I left tropical Southeast Asia for Japan in the dead of winter for one reason - to see snow monkeys. I'd always seen pictures like the one above, of zen macaques in steaming hot springs surrounded by snow, and had no idea how accessible they were but was determined to find them. Turns out, it's just an hour bullet train to Nagano from Tokyo, and then another train to Yudanaka, a sleepy winter wonderland offering onsen galore... and the Jigokudani Snow Monkey park!
A morning encounter with these primates, the only ones other than humans known to thrive in a snowy environment, is not to be missed. While the adults soak in the springs, appearing to follow a strict code of conduct surrounding this activity - much like their local human counterparts do! - the mischievous youngsters practice acrobatics and start snowball fights.
JAPAN'S SNOW MONKEYS: CHILLED OUT BUT STILL CHEEKY
Nature is a wonderful and oft surprising thing. Take the red-faced Japanese macaques of the Nagano Prefecture for example – snow loving primates that spend their winters submerged in relaxing, warm onsen pools.
Like most people, I usually only think of monkeys as jungle-dwelling tree climbers, so to see them in this environment is an absolute treat and we (Backyard Travel) always encourage winter-time travelers to visit the area if possible.
A friendly word of advice however: don’t pick a snowball fight with them – they have a deadly aim!