The Japanese macaques don’t have the innate habit of swimming in hot water, they didn’t even need to do it to warm themselves. So why did the monkeys start getting into the hot spring?
The answer is food.
In the 50s and 60s, a problem had started between the monkeys and humans. The monkeys had started coming the mountains into the apple fields of the farmers living at the base of the mountain range next to the areas main river. The farmers started a petition for extermination of the macaques and this was granted to them by the local government in the early 1960’s.
The owners of the Japanese inn Korakukan had come to love the monkeys that regularly came down to their valley. They decided to start a conversation with the future founders of the Snow Monkey Park and came to the conclusion that they needed to draw the monkeys away from the farmlands. In order to accomplish that, a feeding structure was created. They decided to put apples around the valley of Jigokudani, a valley that was far away from the farmlands but still accessible to humans.
It took months of baiting the monkeys with apples but in winter, they noticed the monkeys come down and eat the apples in Jigokudani. In 1963, the feeding was declared a success. The monkeys that had previously come down to the apple farms close to the river now came to Hell’s Valley for their food.
In 1963, the year that they succeeded in feeding the monkeys apples, the feeders were giving the monkeys apples around the small outside hot spring of Korakukan. Some apples got dropped into the hot spring. A young monkey between the age of 1 and 3 and his mother saw the apples floating around and wanted to get a hold of them. They tried grabbing them but the young monkey slipped and fell into the hot spring. He climbed out immediately but the same thing happened to the same monkey 5 minutes later. The second time this happened, he decided the hot spring felt nice and decided to not move from there.
Other young monkeys around the hot spring saw this one macaque just relaxing in the water and didn’t know what to think of it for a while. There were apples in the water and the monkey that was in there could just pick them up and leisurely chew on them while the rest of the monkeys were watching from the side. Slowly but surely other young monkeys got into the pool to join their friend. Then, the older males and females entered the pool as well.
The people who got together to feed the monkeys decided to make a monkey-only pool a little removed from the ryokan Korakukan’s pool. This pool became the main stage for the Jigokudani Snow Monkey Park.
Even though the monkeys were not used to the hot water originally, nowadays it’s hard to get them to come out of the pool in winter. It is cold, and there is no food that they can find in their surroundings so why should they leave their comfortable, hot pool. The bathing monkeys is now a world-famous sight.
Come see the snow monkeys in their hot spring! See more information about the area here!
Want to know about tours to the area? Please see here for more details.