The monkey park itself is part of Joshin-etsu Kogen National Park, very close to where the snowboarding events were held. The valley is called “Jigokudano,” literally translated as “hell valley” because of the amount of hot springs filling the air with hot vapor and the smell of rotten eggs. It’s rather hard to get there even in the summer! We had to drive up a tiny road, barely wide enough for 1 1/2 cars at an uncomfortable 40 degree angle with the road steeply dropping off the side of the mountain. Luckily my friend who was driving live a long time in Denver and was used to mountain driving! After we got there we parked and had a 10 minute walk along the steaming, multi-colored river to the valley. Then, as we came around the entrance pavilion, there they were – at least 40 monkeys playing, sunning, swimming, fighting, and generally being very relaxed and at home with the scores of tourists who had come to see them that day!
We were really surprised at how accepting the monkeys were of our presence. I guess they get so many visitors with cameras that they don’t even notice anymore! The mothers didn’t even mind us peering at their very small babies, who were extremely cute. I know monkeys and humans are related, but I didn’t realize just how human theses little guys were. Sleeping under bushes, nursing their babies, it was just like a scene from a human bath house!
Can anyone identify that interesting plant? I have not idea how to check on it in Japanese…
~MS the Younger
Oh, and PS: More interesting info on the valley here.