Let’s cut to the chase with the last of my Shibu Onsen vacation posts: here’s the monkeys.
The snow monkeys have their own onsen, inside their own park, protected by an unassuming little ticket and souvenir cabin. As my ryokan proprietor warned me when I mentioned I was walking up to the park, “The onsen is only for the monkeys. You aren’t allowed to get in the water.” I stared at her, thinking I hadn’t understood. “I don’t… want to get in,” I said. “OK, that’s good,” she said. “Do people want to get in the onsen with the monkeys?” I asked, assuming there was some basis in reality for her warning. “Oh, yes,” she said, but I couldn’t get her to elaborate.
If you ever go I think you’ll share my incredulity, because while the monkeys don’t particularly give any damns about you, they also don’t want you poking at them, and they also don’t abide the rules that humans generally do about where poop goes vs where one bathes. IE, that those things should be in entirely different places. The park stunk of monkeys and their various leavings, and also the food pellets that a park keeper would bring and toss out so the monkeys would collect for photo ops. Overall though the monkeys seemed content to lounge about in the warm water and ignore the silly bipedal things that sometimes didn’t watch their food closely enough. The water thing, at least, I was told was not a construction of the park: there’d always been natural hot springs in the area, and the monkeys took a dip year round. The park just makes it convenient to find them and invade their privacy while they’re bathing.
Shibu Onsen has a few other attractions, including old temples and a sake museum. But it’s a small, quiet town, even if you walk down to neighboring Yudanaka, and if you’re really an attraction-based traveler or not a fan of walking aimlessly it might not be the place for you. But for me on my leisurely, lazy vacation, walking aimlessly in the brisk but clear weather worked fine, and I spent the rest of my day poking around empty streets, taking photos of empty things, eating food and lounging in my own, monkey-free hot springs.