The onsen odyssey of the Japanese snow monkey

March 30th, 2016 by Atticus Massari

What would lure a monkey away from his kingdom in the snowcapped mountains and into the concrete jungle of Tokyo? A good soak, of course.

That’s the premise of new cinematic commercial from Mitsubishi Estate in which we see a monkey protagonist leaving the natural hot springs of the country with only his wash bucket in hand. He catches a ride on a train to eventually emerge in Japan’s capital and reach his final destination: Tokyo Station. After asking for directions, our hot spring hero finally arrives at Otemachi Onsen.

This wild macaque (called nihonzaru in Japanese) is one of the world-famous monkeys that are known to take dips in natural hot springs in Nagano Prefecture during the winter. The Jigokudani Monkey Park, located in Yamanouchi valley, has become a popular tourist spot where visitors can watch these snow monkeys bathe in peace and warmth.

If the new Tokyo onsen can drive this little guy in all the way from Nagano, then it must be good. The Otemachi Onsen isn’t any regular urban bathhouse — Mitsubishi Estate was actually able to tap into natural hot spring water right in the middle of the city on a plot of land meant to be a hotel and office complex.

The commercial’s scenario is very reminiscent of the classic 1980s Sony Walkman spot in which a monkey enjoys the sonic possibilities of the then “high-tech” cassette player. It seems that a monkey’s opinion is as good as anyone else’s. Seeing as 2016 is, according to the Chinese zodiac, the Year of the Monkey, the timing couldn’t be better.

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