Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Nagano - Snow Monkeys

From Hiroshima, another day of Local Trains Only took us to Nagano, up in Japan's mountainous central spine. This region presents a cooler, snowier approach to peace: the city rests in a sheltered valley surrounded by great white mountains on every horizon, yet sparkles with the lights of a thousand facilities for all those who go there for ski slopes and onsen.

Up in the surrounding hills, an hour from the town by bus and two kilometres' walk through a frigid valley, some interesting creatures make their home...

This is Jigokudani Snow Monkey Park, where Japanese Macaques who live in the hills come down to soak in volcanic hot springs. Humans may get right up close to observe them, and they don't seem to mind; perhaps they are long used to us. On the website you can click "Snow Monkey Livecam" to see exactly what they're up to today.

These monkeys form a single troop with sophisticated social norms and relationships. You can watch them groom each other, play or squabble or cuddle or otherwise interact, and one should remember that one is not a visitor to a zoo here, but a guest in the monkeys' house. That is to say, the monkeys will not necessarily consider your convenience in their actions, so the onus is on you to not trip over a monkey who dashes past you as you climb down the rocks, or to not get splashed about the head and equipment when your photograph subject plunges into the onsen in front of your face.

I remember from texts and documentaries that there are hierarchical structures in these monkeys' groups, which do not always work to the advantage of their vulnerable members: specifically, that some may be ostracized in power struggles and not permitted into the onsen. Whether that was the case with these fellows, I did not see – though there was an intriguing episode where one aggressive little individual chased another out of the pool, only for the latter to run around and go back in from the other side.

Of course, if they do have unequitable social structures, humans are hardly in a position to lecture them. Our own societies' ethics have oftentimes plunged far lower than anything we can suspect these fellows of, so we should "clean our own house before entertaining guests": that is, get our own race in order before we commentate or reach conclusions on the social ethics of other animals.

Next, New Year's Eve at one of Japan's most prominent temples.

No comments:

Post a Comment