Today was the first day i’d be flying solo as Adam was back off up the mountain to slide back down it and I was off to see the snow monkeys taking a bath.
At 7.40am promptly, not before a rapidly wolfed down breakfast of fruit (I’m still not a morning person so got up too late) I left the hotel and headed the 5 minutes down the road to the bus stop. I met a Japanese guy there from Osaka who asked if I minded him driving me to the bus rather than it coming to me (sure?). On route I asked him for recommendations as to what to do in his city – his response – shopping, universal studios or the aquarium – and there wasn’t much else. Didn’t fill me with hope for our two days there later but we will see what happens.
I arrived at the (next) bus stop and was branded on my wrist (not permanently – thankfully) to board the ‘proper’ tour bus with the other 31 monkey botherers.
We had an hour and a half over to the monkeys and on route John – our excellent guide (American – moved here for the ladies) regaled us with stories about families being buried on their own estates (so many gravestones everywhere!) and how each area bid for the olympics as well as the fruit of each area that was their speciality. It was incredibly informative and very well delivered, I feel I learnt more in that 90 minutes in Japan than I have from months of reading.
Once we arrived at the monkey park – we parked at the base and had a 30 minute hike up the winding path through a snowy forest, which was absolutely stunning. It was strangely quiet and calm, though the sun came through on occasion. I had to stop myself taking photos here or wouldn’t have had any time with the monkeys.
Here are a few of my faves;
Once up at the monkeys, I couldn’t stop. They were so funny – one little f*cker jumped on my backpack and tried to thieve my water!
The monkeys are a group of around 200 up there as the hot springs keep them happy and comfortable and the rangers give them food to forage so that they don’t try to go down to the village to cause havoc. They all chill out in the hot waters and to be honest – why wouldn’t you?! What a life!!
After about an hour watching them run around and trying to take as many photos as possible (whilst kicking myself for not having purchased a 100-200mm lens before leaving) our time was up and we were forced back onto the bus. I could have stayed there all day.
Next up was one of my normal favourite bits of a day – food. We drove to an old Sake brewery in a town called Obuse.
Where we were seated in fours and served a traditional Japanese meal of miso soup (getting my head round this now), sake (gross), steak and salad (oi-she! (delicious)), rice (good though didn’t finish) and picked veg (which was taaaasty). Dessert was massive slices of special Nagano apples.
The group i ended up with was three Aussie boarders, all nice enough but very boarding heavy on the chat. As someone who avoids exercise I merely nodded and thought about cake.
The town we were in was famed for their nuts (chesnuts just to be clear) and you could get anything here to do with them. In the end I bought Adam a locally made craft ale called ‘Adamu’ so nothing to do with Chesnuts…
Back on the bus and we were off to Nagano to go to the third biggest wooden temple – Zenkojie – which is huge and absolutely stunning. Its a non sectorial Buddhist temple and I loved it. There was a story about a bull as well, and the saying ‘following a bull to zenkojie’ came from here. They said that as if it was a totally common saying. Suuuure.
The temple had the 6 guardians outside which were fascinating and looked after each of the dimensions. You can only reach enlightenment once you’ve gotten rid of all 108 (?) worldly sins. These guardians look after those worlds I believe. The Buddhist religion sounds really interesting and is one of those I don’t know much about – so theres a task for some day soon! Maybe that will cancel out some of my many sins?
Inside was very peaceful and again pretty stunning (the shops inside confused my brain – surely greed and consumerism are sins?) though no photos allowed.
Once we’d had some time there to trundle it was time to head home after a really brilliant tour. Excellent tour guide, great food, and an awesome selection of sites.
I’d have liked to have spent more time with the bouncing critters but alas can’t have everything.
I got home to find Adam in the bath. Delightful. He was ruined after too many runs and muscles not used to sliding down the snow. It took me a while to convince him to leave the hotel for food. That does not happen often!!
After some deal making, negotiating and whinging we managed to leave and go to a traditional Japanese dining bar called Shinsen dining. The food there was great – mainly meat based, and you had to order a drink too (shame) so we went for sake (Adam) and Shochi lemon sour (me). Good god it was great – like a super charged vodka and lemonade!
Could have drunk that on tap… and i’d have been a mess…
The food was spot on, I had pork buckwheat pancakes and two teriyaki chicken skewers whilst Adam adventurously went for chefs choice skewers and more miso soup (obsessed). His ended up being chicken teriyaki, chicken wasabi, pork, mushroom and fried tofu (which was left behind).
I’d really highly recommend this place – it was packed (even in ghost town season), the staff were excellent, the food and drinks stunning. It was one of those places you’d eat at weekly if it was your local!
Sadly its not, and we had a long way to go the next day so we settled our bill and headed off – full and somewhat giddy. On route back we stopped by our local shop to see what they had in (flavoured kit kats and cheap booze. Win)
We also spotted a Disney themed bench! I need to get me one of these for the garden…
Adam then proceeded to drink his ‘Adamu’ back at the hotel and that was that… giddy turned into a giddy mess. Bless his little lightweight socks.
Tomorrow is the start of temple time and we say a fond goodbye to the snow. Hakuba has been awesome, and we will be back for some POW at some point in the future. Next year if Adam gets his way!