The smell of sulfur gradually seeps through the air, and steam rises up beyond the trees in Jigokudani snow monkey park. Located in a valley of the Yokoyu River in northern Nagano Prefecture, 267 km northwest of Tokyo, literally, the name means “Hell Valley”. 

It is here, among the very steep cliffs and the steam rising off the naturally emerging hot springs, that one can find the Japanese macaque, a breed of local monkeys, ecstatically soaking in the hot water with their eyes closed.

For nearly four months of the year the park is covered in snow, with temperatures often dipping below minus 10 degrees centigrade (14 degrees fahrenheit). About 160 monkeys descend from the steep cliffs and forest to look for food and sit in the warm waters of the onsen (hot springs) during the day, then return to the refuge of the forests in the evening.

Inside the park, it is not only adult monkeys that can be seen soaking in the hot water. Their young are also there, clinging to their mothers backs, playing with tree branches, frolicking on snow-covered slopes, or even just “grooming” each other.

(You can read the rest of this article at this link. This article was first published on Feb 19, 2021, on JAPAN Forward, who aim to reveal the true face of Japan to the English speaking world in areas ranging from politics to sports and pop culture.)

Name: Jigokudani Snow Monkey Park, Nagano (map link)

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