The Bath-Loving Residents of Monkey Mountain

Travel

The hot springs at Monkey Mountain are undiluted, bubbling up directly from their subterranean source. Some of the bathers here seem to lose track of time and drift off in a daze. You can almost hear the content sighs of “Ah, that’s the stuff.”

Heaven in a blizzard.
Heaven in a blizzard.

Monkey Mountain, a zoological facility located inside the Hakodate Tropical Botanical Garden, is home to around 90 simian individuals, usually led by a “boss”—the strongest, but also the most considerate of others. The last boss, Kansuke, ruled for 25 years by earning the trust of the other monkeys rather than by simply throwing his weight around. On the day he went to his reward, aged 100 in monkey years, legend has it the mountain fell silent.

Kansuke’s successor has yet to emerge. Is a struggle for dominance still working itself out? No—it seems that there’s enough food to keep fighting to a minimum. It does make you worry about the mountain’s vitality, though.

Politicians in Japan at times earn a reputation for riding roughshod over their opponents with their words—witness Prime Minister Abe Shinzō, in a public appearance in Tokyo’s Akihabara district in October 2017, shouting down hecklers as “people like that,” who could never be trusted with the reins of power. It’s hard to imagine a challenger coming back from a “monkeys like that” comment to become boss of Monkey Mountain.

Hakodate Tropical Botanical Garden

Access: 15 minutes’ walk from the Yunokawa stop on the Hakodate City Tram. The hot springs are opened to the monkeys from December 1 to May 6 each year.

(Click to see map)

Just relaxing in the tub (2016).
Just relaxing in the tub (2016).

Narita Express tourism Hokkaidō Hakodate photography onsen animal hot spring monkey Northern Japan in Black and White