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Monkeys.  There’s something about them that both fascinates and endlessly amuses me.

Whether it’s a hang-over from one of my favourite TV shows growing up – Monkey Magic (who wouldn’t want their own travel cloud??) – or because their facial expressions are as varied and expressive as our own, or maybe just because they’re so inappropriately interested in each others butts, I really don’t know.IMG_6001

Whatever it is, whenever I see monkeys I invariably end up lingering way longer than I intended, usually chortling away to myself like some deranged spinster, but always happier for it.  That’s monkey magic.

So it wasn’t really a surprise when booking my trip to Japan this year that I would allow time for a sidetrip to see the Snow Monkeys of Nagano.  After all, who would pass up the opportunity to see hot tub monkeys?

That’s right, hot tub.  These monkeys are so clever, they’ve worked out that lounging around in the hot springs in winter sure beats shivering their red bottoms off in the snow.

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And tourists have worked out it’s not only a cute photo op, but a rather unique wildlife experience.IMG_6125

From the entrance to Jigokudani park, it’s a 1.6km hike to the hot springs.  The stairs at the beginning and end of the trail can be treacherous if the conditions are icy, but for the most part the trail itself is fairly level and most people who are steady on their feet should have no trouble.IMG_5912

The trail leads you to ticket office where you may get your first monkey magic moment – this guy was hanging around just outside the door to the ticket office, perhaps he could feel the heating coming out! IMG_5925

The walk from the ticket office to the hot springs itself brings more monkey magic moments and it’s easy to get distracted from the main event.  IMG_5937

The day we visited was a little warmer than usual and I was worried that the monkeys may not feel the need for a soak, but I wasn’t disappointed.  As we arrived at the spring, we could see monkeys in the mist surrounded by clicking cameras and clucking tourists.IMG_5942

You’re free to walk right on down to the springs and half way around the side and the monkeys really don’t seem to care, some even swam right up the cameras, seemingly oblivious.IMG_5991

IMG_6105You won’t have any trouble getting close enough, but the steam is a problem.  A badly timed shutter click will make the difference between a lovely close up of a red face, or else a murky fog.  IMG_6015

Either way, it’s joy to see the monkeys relaxing in the hot water, either kicking backIMG_6181

or enjoying a bit of groomingIMG_5982

while the young ones do what young ones do best, annoy adults.IMG_6094

The monkeys aren’t just interested in hot water, they’ll sit on anything hot!  Whether it’s jammed against the rocks the water pours over, sitting on the box over the spring, or on pipes carrying hot water, they just can’t get enough.IMG_6368

A stroll down to the river lets you get up close and personal with grooming monkeys,P1020205

or laugh at the youngsters going nuts playing on the hillside (you’ll need your long lens for this!).IMG_6417

In all we must have spent at least 3 hours pointing and laughing at all the crazy antics.  We left with smiles on our faces and our hearts a little lighter – that’s monkey magic.

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