February 20, 2008
Viva la snow monkeys!
I just got back from the Nagano area of Japan. I got a later start than planned since I left my watch in the bathroom so there was no 8:
30am wake-up beep. So I woke up a bit later and then gradually got moving after saying ‘Sayonnara’ to Dave.
First I had to make my way to the Tokyo station which takes a bit of time with all of the transfers. Then I exchanged my rail pass – which
meant it was the beginning of my time to explore Japan!
I had some time to kill so I went to the one of the department stores at the Tokyo Station and ‘ooh’ed and ‘aah’ed at the food department.
In my food-loving opinion, these are just as much as ‘Japanese sightseeing’ as anything else. Oh. And just to put it out there – let me say
once again that it’s a myth how expensive Japan is. It really is. Some of these absolutely beautiful pastries and desserts were cheaper than
things I saw at basic bakeries back in Australia. A person can definitely get by for a lot longer with a certain amount of money out here than
I pulled myself away from the food hall and ended up with a scrumptious salad made up of a lot of marinated root veggies (it tasted much
better than I just described it) for the train ride. I hopped on the shinkansen (i.e. bullet train) to Nagano (home of the 1998 Winter
Olympics). To my surprise, the ride is only 1½ hours. From there, I needed to catch another train to Yudanaka. I had more time to kill so I
walked around – the first thing I saw there was a Starbuck’s. Go figure.
By the time I got to Yudanaka, the Monkey Park was going to be closing within 1½ hours because of winter hours. Every minute was
valuable so I spent the extra $10 to take a taxi instead of the bus. Then it’s another 30 minute walk to get to the Monkey Park on a snowy
and icy path. But it was gorgeous. I have officially traded in bikinis and flip-flops for parkas and gloves. But to be in the snow is awesome
and I couldn’t be happier being out here and getting to experience ‘winter’ for the first time in a long time. I even saw some wild Japanese
animal. I don’t know what he is but I have a picture so I will have to consult the experts sometime (plus I need to figure out who would be
an expert on Japanese wild animals).
Upon arriving I saw loads of monkeys playing in the snow. I was already sucked in. These are a special kind of macaque monkey. Their
faces are bright red and they have a fluffy gray coat of fur. After watching for a few minutes, I had to move on and make my way to the
onsen (natural thermal spa) where the monkeys hang out. Let me just say that I loved this place! What a treat – I didn’t really know what
to expect but this definitely surpassed my expectations. The monkeys were non-aggressive towards humans (which seemed quite different
from other monkeys I have seen in the past) so there was no reason to be scared when they would graze right past you. And you could
stand within a foot of the onsen with no problems whatsoever. The hardest part was figuring out which monkeys to spend your time staring
at. Not only are they truly unique looking, it was gorgeous seeing them with the snowy backdrop.
I have also found a location in Japan where you can find all of the Westerners. I didn’t see one Japanese tourist here – almost unheard of.
Dave even told me that he was telling his Japanese teacher about how I went up there today and that she had no idea what he was talking
While I was up there I was talking to an American man (Shad) who was up here doing some photography. Once the park closed I told him I
had to get going in order to catch my bus to catch my train that would take me back to Nagano (so then I could get a train back to Tokyo).
As luck would have it Shad had a rental car and was staying somewhat near the Nagano station and offered me a ride. Sometimes I truly
don’t know how these things fall in my lap. The rental cars out here are quite cool – we punched in the phone number to Nagano Station
and the car knew where to go. While we couldn’t understand a word of what was being said, it was no problem following the arrows and
Now I am back in Tokyo at Dave and Masayo’s. Tomorrow I head out to Osaka. Originally I was going to go to Hiroshima first…but that’s
quite far from here – about 4-5 hours. It sounds like somewhere I can take a day-trip to from Osaka if I leave early enough. The idea of
staying at one place for five nights sounds too good to be true. That is what I have opted for – I even found a place that is $20/night for a
private room. I’m not expecting much. If anything, it will be good to be in a place that makes it more pleasing to be out-and-about
exploring. I also plan to go to Nara, Himeji, Kobe and possibly swing back into Kyoto (I was there a couple years ago and really enjoyed it) if
I have time. I’m really looking forward to this!
Hanging with the monkeys.
The Umayyad Mosque front facade.
|I think the monkey is contemplating his