Watching the contemplative, human-like faces of snow monkeys soaking in an onsen is an experience unique to the snow-covered mountains of Japan, but most people will tell you that you can’t see them in Hokkaido.
While the snow monkey, or Japanese macaque, is not native to the northern island, a troupe of 70 inhabits an onsen in Hakodate on the southern tip of Hokkaido. Twenty were brought over about 30 years ago to make a snow monkey onsen attraction. The venture was almost a flop as the original members couldn’t be persuaded to take the plunge. Park owners eventually enticed them in with food, and now they can’t get them out.
The most famous place to see them in the wild is on the mainland at Yamanouchi in Nagano, home of the 1998 Winter Olympics.
If you can’t make it down there, check them out in the botanical gardens of Yunokawa in Hakodate, Hokkaido’s most famous onsen district, about three hours drive or train south of Niseko.