Friday, March 6, 2015

Day 14: Leverage the Investment

We bought these JR passes for a reason, I suppose.  Yesterday afternoon, we trekked from Nara to Hiroshima – about three hours of transit by train, including the lightning fast Shinkansen. This morning, starting at 6:19am, we are doubling our trip back, going from Hiroshima to beyond Nagano.  It’s making for a long travel day, but – for me, anyway – it will all be worth it.  Standing in the Peace Memorial Park in Hiroshima was an experience I would not have wanted to miss. As for this afternoon, I think the onsen and snow monkeys will erase any hard feelings about a long day!
Earlier this week, Mike (from Osaka) had recommended Himeji Castle on our way to or from Hiroshima.  Given the tight timelines and long commutes, we decided not to stop.  However, like our view of Mount Fuji, we saw Himeji Castle from the train.  Does that count as a sightseeing stop? What about beautiful views of mountains from the train?

I’m a big fan of “small world” experiences when traveling. Perhaps because traveling reminds me how big the world is, and these kinds of things make it all seem a little less daunting.  Mindy and I had a very forgettable experience in Koyasan – we bumped into a couple of German tourists and chatted for a few minutes about our respective Japanese experiences. There we were in Shin-Osaka station (nowhere near Koyasan) and who should we bump into heading to the train to Nagano?  One of our new German “friends”.  (Quotation marks because, small world or not, I never expect to see that “friend” again.)


I started writing this entry on the way to Jigokudani Onsen near Nagano.  I firmly believed it when I wrote “I think the onsen and snow monkeys will erase any hard feelings about a long day”. Then we travelled for six hours on trains, then a bus, then walked through an ice covered mountain path…

 …and across a makeshift bridge…

…only to come upon a dilapidated building with monkey scat lining the walkway, and tattered tarps fluttering in the wind across the entrance.  What the…?? “Underwhelming” to say the least.

We passed a few unusual mementoes in the “lobby”. (A Japanese viper and a preserved swarm of wasps.)

Quite simply, I was none too pleased with this ryokan as the host showed us to our simple, Japanese style room.  And then we looked out the window:


Alright, my enthusiasm is returning.  I mean, this place is pretty bare bones, but we’re not actually here for the accommodations, we’re here for the monkeys. We threw our stuff in our room and went the 100m across the river to the monkey park. (Once again the location of our ryokan paid off, as ANY other accommodations would have involved a 2km walk just to get to the monkey park.) Snow monkeys eating, grooming, tussling…. They were everywhere!!

You can see from this last photo just how close the ryokan is to the monkey park! (Yes, that building that looks like it was built in 1864…because it was…is our ryokan.) Hint: I was in the monkey park when I took that photo....

The monkey park closes at 4pm; however, you don’t have to leave right then.  You can hang out for a while longer if you like looking at the scenery, and not the monkeys.  Although these monkeys are semi-wild (the monkey park sprinkles food on the ground to facilitate monkey foraging, and the monkeys are clearly used to people around them), those monkeys still follow a regular routine.  Every afternoon, shortly after 4pm, these monkeys return to their sleeping grounds – steep cliffs and tall trees higher up in the mountain.  Japanese macaques do not make nests.  Instead, they find a new branch each night and sleep curled up against their family – often holding hands. I wish we could have seen them sleep!

We had good intentions of taking advantage of the outdoor hot spring bath in the evening, looking up at the stars.  Instead, I was crippled by a migraine and barely made it to dinner.  I was unable to enjoy the food (Mindy did enjoy it, so I suspect it would have been really good if I hadn’t felt nauseated), and then I stumbled into bed by 7:30 to sleep. I had already napped for 40 minutes before dinner…..

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