Samurai Dave: The Roving Ronin Report

Rambling Narrative of Travels, Thoughts, and Embellishments

Japanese Snow Monkeys Enjoy a Warm Dip to fight Winter’s Chill

Generally when one thinks of monkeys and their environment, one imagines tropical jungles, not snowy hills. This is what makes the native Japanese monkey, the macaque or “snow monkey,” so unique. The Japanese macaque is the only species of monkey that lives as far north as it does. Macaques can be found in several places in Japan in environments raging from subtropical to sub-alpine. The northernmost group of Japanese macaque grow thick furry coats in winter.

Japanese Macaques have thick winter coats

In the 1970s Life magazine first featured the Japanese macaque monkey enjoying a wintry dip in a hot springs near Nagano. Thus was born the international fame of the so-called “snow monkeys” of Japan. With their thick fur coats, almost human-like faces, and their deep, soulful eyes, the snow monkeys quickly won the hearts of people worldwide.

Playing in the snow

Macaques grow to 79 to 95 cm (2 to 4 feet) and weigh 10 to 14 kg (20 to 60 pounds). The males are generally larger than the females, but females outnumber the males in their social groups. Macaques live about 30 years and reach adulthood around 3 or 5.

WARNING!!!!
DO NOT stare into thoughtful eyes
Monkey and visitor exchange glances

Although the snow monkeys possess such wonderful and thoughtful eyes, visitors should NOT stare directly into them. Staring is seen as an act of an aggression and a visitor looking to commune with the spirits of nature may suddenly find their nose communing with the sharp teeth of an enraged snow monkey.

Macaque groups, called troops, have a strict hierarchy. An older male monkey with several male helpers rules a troop, deciding on where and when to migrate, as well as providing protection from other troops. Troops are composed of males and females of various ranks.

Enjoying a Massage at the Onsen (Hot Spring)

Males will move from troop to troop, but females will stay in their troop their whole life. Female rank is very important, as their babies will retain the hierarchical rank of their mother. Troops leaders have sometimes received their status due primarily to the position of their mother within the troop.

Photographers swarming to get pictures of oblivious bathing monkeys

Macaques are known to transmit acquired knowledge to each other. Scientists observed a female macaque washing a sweet potato before eating it. She was the first one to be observed doing this behavior. Soon after, the rest of her troop began washing their sweet potatoes before eating them.

This behavior then apparently spread rapidly through all macaque groups in Japan. This phenomenon led to the Hundredth Monkey Meme that after a certain number of monkeys learn new behavior this behavior somehow will spread throughout monkey-kind. It was also believed this that theory explains how ideas are spread in human societies. The theory, though discredited, persists, particularly among New Agers.

Baby monkey enjoying a bath

Monkeys hold a special place in Japanese religion and folklore. In native Shintoism monkeys are seen as the messengers of river and certain mountain gods. With the influx of Buddhism and Chinese culture, in which monkeys also had an important place, monkeys flourished, and their legends spead accordingly. Monkeys became demon-quellers and the protective spirits for childbirth and for warding off evil. The famous “hear, speak, and see no evil” monkeys are believed to have originated at the Tendai Shinto Buddhist complex on Mt. Hiei, north of Kyoto.

The Monkey and the Jellyfish
How a Clever Monkey Saved His Liver
A Thoughtful Monkey and Gullible Jellyfish

Japanese Monkey Tales often exalt the cleverness and resourcefulness of monkeys. One of the most popular stories about monkeys in Japan is the story of the monkey and the jellyfish. A long, long time ago the great Sea King’s wife was sick and for some reason the only thing that would cure her was a monkey’s liver.

Since monkeys lived on land and fish is the sea, it seemed a hopeless task to procure one. However, one marine creature was the obvious choice for such a quest – the jellyfish. With its strong bones and hard shell, the jellyfish was well-suited to go onto the land and seek out a monkey. The jellyfish soon found a curious monkey to whom it impressed with its description of the Sea King’s Palace. The jellyfish offered the monkey passage to the wondrous realm of the Sea King upon its hard shell.

The eager monkey agreed and off they went. Along the way, the monkey grew concerned about the nature of their conversation which seemed revolve around livers particularly his own. The jellyfish eventually went too far and let slip the purpose its visit. The monkey was naturally alarmed as anyone would be if they found themselves in the middle of the ocean on the back of a jellyfish’s shell and discovering that their liver was to be the guest of honor rather than themselves.

But with cleverness being his birthright, the monkey hid his fear and began to lament. He told the jellyfish that in his haste to go to the Sea King’s Palace, he had unfortunately left his liver hanging in a tree which of course is what all monkeys do when they go climbing. The jellyfish not being the smartest of Scyphozoans believed him and rushed back to land with his liver-less monkey. When they reached land, the monkey leaped into the trees and instead of monkey liver, the gullible jellyfish received only monkey laughter. The Sea King was noticeably put out when he heard the quaking jellyfish’s report. He ordered the bones of the jellyfish to be removed and its shell to beaten to a pulp. And today the jellyfish and its descendants float about boneless and shell-less while giving monkeys a wide berth.

In areas like Nagano, where snowfall can reach record depths, the macaques seeking respite from the cold head for hot spring areas. North of Nagano city is the hot spring area of Yudanaka, which is popular with humans and simians alike. In the early 1960s a female macaque arrived here and found the hot springs to her liking, and others soon followed. A park was later created in the area where monkeys and their distant cousins humans could mingle.

A Dignified Snow Monkey enjoys his bath with admirable restraint

Although the Monkey Park goes by the ominous-sounding name “Hell’s Valley” (Jigokudani), the monkeys seem unperturbed by it as they play and bathe with reckless abandon. To them, Hell’s Valley is simply heaven. At the entrance to the park is a hot spring center for humans, where they can share a bath with monkeys if they so desire. There are two outdoor baths that adventurous monkeys will wander down to in order to observe the bathing rituals of humans. For those who might be put off by monkeys gawking at them, there are indoor baths as well.

The macaques of Japan number between 35,000 to 50,000. Due to destruction of their habitats and shootings by farmers, the macaque population has declined, and they are now on the endangered species list. Those wanting to learn more about Japanese snow monkeys and watching them live can check the following website: http://www.jigokudani-yaenkoen.co.jp/

Onsen bath complete with Snow Monkey Companion
Getting there
Snowy path and a snow monkey face carved in snow

Getting to the monkeys requires a bit of time if one is not staying in Yudanaka itself. From Nagano City, take the Nagano Dentetsu train to Yudanaka. It takes about an hour or so. From Yudanaka station take a 15 minute bus ride to Kanbayashi Onsen. Go up the hill and follow the signs to the beginning of the trail. It’s a 30-minute walk along a narrow trail. In winter, the trail is covered in snow so one must be careful of slipping and from falling patches of snow from evergreen branches. /

August 6, 2006 Posted by | animals, Blogroll, cute, japan, jigokudani, macaque, monkey, nagano, snow monkey, travel, Uncategorized, yudanaka | 6 Comments

Remembering the Scandals of the 90s or why I lost respect for the Media

A look back at the newsworthy items that American media pumped out to the masses
Coming from America, a country that is at one point news-obsessed with countless news programs on TV, newspapers, and magazines available and yet at the same time often oddly unaware of what is going on in the world, I’m used to having the news media giants dictate what is newsworthy and what isn’t. Prior to the 90s, I had little reason to question the media’s competency and objectivity. The media still seemed to possess some element of aloof professionalism. Of course, I was horribly young at the time and easily influenced.It had to be the Buttifuco scandal in the early 90s that first shook my faith in the professional media. A New England tart decided her boyfriend, a man twice her age, was worth keeping to the point of shooting his wife point blank in the head. Her aim was not as true as her love apparently as the wife survived as the story hit nationwide. For some reason this was worthy of national news. But it wasn’t just one blurb on the nightly news – spoken and soon forgotten – it became an obsession of the nation fueled by numerous follow-up reports.

Amy Fisher’s Mugshot
2006 Wikipedia

Shortly after came the infamous Bobbitt case where a young wife tired of her husband’s cheating ways, decided to releive him of his pride and joy while he slept. The conscequences of her actions rode a slurpee cup to the operation room and into the living rooms of millions of Americans. What should have been tabloid fodder became food for thought for the professional media to ponder over.

John Wayne Bobbitt briefly became an Adult Film Star after his brush with a kitchen knife
2006 Wikipedia

When that began to die off yet another scandal arose – the Nancy Kerrigan/Tonya Harding Olympic figure ice skating fiasco where Ms. Harding had decided to even the odds in her favor with a crowbar to Kerrigan’s legs. This newsworthy item dragged on to its bitter end with Ms. Harding crying pitifully to the judges over a skate whose lacing had come undone.

Tonya Harding cries over loose laces as many Americans shake heads in disgust
2006 Wikipedia

Then came the be-all grandest scandal that shook the media world to its knees. Not Somalia, not the Yugoslavia War, it was the (cue trumpets and drums) the OJ Simpson scandal – undoubtably the grandest of all scandals that dragged on and on and on and on like some B-grade horror monster that refuses to die no matter what.

When OJ Simpson’s white ford bronco hit the LA streets one warm summer evening, media moguls must have shed a tear of gratitude as their fingers speed-dialed their news offices.

OJ Simpson’s white Ford Bronco leads the LAPD on a slow chase
2006 internet

By that time I had reached a point of utter disgust and distrust of the so-called professional media. Gone seemed to be the days of the likes of Edward R. Murrow and Walter Cronkite. “This is what the public wants!” was often the defense for the coverage of these stories. Perhaps, but is it what the public needs from the professional media? Let the tabloids print the tabloids.

The Jerry Springer Show
The True Media Circus without the Pretension
The Ringmaster: Jerry Springer
Wikipedia

For the astute followers of American pop-culture, they are no doubt aware that the controversial talk show: “The Springer Show,” came about in the midst of these scandals. The Springer Show hosted by former mayor of Cinnicinata, Jerry Springer, allowed trailer trash, ghetto garbage, flashing exhibitionists and theirl like to debate their differences, ie swing fists and chairs at one another while the audience chanted “Jerry! Jerry!”

Jerry Springer gave the public what it wanted but he never made the pretense that his show was anything other than a type of public circus. In the face of critics, he has even said his show is dumb. Therein, I think, lies the difference between his show and the professional media especially in regards to their coverage of similar topics. / David M Weber

The icing on the proverbial cake had to be the Bill Clinton/Monica Lewinsky affair that followed in the wake of the OJ trial. The theater of the absurd was in full swing as an American President was nearly impeached over a completely overblown non-issue. And the professional media was there to discuss the finer details of Presidential deposits on intern dresses.

Monica Lewinsky gets a hug from President Clinton
2006 Wikipedia

Finally at the end of a long decade of tabloid scandals which were given more media attention than was possibly needed, came the debacle of the 2000 Presidential election coverage. Here was an actual newsworthy event and they bungled it royally. Before all the votes were in, FoxNews declared current President Bush the winner. Many of the other media sources fell in line save a brave few. This premature call just caused more confusion in the months that followed as the results were being sorted out.

6 years, two wars, and thousands of dead later, one wonders how different the world might have been if the professional media had just done its job and not jumped the gun so quickly.

For these reasons whenever criticism is leveled at citizen journalism, I just roll my eyes and think just how objective and professional the professional media has been in my country over the last 15 years or so as they chased one tabloid story after another. Thanks to such indepth coverage, Americans knew more about the dresses the prosecutor wore at OJ Simpson’s murder trial than they did about Rwanda and Yugoslavia.

August 6, 2006 Posted by | 1990s, Amy Fisher, Blogroll, Bobbit, Clinton, media, Monica Lewinsky, OJ Simpson, politics, scandals, Tonya Harding, TV, Uncategorized | 9 Comments

   

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