Hot Springs Monkeys: There Are Monkeys In Hell

Broom monkey

If you’re willing to go off the beaten path, you may end up in hell. There are monkeys in hell. Jigokudani (Hell Valley) in Northern Nagano prefecture is where some of the famous hot springs monkeys live.

After a long car ride through mountains, forests, and pencil-thin roads, we finally arrive at a dirt parking lot and an unassuming little sign reading: “Monkey Park this way.”

Now, I’ve often been places where they assume patrons are gullible, camera-toting zombies instead of real people equipped with built-in, foolproof bullcrap detectors. And my first impression is that Monkey Park looks a lot less like hot springs monkeys and a lot more like hokey carnival attraction.

Still, we came all this way to see monkeys and we’re going to see monkeys. As we go further my doubts about this place recede when we realize it’s actually gorgeous.

Jigokudani

There’s a little building serving as a ticket booth/souvenir shop selling monkey merchandise. I rarely get souvenirs though, and just glance through a few prints with no intention to buy. We give our 500 yen to a couple of very bored looking ticket vendors then read the big sign warning us to:

1) Take off anything shiny.

2) Don’t feed the monkeys.

3) Don’t touch the monkeys.

4) DON’T LOOK THE MONKEYS IN THE EYE.

“Kowai,” she says. Scary.

She’s getting nervous. I’m imagining epic monkey battles. The part of me that is convinced that Bruce Lee being my great, great Wung Chun kung fu uncle actually means something tells me I can handle a squad of ninja monkeys. By myself.

In the interior a geyser is bellowing a continuous stream of boiling water into the sky. I go for a closer look and see that this micro-eruption is really a PVC pipe hammered into the ground.

Jigokudani geyser

Now, despite its deep traditions, Japan is a very forward-thinking country. Usually this manifests in anthropomorphic robots who can fold your laundry, but occasionally there are modern “improvements” to ancient structures where someone just couldn’t help but add a bit of polish to what would have been better left alone. The result is something like the botched restoration of the “Ecco Homo” in Spain–more a mildly retarded monkey than a mural of Christ.

After looking around a bit more I catch sight of the first monkey strolling along a hot spring shelved along the mountain. Well, there’s one. Following it’s departure is a couple coming out for a dip, wrapped in towels. The guy flings his off just in time to get his naked picture taken by some passing German tourists. I forgo taking any pictures of naked Japanese men.

Flasher Monkey

I don’t of monkeys, though.

Following the partial nudity, the signs guide us to a long pathway where the monkeys are grooming each other along stone walls. These are not Curious George. They have big red faces and big red butts. The babies are cute though. The walkway leads to the very bottom of the valley, where the monkeys live.

Shy Monkey

Draw me like one of your French girls

Grooming Monkey

This guy wasn’t too happy about being groomed by mom

With wild monkeys running around everywhere, the first five minutes were a bit tense. They can get very close, but you get used to them once you realize they’re more interested in picking through pebbles than you. Since I went in summer, none were taking baths, so instead we gawked over the babies playing on the ropes.

Baby monkeys playing

We’re cute, right?

Baby monkeys

These guys were the stars of the show

I really enjoyed Hell Valley. It’s a beautiful place in the middle of nowhere with free-roaming monkeys. Since Japan is actually extremely mountainous, only around ten percent is habitable by humans. The rest is given over to the monkeys, and only in a few places, like Jigokudani, do the two worlds intersect.

Close monkey

And they do intersect

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7 Comments on “Hot Springs Monkeys: There Are Monkeys In Hell”

  1. Artemis
    June 27, 2013 at 12:34 pm #

    This is definitely one the places on my to-visit list while I’m here. While it doesn’t have hot springs, I did quite enjoy my visit to Arashiyama monkey park while I was hanging around Kyoto last winter though. Despite the fact that it was snowing while we were at the top of the mountain, the monkeys seemed pretty relaxed about it all.

    • introvertnathan
      June 27, 2013 at 12:43 pm #

      Ha, yeah, the monkeys in Nagano didn’t seem to be concerned about much either, especially us humans. I went in summer, so no snow, so I planning to make a trip back sometime in winter.

  2. alliblair
    June 27, 2013 at 1:15 pm #

    Haha! So cute! Love the image with the black bars, lol

    • introvertnathan
      June 27, 2013 at 1:38 pm #

      The babies were terribly cute. And didn’t seem to mind us at all. Guess they were just used to all the people adoring them.

  3. rose2852
    June 28, 2013 at 1:05 am #

    We went there in late April. Agree that the babies are cute. Some of the males – especially when they bare their teeth – are a bit scary looking. The day after we visited, it started snowing!

    • introvertnathan
      June 28, 2013 at 8:17 am #

      Yeah, not around us, but some of the bigger males were chasing the smaller ones around. Kind of scary, but they were polite and kept their chest pounding away from us humans, lol.

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