When you have a chance to spend several days in Japan. You might be looking for some ways to see some of the most famous sights of Japan, such as temples in Asakusa, famous Tsukiji Fishmarket, unique fashion trends in Harajyuku and so on. Another famous sight of Japan is also the Snow Monkey. The image of these monkeys taking a bath in a natural hot spring is one of the most iconic images of Japan.
Japanese Macaques, also know as Snow Monkeys, usually inhabit snow covered areas during the winter season. They are many well-known images of them taking a bath in a hot spring surrounded by snow cover.
Male average weight 11.3 kg (25lb), height 570.1 mm (22.44 in)
Female average weight 8.4 kg (19lb), height 522.8 mm (20.58 in)
Average 6.3 years; Some of them live close to 30 years.
Characteristics of Their Body
Their bodies have brown-grey fur, red faces, and short tails. Their faces and buttocks are a red color. Their fur is very well adjusted to their enviroment. In colder areas the thickness of the fur increases depending on how much the temperature decreases, they can actually cope with the temparatures as low as -20°C (-4°F).
They live in mostly mountainous area, but wide spread all over Japan. They climb trees, move very quickly on the ground, they can even swim rather long distances, up to a half kilometer about 1/3 of a mile. They live in three of the four main Japanese islands, Honshu, Shikoku, and Kyushu. The northernmost habitat is located on the Shimokita Peninsula, the northernmost peninsula of the Honshu. Small islands of Japan are also known habitats for them. The southernmost groups are living in the island of Yakushima, which is located near Kyushu. The species living in Yakushima is considered a subspecies of the Japanese Monkey and are called Yakuzaru, Monkey of Yakushima. Estimated population is about 114,431, so generally speaking they are very far from extinction. However, because of the results of urban expansion, such as deforestation, their current areas of habitation are very limited today. So there are some issues between monkeys and humans.
They live in matrilineal societies. Females stay in the same group for a whole life, but males move out to join other groups by the time they matured sexually. Males of the group have an alpha like hierarchy system. Alpha status changes when the alpha leaves or die. Sometimes the alpha changes very suddenly when the alpha loses his rank in the group, but the reason is often unknown. Generally the longer a male stays in group the higher their ranks. Females also have hierarchy society, their ranks are dependent on her mother's status in the group. Also between siblings, younger females usually rank higher than older ones.
Their living areas are very diverse from the north to the south, so naturally their diets are diverse as well. According to research they eat over 200 species of plants. They also eat some insects, fungi, and even soil. Their food source is very different depending on the environment, for example on the island of Yakushima, they eat fruit, leaves, and seeds are their primary food. On the other hand, groups that live in the northern areas eat fruit and nuts to store fat for the cold winter season. When they can not find enough food they can also eat some roots and even fish.
They are a very intelligent species. For example, researchers studying a species at Koshima Island in Japan, one female started to washing a potato in the river water rather than brushing it with her hand before eating it, later she experimented by dipping her potato in sea water to a add salty taste to her potato. Later many others monkeys on the island started to do the same, first young female groups to elder alphas of the group. This is great example of how they learn things and able to adapt. Another interesting fact about their intelligence is their famous behavior of bathing together in hot springs, they even play in the snow for fun and so on. Also in recent studies, the Japanese monkeys has been found to develop different accents, like humans. Monkeys in areas separated by only a few hundred miles can have very different pitches in their calls, their form of vebal communication.
Where to See Them
Most of the zoos in Japan have some types of Saruyama, mountain monkey, so can see them if you go to any zoo in Japan. If you want to see them in the wild, there are very limited locations near Tokyo to see them. If you go up to the Oku Nikko area in Tochigi you can see them in the wild and so on. By far the most famous location is Jigokudani Monkey Park in Nagano Prefecture, where the famous images of Snow Monkey were taken. Below is some information about the park.
Jigokudani Monkey Park (Snow Monkey Park)
6845 Yamanouchi-machi, Shimotakai-gun, Nagano
8:30 – 17:00 (Summer)
9:00 – 16:00 (Winter)
Child 250 yen
10 min by car from Yudanaka Station on Nagano Dentetsu Nagano Line
During the winter season road will be closed, but you can take taxi from the station.
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If you are interested in seeing some Snow Monkeys, feel free to contact us and we can assist in helping you make some interesting trip plans!!! We can give some advise or create a private tour just for you. Also if you are planning to stay a few days in Tokyo, we offer other tour options here.