monkey, japan, travel

Sea Monkeys (Almost)

Continued from Monkeys and Noodles.

After obsessing over their pictures on the internet and in text books for years, I finally met the famous Snow Monkey, in Snow Monkey Park in Shibu Onsen, Japan. LET ME TELL YOU ABOUT IT!

Are these “Bathing Apes”?

NOPE. Those are shoes that Soulja boy raps about and also these are monkeys not apes, but I couldn’t resist such a good reference. The Snow Monkeys are native to Japan and are therefore imaginatively called Japanese Macaques, or Snow Monkeys, or Macaca fuscata for the nerds. They are the winterized relatives of the long tailed macaques that I saw in CambodiaMacaca fascicularis.

nature, monkey, japan, travel
Game of thrones level dramatic photo.

Snow Monkey Park RULES

The most miraculous thing about Snow Monkey Park in Shibu Onsen is that there are no fences or guards to keep you from the monkeys. NO RULES! Just kidding, there are rules, like be a responsible adult and keep a respectful distance. This works in Japan, but I doubt it would work in the United States, which is why we can’t have nice things (like monkeys).

monkey, japan, nature, travel
My favorite picture possibly of the entire trip.

The monkey park experience consists of walking among the furry bathers and observing them doing their thing. And their thing is relaxing in a hot tub just like people. If you ever have trouble getting on board with evolution, just go to Japan, because, duh.

nature, travel, monkey, japan
This is actually a photo of me in my bathtub looking at how weird my body looks underwater.

Bath Politics

Sadly, not all monkeys are allowed in the hot springs. It’s ruled by an alpha family that chases all the peasants out. #nonewfriends.

Below is a picture of the alpha male, aka lord of the tub. Monkeys that are not allowed in the tub have to just skitter along the perimeter and try to sneak dips or sips (gross). FYI you are also not allowed in the hot springs because, among other things, you are not part of the alpha family. Even if you went for it, you’d probably have to go through the alpha and as I mentioned in my last post, sharp teeth/poopy hands. AND the Japanese tend to bathe in the nude, so… there’s that.

monkey, japan, nature, travel
Lord of the tub.

Hot Spring Maintenance

Although the monkeys use the hot springs seasonally on their own, they are now provisioned (with healthy things like soy beans) to entice them to hang around more often.

monkey, travel, nature, japan
Baby monkey & soybean, a portrait.

In general, food-provisioning programs for wild animals are risky because they can cause animals to rely on/beg from humans, abandon migration routes, and basically quit their animal jobs. However, in some carefully monitored programs like this one, it can work. The monkeys at Shibu Onsen are studied by primatologists and still seem to prefer their spa lifestyle to bothering people.

monkey, nature, travel
Monkey waiting for test results from park ranger (just kidding I have no idea what that monkey is doing).

Are there Go Karts?

No. The park itself consists of the hot springs, the surrounding woods, and a hut where you can purchase hot beverages or a small collection of souvenirs. Just enough to enhance the monkey viewing experience, but not so much that we humans can build garbage palaces. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good gift shop, so I was disappointed in my inability to come home with 18 pounds of monkey swag. In wildlife areas, however, less is more…also my the guest house I was staying in was selling packets of hot spring bath salts with monkeys on them and I bought 10. Materialism appeased.

Are there more monkey photos?

Yes, but I’ll have to find a way to seamlessly integrate bathing monkey pictures into future posts. This post has gone on long enough, so I leave you with a parting gift:

Monkey, nature, travel, japan
Elegance. Beauty. Dignity. Monkey-Butt.
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