Crazy Adventures, Japan, Travel Photos

Adventure in Monkeyland

I’ve been afraid of monkeys ever since I was attacked by a monkey in India last year. So I was more than a little apprehensive to learn that these ‘snow monkeys’ I was going to visit in Nagano wouldn’t be domesticated and caged, but wild and free and numbering in the hundreds.

I guess I just assumed that this being safety-obsessed Japan, that a visit to a ‘wild monkey’ colony would somehow involve some sort of man-made barrier / bob-wired fence to separate the beasts from the humans. More like a zoo. Or like the Animal Kingdom at Disney World.
So I was surprised to find myself standing in amongst a monkey free for all. Large red-faced, big-bottomed brown monkeys running, fighting, eating, pooping and even bathing (in several hot springs) and they were everywhere.
“Wow, they’re like…fleas,” gasped the tourist standing next to me as we stared down at the valley crawling with monkeys the color of the brown and red boulders below. They were camouflaged just enough so that it appeared that the valley floor itself was alive and moving.

You never know when you’re looking at photos online, if they’ve been photoshopped or taken with some sort of high-powered zoom lense. But trust me when I say that these monkeys were close enough to touch. In fact, a few people actually reached out and poked the monkeys in order to get them to look towards the camera. I was like: “Dude…this isn’t Tokyo Disneyland! These monkeys are real and will bite you!” But my warnings just fell on deaf ears. Everyone was after that ‘money shot’ , with thoughts of spreads in Japan guides and travel mags running through their heads.

About 80 percent of the people milling around snapping photos with their camera phones were foreigners, which struck me as odd. I mean, unlimited photo opportunities with cute, cuddly baby monkeys at a world-famous ‘monkey onsen’…and for only 500 yen? Doesn’t that have “Japanese Tourist Attraction” written all over it? Where were all the Japanese people?

But then it was explained to me that this was just one of many monkey onsens and that it was only “World Famous” outside of Japan. National Geographic had once written a review, making the secluded forest monkey hotspring an overnight foreign tourist hotspot.

I was told that that I should avoid eye-contact with the monkeys so that I wouldn’t accidentally offend them. They in turn, were very polite (unlike their Indian cousins) and chose to ignore me.

They were more interested in fighting each other and at one point, the ‘boss monkey’ charged another who’d gotten too close to his pile of grains. They came within inches of where I was peering over the edge of the Onsen and I screamed…and then slipped in a wet, mossy puddle and fell flat on my back into a pile of Onsen water, mud and monkey poop.

I spent the rest of the day as the ‘smelly kid on the bus’ back to Tokyo, my jeans covered in brown mud so that it looked like I’d accidentally pooped my pants. At a castle later that day, a toothless, old Japanese man commented on them and then told me that I have a big nose.


I told him that ‘those in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones’, an English expression that I don’t think translates well into Japanese. But whatever.

I’m now officially in love with Japanese monkeys.

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4 thoughts on “Adventure in Monkeyland

  1. Reannon- your posts always make me laugh!!

    I too experienced monkey mania when I went to Awaji Island. My friend Kim and I had climbed to the top of the mountain on the island very early in the morning and were greeted by a tribe of snow monkeys milling around looking for trouble. Kim, a bio major, told me not to make eye contact, but I was freaking out as they circled us, a few making weird hissing sounds. We were standing on the summit of the mountain where there was a shrine and a few stands seeling bracelets and other trinkets. Kim and I were all alone until a Japanese youth came out from behind one of the stands with a broom and scared the monkeys off by chasing them with his broom and shouting. It was quite the experience.

  2. That sounds exciting…Why did you go to Awaji island? What is there to do there? I’m always looking for ideas on places to visit here…I get so sick of Tokyo sometimes.

    Were you expecting to see monkeys or was it a surprise attack?

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