his camera lens directly to my face, I guess he is one of those who is planning to enter the annual photo contest. I’m a good sport, so I gave him one big yawn, and his camera shutter doesn’t stop clicking. Funny actually, given how close his lens is to my face, I’m sure that he has a clear shot of my esophagus.”
“Look, I ‘m not complaining, I love visitors especially kids. It’s fun to have them around, I’m happy whenever I see them in awe and smiling, besides the 500 yen entrance fee that they pay help us a lot. There are just some days when it gets a bit crowded and all we wanted to do is bathe in onsen in peace. My uncles, they are so bored with all of this, so they just stay there, stare at the space and wait for the day to be over.”
“I feel sorry for my baby brother sometimes, he is not yet used to all of this. But I know the warm embrace of my mother will not only shelter him from the cold weather but will protect him from some ruthless photographers out there. A little consideration and respect is not too much to ask right?”
If only these monkeys could talk, I bet they have a lot of things to say, maybe similar to what I have imagine or maybe they don’t need to say anthing, the look on their faces will say it all.
The snow monkeys of Jigokudani Park is the pride of the beautiful town of Yamanouchi, Nagano and the top tourism reason apart from th Shiga Kogen ski resort, the onsens of Shibu and Yudanaka. Reaching the park is quite easy, there are several buses from either JR Nagano station for a day visit or in case you plan to stay for a night, choose a ryokan that offers a free ride to the park entrance at Kanbayashi.
To reach the monkeys, it will require you to take a 1.6km hike on a snow covered path of a forest-like mountain. Though there are some slippery parts, walking is relatively easy and deciding to wear the right shoes is always a good decision. There where times when it was only me navigating the relatively relaxing snow-filled route, how I wanted to turn on my Ipod and listen to Fleet Foxes’ album as if the mood is demanding it, but my winter fascination is preventing me for reaching my headset.
“Konichiwa” is the official greeting used on the hike for the people that you met along the way. Such a nice feeling to be greeted and to do the same in return, as if with these basic recognition, you are either having a much needed weekend break or about to have one and wishing others to have a good one too.
How will you know if you are near to the mokeys? When you see the picture-perfect, snow-covered roof of Korakukan Ryokan. True definition of winter wonderland, as if you can only see such place in your dreams, on some calendars or picture frames for sale.