Japanese Monkeys Chill Out in Hot Springs

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"They started getting into the water about 40 years ago," said Harue Takefushi, the 90-year-old matron of Korakukan, a small wooden inn that has been here since 1864. "First came the little ones, then the adults. Then they started coming regularly to get out of the chill."

Today, the monkeys bathe in two main pools dug expressly for their use, or in the hot-spring-fed stream that runs nearby. Though most soak quietly, some submerge themselves to walk on the bottom of pools in search of nuts or other food.

In the colder months, it is not uncommon for the monkeys to use the outdoor bath at Korakukan as well.

"One guest ran away when some monkeys got in, but most of the people who come here enjoy it when the monkeys join them," Takefushi said.

Overly aggressive macaques have become a major nuisance in several national parks and even in some city suburbs. In one town just south of Tokyo, roving bands of macaques regularly descend from the hills to steal food from grocery stores. Shopkeepers have fought back by brandishing pop guns.

Tokida said the monkeys in Jigokudani are better behaved because they have ample food and enough room to roam freely.

Visitors are strongly discouraged from feeding the monkeys, and are asked to check their bags, so that the macaques won't be tempted to snatch them.

Pamphlets given out at the gate to the park warn: "The monkeys here are not lovable animals. If they feel a threat to their lives, they will try to bite. Observe quietly, and as far back as possible."

New York Post is a registered trademark of NYP Holdings, Inc. Copyright 2002 NYP Holdings, Inc. All rights reserved.

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