(See page 2 for the German Version)
This year we spent our winter holidays in Nagano. We wanted to go snowboarding – and to see the almost world famous snow monkeys. Yes, they really seem to be that famous, – even my mother had heard of them because of a German TV documentary. Of course it is indeed fascinating because where else can you see wild monkeys bathing in a hot spring? Jigokudani Yaenkoen is the park where the monkeys, Japanese macaques, are living; about thirty years ago, the first bathing monkeys had been discovered there, and it is believed that they started doing so after watching humans bathing in an onsen.
Getting to the monkey park was not the easiest thing to do, as we first had to go by shuttle bus from our ski resort to Yudanaka train station and from there, with rarely any buses departing, we took a taxi to the entrance of the park. Our taxi driver told us, not without a certain pride, that a photo of the snow monkeys had won a photo contest in London some time ago. As a Tourist had been a little bit too pushy making pictures with his smartphone, one of the monkeys had ripped the phone out of his hands and gone into the hot spring. Another photographer had captured this perfect moment, and thus a monkey with a smartphone made headlines worldwide.
After the taxi ride we had to walk for about twenty minutes through the forest. There was a narrow trail with many curves, which had already become very slippery due to snow, slush, and the many footsteps of countless visitors. The cold air felt refreshing, and I had to be careful to not lose myself in the white idyll of the trees and to accidentally slip and fall. From time to time it snowed a little, but just so much as that the snowflakes gently settled on our jackets, and that the snow-covered woods looked somehow even more mysterious. Only the many other visitors, including a lot of foreigners who passed us or appeared on the road ahead of us, did not fit that well into the picture of this snowy landscape.
Soon afterwards we finally arrived at our destination and could already see the steam rising from the hot spring, and all the people gathering around it. In front of us the first monkey appeared. Not quite impressed by the people around him, he just sat there and put a handful of snow in his mouth, looked at us and then ran down the mountainside. The closer we got to the hot spring, the more monkeys we saw; there were old and young ones, who had their little cute hands in the snow, were picking lice from each other or that were actually relaxing in the hot water. They were pretty good at remaining indifferent towards the hustle and bustle of poeple around them. Only the very young monkeys seemed not quite yet know how to react to the group of paparazzi surrounding them, and thus were watching us a little nervously.
Even though of course I was just as fascinated and excited to be able to get that close to this wild monkeys who seemed to be so used to us humans, I also felt a bit sorry for them. How did they feel about standing in the spotlight every day until the afternoon when the park closed? Well, a dip in the hot onsen might simply be too tempting to let the many humans with their strange devices bother them.
It was already snowing stronger when we made our way back to the trail and out of the woods, back into the everyday world, as it seemed.