It was so thrilling to see the internationally famous “snow monkeys” of Japan. The Japanese Macaque (Macaca fuscata) is the northernmost non-human primate in the world. It is such an odd thing to see monkeys on all fours, crawling through snow. We saw one at our hotel in the Shiga Kogen ski resort area, jump down from a birch tree and walk along a top of a high snow bank.
The macaques of National Geographic fame are winter residents of the Jigokudani Onsen in the Nagano prefecture. Winter is a tough time for them and they are fed at the onsen. They gather in large numbers in the narrow ravine. Jigokudani means “valley of hell” in English and it refers to the sulfurous hot springs and steep rocky cliffs of the Yokoyu river.
There are 23 different species of macaques ranging from Morocco to Japan. We encountered them in Singapore and now here in Japan. The Japanese macaques are found all through Japan except for the northern island of Hokkaido. They are found in the forests around our Osaka suburb of Minoh but we have not spotted them yet.
The Japanese Macaque is characterized by having a short tail and pink faces and backsides. Besides swimming in the warm geothermal waters, I also noticed that they huddle together often to stay warm. They were pretty good swimmers and we not afraid to go underwater. A fascinating morning and if you are in the Nagano prefecture, I highly recommend a visit to the pools. You can watch the full National Geographic documentary here.