Saturday, February 21, 2015

the Nagano SNOW MONKEYS!!! ahhhhhhh!!

Snow is beautiful.  I love it. 
We went to Nagano for a few days on our 'winter break' to enjoy the cold, snow, and the MONKEYS!!  
Seeing the Nagano Snow Monkeys was at the very top of my Japan bucketlist.  In fact- it was on my life bucket list.
We own the 'planet earth' documentaries with the Snow Monkey feature and every time I watched it- I wanted to go.  We watched it with the kids more than once in preparation for this trip!  It totally freaked out Metta!  she thought the monkeys were going to bite her or attack her for sure!! we had to reassure her the entire drive to Nagano that she was not going to be injured or eaten,

Nagano is nestled in the "Japanese Alps".  The drive itself was gorgeous.  Road trips in Japan are scenic and fabulous.  The development and landscape is so different from the midwest and what we've been driving through the past 7 years!! it's different from anything I've driven through ever, really.

First off- I think you have to see the Snow Monkeys in the snow to capture the true magic of it all.  I loved it more than Tokyo Disneyland.  
We had rented a base van to make the trek because three hours of japanese toll roads made the cost of the rental van with prepaid tolls break even!  and because the vans have snow tires- and even chains if necessary.

The further we drove up the mountain- the higher the snow got.  At the base of the monkey mountain was this vending machine.  With a little path carved out to make your selection and pay :) the Japanese and their vending machines never cease to amaze.
there's a 2km trek up the mountain to get to the hot springs where the monkeys hang out. To try and get OUR monkeys more eager about the hike I told them that first person to see a snow monkey would get 500 yen to spend at the Zenkoji temple shops.  I should have known better. It only motivated Ike. He ran the whole way while I was stuck carrying metta and 'encouraging' Zeb to keep moving.
the hike was beautiful.  Snow covered trees and mountains are one of my favorite things in the world.

Zeb found this cool truck buried under the snow.
on the hike- you walk around a corner and suddenly come to a big clearing in the mountain.  there's a set of buildings that you pass- and then suddenly you are surrounded by wild monkeys.  it's CRAZY.

wildlife has always been fascinating to me.  And getting this close to it was so much fun.
a lot of the older monkeys are definitely grumpy and can get aggressive and swat if you get too close- but for the most part the monkeys are accustomed to people showing up and taking pictures and they just ignored us.
the monkeys in the hot springs are awesome.  It's a natural 'onsen' (japanese public bath) and the monkeys obviously enjoy relaxing in the heat!!
what I can't figure out is how terribly cold and  miserable it must be when they EXIT the springs.  Look at this poor little sopping wet guy!!
only the highest ranking mom, dad, and baby monkeys get the good spots in the spring.  It made me a little sad for the other monkeys who are just as cold and want to take a dip!!  but I loved the mom and kid monkeys.
I mean- seriously- look at all of these monkeys!  Isn't this amazing?!  I wanted to get in and hang out with them!!

the smaller the monkeys were - the cuter they got.  I think most people think the same thing about humans.  but I think baby monkeys are way cuter than baby humans.
I have no idea what this guy was doing.  they get so relaxed in the hot water in strange positions :)
I think some of them even nap in the water!!
they probably think WE are the crazy ones staring at them so much.

there was a set of four teeny monkeys who must have been siblings :)  they were CRAZY to each other.  We followed them around and played with them for at least an hour.  They were so fascinating and friendly! and so much fun to watch.
they would honestly run right up to me and my camera like I wasn't even there.  those are my feet in the shot.  this guy was basically sitting on my lap!
as much fun as they were- they were the most difficult guys to photograph because they NEVER stopped!  rolling, playing, running, etc.  They were so funny.
this little guy was smaller than baby mack!!  he kept playing with our shoes and wanted our phones!

I could have hung out for HOURS taking pictures and observing.

our kiddos had so much fun, too.  I think this will be a memory from Japan that they don't forget!  Hopefully even metta remembers it!

our zebaroo all grown up.

have I mentioned that I LOVE snow?!
just look at the mountainside dotted with monkeys!

so cute.
the older males had bright red faces.  and were usually the most grumpy. this guy swam right up to me and stepped out of the water directly in front of my camera!
he shook off a little when he got out-
and then walked on past.

on our way back out a few monkeys escorted us along the path :)  I think they were just trying to get past us and were irritated to have us there.
but isn't it amazing how they'll just walk alongside us and pay no attention?!

this was the only pic I got of any of them standing up!

this pic is a little blurry- but I love it.  Like I said- these monkeys were on the move constantly- and moved very quickly!  but I tried to catch this guy as he jumped out of the springs!!

at the park ranger booth we found this stuffed goat of sorts and metta begged for a picture with him.  she kissed him several times, too.  weirdo.
the only bad part of the day was the hike back to the car!  our kids were exhausted from playing in the snow so much and whined the ENTIRE way.
metta cried a lot, too.   Here she is SOBBING about the monkey who mistook her hat for his brother monkey!!  the baby monkey actually jumped ON her head thinking it was a friend monkey.  I wish I'd gotten a picture!  she was momentarily terrified. and now won't stop talking about it or telling people about it.
Our trip to Nagano was seriously probably my favorite day in Japan thus far!  these monkeys totally lived up to my expectations!!  now if I can just find that rabbit infested island that I've seen all over the internet.  These animal adventures are the best :)


Kristi, Liezl, Quincy, Ava, Cora, and Josh said...

Metta, I would be sobbing if a monkey jumped on my head too. Probably for a long, long time. I have to admit, monkeys creep me out, but I am so glad you were able to go! Pretty exciting!

Amber and Travis said...

I LOVE the picture of the monkeys in the hot springs where the mom and baby are looking right at you! And the one when the grumpy monkey is shaking off! This looks so fun! I couldn't tell how small the babies were until the picture with you. So fun! I think it is hilarious that the baby jumped on Metta's head! Wish I could have seen it! Great memories!

Annie Oswald said...

What's up wuth that funny monkey in the blue coat? 😜

Sheri said...

These are JUST such cool pictures. : ) Love you guys and glad you are having great adventures. Tell your kiddos hello from me. I'm teaching primary again and it's made me think about the sweet kids in my classes in Ohio.

Pat and Brent said...

Amazing place. Glad you're getting in all the great adventures. Hope Metta wasn't to traumatized to have the monkey jump on her! She's such a cutey! You're making so many fabulous memories!

Kim T. said...

Fantastic photos!!