So, I really hate monkeys—chimps in particular—to a point that it’s a well known phobia amongst family and close friends. I really can’t pin-point when it started, but it may have been on a trip to the Milwaukee Zoo when I was a small child. My sister wanted to see the “cute” monkeys—I preferred the elephant exhibit, but I had been staring long enough and it was time to move on. As we neared the monkey enclosure they started to get all emotive in their creepy-hyper-intensive way. Some people think it’s cute; personally not a fan especially when they started whipping their poop at us. Apparently I found this all highly disturbing. Watching the Wizard of Oz not long after seemed to have cemented my abhorrence of monkeys and I’ve never gotten over it. Apes are fine, but from Chimps on down? Forget it.
Anyway, when we moved to Japan, I kept hearing about the Snow Monkey Park (a.k.a Japanese Macaques) that live in the Nagano (Nah-GAH-no) Prefecture located in the Yokoyu (Yo-KOH-you) River valley, which flows down from the Shiga Kogen (She-gah Koh-gen) Ski Resort. The park is located at an elevation of 2,700 feet, so our four hour bus ride from Fussa City (Foo-sah) morphed into a 45 minute trek up a winding mountain ledge (not more than 5 feet wide with no guard rails or safety measures included—you fall it’s straight down to the bottom baby), taking us through Jigokudani (Gee-go-KOO-dah-nee) or, Hell’s Valley, so called due to the steep cliffs and hot water streaming from the natural hot springs. It’s quite something to hike.
As I said, not a fan of monkeys, but I wanted to overcome this irrational fear and decided what better way to do this than to visit the park. So, I put my trepidation aside and set out to face my fears. And aside from the Macaques penchant to stalk you all over the mountain for the contents of your backpack, or their ability to snatch a bag from your hand and take off for parts unknown, it was a truly fascinating experience!
photo and movie credits: Kevin F Campbell
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