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Welcome to the year of the monkey! According to the Chinese Zodiac, 2016 is due to be filled with monkey madness, good-humoured practical jokes, mischief and creativity (amongst other monkeyish things).
There are plenty of ways to indulge your inner simian in Japan, so here are a few ways to get into the monkey mood this year…
Visit the famous snow monkeys
Of course we had to mention Japan’s most celebrated primates, the “snow monkeys” of Yudanaka. These monkeys have become world-famous for bathing in natural hot springs to keep themselves warm – not a bad idea when you lived in the snowy mountains of central Honshu. A visit to these chilled-out chimps is the highlight of many a trip to Japan.
See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil
Everyone’s heard of the famous three wise monkeys, also known as “the mystic apes” (I like that nickname better) – but did you know that the originals live in Japan? Travel to Nikko and you’ll find them presiding over Toshogu Shrine, the final resting place of Shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu. This is no obscure, out-of-the-way destination either – it’s one of our favourite day trips from Tokyo and home to Japan’s most elaborate traditional architecture.
Find a sarubobo in Takayama
Every town in Japan has its own speciality souvenirs, but the sarubobo doll of Takayama is probably the cutest. These little faceless amulets come in a variety of sizes, are usually made from red cloth, and are given by Japanese grandmothers to their daughters as a good-luck charm. The name sarubobo means “baby monkey”, and they are thought to ensure happiness in marriage, easy childbirth and well-behaved children.
Takayama is a lovely alpine town known for its strong craft traditions, old-fashioned streets, biannual festival and steeply thatched, traditional farmhouses.
Spot deer and monkeys on Yakushima
One of our all-time favourite Japanese destinations, Yakushima is the thickly-forested island that inspired Hayao Miyazaki’s animated masterpiece, Princess Mononoke. Besides its thousand-year-old cedars, beachside hot springs, baby turtles and stunning views, Yakushima is famous for being home to more monkeys and deer than people. The locals consider them a pest, but visitors are generally delighted to see them swinging through the trees (the monkeys, that is – not the deer).
If you’re interested in visiting any of these destinations in the year of the monkey, just get in touch and one of our Japan experts will be happy to put together a trip.
Happy New Year, Japanophiles!