Jigokudani Monkey Park
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Offbeat Traveler: Jigokudani Monkey Park


By Michael Robinson, Los Angeles Times
When I lived in Chicago, a hot shower always made me feel better about winter, even if I wasn’t sure why I lived in a place where I couldn’t feel my toes after a short trek through the snow.

So I understand the joy Japanese macaques must feel when they get a chance to step out of the cold and hop into the hot springs at Jigokudani Monkey Park in Nagano, about 150 miles northwest of Tokyo. (Kazuhiro Nogi / AFP/Getty Images)
The hot spring lies in the valley between two hills that are blanketed with snow during the winter, not too surprising for a place that hosted the 1998 Winter Olympics. (Duchamp)
The manmade pool was built in 1964 after two groups of the snow monkeys, heading toward the hot spring, started getting into the small spring hole for warmth. The locals built a larger pool for them, and the monkeys have made the park their home since. (Trey Ratcliff)
Jigokudani Monkey Park has become a popular attraction. Visitors can get close to the monkeys but are not allowed to feed or touch them. (Clint Koehler)
The macaque is photogenic and at times appears to be posing for photos, so remember your camera. (Masashi Mochida)
The macaque is prevalent in Japanese culture, where, it is thought, the maxim of the three wise monkeys -- “see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil” -- originated. (Masashi Mochida,Richard Forward and Masashi Mochida)
When visitors arrive at the park they have to hike about 15 minutes to get to the hot spring, called an onsen. Visitors may see snow monkeys in their natural habitat along the way. (Masashi Mochida)
When you get to the spring, you might see the alpha male. He earns his name as the “boss” monkey, as he is often seen directing the other monkeys. When the rangers feed the monkeys, the alpha male and his family are fed before the rest of the group. (chriggy1)
Park admission costs 500 yen, about $6. It is open from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m. in winter, and 9 a.m. until 4 p.m. in summer. Visitors are likely to see more of the monkeys in the hot springs in winter. (Hiro Komae / Associated Press)
If visiting in the winter, note that the temperatures drop below freezing and there is a lot of hiking. It would be a shame to cut short a visit with these beautiful animals because of unsuitable footwear. (Masashi Mochida)
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