Nagano-ken Snow Monkeys

6 01 2010

After the first day of skiing we went to a local onsen to soothe our muscles. But after 2 days of beginners skiing it was time for a break from sore knees, shoulders, ankles, cold toes and fingers. We caught a couple of local buses from Hakuba to Nagano and beyond to the Jigokudani Monkey Onsen Park.

“Wild” Japanese monkeys live in the park and when it is cold they like to hang out in the hot spring onsen. It was a 30 minute walk up the mountain along slippery ice/snow paths before we could reach the monkeys in their natural surroundings. There were two film crews filming the monkeys and one of the teams interviewed Benno in Japanese about where he was from and his experience of visiting the monkeys… maybe he will be on Japanese TV?!

The monkeys were really cute and quite tame (they didn’t mind cameras pointing in their faces). Although some of them had their grumpy faces on display the day we visited…

There is a “Monkey WebCam” set up outside the onsen that takes photos every hour and posts them online. We got caught being uninteresting at midday. You can see the monkeys too.

When we came back to the hostel the snow had piled up and in some places we had to walk through almost knee-high powder snow. So soft, but so cold and wet.

Hakone…but no Fuji-san

16 11 2009

We visited Hakone, to the west of Tokyo from where Mt Fuji can be seen (if you’re lucky enough to visit on a clear, cloudless day).
The romance car took us from Shinjuku to Odawara, then we met up with mum and dad who were on the JR line and took the switch-back train to Hakone-Yumoto.
We took a local bus to Tenzan onsen, an upmarket onsen. It had lovely hot spring pools – a choice of about five including rock pools, an inside bath, a cold bath and a steamy grotto all with views of the forest and mountains.
From there we caught another local bus to our accommodation which was equipped with 3 hot spring baths of its own. We used the onsen 2 times a day while we stayed there. It was so relaxing and warm in the cold, rainy weather.
The next day was overcast and rained throughout the day so Mt Fuji was not to be seen. But we still managed to ride through the multiple forms of transport – the bus to Gora, the Hakone Tozan cablecar to Sounzan followed by the ropeway to Togendai, the Hakone sightseeing pirate ship cruise across Lake Ashi to Hakone Machi, a walk through the Ancient Cedar lined path alongside the old highway (some trees are up to 360 years old) and bus back to Gora.
In the afternoon the wet weather held off so we walked through Gora Park past the colourful autumn foliage and through the warm glasshouses of bougainvilleas.
We took the bus back to our accommodation, warmed ourselves with another onsen bath in the slightly sulfurous waters and had a huge stirfry for dinner.

Onsen and BBQs

4 05 2009

Today we were entertained by Atsu and his girlfriend, Mizuki.

We drove for ages through traffic jams to a famous stone buddha site in Chiba prefecture, but it was packed and the line up was hours long. So we went straight to lunch, eating some homemade cookies and Japanese citrus sweets in the car.

On the way Lara saw a monkey on the side of the road. Then we went to a State Park in Kimitsu for a BBQ lunch. Atsu made a delicious sukiyaki sauce to have with barbequed potato, onion, tofu, konyaku and grilled rice balls. Then we passed stage 1 of becoming Japanese by eating rice balls wrapped in nori sheets with umeboshi sour plums.

After lunch we drove a while to find some hot springs. Some of the places had closed early due to Golden Week. We eventually found an onsen that was open and joined the queue for a hot spring bath. It was quite busy – lots of people were also wanting to enjoy the baths. We collected towels, then put our shoes in a locker, then wandered through and put our personal belongings in another locker. Then we split off into boys and girls. We undressed in the change room and then washed with soap while sitting on little stools. After getting clean we sat in the hot springs outside in a little rock pool while looking at the scenery.

We had a great day and enjoyed talking with Atsu and sharing Australian/Japanese culture. For example, we taught Atsu the Tim Tam Slam in return for being initiated into the onsen experience.

Thanks guys for a fantastic day out! Happy Golden Week!