No curve was too sharp for them and their bicycle. No puddle was deep enough to stop them. -- Friends by Helme Hein

23 February, 2009

4 Day Weekend in Nagano & Shiga Kogen

Shinkansen! The bullet train sped us off to Nagano at 175 miles per hour for a four day weekend of snowboarding and monkey viewing. Here's the train schedule at Tokyo Station on the day we left. Shinkansen is something of a national legend in Japan. I've seen children flying loaves of french bread around declaring "Shinkansen!!" and the images are often found on lunchboxes and kids clothes.

Our train on the left (not the double deckers)

This nice man took a liking to James. He's an origami teacher who pulled out a few folded animals from his pockets for us gaijin. He introduced us to the mythical Japanese kappa and gave Naoko a crane. On the whole, people were extremely kind to us when we left Tokyo. People said hello, welcomed us, asked us about the US. There are fewer gaijin outside of Tokyo and in the city people just put their head down and go about their business. Naoko mentioned that she was surprised by how much attention we got.

The Jigokudani Yaen-Koen monkey park was by far the highlight of our trip (James would say it was the fresh pow-pow). Better known as the monkey onsen, over 200 monkeys frolic in the snowy Japanese woods and bathe in the warm water in this park near Shiga Kogen ski resorts. You could tell the park keepers love these monkeys because nothing was for sale and it cost only 500 Yen to enter. The monkeys ran all around and weren't afraid of all the paparazzi cameras.

Momma and baby way up in the tree

Getting a good soak on. I wish I could have pet them, they were so fuzzy and cute.

This is what I looked like in the onsen after 3 days of snowboarding. sleepy and warm

This is #2. He was just chillin, letting people take a picture with him. He must be at least 25 years old. There's a monkey "pecking order" that appoints one monkey to be the leader.

Jump in monkey, it's cold out there!
After our park visit we found a tiny soba noodle shop for hot noodles with mountain mushrooms and Nagano microbrews (the best beer I've had since leaving the NW).

Outside our hotel with Kat and Naoko.
And the reason we went to Shiga Kogen was to snowboard. I learned how to snowplow down a steep hill and fall gracefully, head over heels, many, many times. I'll give it another shot, but my aching body is telling me I'm getting old. My sore arms, legs and neck loved the hotel onsen. An onsen is a natural hotspring. They are all over this volcanic island and the Japanese love to bathe in them. The funny thing about onsen for westerners is that onsen require nude bathing. The baths are usually separated into male and female baths, although you can find a few coed. To enter an onsen you must first strip down and scrub yourself clean for what seems like an eternity (I just make sure the Japanese women who come in with me leave before me, then I go). A little strange at first to take a big bath with your co-workers, but it becomes somewhat normal very quickly. Tattoos are strictly forbidden in most onsen because they are typically a sign of the yakuza (Japanese gangsters).

At least 6 inches of fresh powder fell our last night there. It made falling on my butt all day much more cushiony.

1 comment:

Wendy said...

Those monkeys are so cute-- I just want to hold one! How fun. I guess there will be now onsen for me:)