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IN WINTER, everyone loves a nice soak in a hot spring — including a snow monkey in Japan.

Properly known as the Japanese macaque, these monkeys live in northern Japan where snow cloaks the land for months — hence their nickname. Next to humans, snow monkeys are the world’s most northern-dwelling primates.

This particular snow monkey found its bliss at a spring in the Jigokudani Valley in Japan’s Nagano region, in a forested area dotted with springs. Food is left out to attract the monkeys at Jigokudani Yaen-Koen, a wild-monkey forest park. People can stroll its trails (for a fee) and watch the monkeys cavort on land and in water.

Snow monkeys have endearingly humanlike faces and behavior — and they’re smart. They’ve learned to wash some food in water before eating it and to bathe in hot springs. In winter at Jigokudani Yaen-Koen, they regularly clamber into an “onsen” — open-air bath — to the delight of tourists. Don’t try to join them. It’s a monkeys-only hot spring.

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Kristin R. Jackson is The Seattle Times NWTraveler editor. Contact her at

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