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.
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.