I’ve seen photos of the monkeys (Japanese Macaques) in the onsen often enough before, so caught a bus at Nagano station to see them for myself. The bus ride was worth it just to get into the snow-covered hills and to be able to walk in the winter landscape.
You take a snow-covered path along the side of a steep-sided valley for half an hour or so to arrive at the onsen. It doesn’t take any stroke of luck to see the monkeys, or any patience to get photos; other than the fact that there are dozens of other visitors trying to get the best shot, it’s easy. There are scores of monkeys in the immediate area and perhaps a dozen in the water at any one time. They largely ignore the people and the cameras.
The monkeys sit in the water, steam rising into the cold air in clouds. They preen each other with a lazy, blissful look on their faces. The notice in the ticket office said that they don’t get cold when they get out because they don’t sweat, but I don’t feel convinced by that. You can imagine how bedraggled they look when they get out of the water, and how quickly they cool down in the freezing temperatures out of the water.